Acclaimed Homeworld devs inject the evolutional mechanics of their critical darling RTS Company of Heroes to the tabletop sci-fi nightmarescape of Warhammer 40k, again, but this time with feeling.
Midnight miniature commanders have bemoaned the poor translations that Games Workshop properties have suffered for decades. When lead figurine aficionados were shown 2004’s Dawn of War one could almost hear the approving nods and sighs of relief echoing behind every sack of White Castle sliders or buckets of dice in basements and awkward strip mall stores across the land. Sure, for an RTS there was little DoW added to the formula, but strategy fans had been clamoring for the 40k brand since Blizzard “homáged” it so successfully with Starcraft. But good RTS rarely upturn the apple cart and have remained largely unchanged since their popular inception with ’92s Dune 2. Each success cribs the good concepts from its elders and mixes their brand in and DoW 2 is no different.
That’s not to say that DoW 2 isn’t a superb game, but it’s the apex predator here. You get the gothic dystopian war-torn universe that’s proven sci-fi gold, add in the cover and squad managment styling from Company of Heroes with the RPG-lite leveling and outfitting of Warcraft 3. It’s a poisonous shark-lion with acidic web sprays and a gun that fires cheetahs. Speaking of, fans of 40k will note with glee that the Tyranids, an alien swarm of bioengineered war machines that has served as the “inspiration” for a double fistful of alien baddies, make one fourth of the playable races. Returning to round out the zealot Space Marines alien horde pack are the nimble Eldar and bolt-throwing Space Orks. The single-player Space Marine campaign ditches linearity in favor of shifting in mission objectives and a navigable world map. Success comes from proper force loadout before each engagement and the proper development of your squad leaders. Removing the economics of RTS may throw cold water on some gamers, but listen, punk, back in my day the only resource I had to manage was my wallet and how many Ulthwé Jetbikes I could field with its paltry contents. The subtleties, if you can call a double-barreled fist-mounted machine gun subtle, of wargearing and experience translate to multi-player skirmish in your choice of force commander (usually oriented as offensive, defensive or support) and your selection of character abilites. On DoW 2’s sad selection of skirmish maps you will teeter-totter for control of requisition and power nodes that provide the cash to bring more killers to the field. But numbers don’t win the match and it will be your direction of individual units, almost to the exclusion of economy (which can largely be hot-key-controlled), that wins the day. Also painting your army red makes them move faster, which seems a tad unfair to those in the know. A- — Glenn Given