Warhammer 40,000: Dawn of War II – Retribution Review

By Brian Leahy - Posted Mar 16, 2011

Retribution is the latest expansion pack for Dawn of War II, Relic's RTS that made waves when it was first released in 2009, but does this latest effort continue to innovate or does it just tread water?

The Pros
  • Imperial Guard is a great new faction
  • Regular units now available in campaign
  • Steamworks replaces Games for Windows Live
The Cons
  • Campaign story is below average for Relic
  • Mission design lags behind competition
  • No replayability outside of multiplayer

Warhammer 40,000: Dawn of War II: Retribution:

On paper, Warhammer 40,000: Dawn of War II: Retribution sounds like the perfect package. It’s a standalone game, which means you won’t need to own the original game or its first expansion, Chaos Rising, to get in on the fun. It trades in Games for Windows Live for Steamworks and includes six playable races, each with their own campaign. You’ll get multiplayer with all six races and Last Stand, the game’s Horde Mode… all for $30.

Six Whole Campaigns?!

Not quite! While it is true that Retribution features six playable campaigns, one for each of the games playable races (Space Marines, Ork, Eldar, Tyranid, Chaos Space Marines, and Imperial Guard), the game only features one main story. The campaigns do not happen sequentially or in parallel, as one might hope. Eldar players will play the same main storyline that Tyranid players will play, and so on. Sure, the details and characters will be different between each race, but even the progression of maps and available missions are the same.

The gameplay itself remains fun and rewarding and it’s nice to finally put the abilities of the four races not yet featured in a campaign to use against the AI with all of the unbalanced wargear and boosts not found in multiplayer. Additionally, the game brings the races support units into play allowing players to call in more reinforcements to aid the champion units we’re used to seeing. After each mission, you’ll get the chance to choose from one of three unlocks, which could be a piece of wargear for your heroes or an unlock or boost for your standard units.

In this way, the campaign’s gameplay feels fresh and adds even more choice and depth for players to explore as they tackle missions. Unfortunately, since each campaign is just a variation of the others, the amount of replayability present in the single-player mode is extremely low for all but those Warhammer fanatics. To be fair, the missions do start to differ as you near the end of the campaign, but it doesn’t help that the first two missions are practically mirror images for every single race. At the very least, it can help you learn the mechanics of each race before you dive into multiplayer.

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Land on Planet. Follow Waypoints. Complete Mission

The story itself is quite generic and doesn’t come close to the quality of the original game or Chaos Rising. The missions are all fairly similar, with your group of champions and chosen units arriving on the surface. You’ll usually get a quick dialog scene setting up the reason you’re on the planet, and then you’ll head off to the first waypoint. At chokepoints, enemies will enter the scene and need to be dispatched before proceeding.

Then, you’ll hit a cutscene or a little twist and more enemies will appear for the fighting. The story isn’t engrossing enough to keep you going in every mission and some feel a bit longer than necessary. There’s a lot of time spent walking from one end of the map to another where nothing is actually happening. Finish the objectives, get your rewards, upgrade your units, and head back in to another. There are optional missions, which will give you a bit more lore and a chance for more experience, wargear, and unlocks, but I honestly found myself skipping most of them in order to power through to the end of the race’s campaign.

There are some missions that have great concepts or ideas, but in practice, fall victim to the problems I’ve described above. The last mission, without spoiling anything, opens with an amazing, intense set-piece, but ends with two lengthy boss fights that feel more like tank-and-spank encounters from an MMORPG than an RTS mission. It really soured me on the whole mission and conclusion to the campaign.

But Wait, There’s More!

The best part about Retribution is that you’ll get the entire Dawn of War II multiplayer game and Last Stand, its cooperative horde mode as part of your purchase. Now, if you’ve already purchased the original game and Chaos Rising, you might be stuck upgrading to Retribution if you want to continue playing since Retribution is not played on the same servers because Relic dropped Games for Windows Live in favor of Steamworks. The previous games used Steamworks for DRM, but used Games for Windows Live for its multiplayer support. Now, everything is handled through Steam including the new text chat rooms you can join at any time.

Besides the introduction of the Imperial Guard as a playable race and some other balance changes, there isn’t much to talk about in terms of new features when it comes to multiplayer. I’ve had a lot of fun with Dawn of War II’s multiplayer and Retribution is no different. I tend to prefer team games in DoWII over one-versus-one matches, but I can enjoy a little head-to-head action now and then here. It’s hard to tell if Steam has been having issues or if there just aren’t that many people playing yet, but the matchmaking hasn’t been finding games all that quickly.

Last Stand is still a fun tertiary mode, but the one new map doesn’t really add enough to keep me coming back for a third time. The game will import your levels and stats from Chaos Rising (if you have them), but without a big change here, I’ve already had my fill of the mode.

Stop. Hammer-time.

Dawn of War II: Retribution
is an interesting package, but it almost better described at what it is not than what it is – it’s not an epic story spanning six playable races, nor does it add any new modes. The Imperial Guard should shake up the multiplayer meta-game, but they don’t feel like an expansion-pack sized addition after being introduced to the Chaos Space Marines with the great campaign in Chaos Rising. If you’ve never played Dawn of War II, you’re better off grabbing the original and Chaos Rising if you’re in it for the campaign. Multiplayer gamers will definitely want to pick this up for the shift to Steamworks and continued balance support.