At the Microsoft booth here at CES 2009 I was lucky enough to get some hands-on time with Relic Entertainment's Dawn of War II, which will hit beta later this month on Valve's Steam service. As a big fan of Relic's games, I was really excited to play this game. I was not disappointed.
At the top level, the game is much closer to Company of Heroes than Relic's earlier Dawn of War titles, but this is a good thing. A very, very good thing. Secondly, the game focuses entirely on territory control and almost entirely removes base management.
You'll get a headquarters building, which you'll use to create your squads of units, but additional structures are created around power nodes or by units themselves. Power nodes will be captured to create power and can be upgraded with three additional power generators. It's an investment in that territory and is vulnerable, but can help turn the economic tide in a battle.
Dawn of War II Multiplayer Footage
There are also points that give you "Requisition" and "Victory Points" and you'll have to put up a brutal fight to keep them. Thankfully, the Company of Heroes cover system is in and works seamlessly. Heavy gunner units also come over to Dawn II and you'll be able to set up suppression lines to keep your points protected.
Keep reading for more hands-on impressions.
I was able to play a quick skirmish as the Space Marines vs. The Greenskins. The game still utilizes a hero unit that will be the centerpiece of your army. Squads of units are upgraded directly as tech unlocks and tech unlocks in two ways. There are three levels of the the tech tree, which unlock different units and upgrades. These upgrades are made from the headquarters.
For example, to get grenades on my marine units, I had to add a sergeant to the squad, which required my headquarters to be at level 2. It's a quick and easy way to establish a tech tree and also allows for different squads to tech independently of each other. In high-level play it's likely to create a pattern of counters and tech changes instead of sticking to specific builds like I see in high-level StarCraft or WarCraft III play.
Eventually, large Dreadnought units will enter the field that completely tear up infantry. I was caught by surprise having put about 6 minutes into the game and watched as my recon units were literally shred in half by a giant lumbering Greenskin Dreadnought.
In addition to many more unit abilities, global "spells" are also available as you kill enemy units. This works like Company's Command Powers, but are locked by race as far as I can tell. I didn't see multiple tracks available. For the Space Marines, the two powers I used were Drop Pod Marines and an orbitally dropped Dreadnaught (awesome). When these land, it sends enemy units flying and servers the dual purpose of quickly reinforcing and stunning enemies.
Relic has done a great job tweaking the game to keep you focused on the action instead of base micromanagement. The skirmish I played was intense and I was battling over territory in under a minute. The campaign mode of the game will reportedly retain the same open-ended gameplay as the Dark Crusade expansion from the first game, but I cannot confirm if it will be exactly like that mode. I'd expect improvements.
The game looks great and has a really high level of detail when zoomed in. The sound is satisfying even on a crowded trade show floor and the units feel like they have mass. When a commander or Dreadnaught sends units flying, you actually feel it through the game. Very impressive.
I've now played Dawn of War II and StarCraft II and they are completely different games. I'll be playing both of them for a long time when they finally release. Thankfully, we'll get Dawn of War II very soon. Now if you'll excuse me, I'm gonna go back and try and convince Microsoft to let me download the Skate 2 demo on one of the Xbox 360's on the floor.
Are you excited about Dawn of War II? If not, why not?!