The Grim Christmas Of The Future, there is only that stuff that isn't Lego, but wants to be. It's sort of similar, but not as various or as versatile. And you can't really build anything good with it, so that's just a waste of money basically, isn't it, eh? Some people. Tsk. On the other hand, we're probably all going to be destroyed by the hordes of aliens sweeping down upon us, so why worry? By which preamble we must mean that the fifteenth game of Christmas is close at hand...
It's... Warhammer 40,000 Dawn Of War 2: Chaos Rising!
Jim: It's perhaps my key regret of the year that Alec and I have been too busy to complete our co-op campaign for Chaos Rising. A fully co-op strategy campaign, particularly one as mature and as bombastic as this, is a rare thing, and to be able to play it through with a chum is one of those things that make gaming worthwhile.
That reason would be enough to give this a place in our end of year list, but it would be silly not to point out just how good that campaign is overall, single-player or otherwise. It's extraordinarily solid, even for Relic, with twists and turns and some valiant, dramatic fights that the design team must be proud of. Probably the best thing about it, however, is the portrayal of the space marines themselves. That we should become attached to large quasi-human fighting machines that are only viewed from above is quite the testament to the writing and design in here. I found myself genuinely stressing about their fate, and muttering "Nooo!" "Get up!" in the battles. It's not quite as tragic as, say, Men Of War's tiny heroes, but it's a beautiful thing nonetheless, particularly when you start to reach the corrupted fates that Chaos taint brings. While many RTS games just feel like you're unfolding the inevitable tide of managing your units to victory, this feels like more of a journey, with all the attendant choices and decisions that the band of space marines would face on this doomed world.
The Dawn Of War expansion packs have become a significant feature of of the PC gaming landscapes in the past few years, and this extended brawl with the Chaos contingent is a fine return to the new game's more action-orientated squad-thrashing play is a success. I feel like this was, in some ways, a restatement of how the original game was different to both its precursor, and to its peers (Starcraft 2) and in that sense it's about making the message even clearer. Relic want to do things differently. Look, they're doing it here. It makes me incredibly excited - confidently excited - about the forthcoming Retribution: an expandalone that can only cement Dawn Of War 2's position as a unique creature in the RTS landscape.
Alec: It's perhaps my key regret of the year that I haven't been able to create a legion of cyborg slaves to perform my endless daily chores for me, but yeah, what Jim says too.
Chaos Rising took the bold, risky but slightly unsatisfying Dawn of War II, and took it so much closer to the musclebound epic star wars it needed to be. Starcraft II might have stolen the Heavily Scripted Singleplayer RTS Campaign crown from the Blood Ravens' latest escapade in terms of pure gloss and variety, but for me there's something much more appealing about the narrative and characterisation here.
Maybe it's just me harkening back to those Ian Watson 40K novels I read in my youth, maybe its the relative lack of mystical mumbo-jumbo and doomed romances, or maybe it's just strange allure of grumpy, quasi-religious Space Marines doing their gravel-voiced thing.
Alongside pretty impressive level variety and that MSG tongue-tingle of gear upgrades, there's an excellent ethos of destruction and corruption. Chaos Rising's worlds aren't really there to be saved - they're there to be trampled over. Your Marines have, abstractly, a cause and can even elect to hold back from totally unchecked brutality in the name of resisting Chaos' influence, but really they're just a torrent of utter destruction.
Chaos Rising does the grim darkness of the 41st century incredibly well. Better than any game so far, I'd say.