However, rather than adding to the game, all the extra units make Retribution feel cluttered and more simplistic. Rather than intelligently using your squads and their abilities, it’s now all too easy to build up a huge force and steamroller over almost any opposition. Much of the micro-management-heavy, tactical gameplay of Dawn of War II just doesn’t come into play anymore and this is a real shame. One of the reasons we liked Dawn of War II so much in the first place was because it trimmed back the RTS genre's flab and left just the toned, small unit muscle; in Retribution the gameplay has been pigging out on units and now feels bloated.
Despite the radically different approach to units, the game’s play style of travelling through a level rather than operating from a central base remains. Happily, every mission is no longer a slog through the map before a tedious showdown with an over-powered boss character (although these do remain). Relic is clearly trying to make missions more memorable, with more set pieces and varying objectives such as ambushing Ork supply convoys or escaping from ruined space hulks.
It's too easy to build up a huge force and stomp everything
However, the narrative that strings the missions together is often stretched, or sometimes completely absent, as it needs to apply to every race, and this can make the whole experience feel a little disjointed and forced. One Imperium mission is introduced with you simply being told that 'the situation has changed'
- hardly the narrative quality you expect from a game world with such a rich canon.
Another big change is the trivialisation of the way Retribution handles resources. In past single player campaigns, and in Retribution’s multiplayer mode, maps are divided between requisition and power nodes, the capture of which grants a gradual trickle of resources into your army’s coffers with which to build and upgrade units. In Retribution’s campaign, resources are primarily acquired by tedious whack-a-mole crate smashing as you tour each level.
These resources are then spent at handily placed capturable bases, which also reinforce depleted units for free. The result is that you often end up fielding an army that pushes the limits of the mission's population cap and still swimming in resources, making troops as disposable as a Bic razor. Again, this is a big departure from both Dawn of War II and Chaos Rising, where the small, specialised squad play made unit conservation and smart tactics so important.
The graphics are still gorgeously detailed
Retribution is odd insofar as it tries to undo much of what made Dawn of War II and Chaos rising so different from the rest of the RTS madding crowd. There’s been a palpable switch away from the small, squad based combat towards a more traditional RTS with larger, unit-heavy armies. This wouldn’t be a problem, but Relic hasn’t re-tuned the rest of the game’s design around this fairly major change, and the result feels like an unwieldy mash-up.
The same can also be said of the single player campaign itself – Retribution tries so hard to give the player the choice to play as any of the six races that the campaign isn’t able to be as focused or involving as it would be if it were just for one or two races. The result is six poorly strung together campaigns instead of a single quality one.
While improvements to the multiplayer mode, including the merciful dumping of Games for Windows Live for SteamWorks matchmaking, make Retribution's long term playability more attractive, Dawn of War II's multiplayer gameplay remains very intimidating for new players, and is even more so now there are six races to learn.
All this leaves us with something of a bad taste in our mouths. You can’t help feeling that Relic has tried to do too much to please too many people, and the end result is less than the sum of its parts. While it’s competent and fun enough on the first play-through, Retribution feels more like a throw-away expansion pack than a full-price game in its own right.