Relic entertainment is well known as the developers who popularized the squad-based RTS genre with their Dawn of War and Company of Heroes games. They are also well known for their awesome stand alone expansions – the original Dawn of War has three freaking stand-alone pieces of added awesomeness that managed to top the original in every possible ways. So, it couldn’t be a surprise that they would release yet another expansion for their acclaimed Dawn of War 2, not when Chaos Rising got even better reviews than its predecessor.
One great thing about Relic is that they never cease to innovate. They go ahead and experiment when most other developers would sit back, enjoying the spoils of war in total complacency. A great example of this would be their Homeworld series of three dimensional space-based RTSes. Last week I picked up Homeworld 2, released back in 2003. I haven’t given it much time, but so far it plays as great as it looks (the graphics are remarkable considering when it was released).
My point here is that the original Dawn of War was so freaking successful that Relic could’ve just polished up the game-play and graphics, patched in a new story and released the sequel. But they went ahead, changed the basics of the game adding in the great RPG mechanics we love, cuz “why the heck not?” Yes, DOW2 was criticized in the beginning but most people realized that relic was going in the right direction. I admit that DOW2 campaign was kinda repetitive in the end, but I still loved it. Chaos Rising only improved upon it.
With Retribution, Relic aims to give us choice and flexibility. The campaign follows mostly a similar pathway as in DOW2 but resource management has been introduced; sans the pesky based-building stuff. So, you have a choice with almost every race. You can choose to take in your four heroes and use the resources you get to upgrade them for the duration of the mission. Or take some powerful honor guard and vehicle units and the resources will be used to buy reinforcements for the squads. This is a nice option if you preferred the original DOW approach or if you just wish to forgo the micromanagement part and get the thrill of steamrolling with a large army for a change.
And yes, I did say ‘with almost every race’. Rather than playin with the same Space Marines for the third time round, you can choose to play with any of the six races in the game – Space Marines, Orks, Eldar, Chaos, Tyranids and the Imperial Guard. The campaign itself remains largely the same, with many of the same missions; but this approach is certainly better than forcing people to play with a single race – one they may not even like. For those who fear playing through the campaign with a different race wont be fun consider this – in DOW2, you just got the space marines and played through the same bunch of maps in campaign again and again; in Retribution, no map is repeated even once in the game and each of the race is so different from the others that it is a new experience every time. Admittedly, you would have to be a pure DOW nerd to play it with each of the races (like me) but the campaign is good enough for three to four playthroughs.
All the races have diverse heroes and units, paving way for a unique and fun experience each time round. The Imperial Guard for example have the Commissar, a hero unit that encourages friendly squads by shooting one of their squad members to motivate the rest of them to fight harder and a General who can call in reinforcements. The imperial guard are squishy, admittedly, but they have some pretty impressive tanks.
The orks heavy weapons specialist gets the perk to explode when using any of his abilities – he exploded on teleporting into a group of enemies, exploded on activating his force field and explodes on activating his explosion ability – Static Charge.
The chaos units and level up abilities revolve around their four gods. The best Chaos unit is the Plague marine who spreads a disease that heals Chaos units and damages enemies. Its later abilities allow killed enemies to zombify and get up to fight as friendlies. The upgrade path you choose makes for pretty diverse tactics – for example depending how you allocate points your shrines work in the battle – they may call in reinforcements, cloak nearby units, spew out daemons or fire doombolts at enemies.
Rather than recycle the same old heroes for the Space Marines, Relic has changed the formula for them too. The Scout hero is the same and the Force Commander is rather similar but there is a new Techmarine who specializes in deployables, turrets and stuff and a mysterious unit called the Ancient who can take on any role depending on how you spec him – jump assault, tank or heavy suppression weaponry.
The elder are a bit different to get into since they employ their mobility and abilities rather than brute force. There is the Farseer who has the ability to slow down time around her, causing foes to move slowly while the Eldar move and attack normally. But one of the coolest heroes is the Autarch who has an ability similar to the jump-packs of the assault marines except that he drops explosives on the part of the battlefield that he jumps over creating a deadly line of explosions behind him.
It’s a shame then, that the Tyranid campaign is so much weaker than the others. Much of this is because you control only a single hero (is would be illogical for there to be different heroes due to the whole hive-mind thing). The loot is therefore less much of the Swarmlord’s abilities consist of spawning various reinforcements which is rather uninteresting. The different squads themselves hardly provide any diversity and the most effective thing is to spam the cheap and easily-replaceable low-tier units anyway.
Still, five good campaigns is an awesome thing, and we haven’t even started talking of the multiplayer yet.
One of the best things in Retribution is that G4WL has been scrapped and match-making is now done via Steam itself which is noticeably faster. Not only that, but Retribution allows you to play as the older races even if you do not own the previous DOW2 games.
The skirmish multiplayer is mostly the same with the addition of the Imperial Guard. Its fun but tough getting into since DoW has its own dedicated community of multiplayer geeks – I’d recommend you practice a bit with the AI before jumping into online matches. There are two modes and in my opinion Annihilation is definitely better. It allows for more tactics as well as more exciting game play when you are rushing to wipe your opponent’s base. On the other hand Control is hardly fun, since you can always retreat your endangered units and an early start always leads to winning the round anyway.
The there is the Last Stand – a co-op mode where you and two allies are choose a hero and are tasked with surviving increasingly tougher waves of enemies. At the end of each map you get experience points and level up which in turn unlocks more wargear. Retribution adds another map – The Anvil of Khorne - and the Imperial Guard hero to the Last Stand. The Last Stand the best mode in the game – insanely paced and exceedingly visceral. I’d go as far as to say you should buy the game just for the Last Stand mode. I don’t lie when I say that as good as the campaign was, I had to force myself to play it for this review since I didn’t want to play anything except the Last Stand. In the first week after getting DoW2:retribution I clocked in a whopping 35 hours into this mode alone. If that isn’t indicative of a ridiculously fun and addictive experiences, then I don’t know what is.
With Retribution, Relic has nailed the game-play perfectly. Though Retribution has its flaws, the insane amount of content and replayabilty make them easy to overlook. For a stand-alone expansion that provides 5 awesome campaigns, a fun multiplayer and the addictive Last Stand mode for just 30 bucks, it was great value for money. If you haven’t picked it up already, you owe it to yourself as a gamer to play it – whether you are DoW nerd or not.
Note – Relic released a free update on 6 April that, in addition to various bug-fixes, added 12 steam achievements for Last Stand (two for each hero) each of which unlocks a new piece of wargear.