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For the Emperor

I happen to have been a fan of the Dawn of War games, but only owned Dawn of War and Winter Assault. Why not the others? Because the makers spammed the market with $20 expansions and I didn't have the time to finish the first two, let alone the discretionary budget to keep buying more. That said, I would also like to mention that I do not play tabletop Warhammer of any variety. Nor do I read the novels. My favored faction has always been the Imperial Guard. Why? Because they are not super mutants nor overpowered aliens, but heroic ordinaries fighting off the worst horrors of the galaxy. I'm not fond of the other factions, and I especially HATE Space Marines.

Oddly enough, I got furthest in the original Dawn of War single player campaign (the Space Marines). I failed to complete the Order campaign in Winter Assault because the Eldar missions kept screwing me over. But this is not about the original Dawn of War, but it's sequel, Dawn of War II.

I bought it because it was on sale, I needed something new and I had some free time. I thought I was getting another strategy game. Not even close. Dawn of War II is a genre shift from Dawn of War, falling solidly into Real Time Tactics instead of Real Time Strategy. As I said, in Dawn of War, I'm an Imperial Guard Player, my tactics are very soviet in style - drown them in sheer numbers. I usually don't transition from the screening phase to the primary offensive until I hit my unit cap. And my offensives are usually slow, inexorable affairs wherein I take and fortify each successive strategic point before moving on. I leave so many bolter turrets in my wake that the entire map becomes the IG base.

In short, none of my Dawn of War style was applicable in Dawn of War II. In Dawn of War II, you have one to three squads plus your force commander, and that's it. No buildings, no vehicles (that I've found), no additional units. Some scenarios have plot based allied reinforcements, but you have no control over them. It's just you and your Space Marine Platoon. To make matters worse, you only get minimal control over the composition of your platoon. You get to pick from among the squads assigned to you. And there are no duplicates, only one of each type of squad. No matter how much I wanted to trade those jump marines for regular marines, there was no chance of getting a change to my loadout.

Dawn of War II's schtick is that it pretends to be a tactical RPG, but it follows the Mass Effect 2 school of RPG elements where abilites specific to the character are unlocked by spending your generic level up points on your various categories. And if your playing style doesn't match the canonical designs for the characters - you're screwed. No I mean it. While at first it might appear as though you can get along using your preferred style - you can't. In order to survive you have to use the characters in only the way the game originally intended. For example, your Force Commander can use almost any weapon in the game (except sniper rifles) but if you take away his chainsword to use a real weapon, he becomes completely ineffective. In the First real Tyranid deployment I gave him a heavy bolter to help with the swarms of little enemies, and he spent more time as a medic than as a combatant.

That is my single greatest problem with Dawn of War II - the expectation that you use melee combat. I Never use melee combat. What's the point of having gatling grenade launchers, laser rifles and orbital bombardment if you're going to try and hit the bugs with a sword? I have point and kill weapons and I intend to use them. Well, the game doesn't like that attitude and punishes you for it. Your Force Commander and Jump Marines must engage in melee. It doesn't help that if you change the Jump Marines' sergeant's weapon, the others in his squad still have pistols and chainswords - making the squad worse than useless. (Now do you see why I wanted to trade up to regular marines?)

Of course this means I now have to start a new game - I tossed my uber chainswords and pistols for the XP and don't have any beyond the starter weapons (utter crap) to give the Force Commander or the Jump Marines. What's that you say about collecting more from the battlefield? I can't - I keep getting my ass handed to me by the Tyranids because I wanted to play using the style I'm most comfortable with.

I miss my Techpriests.

Ok, if I can't have Techpriests, can I at least get more regular Marines?

Apparently not. All I have left to unlock is the dreadnaught - my least favorite 'vehicle' from the entire Imperium's arsenal.

Lets see - It's not an RPG because all of the RP elements have have the element of choice sucked out of them. The only strategy or tactics you're allowed to use are these dictated by the developers, so it's not RTS or RTT. It is real-time though, and it does try to tell a story. So that makes it what? A Real-Time Interactive Novel? I'd say yes, that is the closest approximation I can give you to the actual Genre.

I also forgot - this game is hard. I'm losing on 'Recruit'. Of course this could just be the game punishing my for wanting to use my style of play in their story. My style would eliminate their epic melee duels between the Force Commander and the level bosses. There would be no heroic charges into the horde. Just a wall of lead greeting the enemy backed up with a creeping barrage and hand grenades. Oh wait, those are real tactics used by advanced militaries, not Warhammer canonical tactics.

While Dawn of War II hasn't garnered the same screaming fits that Twilight Princess did, I'm rather glad it was on sale when I got it, or I'd be pissed at having spent that much money on it. It marks a new level of fail.

Savegame Psychosis

UPDATE - It appears that more of my problems were caused by a fundamental disagreement about game mechanics than equipment loadouts.

It has always been my belief and understanding that when you suffer a full party wipe in a single player game, you get bounced back to your last savegame or checkpoint. You also get the option of just abandoning all progress made since the last save point and walking away. Or rather, that's how it's supposed to work. Dawn of War II rejects this and instead punishes you for even trying. The only way to abandon your progress is to summon up the task manager and kill the process before it can write data to disk. Instead of pushing you back, failure pushes your forward (usually by one day).

One might go "what are you complaining about? They let you keep the XP and new gear from the attempt, making the next try easier." I'd rather not lose the day and not have the Tyranid infestation worstening. I work much better under the classical model. It's an accepted suspension of disbelief. If my party is all dead and surrounded by Tyranids, how did we get picked up? In successful missions we had to clear out the enemy before ships could get close to our position. So it's easier to extract a dead Space Marine than a live one? Plus, how can they revive the four but poor Thule gets stuck with plot death?

When I stopped enforcing convention via Ctrl-Alt-Delete, I found yet another twisted flaw with their system. Every time I've had a full party wipe it has been after I captured a strategic installation on the map. Normally you're forced to choose between one or the other of the (usually two) installations available. If you get wiped out you get a new deployment to the same map and do not lose the already captured facility. Thus you can get both strategic installations on the map by failing.

You should not be able to improve your strategic position through failure.

You can't Attrit the Eldar

I'd find it more credible if a strategy of attrition was futile against the Tyranids or the Orks, but it works perfectly well against both of them within the context for the game mechanics. The only group I've thusfar run into where attrition is a losing battle is actually the Eldar, as they will continue to warp in replacement units faster than you can. For being so protective of Eldar lives, they certainly are reckless. Just remember, focus fire on the gates as soon as you can.

Creeping Barrage

Fed up with the Tyranids, I skipped over to the Chaos Rising campaign and played it's introductory battle. The opposition was a traitor unit of Imperial Guardsmen, and it felt as if I was attacking myself from the original Dawn of War - only with fewer turrets. The Guardsmen advanced and withdrew under cover of artillery and only took the offensive in overwhelming numbers.

The only problem was the lousy forward observers they were using. Instead of dropping the artillery on the buildings the Space Marines had garrissoned, they dropped the artillery right on the leading edge of their own forces. When I chastize the AI commander with a "No, you dumbass! Over here!", you know the scripting was badly done. While it might have been frustrating, I would have understood if the artillery were actually aiming for my positions. When you don't have smoke, missing the enemy is not a good use of your artillery. Especially when it hits your own troops.

When it turned out that the second mission was against the Eldar again, I got fed up. I hate fighting Eldar with such pitiful forces as a Platoon of Space Marines. In fact, I was annoyed that Chaos Rising was still a Space Marine campaign. Sure from the plot synopsis it sounds as though you can become a Chaos Marine in the epilogue, but I was already sick of these characters from the original campaign. I was hoping to be rid of them.

I wonder if they'll ever give me back my Imperial Guard Regiment.

--Robert McCarroll