Dawn of War 2: First Impressions

The Dawn of War 2 multiplayer beta will be released to the Steam community on the 28th – however, owners of the original Soulstorm DOW pack have been getting a crack at it for a couple of days now. Steamfriends have been giving the beta a psin and can tell you this – we’ve had a blast.

The first point to note is that DOW2 is really no more than your standard RTS. The majority of its elements are taken from at least one other game in the genre and its rather tricky to describe the game as anything close to original. It anything it’s a Warhammer take on THQ’s successful Company of Heroes series. You know what to expect here – build troops, take points on the map, upgrade your men, defend your territory, take mroe points. Certain units are more powerful against one type of enemy but weak against another. Trying to find the balance between upgrading and building is the name of the game. Company of Heroes looks on, noddingly knowingly, watching troops under ‘surpressing fire’ and commanders upgrading ‘power nodes’.

Of course, the lack of originality in the game mechanics department really doesn’t matter when it comes to RTS – Command and Conquer laid down the ground rules a long time ago and since then there’s been iteration after iteration. The thing to note about DOW2 is just how well it pulls everything off. They’ve taken a long-running concept and bumped it up with ultimate fire-fights, tactical ‘special powers’ and huge mechanical destroyers to make it their own.

Jumping into a game, players must first choose what race and class they want to occupy. This decision isn’t superficial – your character type plays a huge role in how you must play the game, ranging from the type of brawling you will want to enter into, to the special abilities on offer. We’d love to say that we’ve had time to try out rach of the 12 different types, but learning how to sensibly use each takes a good few games and needs plenty of your time to hone. However, from what we’ve seen, the classes are extremely well balanced and provide quite an unbiased experience.

The next choice is whether you want to play a head-to-head war against another friend/randomer, or if you’d like to play as a team. We found ourselves preferring the excitment of teamplay action – set out as a 3 on 3 saga, each play gets their own HQ and must work with their fellow team-mates to secure the map.

Once the obligatory matchmaking has ended (players are ranked on their DOWing abilities so that they can be paired up with similarly-skilled associates and enemies) the fun begins. The first 5 minutes are a mad dash to grab as many points as possible before coming into contact with the enemies. The next phase is deciding whether to go on the offensive and take the opposition head-on, or to bide your time and build defences around your points. Of course, all this time you need to be watching your resources and building new units/upgrading existing ones where you see fit. It won’t seem so important at the time, but later on when your base is charged by mechnical walking destroyers, you’ll wish you has handled your resource count better.

As you can clearly see, Dawn of War 2 is still owing Company of Heroes quite a lot – however, it does excel in certain areas. The combat is awesome to behold – rather than simple firefights across barren land, DOW2 pumps excitment into every encounter. Gunfire flies all over the shop, the volume rockets and the hordes of soldiers scream war-cries all over the battlefield. The atmosphere is such a magnificient sight, especially larger fights, and being the victor is made that little bit more satisfying.

The units supplied are just awesome too. The infantry selection is varied and feel nice and powerful, while the bigger units like tanks and the huge, striding Dreadnoughts give an incredible edge in battle – until the enemy bring in their own, of course.

Besides the purchaseable units, each player also has one special character – their leader – who has elevated health, special powers, and is essential to capturing points. If your leader is KOed in battle, a countdown is then given. The earlier you click the big REVIVE button, the faster he’ll be respawned back at base, but the more the revivial will cost. If a player fails to revive his or her leader or simply does not have the resources to do so, it’s game over for them.

So the DOW2 multiplayer beta gets a thumbs up from us. It’s full of epic battles and tantelising scenarios. We’d like to see some more units and definitely more available defense buildings other than the supplied turrets. We’d ask for more maps, but with the news of more maps within a week of release, we probably don’t need to worry about a lack of scenery. Plus the supplied map editor will mean user-created battlefields will soon be a big hit.

And this is just the multiplayer – there’s a whole single-player campaign to be tacked onto this! Get ready for Dawn of War 2 soon – we reckon it’s going to be an essential Steam purchase.