The Dawn of War games are easily my favorite in the RTS genre, and Dawn of War II has been a turning point in what direction I prefer not only the franchise to go in, but the whole genre. While the lack of base-building is a touchy subject for a lot of gamers, the ability to focus on what I’m doing with my troops instead of worrying about making sure I have an expansion bay or a science building to make certain units is great for people like me, who really just want to jump right into the action. Retribution is a standalone expansion pack that features new units, maps, gear, and campaign that continues the story, though this time all races are playable. And speaking of races, the Imperial Guard are finally in the game, rounding out the total to six.
If you didn’t like the first two games, Dawn of War II: Retribution isn’t really going to change your mind. However, if you thought they were interesting games but didn’t quite understand them or get a chance to pick them up, Relic has done a pretty good job of easing new players into the game; even the story has a pretty good outline of all plot points early on. The tutorial and first level are very basic and break down damn near any aspect of the gameplay, and as you get more units and gear unlocked you can just experiment with different things to see what fits for you.
The single-player campaign is essentially the same story told six different times, albeit from the perspectives of the protagonists from each faction. Compared with 2009’s Chaos Rising, Retribution’s story just sort of feels rushed or unfinished, and the ending of the former really looked like it was going have a pretty big and epic story that ultimately never really happened. Predictiability isn’t even the main issue here, it’s more that they kind of do things that really don’t make any sense, and certain characters are either missing or are not really given the farewell they deserve. I’m probably the only person reviewing Retribution that actually cares about the story, but it is disappointing nonetheless.
Where the game really shines is the dialogue, and the banter between some of the character was really some of the best I’ve heard. This varies between factions, though, and one thing that really confused me was that there was almost always a third and/or fourth character that wasn’t voiced for some reason, making some scenes really odd where their interaction would have made sense.What also keeps each campaign somewhat unique is how the factions play different enough, and some levels are harder or easier depending on who you’re using.Overall the lack of diversity ended up keeping me from beating the game with other races, and I usually ended up stopping after a few missions due to disinterest. There are hardcore fans that will relish the idea of beating every campaign, most people are going to beat the game once and be done with it.
Not much has changed on the multi-player front other than new maps and a slew of new units, and of course the addition of the Imperial Guard. One improvement that really only affects online play is the move to Steam’s matchmaking system instead of the awful Games For Windows Live setup from the last two Dawn of War II games. That said, it still has a lot of issues finding matches, and there are definitely still lag issues that need to be fixed. The Last Stand, a cooperative horde mode that pits your hero and two others against different waves of enemies and bosses, has been upgrade with a new map and some tweaks that fix balancing glitches from the previous map.
For an RTS Retribution’s graphics hold up fairly well, though the age of the game engine is starting to show after a few years and some of the textures look dated; the particle effects are still some of the best out there. Having a high-end gaming rig myself I can’t comment on how it runs on lower-end systems, but it seems the minimum requirements haven’t really changed since the original. The music is still awesome and the feeling it brings when playing some of the bigger story-related missions adds to atmosphere. The voice-acting is where I start to get annoyed, and the aforementioned missing character voices is just incredibly strange. Maybe Relic ran out of time, money, or resources, but that and the repeated voice samples of older characters stand out. Still, the quality is what matters I guess, and everyone does a great job as always, especially Steve Blum returning as some of the main characters once more.
For the price-point it definitely has a fair amount of content, but Dawn of War II: Retribution definitely feels like something Relic did quickly and without reason. While I’m not sure about the development schedule they had with Chaos Rising, which came out around the same time last year and only a year after the original, Retribution’s lack of details, originality, or major changes really just culminate into something that doesn’t feel like strong enough on its own. The fact that the mutli-player still has a lot of issues means that buying it for just online play isn’t really worthwhile, and the single-player is simply a mishmash of good and bad ideas that don’t really pan out. By no means is it a poor game, but Retribution comes off as unsatisfactory in comparison with the past offerings of the franchise, and I hope that the next go around feels more complete.