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RPS Verdict - Dawn of War II: Retribution

Last week Alec gifted us with his opinionations on Dawn of War II: Retribution, the latest standalone expansion for Relic's Dawn of War II. When the game was released on Friday Kieron and Quinns, as ever, found themselves in the mood for some bombastic hyper-war. And lo, this very lunchtime the three men gathered and holstered their guns for the official RPS Verdict.

Alec: Gentlethings, we are here to discuss Retribution, the second exandelion for Dawn of War II. It brings to the table six different campaigns and a new race, the Imperial Guard. Let us commence by noting how much of the game we've played. For my part, I have played two and a half of the campaigns, and something in the region of 10 multiplayer gmaes
Quinns: I'm more of a rookie. I've bashed away at a few campaign missions but found myself distracted by full-on multiplayer matches against the AI. The game's a toybox, and I wanted all those toys.
Kieron: The interesting thing is that you don't get the toys that... okay, that's later. I'm just about to finish my first run through the campaign as the Impy Goo, and played a little of the MP, but only a little.
Alec: how do we feel about the Impy Goo, then? I read one review that dismissed them as basically men with guns, which I felt was to miss the point a little. They are, but they very much emphasise the ludicrousness of dropping men with guns into a battle filled with slathering hellbeasts, ghost-possessed walkers and genetically enhanced superhumans
Kieron: I think you nailed it in your review, really. The Imperial Guard turn 40k into a real horror. There's only a million space marines in the universe. A Million Imperial Guard will die in a single battle. That's where they fit, and - as Alec says - I think they do a good job at capturing that.
Quinns: The Tyranids help to turn the game into horror, too. I mean, Chaos is evil, but the Tyranids are... unpleasant. It's something else. At least with Chaos, each victory feels worthwhile. With the Tyranids? You sacrifice a squad to kill one of these creatures, and for what?

Kieron: Yeah, but if they don't have anyone to terrorise, it's not horror.
Alec: Tell you what, I would love to see some Relic internal statistics on Space Marines deaths in DOW 1/2
Kieron: Heh.
Alec: I bet far more than a million marines die per week
Kieron: "This isn't canon"
Alec: But it is! The tale of the Blood Ravens, at least.
Kieron: It's best not to think too hard about.
Quinns: I fear that we're currently driving offroad with all this talk of the 40K universe. Maybe let's talk about the game itself?
Kieron: We're dodging the topic though - I love the Imperial Guard. They were "my" army back in the day. The thing being, as Alec said, is that they really go for the meat grinder approach, and at least in the campaign, the fact you have many more units than the heroes is a key difference from the previous DoW2s.
Alec: This is the most I've ever liked them. I have felt the "they're a bit boring" presumption before, but this puts their fiction as much as their function up front.
Kieron: It, for me, makes the game closest to being like real 40k. As in, a few sexy heroes and about 40 other dudes, including the fact there's not that much tactics in it.
Alec: while I preferred Chaos Rising as a whole, something felt a bit off about DOW2's take on Chaos. Bit too pantomime baddy, not weird enough by half. The Impy Goo are bang on here though. But yes, let's talk about the tactics or lack thereof in singleplay. While there's that great choice between playing it as an RTS or an RPG, the lure of the latter is strong.

Kieron: You were playing it on Normal, yeah?
Alec: Yeah, with some mild experimentation with the next one up. Definitely needed a lot more cover there
Kieron: This is where we hurt ourselves - "it's not very tactical on normal", etc. They've made the levels much more linear. It's kind of double-dragon with an army.
Alec: There's a bit of a review timescale issue there, to be honest. I got passed code very close to the knuckle, and wanted to be able to get through as much as possible in time. But it's not one which often demands much from me. Playing purely for my own benefit, I would have gone hard and taken a week over each campaign.
Kieron: Missus. Yeah, and I wouldn't have. I stomp through it on Normal and then go back.
Quinns: I think this is where I bounced clean off the single player. The scripted single player missions which are more like dungeon crawls don't appeal to me at all.
Kieron: I couldn't disagree more. The Single Player has much mroe interesting stuff than the MP.
Quinns: O RLY
Alec: Completely agreed
Kieron: It just has. The MP is basically the same as DoW2 which was a slightly novel RTS remix. The SP is something completely unique to DoW, and every iteration has changed considerably.
Alec: It's the conquering army of fucked up heroes, not the sporty victory-point tussle of ultimate meaninglessness.
Kieron: 'xactly. It's just got a whole lot of character now. Have you played much of the previous SP stuff, Quinns? In Chaos and DoW2? (I want to talk about what changes between thisversion and the last one)
Alec: (it's worth pointing out that the first three SP missions in Retribution are a bit dull, and hyper-scripted even by its standards)
Quinns: You know, I've actually had exactly the same experience with every Dawn of War game I've ever played. Try the single player, it doesn't feel rich enough and I don't feel challenged, I lose interest in the plot and the fiction, fool around in multiplayer, then leave the whole game alone. Scripting's all well and good, but only to augment a game that's engaging in the first place. And I wasn't gripped.
Kieron: It's not the scripting though. It's the options and ability to genuinely grow an army.
Quinns: The RPG elements?

Alec: Yes, you're fielding your own tailor-made force several missions in.
Kieron: Yeah, totes. And this one nails the number of choices splendidly, and puts them in various places. As in, you unlocking bits of the tech tree over HERE and getting equipment overe THERE.
Alec: Not purely RPG - it's still a tech tree, but it's one you've defined to some degree.
Kieron: Weighing up whether you want to have faster-lasers on your tanks or give your leader a new coat.
Alec: As I said in the WIT, the sheer, crazy scale of the co-dependant abilities you eventually unlock is remarkable. Big, fat, gleeful carnage.
Kieron: You know what it reminds me of? It's less the RPG, and more the actual time and effort it takes to make a "real" warhammer army. As in, the investment in your little men. Which simply isn't there in a 20 minute bout. It's the coldness of a "build" versus the warmth of recruiting an army.
Alec: This is true. And that's somewhere the fiction gets in the way - I really don't want to be Blood Ravens, y'know?
Kieron: Yeah.
Alec: That's where I'd love the splintering campaign approach to go next, encompassing your aesthetic choices
Kieron: That's where I'd have segued next. The story really is a bit of bobbins.

Alec: They approach unversality for all six factions here, in a slightly humdrum way, so why not extend it to Any Army?
Kieron: It doesn't intro any of the information well, and I finished the previous game a month back, and I still don't remember who the bad guy is.
Alec: Chaos Rising was stronger in that regard, in that at least your playable characters were major parts of the story. In this case, you're pretty much just a passer-by.
Kieron: I agree, Alec. You know what I'd like it as? Sort of a Elite-esque structure, with you making an army and going out there, doing stuff. If you're going to be universal, be universal.
Alec: Yeah, the fact they've kept it contained to a single galaxy would suit that too. Doing the Soulstorm/Dark Crusade thing a little more
Kieron: Yeah. With a splash of Mass Effect 2, if you see what I mean. (i.e. move the narrative to the character conflicts inside the group, and keep the actual setting as their jobs)
Alec: Quinns - tell us about the multiplayer then, as you're probably the closed we have to a StarCraft II-head here. Can this compete?
Kieron: Yeah, what you make of it?
Quinns: It's entertainment. I had fun. I think I started to enjoy the RPG elements that you guys were so happy with- part of that makes it through to the multiplayer, with every squad and hero having all these upgrades to choose from. But for the exact same reason, mechanically speaking it's a bit messy. Not in such a way that you couldn't play it to a very high standard, but, I mean, you mentioned StarCraft 2- every unit in SC2 has a role, and has been designed with a ludicrously strict purpose. To counter this, to boost this. Here, we've got six sides? Each with all these different units that can be tweaked to fill any number of roles? And there's a certain opaqueness to the information. Want to know whether you should equip your Space Marine Force Commander with terminator armour? You've got to try it out. It reminds me picking equipment in Defense of the Ancients in that respect. Variety has its place, but not necessarily when you're trying to play a strategy game effectively.

Alec: I'm not sure it's that broad. There are clearly optimal builds.
Kieron: When I play it, I play it very robustly - as in, knowing that a melta is anti vehicle, and rolling with that. I don't often think of specific units. And that the game is squad based at least simplifies it a bit. As in, you're not thinking about shall I make 5 men or 6.
Alec: But certainly it's not based around that absolute exetermination that SC2 is. It's about having a moving front, tussling all the while.
Quinns: And I love that about this. But I loved it more in Company of Heroes.
Alec: Yes, me too
Kieron: That's their novel thing - in the limit of base building and all about the controlling areas. And, yes, I prefer it in CoH.
Alec: CoH had laser focus, every unit made sense for that kind of conflict.
Kieron: It's worth noting, in case anyone's wondering, that the Skirmish AI is still abominable.
Alec: They've got so much to squeeze into those cap-based maps, and so much of it just isn't entirely suited. They've applied 40K stuff to an exsiting structure, whereas COH built multiplayer specfically for COH
Kieron: Yes. The universe in 40k is simply too big for a game like CoH. In terms of elegance. Er... worth stressing, I do like it though.
Alec: If it was just an infantry game they could have pulled it off much more neatly, I suspect. You could see them trying to do that in the first DOW2, but more big stuff inevitably crept in
Quinns: It's been pretty enlightening for me just how much of this is you guys talking about the 40k universe. I do think as somebody without quite so much of an interest in it, I'm missing something.
Alec: Yes, I'm conscious of that too. RPS is subjective enough at the best of times, but for DOW we completely bolt the door to the outside world. That's why the people love us, right? Right? Right? They love us, right?
Kieron: What do you mean?
Quinns: KG: Imagine if we discussed a Mechwarrior game and spent this much time discussing the lore.
Alec: Well, we're not going on about how well the Impy Goo work as an RTS/RPG faction. We're going on about how well they evoke the Imperial Guard as believe we know them. There is crossover, but we wear our hearts on our snotty sleeves.

Quinns: Gross.
Kieron: Goddit. That's what I thought you meant. Yeah. I dunno.
Alec: I actually have no problem with that
Quinns: To sum up, then: final thoughts?
Alec: There are plenty of boring, by the numbers reviews out there if people want 'em.
Kieron: I think Dawn of War is basically to a certain sort of Britisher what Football Manager is to *another* certain sort of Britisher. I like it a lot.
Alec: Football Manager's appeal is *so* much broader, though. DOW2 is trying to access an audience far beyond its core.
Quinns: I think it's crisp, and lovingly made, and it makes me want to play Ruse or SC2.
Kieron: I never said anything about the size of the groups, man.
Quinns: Shit! I haven't tried out the new Japanese faction in RUSE.
Kieron: Oh - I forgot to say: it lacks polish, which is disappointing. I had an end of level boss fight mess up by having cleared the area of barrels beforehand when wandering through. (I ended up defeating it by just having Las Cannons sit outside its range and pound it down over 10 minutes)
Alec: Yeah, I got a few units stuck, and even had to grenade one lot to death just to free up the popcap and build a replacement. And that some of the cutscenes switch entirely to the space marine perspective, no matter who you're playing as, makes for a scatty plot.
Kieron: Heh.
Quinns: Haha.
Alec: I like it a lot too, but I don't think it's Relic punching quite their hardest. but it is an awful lot of punches all at once.
Kieron: Yeah, it's good. It's a step forward in many ways from Chaos. I think they'll do another one, and I think that'll be the definitive one. But this is damn good in the meanwhile. Also - on Steam rather than Games for Windows Live. Get this one, surely.

Quinns: Who would you recommend buy it, then?
Alec: I think it's for absolutely everyone that bounced off StarCraft II. It's an everyman strategy game, rather than targeting the fans and the athletes. And, frankly, for a whole lot of the people that loved SC2 singleplayer but were terrified by multiplayer.
Kieron: And if it excites you to wonder whether to go for a shotgun or a lascannon, it knows you well.
Alec: 40K-lover or not, it's filled with accessible points of entry and reasons to invest in what you're doing.
Kieron: IT'S A WRAP.
Quinns: You're a wrap.

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