Dawn of War II: Chaos RisingESRB:
Platform: PC Games
Category: Real Time Strategy
Developer: Relic Entertainment
The original Warhammer 40,000: Dawn of War II was a pretty solid game, playing like a combination RTS/RPG with fast action and lots of variety. It had a fairly long campaign which with lots of side-missions to keep one busy. THQ has recently released an expansion of sorts entitled Warhammer 40,000: Dawn of War II: Chaos Rising. One of the most significant detractors from the original is the seemingly short campaign which really just serves as a primer for multiplayer. This new expansion, Chaos Rising, sees a long campaign and the game is more rounded out with the inclusion of the Chaos Marines (finally!) which really makes this a more full Warhammer experience.
The graphics are pretty much what you've come to know from the original Dawn of War II without any significant improvements. There is lots of blood and gore along with great characters models that evoke the detail of the table-top game's models. The in-game characters, as well as any associated vehicles or transportation methods, are smoothly animated adding to the speed and feel of the gameplay experience. There is also some ample use of special effects (e.g. lighting, particle effects, explosions, etc). The graphics are unsurprising but satisfying, and no one should have any issues with them as they manage to get the job done solidly.
The sound design is more or less the same as the graphics. They are just what you expect for a game like this, not amazing but definitely not disappointing. The ham-fisted dialog and corresponding voice acting is pretty much what you expect with Warhammer as it fits in here since everything is larger than life and melodramatic. The sound effects are decent and can enhance the ultra-violent gore in battle. From weapons firing to enemies dying, all is very clear and concise and conveys the sounds of each and every battle. As for the music, it is my opinion that it is the best element of sound here, being very atmospheric and battle-appropriate. Overall there are no issues with the audio.
Although Chaos Rising is an expansion pack where you do not need the original game to play it. That being said, it is not easy on novices to the series, let alone to those new to the RTS genre as a whole. The game basically just drops you in to it and learning the controls and gameplay mechanics can be tough as it is not entirely intuitive, particularly for those unaccustomed to the gameplay of the Warhammer series. There is a hint system, but even this is somewhat subtle and underutilized for new players. The fact that you do not need the original game indicates that they want new players to be able to jump in here, but the reality of gameplay indicates otherwise.
There are not a lot of new missions added in this expansion but what is available plays well. They are not too short and they contain enough variety so you never feel like the gameplay is repetitive, which for many was a problem with the original Dawn of War II. All this is wrapped up in a rich Warhammer style story which draws the player in as you would expect with this universe. Relic Entertainment does not skimp out on the deep Warhammer storylines and characters either and it is something that I appreciated.
New to the franchise is an element of choice that is given to the player where they are allowed some control over how much the forces of Chaos (corruption) are allowed to influence their own Blood Marines. This was interesting and the only complaint here is that we do not get to see much character nuance with this factor. It is really just another metric to your stats rather than something which has any real impact on the character's personality aside from the ultimate impact on the broader story. I would have liked to seen this 'flushed' out more in terms of how the Chaos could really affect the character.
As I played through the game I found that one of the problems from Dawn of War II which still plagues Chaos Rising is the conflict between a big story and micromanaging the numbers of gameplay. Basically, the game has this epic tale being told to you, but you cannot really appreciate what is going on in the narrative as you will find yourself too busy focusing on statistics and micromanagement. It is hard to mix the depth of the story with the fact that you must pay attention to what you are actually doing given the nature of the gameplay mechanics.
Some of the larger battles are great, but just as I mentioned with the story, you can not really stop to appreciate them or take their scope in because you are too busy making sure you are performing efficiently. I suppose that is inherent to Warhammer itself, but it would be nice to see this conflict diminish. Let nobody say, however, that this game deviates at all from the tabletop game as the virtual mechanics on the computer remain impressively true to its tabletop roots and really capitalizes on them.
As I mentnioned earlier, Chaos Rising adds Chaos Marines to the fight this time around. I also found that the other armies also get some minor upgrades to keep things balanced and interesting, but these types of additions seem to be pretty standard with any RTS expansion pack these days. Something worth noting is that one of the Dawn of War II's common gripes did not get addressed, and that is the save system which does not allow you to save your progress during gameplay. Being an old-school gamer I can forgive and understand this and I think many RTS fans will not mind this too much. It is not punishment as it meant to force you to play through each mission 'properly' without reverting to a save five minutes earlier every time you second guess a decision. It keeps things real, so to speak, as it keeps you focused on the gameplay rather than saving and reloading game-states. It also makes you play a smarter game given that you cannot rely on running into a fight unprepared or with a plan ill conceived and you think you don not have to worry about the consequences. This may be a controversial decision to a lot of gamers, but I think that it is probably a smart one by the developers in the overall scheme of the game experience as it really does add to the intensity and play that Chaos Rising brings to the table.
Warhammer 40,000: Dawn of War II: Chaos Rising offers quite a bit in this expansion. It is an enjoyable and action-oriented RTS style game mechanic with some RPG like elements that has a great story and enough content to keep your attention. Combine this with some solid multiplayer play and it is surely a winner. If you enjoyed the original then this expansion is for you, but if you have not played the prequel you should probably hold off on this expansion and try that out first. Chaos Rising expands on the original and rounds it out rather than upgrading it significantly. In the end though, it is a solid game that most RTS fans as a whole should enjoy.