Warhammer 40,000: Dawn of War II
Changing a Winning formula isn't always the wisest course of action. It can also sometimes be the best one and evidently something Jeff Lydell believes applies to the Warhammer 40,000 real-time strategy game Dawn of War II. This was Relic's attempt to move the game about men with huge shoulder pads and bigger guns into the modern age. Rather than go for the template used the first game, and its myriad add ons, Relic modelled DOWII on their successful squad-based RTS Company of Heroes.
As we were so impressed by the game, we sent a pack of howling Orks to Relic's office to drag producer Jeff Lydell to Zone Towers for an interrogation. We pumped him for information until he was red, sore and relieved to be alive. These words are the results of that intense session.
"When we had our last team play test for Last Stand, I wasn't working on it but I went to the guy who was the producer at the time (I was an associate producer back then), and I said we need to spend more money on this. Not because it was bad, but because it was really good. "I had incredibly high hopes and a high degree of confidence for that game mode. The thing that makes it compelling is the progression. Each time you play it there's gear that you unlock. And when I say more loot I mean more kinds. So it's less about having 10 different types of shotgun, and more about weapon choices and more options to take for how you want to kit out your guy. "So as an example, we're introducing the melta gun, which is a high-powered anti-vehicle gun for ranged squads. We also have lightning claws, and a few other things that are very satisfying."
"I am a fan of the Lictor and the Warlock for their manipulation. There's something very satisfying about that, and the slap you get to do to somebody with that."
Protect And Serve
"It's funny because there are a lot of different audiences we serve when we release our games, and some of the people who 'got it' the fastest were the diehard Warhammer 40,000 fans. The original Dawn of War players had a big adjustment to make, because if they hadn't played Company of Heroes, they weren't around for that ride, and they were probably the hardest hit. And then the Company of Heroes players were looking for certain features that we hadn't included in exchange for others.
"By and large, we did have a lot of people pick up the product and we've had a bigger audience. It's been a big success and we hope that anybody who didn't like it for what it didn't have starts to identify with what it does.
"Because a lot of the customisation of the campaign has been well received, those are areas we're still expanding on. We're giving you more gear, more loot, more places to customise your guys. That's something that everybody will like. But the only other thing I'll disclose is that the Space Marines are getting a Librarian."
Hand To Hand
"Sometimes you go part of the way with a feature and then it doesn't work out. We had an example with melee combat and buildings in the first one, where we had storming. That is, your units could run in and punch people in the building. But there were a ton of problems with it.
"One was that it almost instantly made the building useless to anyone who had a ranged squad in there, because the melee squad could just run in and kill them. The other thing was that you couldn't see it, so it wasn't satisfying.
"As for Titans, we had to make a map on each one, depending on the class. There's always content that we play with at the concept stage that just stops there. Sometimes we come up with ideas that don't fit with the lore."
"We were originally planning on more. As we did more and more though, the amount of investment that it took to do that progression, war gear, levelling and all that, was high. So rather than make an RTS game that was like every other RTS game that came before, we had to make a choice.
"We narrowed the focus down to the Space Marinecampaign and tried to make that as good as we could. The other reason we went with the Space Marines was the story of Chaos and corruption is more compelling from their point of view, and also for a lot of reasons that are going to be obvious when you play Chaos Rising?
"What I loved about DOW2 was what we did with abilities, especially the manipulation ones, so there are a few heroes in the multiplayer game that are potent Like the Warlock with his warp throw. Another ability that's similar is the Lictor's flesh hooks. Both of those involve manipulation of the enemy, which is a really tactile, tactical thing to do. You basically do the Scorpion "Come here!" fatality. No other RTS thing has that, and it was the one thing that brought the biggest smile to my face.
"Well, it's really kinda Darwinistic out there and the best game survives. So if progression and more focused combat out there is the way other RTS games are going, then that's really based on the merits of what's out there. "I don't think base-building RTS games will ever really die.
It's like saying FPS games will die. It's a core staple of video games. But what the RTS game genre does need to do is to continually evolve, unless it wants to keep selling to the same audience over and over again. So we want to sell to that audience and to more, and continue to grow. Which I think is what we are doing, to be honest."
"There's a big difference in where you put the camera and what sort of game you end up building, and I personally like the Total War series. Medieval is one of the ones that stands out to me. The RTS games that we make though, I believe, are superior from a competitive point of view when it comes to the multiplayer. And that's really facilitated by that escalation of warfare, where you start out small and then getting out more and more units onto the battlefield until you have a bigger fight happening.
"What happens in Total Wat's scale of warfare is you start of with a large force and whittle it down. What I find, and I have played multiplayer games of Total War, is that you end up with a complex game that becomes less interesting over time."
The thousands who play multiplayer, based on what they say on the forums, might not like it, but they keep playing. We invest a lot of effort into making our players happy and a lot of those guys who are loudly complaining are going to buy the expansion.
"What it comes down to is that they're passionate, they really care about the game, and they usually lock onto one or two issues and then zero in on that and they get upset. As aggravating as it can be to read, it does come from a good place for the fans. They supply good and constant feedback. And I do read most of it. As for Games for Windows - LIVE!, the part that's hardest for me to bear is the connectivity problems that stop the playing, and that's something we're fighting to solve.''
Download Warhammer 40,000: Dawn of War II
- PC compatible
- Operating systems: Windows 10/Windows 8/Windows 7/2000/Vista/WinXP
Space Marines, The Imperium, Blood Ravens, the Eldar, Dreadnoughts - for the legions of Warhammer 40,000 fans that spend their weekends painting tiny models, planning elaborate table-top battles or playing some of the franchise's numerous game outings from the past two decades, this is the stuff of futuristic legend.
I know the strong pull of Games Workshop's fantasy sci-fi universe personally, having nearly failed my degree because of too many glorious late nights combining Polish vodka with epic sessions of the board game Space Crusade. Four years ago, developer Relic unleashed Dawn of War, a superb, violent and faithful RTS version of the Warhammer 40,000 universe, featuring epic battles between the brave Space Marines, the hideous Orks, the traitorous forces of Chaos and the mysterious alien Eldar. Featuring dozens of powerful fighting units - with fantastic detailed animation - plus a story-driven campaign and strategic gameplay concentrating on delivering raw, bloody action rather than tedious micromanagement, DOW and its expansions are still worthy of any PC gamer's collection.
Gods Of War
However, Dawn of War II looks set to eclipse the success of the previous game, with Relic drawing on the experience gained from the creation of the mighty WWII RTS Company of Heroes, so that you can look forward to greater physics implementation, destructible scenery and real-time lighting, plus a host of other exciting improvements and additions.
Full environmental damage means you can now take your Space Marines into an area and, using heavy weaponry, such as the Dreadnoughts, bring down buildings and other structures on top of startled enemies. The rubble and burnt-out buildings are then automatically used by the Al squads to flank opponents, or as cover to receive defence bonuses. Although you'll have to make sure they don't get trapped or cornered by any foes armed with explosive grenades or flamethrowers.
As with Company of Heroes, DOW2 will have a much tighter focus on five or six squads of an elite strike force - guys with a name, face and speciality that you'll carry with you from mission to mission, rather than anonymous grunts churned out by the Emperor's war machine. However, in a nod to the RPG genre, you'll be able to upgrade your characters with 'wargear' inbetween missions.
These items, such as power armour, are acquired in the form of loot on the battlefield. With much smaller numbers of marines available, the use of the powerful Force Commander characters in your squads will be essential for victory in battles where, most of the time, the Space Marines will be vastly outnumbered by Orks or other nasties.
Major changes are happening to the Campaign mode too, which will now involve a battle over numerous Imperium worlds, with several missions to choose from, and each having consequences on the storyline depending on how victorious you are: do you leave the planet as a thriving battle-hardened community or a devastated war-torn wasteland?
Also, as with the recently announced Alert 3, you'll be able to enjoy the ntire campaign with a friend in two-piayer co-op and they'll be able to jump in or leave games at any time.
Early gameplay demonstrates hectic, intense firefights featuring the Space Marines attacking an Ork stronghold, with their squads using standard bolters and chainswords. The green menace retaliate with melee attacks and stikbombs, which detonate in a gorgeous shower of pyrotechnics. Other units can be called in using huge Drop Pods, which crash to the ground, crushing any enemies underneath their mighty metal frames and unleashing precious reinforcements such as Imperial Assault Marines, complete with handy jetpacks. A huge, ferocious Ork warboss is one of the larger greenskin foes in DOW II, and can silence whole squads and bring down buildings with one beat of his fists. Fortunately, the marines have commander units to counter, who wield massive melee weapons such as thunderhammers and call on devastating laser strikes from fleets orbiting the planets.
There's much to look forward to in DOW II - less base-building and resource-gathering in favour of more concentrated RTS squad action, vastly improved troop Al, a story-driven co-op mode, a steady stream of rewards to tool up your squads like an RPG, and blistering graphics built using an enhanced version of the Havok physicsheavy Essence Engine (the powerhouse that drove Company of Heroes).
Much has yet to be revealed (the storyline, how squad member deaths will be handled, multiplayer modes and whether we'll see other Warhammer 40,000 staples such as the elusive alien Tyranids and the terrifying Genestealers) but even at this stage of development, the 41st millennium has never looked so enticing...
The Imperial Dreadnought makes a glorious return to battle
There are many classic units in Warhammer 40,000, such as the Chaos Lord and the Force Commander. But one of our particular favourites is the stupidly-powerf ul hulking mechs called Dreadnoughts. Able to cause huge destruction with close-quarter combat, or unleash merry death from ranged weapons, the Dreadnought isn't a robot, but an armoured sarcophagus containing the remains of a fallen Space Marine, kept alive by a sophisticated life-support system until the unit is destroyed. Coming in various sizes and flavours, including the Hellfire Dreadnought armed with an assault cannon and missile launcher, Robocop has nothing on these fellas...
As An Avid and, at times, deranged fan of the original, I approached Dawn of War II with hesitation. And by hesitation, I mean I arched my back and hissed at it as soon as I learned that it was to be something other than that which I was accustomed to. Change scares me. That being said, I'm a complete sucker for Steam's recent splurge of weekend and mid-week sales, so my boycott hasn't lasted.
And I'm somewhat glad that it didn't. I say somewhat, as my experience with the game has settled into an odd Marmite-y mix of love and hate. I love the RPG-style character development - it's a testosterone-driven version of a makeover: "Avitus, trust me, you'll look absolutely fabulous with that new Heavy Bolter. And this cloak? This cloak is so you, Cyrus." I swear I spend more time staring at my deadly (and stylish) arsenal than I do battling xeno scum. It also reminds me of Chaos Gate's squad customisation, which fills me with warm fuzzy waves of nostalgia.
But then there's the hate. While it's customary to hurl buse at your virtual minions n strategy games (generally due to your own tactical inadequacies and inability to accept them), never before have I seen the Emperor's Finest exhibiting such utterly painful levels of stupidity. A grenade lands at their feet, and they do nothing. I'm the commander, not their nanny; do I really have to tell them that explosives are bad?
Meanwhile, movement orders are interpreted liberally, and my happy little Space Marines will often decide to take cover on the wrong side of a wall and so present their metal buttocks to the enemy with great V aplomb. And then there's the lack of mid-mission saves, rendering the greatest penalty for mission failure: the knowledge that you'll have to do it again.
Usually such frustrations might tempt me to cast the game aside, but I've just acquired Dreadnought, and he looks lovely in his golden armour.
When A Man from THQ came into our office to show us the gameplay of Dawn of War II, the sequel to the excellent RTS set in the Warhammer40,000 universe, we were told we couldn't have a copy of the movie. We had to sit there and watch it on a laptop, which we weren't allowed to touch.
DOW2 has already attracted a lot of speculation - if not for the gameplay video (which was finally shown at E3), then for the teaser trailer which alluded to a new, sky-dwelling terror about to infest the world. The current favourite bet is that the hive-mind Tyranids will be swarming across the maps - if you're not up on your Warhammer lore, they're an awesome super-predator with accelerated evolution. This could be good...
The Bigger Picture
- Near-Death Experience
Hero units won't die, they'll be incapacitated until they're rescued by a commander. This has caused a few concerns from people asking how a game will ever end.
Battling well earns you the power to summon a reinforcements pod from the skies. Getting a pod to land on your enemy will cause massive damage and a gratifying spatter of blood.
- Tyranid Menace?
No-one's confirmed whether the Tyranids are in the game yet. Their similarity to StarCrofts Zerg is obvious, but fans of Warhammer will, tell you that the Tyranids pre-date the Zerg by a good few years.
- Work Together
The environment can be used tactically: if there's a wall in the way, you can either use your commander to jetpack over it to surprise the enemy or blow it up with grenades.
Before you enter battle, you can load out your characters with items found on the battlefield. Each add-on gives the squad an ability boost, and can make a big difference to a battle.
- Now You See Me...
The races' play styles are hugely distinct: Human squads are small but pack a punch, Eldar have the blink-like ability to warp and disorientate their opponents, while Orks are ruddy big and scary.
- Know Nothing
Flames can be used to flush enemies from buildings. Many found Humans were overpowered in previous DOW games, so we're looking forward to seeing how it all balances. Especially if the Tyranids.
So It Was Tyranids all along. That was the great secret Relic were alluding to in their previous teaser video. Not Ork spores or a new race of Deep Crows, but playable, hive-minded, exo-skeletal Tyranids. An unstoppable force of nature smearing itself across the Imperium, devouring planets, and pushing outwards towards the furthest reaches of the galaxy.
They dissolve into the potent RTS mix of Dawn of War II perfectly, with brood nests acting as spawn points for the insectoid menace, massive Tyrants acting as powerful commanders, and a hive-mind mentality which filters into your military tactics. Tyranids connected to the hive glow green as they channel the thoughts, knowledge and intentions of every tyranid around them. But kill their squad leader and they become bewildered and panicked, having had their bearings violently ravaged. They scuttle madly; still a threat but a mindless one. The Space Marine strike force have a more dynamic single player campaign, one which forces you to choose your fights as they come. Rewards such as powerful new weapons will tempt you away from the more humanitarian rescue missions, as up to three different calls to arms will be demanding your attention at any given moment.
Commander-exclusive items such as jetpacks are also available, liberal use of which was made in the demo we were shown. Not only do the packs launch your men over walls, but they'll come down hard on whatever's on the other side, crushing enemies and deforming the terrain.
With the inclusion of Warhammer 40,000's most terrifying creatures, Dawn of War II's fiendish roster is bound to please fans. And even if you're not a fan, you can't argue that a single-minded bipedal cricket with two-storey scythes for forearms isn't one of the best enemies that could've been included.