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Dawn of War 2 Gold Review

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If there is one thing that I am grateful for, it is the extraordinary commercial success that the Warhammer franchise has cultivated in the last decade. Without fail, every Warhammer game that succeeds a previous title incorporates so many lessons learned, and so many great evolved ideas, that it's honestly surprising that the franchise itself isn't more well known. Case in point is the wonderful Dawn of War 2 Gold Edition.

Dawn of War 2 Gold is comprised of Dawn of War 2, and Dawn of War 2: Chaos Rising, and it is the continuation of the excellent Warhammer 40,000 Dawn of War series. But don't think for a split second that these two games have anything remotely in common with Warhammer 40,000 Dawn of War, or it's impressive expansions in terms of game mechanics, they do not. Instead the connections to these games are the setpieces and characters themselves, and the backdrop of the Warhammer Universe itself weaving all of the elements together. Gone is tedious resource gathering, gone is the traditional means of producing troops, and also gone are most other elements that have come to define the real time strategy genre. In the place of those cliches you will find an intuitive cover system, an incredibly tactical mission set up, and a surprisingly engaging story.

Dawn of War 2 opens simply enough. You are the newest Force Commander of the Blood Ravens Chapter of Space Marines, and your task is simple enough, to push out all the invaders who seek to threaten the Worlds your Chapter controls. The game quickly switches to the bird's eye view that will become so familiar to you, as you cut a path through Sub Sector Aurelia. And the game also just as quickly gives you an unrivaled sense of power that I have never experienced in the Real Time Strategy genre. You will quickly realize that you are the virtual embodiment of death in your powered armor, and the game does a wonderful job of conveying that sense of power. As you continue to progress through the story, and the mission arc, you will acquire additional squads to add to your Chapter, with each squad possessing a unique ability or specialization. These squads and their different tactical abilities plays directly into how different players can adapt play styles to deal with the same missions, and to add another layer of strategy to the potent mixture, you can only select 3 squads at a time to accompany your Force Commander.

Also equally engaging are the environments you will find yourself in from mission to mission. The locales are exotic enough, but Relic has built an incredible cover, and demolitions system that works so remarkably well, it adds a sense of realism that truly sells the combat. Dawn of War 2 Chaos Rising however elevates the cover system from being an optional affair to a genuine necessity. The enemies, and environments are so much tougher, and less forgiving that it requires players that may have used a run and gun strategy in the first game to completely rethink their approach. The highlight, and most shining example of this is a mission in Chaos Rising that sees the Blood Ravens clearing out a derelict space station, and this is one of those rare times, where the less I say, the better. In both games all of these missions are held together by the idea that you are trying to stave off an invasion, and you will have to juggle the different goals of each individual mission, while still being able to effectively purge each sector. It sounds like a complicated bunch of nonsense I'm sure, but the game does a surprisingly great job of making all of it simple, and easy to keep track of, without ever feeling overwhelming.

Throughout all of the blood, and gore, and explosions, there beats the heart of a finely tuned RPG, one that depends greatly on the idea of you being a loot hoarding sociopath, which isn't a bad thing in the context of these games. You will gain experience points for every kill, and for every mission and quest that you complete, and more often than not, you will also be rewarded with some decent equipment. What's even more clever, is that whatever miscellaneous suits of armor, or weapons you find can be dumped for more exp, should they turn out to be crap in a hand-basket. You can build your Commander and his squads anyway you see fit. From an all out, long ranged death squad, to an in your face, up close and personal brute force outfit, and everything in between. What's interesting to me is that the game and the expansion never punish you for crafting a character out of his traditional bounds. Take the example of Cyrus, a master of stealth. You can craft Cyrus into something completely different than the expectation, and the game rewards you for it. I never once equipped Cyrus with a sniper rifle like the game implied I should. Instead, I gained an ability that let Cyrus light the ground on fire all around him, provided he was equipped with flamethrower. I never let ole flamey leave his side after that. You get 20 levels until you hit the level cap for the base game, and the level cap gets extended to 30 for Chaos Rising. It's more than enough room to play around with, while build the perfect Chapter.

Chaos Rising again, does even more to make those choices, and abilities matter. With the incorporation of corrupted items, and the ability to gain corruption on missions added into the already deep structure of the game, you will again rethink your strategies. Depending on how evil you want to be, or how pure you want to remain in the face of evil, you receive even more bonuses. Again, what sounds complex is handled so well, that it becomes second nature very quickly, and never becomes overwhelming.

The game also features some of the best coop, I have ever seen in a game. With the ability to play through both games cooperatively and the added bonus of having your characters carry over from one game to the next, you have some very good reasons to get some friends interested in the game. The other multiplayer components are good enough to stand on their own two legs, but really the best multiplayer feature to speak of here is the great coop. And again it's worth mentioning that the games are long enough for you to experiment with your friends, and develop different strategies. I find I play the role of support more than blunt instrument of death whenever I play coop with a buddy, and it's reassuring that the games give me enough room to build those different characters, and change it up.

I can't stress how much I love these games, which isn't something I say often enough. I really wanted to get this review out before Dawn of War 2 Retribution comes out, as I'm sure it will be just as great as these two games. What's also great about GameGavel is that I got to play through this again, after having conquered another 2. StarCraft 2. It made me realize that while Dawn of War 2 Gold may not have the same level of cinematic polish, or mission variety, the games certainly do a lot more to push the genre forward, and take a hell of a lot more risks than their RTS counterparts. With an amazing RPG secretly nestled in there, and a groundbreaking lack of resource production in a modern day RTS game, complete with loot, and even more unexpected twists, you have a set of games that come complete with mandatory reasons for owning them, and playing them over, and over, and over, and over....

Warhammer 40,000 Dawn of War 2 Gold was developed by Relic, and Published by THQ

Steve Sawyer
Editor in Chief

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