Warhammer 40,000: Dawn of War II - Retribution


Warhammer 40,000: Dawn of War II - Retribution review
For The Emperor!


Dawn of War II: Retribution is a stand-alone expansion with a lot to offer. The latest title in the series, Retribution focuses on those bravest of men: the Imperium. Encompassing several races from the beloved Warhammer 40k tabletop game, Retribution offers a storyline worthy of inclusion in the Black Library, as well as fast-paced gameplay with an atmosphere that could knock a Squiggoth out cold.

The Blood Ravens chapter has suffered a serious blow, with their Chapter Master Azariah Kyras having abandoned the glory of the Emperor in favour of the blood-thirsty Chaos God, Khorne. With the chapter in disarray, subsector Aurelia has come under the hammer of evil. In reaction, the Imperial Inquisition is requested by Captain Gabriel Angelos to perform Exterminatus of the sector – an order which will wipe out every living thing in the area. Meanwhile, Kyras sets about achieving his own, far more sinister goals as he corrupts the men of the Imperium and plays off armies like puppets in an amusing yet highly bloody show that would arouse the Dark Eldar to no end.

And this exciting basis for the plot leads onto the theme of the campaign. With several races to choose from, each one presents a different side of the story to explore – a story of which you will not get to experience and enjoy in its entirety unless you play with every race. Whether it be the complex hopes of the desperate Eldar, to the simple “I want to kill everything for food/fun” premise of races like the Tyranids and Orks, each race has their own set of reasons for being in Aurelia. With Retribution offering you the opportunity to explore all of these, the singeplayer aspect of this title has a huge amount of replayability going for it, before you’ve even played your first level!

Every customisation option under the sun.

To lead your armies to glory, you get to play with Hero characters. They pack a punch, have access to a huge variety of weaponry, armoury, and special issue wargear (all of which is given an in-depth description and brief history), and you can upgrade them to gain new skills as they progress through levels one to ten. You also have the option to swap out a Hero before the mission commences and choose a corresponding Honour Squad instead. Although very powerful in their own right, being a vast improvement on their less honourable chums, I found myself little encouraged to select them when I knew all the valuable skills and tactics I’d be losing out on by removing a Hero from the team. Heroes offer a huge amount of customisation, and can even be tailored to a certain army theme if you’re one of those more obsessive of players.

The game plays out through fairly linear maps, where you gather Requisition and Power points to build up your army; capture bases to spawn units from on the fly; and set about achieving your various primary and secondary objectives. Retribution fortunately escapes the trap that ensnared previous titles in the series, giving you a good spread of objectives that even include some particularly peculiar ones such as escorting a drone tank around a long abandoned space hulk while protecting it from the “xenos threat”. It also keeps things fresh through the different goals of each race, ensuring that you never get the same experience twice.

Control-wise, it’s nothing too far apart from what you’ve come to expect from an RTS title, though there are a couple of things worth mentioning. Of positive inclusion is the HUD, which is clean and functional, being well removed to the sides to leave most of the screen to focus on the action. Of interest is the ability to have all skills tied to the single key; rather than pressing B to use say a Melta Bomb for each hero/squad with the ability, you can simply hit the B key and all units with that ability will use it simultaneously. The use of this feature really comes down to your preference of play though, as you may prefer to have them separate for multiple target selections and whatnot. Though I do have a slight complaint with the camera as, although you can zoom in and out, as well as pan around, I feel that the zoom function is a bit restricted, and would prefer the ability to zoom out further given the size of the maps.

Eventually you'll unlock godly units such as the mighty Avatar!

Retribution’s combat system is suitably deep for a game based off a long and well established tabletop game, and is fun to boot. It acknowledges the realism of warfare, including such features as the use of cover and the various effects it can bring, or the matchup system between different types of units (e.g. Heavy Infantry vs. Vehicle). And the battles get better and better as you progress as a player, seeing you effectively manage your various squads while quickly switching through your heroes to make use of your large selection of special abilities to turn the tide in your favour. Like your heroes, the regular units also offer a wide selection of upgrade options, allowing you to really tailor your army into niche roles on the battlefield to suit your style of gameplay. You also have your race powers (some of which are ridiculously powerful) that aren’t attached to any hero or unit, and are used through the spending of points generated through your kill tally. This is without even mentioning the sorts of orders available to you, such as a hasty retreat to your nearest base to heal, or reinforcing squads that have lost members. All in all, the combat system does well in reflecting the tabletop version and at the same time, distinguishes itself in the RTS genre as being a bit apart from the norm. Although units don’t always do exactly what you want them to, it works well overall, with each race presenting another unique experience to explore.

The environments you’ll be playing through are also well constructed. It’s got your expected spread of such environments as desert, snow, tropical jungle, city sprawl, etc. You can move squads into buildings, bunkers, or behind objects that can genuinely be perceived as cover to change the outcome of a battle. Most of the environment is in fact destructible, so it’s a lot of fun simply running your vehicles and monsters everywhere to smash objects apart... and for more strategic ploys such as finding a hidden area, if winning is more your sort of thing. Retribution fortunately comes off as a game with a lot of effort put into the various worlds that are ensnared in warfare, as opposed to making rather sparse areas for the sake of battle.

Everything has been given a level of depth expected from the 40k universe.

If you’re a fan of multiplayer, Retribution has a couple of features on offer in the form of Last Stand; to your more conventional Multiplayer mode; and even an often forgotten co-op mode. In Last Stand, you get to pick a character from any of the six races and gear them up with what you have available, before teaming up with two other people to duke it out in a wave-upon-wave scenario in a small arena. It’s actually pretty well done, and you really need to communicate to get anywhere with it. The characters on offer are varied enough to suit the player’s needs, and the mode offers a level-up feature with experience earned from your exploits. The main Multiplayer mode runs off maps with bases and point generators spread around and works off the simple idea of annihilating the opposition. It’s quite a lot of fun, and both features help add to the replayability of the game. Although, be warned that if your opponent has a poor internet connection, you will have to suffer the same lag issues, which is a serious nuisance. Then you have the co-op mode, allowing you to help a friend play through the campaign, which helps to freshen up the campaign a bit more, and again add to the longevity of the title.

Look-wise, the game has that “could’ve been made any time in the last few years” appearance to it. It’s all fine (sometimes better than fine, even) and it gets the job done, but I would’ve liked a little more in this department, especially with options to take advantage of with modern day computer specs. Still, I like the artistic style of the game, with the colouring and shading mimicking the style you’d find applied to the actual models in the tabletop version, which is a nice touch. And I thoroughly enjoyed the actions of individual units, including stylish kills that add a bit more depth and flavour to your slaughter. Though I wish RTS games would stop using the bobble-head in the character windows when they’re talking; seriously, guys, it is not that hard to make a face to match the dialogue! This issue extends to the awkwardness of the aforementioned dialogue while the characters just stand around during cut scenes. It’s a shame, because a few of the cut scenes are actually very well done, swapping out the over world view for a proper animation sequence, and is something I would’ve liked to have seen the effort into using them throughout the game.

Working alongside the decent graphics, is a more substantial offering in the sound department. I was actually quite pleased with the music; just put on some headphones and you’d think you were watching the latest action blockbuster at the local cinema. The music is composed in various tones to fit the themes of the levels, and are overall well composed – although you won’t remember any of it, sadly, as it doesn’t manage to become catchy in any way. The voice acting is actually a pleasure to listen to, and not just because I love a good English accent. You can hear the emotion they are meant to be conveying in their voices, all the characters have a distinct personality to them, and even the commands you’ll hear issued now and again during battle help to add to the level of realism. Whether it be the pompous General Castor of the Imperial Guard, or the epic pirate Kaptin Bluddflagg of the Orks, you’ll be consistently amused and pleased with the dialogue of the game.

If you've seen Aliens, you'd run away too...

And although it's mostly been patched up since release, there are still a few bugs that plague the title. One is in your first proper mission during the campaign, where there's a block of trees and rubble next to a staircase. For some reason, units are obsessed with going through the obstacles rather than using the stairs, including when you order a tactical retreat, which can be really frustrating when they just run in, get stuck and promptly die. There is also one with a recent patch where the mission spammed a boss unit, allowing you to generate a good handful of rare items before the end of the mission, rather than just a few as is the usual scenario. I've also seen other players having issues, such as units becoming stuck in terrain (similar to the staircase scenario) and tanks deciding they can't go somewhere when they can. Though having said all this, they have fixed a lot of bugs since initial release.

Retribution truly is a great expansion for Dawn of War II, and is well worth the money for any fan of the 40k universe. It has several aspects that keep the game from getting too repetitive, while extending the longevity to quite a healthy capacity (I spent about fifty hours just completing the campaign through with the six races available). Although I would’ve liked a little more on the graphics side of things, it offers a deeply themed gameplay, with a plot and voice actor cast that will keep you coming back for more. And once you’re done with singleplayer, the game offers up three different multiplayer modes for you to enjoy. For what it’s worth, Retribution is an excellent expansion and addition to the Dawn of War series, and is more than enough to entice any fans of the series to get it.

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