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Hands On With DOWII: Retribution

We sent RPS infiltrator Dan Griliopoulos to THQ's UK office to play the latest Dawn Of War II expansion. What he saw contained Noise Marines, Inquisitors, and no GFWL. The game is out 4th March 2011

Everyone has a reason to be on Typhon. Eliphas the Betrayer is there to, y’know, betray stuff; Captain Diomedes of the Blood Ravens wants retribution (duh) on his traitorous Chapter Master; the Eldar are looking for something amazing buried in the planet’s surface; the Inquisition-commandeered and gloriously English Imperial Guard just do what they’re bloody well told; the Tyranids are... hungry. Well, everyone except the Freebooters. These demented Ork pirates are there because someone shot their Krooza down and because hat-fetishist Captain BludFlagg has taken a shine to the lady Inquisitor’s topper.

The reason Inquisitor Adrastia is there, is because she’s investigating the Blood Raven’s Chapter Master Kyras at the request of Gabriel Angelos (after the events of Chaos Rising); Angelos is hoping that she succeeds, because floating through space to the Blood Raven’s home sector is a fleet of Ordo Malleus ships, carrying the ferocious Exterminatus technology, to wipe every habitable planet in the sector clean of life, as a solution to the endless alien incursions and corruption riddling it.

With a plot twistier than John’s knickers (when you mention game addiction), it’s hard to believe that Dawn of War ever started as a pure strategy game. In the upcoming Retribution standalone, which we’ve been playing at THQ’s glamorous Woking offices, Relic have jammed in six unique story-lines across sixteen or so shared missions, and more RPG elements than a rocket factory. I played through nearly all the beginning missions, and what’s striking is that the stories are mutually exclusive; in each of the intro missions, your chosen band of heroes / rogues / horrors alien beyond Kieron’s darkest fantasies kill a character from another storyline and alter the plot fundamentally. The first boss the Freebooters face is the Elven Autarch - who they stomp Elf Jam whilst chatting casually to the Inquisitor about her hat; similarly the Tyranids make a nice snack of first Sergeant Merrick, then Lord General Castor of the Imperial Guard. If there’s any chance of another Dawn of War II expansion, there is only one way of making anything that happens here canon; kill every last playable character. In the grim darkness of Relic’s script department, we suspect they’ve taken great joy in making so many memorable characters, then killing so many of them off.

Of the selection of 20+ heroes (four for each race, and the ronery Tyrant), each character has its own unique advancement tracks, with the Hive Tyrant and Chaos Lord Eliphas taking the plaudits for their highly customisable and deadly upgrades and wargear. Even more than before, you can mould each character; I chose to make Merrick a heavy-weapons specialist, but he could easily have been an effective infiltrator, a damage sponge or a passing-off lawsuit for Jason Statham.

Moreover, the stories, though they take place over the same missions, ramble through a range of styles, in the briefings and in the cutscenes; the Blood Angels intone ponderously; the Eldar catfight and bitch endlessly about their doomed schemes; the Freebooters provide a laughter track; the Tyranid campaign is deliberately without individual character, and often told in the third person; finally, the Imperial Guard is something of a motley crew with the tough-as-nails Merrick, pragmatic Inquisitor Adrastia, disciplinarian Commissar Bernn (who executes your guardsmen for a variety of buffs), and toff huntsman Lord General Castor. There’s just a huge cast, and the plot justifies their motivation for each mission marvellously. Though no-one needs much motivation for escaping an orbital bombardment, especially if it’s your fault...

Oh, and 40K fans hold yourself; the Imperial Guard’s tanks are just delightful, tough and huge. Through one of our favourite missions, our fleeing Imperial heroes were pursued, run over, machine-gunned and blown sky-high by a wall-crushing Baneblade super-heavy battletank driven by renegade Scots. Later Lord General Castor unlocked the ability to have Leman Russ battle-tank dropped from the sky on demand; alongside new Battlewagons for the Orks, Land-Raider Redeemers for the Marines, and Swarmlords for the ‘nids, that should make multiplayer interesting.

What’s most impressive is the way Relic have re-integrated.the troop-deployment mechanic that had been sidelined to multi-player. Previously, you just had hero units leading squads. Here you have solitary heroes (rarely with bodyguards), Honor Guards and squads. Heroes you know about; squads are just general-purpose units built in captured factories from recovered resources, who don’t persist between missions and who can be upgraded squad-by-squad. Honor Guard are optional elite units you can take on missions instead of heroes, which increase your unit cap and can be rebuilt for free from relevant bases. On some missions, I took my core squad of five individuals; on others I took a mass of troops, as well building even more disposable Comissar-fodder in mission, leaving me with an Imperial Guard army closer to the Dawn of War I size. More squads, unit wargear and hero wargear can be unlocked as mission rewards, some of which further increase squad sizes.

All of the new units (and more - my old favourites, the Chaos Noise Marines make an appearance), a selection of the heroes and new maps are available in Last Stand and multiplayer modes (though without the heavy choice complexity of the single-player). Just in terms of general play, the improved Steam integration we tried really helps match-making, alongside a much better ranking system (borrowed liberally from Chess and Battle.net). Apart from not getting gamerpoints on my 360 (to what end?), I’m not going to miss GFWL; achievements have also shifted over, so there should be 50 Steam achievements (of which we only saw one, which is a big spoiler - Exterminatus).

You there, the DOWII fan; I’m not sure how you’re going to avoid playing through this more than once; I’d expect you to play through it all six times. Jeff Lydell from Relic told us that each playthrough should take you on average eight hours, so that’s (does maths, fails) forever. The level of choice in DOWII is now sickening; you can choose your side, then how they’re going to level individually, then what wargear they’ve got, then whether you’ll take a huge army or a small one, then the units, then their upgrades, then what canned food you need to get through the week to complete it, and finally whether you’ll ever leave the house again.

[Also check out our enormous Retribution gallery.]

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About the Author

Dan Grill


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