Warhammer 40,000: Dawn of War II - Chaos Rising Review

By Russ Fischer - Posted Apr 01, 2010

Warhammer 40,000: Dawn of War II - Chaos Rising picks up more or less where Dawn of War II left off, and introduces a touch of Chaos to the already impressive and varied RTS/RPG hybid gameplay. New maps, new units, a raised level cap and a dark turn to the already foreboding storyline are all on offer in this expansion.

The Pros
  • Solid new story and characters
  • Good variation in maps and missions
  • Corruption makes the series feel even more like classic Warhammer
The Cons
  • Short solo campaign
  • Late-game can be quite demanding
  • Corruption affects your forces based on some odd choices

Warhammer 40,000: Dawn of War II - Chaos Rising picks up more or less where Dawn of War II left off, and introduces a touch of Chaos to the already impressive and varied RTS/RPG hybid gameplay. New maps, new units, a raised level cap and a dark turn to the already foreboding storyline are all on offer in this expansion.

When the Warhammer titles first arrived as tabletop games in the '80s, one of the standout characteristics was the obscene force of Chaos, which blighted warriors that chose it as a route to power. Every gaming system and fantasy world has forces of evil, but in Warhammer, Chaos always felt more subversive, sickly and wrong than most. Some of that spirit has been manifest in many previous video games that portrayed the universe, but the Warhammer 40,000: Dawn of War II expansion Chaos Rising makes the best case yet for the beauty of Chaos.

Warhammer 40,000: Dawn of War II - Chaos Rising Review

Like Before, Only More Evil

Superficially, this expansion is much like Dawn of War II. It uses the same basic structure that allows you to control several squads, each with a unique leader and perhaps a few soldiers. The controls are pure RTS and the mission scenarios see your squads beset by a variety of footsoldiers, vehicles, mechs and bosses representing Orcs, Eldar and Chaos Space Marines.

Characters return from Dawn of War II, as well. Cyrus, the stealthy, sniper-y guy,  Davian Thule, a ghost trapped in a Dreadnaught. Tarkus, the tactical squad leader. There's a significant new character, the Librarian marine, Jonah Orion, who possesses some serious psychic abilities. On the multiplayer side, you'll have access to Chaos Space Marines, too, with some units that are nice and nasty.

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Everybody Wants Additional Action

When you see the librarian's explosive, far-reaching powers in action, you'll also quickly realize that he's a pointer for the direction of Chaos Rising. Specifically, this tips Dawn of War II's RTS/action/RPG triangle more towards the action and RPG points. Relic has really pushed for more fireworks this time, and in the end, despite the basic control trappings of the RTS genre, this feels much more like, say, a squad-based Diablo on serious steroids. It is tactical action in an RTS disguise.

One big complaint that stuck in my craw during Dawn of War II has been addressed. No longer will you slog through the same mission maps over and over. The trade-off here is that the storyline is shorter at around ten hours. Hey, it is an expansion, not a full game, right? But there's still plenty of variation, and you will find some solid optional side missions, and even one mission that serves as a tribute to the board game Space Hulk.

Warhammer 40,000: Dawn of War II - Chaos Rising Review

Power Corrupts, Absolutely

And then there is Corruption, which is how this particular window on Warhammer brings Chaos to the people. On the battlefield, characters stained with Corruption will have access to the most over-the-top powers in the game, while those who have remained pure have to make do with less oppressively powerful options. Corruption is doled out squad by squad, so you can actually use the system to create an ideally varied set of marines, but the way that Corruption affects your units can be a little weird. Failure to undertake side missions can increase your level of Corruption, as can neglecting to take a certain character on a certain mission, but it all seems rather arbitrary as if it was hastily conceived. In comparison, the use of certain items or abilities can corrupt characters as well.  Don’t lose hope though.  Players can redeem their fallen brothers by donating applicable wargear or accomplishing certain in-game mission objectives, such as rescuing comrades under siege.

Chaos is Catchy

Dawn of War II was both an excellent sequel and a great new look at the Warhammer universe, and Chaos Rising is the ideal expansion for a game that pushes the franchise in a different direction. Sure, it's a bit short and some of the ideas behind Corruption can seem odd, but as an experiment to see where the series should go next, this is a very playable, rewarding trip to the dark side.