Warhammer 40,000: Dawn of War II is the latest real-time strategy game for the PC based upon the very successful Games Workship tabletop wargame franchise.
Hot in the footsteps of Company of Heroes, Dawn of War II utilizes an upgraded version of Relic Entertainment's Essence Engine. Unfortunately, one of the first things many gamers will notice immediately is that it suffers from an identity crisis in both the single-player campaign and multiplayer modes. So different, in fact, that switching from one to the other feels like an entirely different experience.
Of course, this is not to say that either mode suffers from poor quality, as both are actually well done. However, the "identity crisis" issue is that the single player campaign focuses entirely on the Space Marines with no option to play as the Orks, Eldar or Tyranids. While the campaign is interesting and well done, the limitations may disappoint some fans. Additionally, the single player campaign plays almost like an RPG/RTS which simply does not carry over into multiplayer at all.
In the end, however, the main campaign offers some very fun battles and a solid enough story. Players should enjoy each and every mission, and there are always great incentives to traveling between star systems, especially when hunting for the next best piece of gear. Boss battles always find a way to stay interesting, and watching characters level up shares much of the same excitement that is typically only seen in MMORPG titles. Even better, the main campaign is more in line with the origins of the franchise than that of the original Dawn of War PC title.
As for the multiplayer offering in Dawn of War II, this portion of the game does allow users to play as any of the four sides using a variety of units and heroes. However, the initial problem with multiplayer is the learning curve faced when using the new sides. Why? Because players will have had no experience playing as the Eldar, Orks and Tyranids thanks to the limitations of the single-player campaign.
Even with that learning curve in mind, multiplayer is still a real treat. The frantic nature of base building is replaced with the intense nature of point control. Players wishing to succeed online must make the most of their armies and hero in order to control the map. Whoever controls the map controls the resources, and as such can support larger armies. Victory point gameplay from Company of Heroes and the original Dawn of War also make a return in ranked matches, which ultimately decides who comes out on top at the end of the match. Thankfully, the Essence Engine does an excellent job bringing every aspect to life visually.
Visually, the graphics in Dawn of War II are definitely rock solid in both presentation and performance, with a very colorful and even bloody world to play in. Destructable terrain, buildings, and objects are scattered about each of the maps. Cinematics are top notch, and the sound effects and music also scream of a job well done. It should be noted however that Relic Entertainment has rarely if ever disappointed when it comes to the senses.
The Multiplayer backend is managed through Games for Windows Live which has improved in quality and reliability by leaps and bounds over the years. With the partnership, users are also able to earn achievements as seen in Xbox 360 titles in both single player and multiplayer. Standard one versus one and three versus three matches are available in ranked play, with other options available while playing custom multiplayer games.
The only question that remains is why Relic chose to develop Dawn of War II with such a drastic difference between the Space Marine limited single player campaign, and the more robust multiplayer. Chances are, we will never know the full story, but despite that, Dawn of War II is an exceptionally solid PC title worth checking out.
Final Score: 8.5 out of 10