Dawn of War II: Retribution Hands On

Retribution also continues the RTS-with-a-twist-of-RPG tradition that Dawn of War II started, but again there are a few tweaks aimed at allowing you to wage war in exactly the way you wish. The character progression and war gear upgrades remain, but at the end of each mission you get a chance to pick from one of three rewards which are, for the most part, one-time-only offers. As a result, you’ll be able to tailor your force to your needs. If you like running with just heroes, then pick the hero upgrades. If you want to swarm the enemy base with hundreds of troops, though, then you’d better pick all the unit unlocks.

The new additions to the game, the Imperial Guard, offer a distinctly different play style. Unfortunately, the game stops short of allowing the true hoard-like armies for which the Guard are known; squads of guardsmen hit a maximum of ten soldiers (once fully upgraded), which can feel a little feeble. Their strength is in their armour, though, and at the higher tech tiers they can dominate with Manticores, Leman Russ battle tanks and the house-sized Baneblade super-heavy tank all becoming available.

Dawn of War II: Retribution Preview Dawn of War II: Retribution Hands On
Each hero can chose to specialise in either ranged or melee combat

You’ll have to put up with some of the more comic voice acting if you want to play as the Guard, though. Lord General Castor sounds like an English country gent out on a hunting sortie in the savannah, regardless of whether he’s being shot or pounded to a pulp by an Ork warlord. Meanwhile, Sergeant Merrick sounds like he’s auditioning for a role on EastEnders.

Keen followers of the series may have had their interest piqued by the stylised Inquisitorial 'I' subtly placed in the expansion's title, but the only concession made to the Inquisition is the inclusion of Inquisitor Adrastia; a tersely pessimistic servant of the Emperor with the power to order the destruction of entire planets. She serves as one of the Imperial Guard's heroes and is one of the few Guard units that can hold its own in hand-to-hand combat. Frankly, though, we were hoping for a little more from the Ordos - some Grey Knights or Sisters of Battle would have added some variety.

Relic has largely left the multiplayer side of the game alone, with the integration of the Imperial Guard and a few extra units for the current races being the only change. Space Marines gain access to the Land Raider tank, Chaos players can look forward to Noise Marines while the Orks get to drive the ridiculous Battlewagon. Meanwhile, Eldar and Tyranid players also get an extra unit in the form of an Autarch and the Swarmlord respectively.

Dawn of War II: Retribution Preview Dawn of War II: Retribution Hands On
Say hello to my little friend

What Relic has overhauled is the networking behind the multiplayer portion of the game: gone is Games for Windows Live (huzzah), and in is Steam friend list integration. Retribution also adds in-game chat windows, which sync to your Steam friends list.

Overall, it’s a much more elegant and capable matchmaking system and one we were told that Relic wanted to integrate from the start. Unfortunately, Steam wasn’t able to offer such services when Dawn of War II was released, hence the use of Games for Windows Live.

Relic also showed us a new Last Stand map, which promises to provide more of a challenge for hard-core players, many of whom smugly complained that Last Stand mode was too easy. The new map starts at a significantly harder level than the first, and made us cry before we’d even got to level five.

Dawn of War II: Retribution is being developed by Relic and will be published by THQ exclusively on the PC on 4 March 2011.
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