The Dawn of War series has consistently been a high point in the RTS genre, and Relic's latest stand-alone expansion is no different. Dawn of War II: Retribution once again dives back into the rich Warhammer 40,000 universe, perfectly wrapping the setting around thoroughly-enjoyable tactical-level real-time strategy. And although the series is quite familiar by now, Retribution adds just enough tweaks to keep things from feeling stale.
The action begins several years after the events chronicled in Chaos Rising
. While the Blood Ravens managed to save the sub-sector from annihilation, their actions allowed a powerful demon from the Warp to begin pushing its way into the galaxy. The single-player campaign focuses on the various factions' reactions to this incursion of Chaos. In a welcome change, the campaign is playable by all six of the Dawn of War II races, including the newly-introduced Imperial Legion. Consequently, the plot is a little more loose than in previous campaigns, allowing each race to experience (mostly) the same series of encounters, albeit from entirely differing perspectives.
In addition to having six fully-playable single-player races, Retribution also took a small step back from Dawn of War II's purely tactical-level play, re-introducing a small amount of army building to the mix. There is still no base building or infrastructure development, but players will now find requisition, power, and population nodes on the maps, as well as capturable production buildings. This allows the small squad of hero characters can be supported by a wide variety of other units, although the heroes are often powerful enough to do most any job by themselves. In fact, some players might find several of the heroes to be a bit too powerful, turning the later missions into something of a cakewalk on low-to-mid level difficulties.
Other than the addition of other buildable units, gameplay in Retribution is quite similar to the previous Dawn of War II entries. Most of the races can field up to four hero units on a given scenario. Should players opt out of choosing a particular hero in the setup screen, a squad of regular units is available for replacement, and the player also gains a boost in their population cap. Regardless of the initial choice of heroes and units, player soon fight their way across a given map to achieve their goals. There is a very strong mix of missions this time around, with a few of the scenarios standing out as some of the best RTS missions I've played.
The familiar hero advancement returns in Retribution, with each hero earning experience to spend on various abilities. Also, gained as either mission rewards or random loot on the battlefield, heroes can find Wargear to equip, turning many of the heroes into almost-unstoppable juggernauts by game's end. I didn't mind this ramping of power, as there was something thoroughly entertaining about rampaging across hordes of enemies with ease, but others may find they need to dial up the difficulty settings for a proper challenge.
Apart from the single-player campaign, Retribution also offers some multiplayer choices. There is the traditional-style skirmish mode, where players vie for control of various victory nodes to in their quest to secure the map. Players may also join forces in Last Stand, in which they team up to fend off increasingly-difficulty waves of enemies.
The game looks and sounds great, perfectly fitting into the Warhammer 40,000 universe. The character animations are smooth and appropriately gritty, while the various power effects are spot-on. The voice acting is top-notch--I could listen to the ork boyz all day long. I did run into a few bugs during my initial playthrough, although these were mostly hero-specific to the Imperial Legion run.
Overall, Dawn of War II: Retribution is a solid and enjoyable entry into one of my favorite RTS series. As a stand-alone title, this could be a great entry point for players wanting to jump in to the Warhammer 40,000 RTS universe. And for series veterans such as myself, Retribution offers a great deal of entertainment, combined with a good amount of replay-ablility.