Warhammer 40,000: Dawn of War II Review

By Tim Stevens - Posted Feb 24, 2009

In this X-Play Review, we take a look at 'Warhammer 40,000: Dawn of War II' the new real-time strategy game for the PC. Will this highly anticipated title have enough improvements to warrant a 5? Find out.

The Pros
  • Fast-paced RTS action
  • Involving and entertaining campaign and multiplayer
  • Solid graphics and performance
The Cons
  • May move a little too quickly for some

Few gaming franchises have been reborn and retooled as frequently as the Warhammer series, and even fewer can manage to show up that often without getting worn out. The initial Dawn of War produced three separate expansions and yet still stayed fun and playable right up to the end, but has now finally been put to pasture to make way for its successor: Dawn of War II. In many ways this game is a continuation of its predecessor and all those add-ons, but is streamlined and optimized, turning it into an even more fast-paced, all-out battlefield experience.

A New Threat

Warhammer 40,000: Dawn of War II ReviewThe campaign in Dawn of War II starts off familiar enough, with your cadre of space marines facing off against a fleet of dim-witted orks, pushing them back to capture strategic points on a remote planet. But, within the first few missions you’ll come to realize that the orks are just pawns, being manipulated by the eldar (elves) in an attempt to slow down a greater menace: the tyranid. Tyranid are a new faction that Halo fans will immediately liken to that franchise’s flood, as it is a seemingly mindless and overwhelming force intent on consuming anything in its path.

So, this game quickly turns into a task of mitigating that tyranid infestation -- which equates to plenty of carnage. This new title plays much like the last game in that it’s a fast-paced and combat-heavy RTS, but there are a number of tweaks that make it even more enjoyable. For one thing the number of controllable units has been trimmed, typically leaving you with four squads at your disposal, each with its own ability-packing commander. Each squad has a very different focus, for example one lead by a marine named Avitus packs heavy weapons that can’t be used while moving, while another led by the gravely-voiced Cyrus favors the stealthy approach and is able to use camouflage and destroy buildings with explosive charges.

As you play through the campaign you’ll unlock a few new squad leaders and can select which you’ll take on any given mission, enabling you to tweak gameplay to suit your interests. The exception is the force commander, a highly-powerful (and highly-customizable) marine who you must take into battle on each mission. On the battlefield you’ll be earning experience, items, and abilities, giving the game a strong RPG-like aspect that further extends your ability to align your forces however you like. Early on you won’t have anything more exciting than grenades at your disposal, but before long you’ll be calling in orbital bombardments, deploying invulnerable shields, and building turret defenses -- all of which will be needed need to overcome the tyranid threat.

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Multiplayer with Friends and Foes

Warhammer 40,000: Dawn of War II ReviewDawn of War II thankfully jumps on the co-op bandwagon and enables you to hook up with a friend over Microsoft’s Games for Windows Live to play through the campaign, with each player taking control of two squads of troops and heading out to action. With only two forces at your command you’re free to focus more on making the most of their unique abilities, giving you less to worry about and ultimately allowing you to be rather more cunning.

Co-op is a great addition but competitive multiplayer is where most gamers will be connecting online, and for good reason. There all of the game’s four factions are playable, and furthermore each of those factions has three selectable commanders who will change the orientation of those forces. Selecting the tyranid, for example, leaves you with the choice of a large commander who is effectively immune to most ranged weaponry, another commander who can create tunnels that its forces can use to subvert enemy defenses, and a third that offers stealth abilities enabling its forces to surprise its enemies.

There are just two combative gameplay modes: victory point control and annihilate. The former has you capturing control points which add to your score, the winner being the one who controls the most points for the longest. Meanwhile annihilate is just what it sounds like: seek out and destroy all the enemy forces. Both are plenty of fun and both have you capturing resource points on the map that accumulate and enable you to build new units and augment those forces already under your control. With a bevy of upgrade options appearing on most units, again you’re able to quickly and easily customize them to suit your strategy.

Production Values

Warhammer 40,000: Dawn of War II ReviewThe original Dawn of War was a great looking RTS when it first shipped, but through all those expansion packs never really got an update, leaving it looking awfully dated by the time Soulstorm rolled around. Dawn of War II naturally delivers that much-needed update, delivering the visuals you’d expect in a modern RTS. It’s not the most gorgeous title that ever graced a strategy gamer’s hard drive, but it has the visual flash you want, like streams of tracers from your heavy weapons squad and rocking explosions from satchel charges.

Character designs are a little on the simple side, and while part of that was surely a stylistic decision to fit in with the overall Warhammer canon, there must have been some system considerations made as well. The game runs quite well on your average modern gaming rig, even when weather effects are in full force. Often the screen will be full of tyranid grunts flocking here and there, but rarely did we detect any slowdown. Solid voice acting and a dramatic score round out the presentation on this one.

The Sequel You’ve Been Waiting For

It’s been a long time coming, but Dawn of War finally has a proper successor. It’s not perfect, as anyone who enjoys the resource management side of strategy gaming will be turned off by the gung-ho style here, but it’s no different than most of the earlier Warhammer 40,000 titles out there. So, if you’ve been following this franchise you won’t want to miss out on this latest installment – even if you decided to skip the last few expansion packs.

Article Written By: Tim Stevens