Warhammer 40,000: Dawn of War II -
Chaos Rising
Developer: Relic Entertainment
Publisher: THQ
Release Date: Out Now
Players: 1 player campaign, 2 player
co-op campaign, 2-6 player multiplayer
via Games for Windows - LIVE

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Chaos Rising is the first expansion pack for last yearís extremely successful Dawn of War II, a squad-based RTS game set in the futuristic fantasy Warhammer 40K universe which saw you fighting off a Tyranid invasion with a handful of Blood Raven Space Marines. Unusually for an RTS, DoW II had no base building and included controversial boss battles at the end of every level in the campaign. It also had a strong RPG aspect, with character levelling and addictive Diablo-style loot collection. Chaos Rising brings a new campaign and introduces a new enemy and multiplayer playable race, the forces of Chaos, to the game.

Although Chaos Rising doesnít require the original game to play, it isnít really designed to be played as a standalone game. Like most expansion packs, the action starts off at a difficulty level slightly higher than the end of the last game and ramps it up from there, with little in the way of tutorials for new players. The story follows directly on from the end of the first game with you in command of the same squads and fighting on the same planets (albeit with the addition of a new ice planet to add to the traditional videogame staple of volcano, jungle and desert planets). There are also a couple of missions onboard a Tyranid infested Space Hulk, which provides the most atmospheric setting in the game and will doubtless please many Warhammer 40k fans. Anyone who hasnít played the first game will have no idea of the significance of several of the missions, or who the characters are, especially since thereís a lot less of the pre-mission banter between your squad sergeants that was present in the first game. Even if you have played DoW II, itís worth playing through again so that the events are fresh in your mind when you start this one.

The mechanics of the game havenít changed; you still take control of your Force Commander hero and three squads of Space Marines, each led by a named Sergeant character with a distinct personality and accompanied by a couple of nameless cannon-fodder red shirts. The cover system is still present (as seen in Relicís excellent Company of Heroes, which shares the same engine), although there seem less opportunities to make use of it than in the main game. Thereís a new addition to your ranks in the form of the Librarian, a powerful psychic unit with some fairly nifty support and offensive powers. The level cap for your units has also been raised from 20 to 30, with some very useful new abilities at the top end of the skill trees. It takes very little time to hit the new cap though and you need to be very selective in spending your points if you actually want to experience the new abilities. Returning players will start the game with their squads at the same levels and with the same distribution of points, while newcomers will start at level 18 and with their points pre-assigned. Either way, you get the chance to re-assign your squadís points after the first mission.

DoW II looked great a year ago, and Chaos Rising is still one of the best looking RTS games around, making the recent Command & Conquer instalments look like the brightly-coloured disappointment they are. Individual units are brilliantly modelled, looking almost exactly like their tabletop counterparts, but superbly animated as they move and fight. The level of detail on the models is so good they wouldnít look out of place in an FPS, even down to moving teeth on the chainswords! The gruesome death animations are all still present and there are even a few new ones, making the game look just as brutal as it should. Unfortunately also in keeping with the tabletop game, the cutscene dialogue seems like it was written and performed on the spur of the moment by a group of random fans: DoW II did a good job of representing the cheesy and OTT bombastic nature of the Space Marines without descending completely into parody, but this time thereís no real character of any kind in the dialogue or performances. The actual voices during battle are fine though and the sound effects for the weapons are great, which is what really matters.

In keeping with the Chaos-based theme of the campaign, thereís a new ĎCorruptioní mechanic, which can see your own squads turn towards Chaos through actions that are seen as weak or cowardly. Letting allied forces die, killing fellow Blood Ravens or equipping certain wargear tainted by Chaos all add to your corruption, while heroic actions or equipping purifying items can reduce it. As your squads get more corrupt, they unlock powerful new abilities through their pacts with the Dark Gods, while certain of your standard abilities are disabled. For example, with Blood Rage corrupted units will stop automatically regenerating health, needing to kill constantly to do so. Some of the Chaos abilities are very useful; they can make your squads immune to damage, or revive and reinforce all your squads to full health, which is especially important now that medical supplies are much rarer than in the first game. Previously, medical supplies were found in crates that refilled all your support items, including grenades, explosives, repair kits and specialised ammo. Now these have been split into four separate types of crate (which all look identical until you destroy them), so finding the one you need when you need it has become a lot more difficult.

The Chaos abilities are by far the most powerful in the game and the corrupting wargear is not only the most powerful, but far more common than the purifying items, making it all too tempting to go down the Chaos path. This is a little frustrating if you want to stay pure, but is certainly in line with the idea of Chaos being a constant temptation and the path to quick and easy power which needs to be resisted. Unfortunately thereís not only a lack of purifying wargear in the game, thereís also a lack of standard wargear. DoW II included many optional missions, where you had to defend strategic structures you had captured in earlier missions. Although these got extremely repetitive, they gave the player a chance to collect extra wargear so your squads were all well equipped to deal with the threat they faced. However, these optional defence missions have disappeared from Chaos Rising; there are only two optional missions in the entire campaign, so if you donít get enough Wargear from random drops by the time you get to the end of the campaignóthen thatís just tough. Itís actually possible to reach the end of the campaign without enough Terminator-specific weapons to even equip a single character with anything beyond their default weapons when wearing the super-armour. Even if you had the weapons at the end of your DoW II playthrough, unless you were using them in the final mission they will be Ďlostí due to the events of the finale, as will 95% of your other wargear seemingly chosen at random. Regardless of what wargear you finished the main game with, you start the first mission with a low level loadout, making the first mission one of the hardest in the game, even for experienced players.

The campaign is not without problems; for starters itís very short, with a playthrough taking around 8-10 hours at most. It also gets off to a very slow and linear start with the first couple of missions playing like Final Fantasy XIII; cutscene, walk for a couple of minutes down a confined path, battle, cutscene, walk & repeat. The pathfinding problems from DoW II have also returned for the expansion; it can be very frustrating when your units all start walking slowly around each other under enemy fire instead of moving to cover or closing to attack, with the larger Dreadnought and Terminator units especially prone to this. To make matters worse, many of the frustrating bosses now use attacks with large areas of effect, which your units canít avoid due to them all stumbling around each other. It also ends very abruptly with the most blatant setup for a second expansion ever seen, to the point that it seems as if youíve only got half way through the game and itís going to carry straight on, rather than in another six months or so. Despite keeping your squads pure giving clearly the Ďbestí of several available endings, it almost seems as if they didnít expect anyone to actually follow that path; if all your squads actually remain pure, the plot reveal not only comes out of the blue, it also makes no sense in relation to the rest of the gameís events. Itís also a little disappointing that thereís still no option to play the campaign from any non-Space Marine point of view, especially since all the other races are already playable in multiplayer.

For many returning players, the real attraction will be the addition of Chaos Space Marines as a playable race in multiplayer, bringing the total number of races for owners of both games to five; Space Marines, Orks, Eldar, Tyranids and Chaos. The Chaos Space Marines are well balanced with the other multiplayer races; their units initially seem similar to their non-Chaos counterparts, but numerous Chaos-specific abilities, including noxious Plague clouds and daemon summoning mean they actually play quite differently. They also have a late-game unit, the Great Unclean One, which is one of the strongest in the game. Anyone who just owns Chaos Rising can only use Chaos characters online, although they can still play against owners of DoW II who are using the other races. As well as the competitive multiplayer Chaos option, there are also new units for the existing races and the Tyranid Hive Tyrant and Chaos Sorcerer are now playable in the extremely entertaining Last Stand mode, where a team of three Heroes stand off against 20 waves of increasingly ferocious enemies in a fast, frantic and surprisingly tactical teamwork-based game. The Chaos Sorcerer has some excellent abilities, including summoning daemonic doppelgangers of enemy units to fight alongside him and a number of good AoE (area of effect) attacks, but is quite weak in melee. The Hive Tyrant can summon lesser Tyranids as minions, allowing the Last Stand players to even the odds against the enemy hordes and is very strong in melee, but somewhat vulnerable to ranged attacks. Both units are entertaining and balanced, which is probably enough to recommend the expansion to current DoW II owning fans of the mode.

Apart from the new units, multiplayer remains unchanged from DoW II. Itís still as daunting as before for a newcomer, with dozens of new units, abilities and upgrades for each race and a completely different gameplay style to the main game, revolving around capturing requisition, power and victory points on the map. Requisition and power are needed to produce new units at your base, up to a fairly low population cap for each map. Producing units is slow and expensive, making each one important. The depth of knowledge of the gameís units and the amount of strategy needed to play well is unbelievable. You can always practice offline with the AI players, although thereís no option to practice Last Stand, which requires less in depth unit knowledge and is much faster and more straightforward than the head-to-head multiplayer modes.

Despite a slightly disappointing single player campaign, Chaos Rising is still a worthwhile expansion for fans of DoW II, especially hardcore multiplayer fans who will welcome the addition of the Chaos option (although WH:40k fans are up in arms at the exclusion of Slaanesh unitsóanyone who doesnít understand what that means wonít miss them). Itís not really suitable for complete newcomers to the series, being both too hard and not making much sense without prior knowledge of the plot, but itís available in a bargain bundle with the main game as Dawn of War II: Gold Edition for those players, so everyoneís a winner.


Best Bits

- Still one of the best looking RTS games out there.
- Does a great job of recreating units and races from WH40k universe.
- Addition of Chaos to multiplayer very welcome for fans.
- Collecting wargear is still fun.
- New level cap a bit low.
- Excellent new unit abilities.
Worst Bits

- Too hard for newcomers to the series, with no real tutorial.
- Short campaign at 8-10 hours.
- Story wonít mean much unless youíve played DoW II.
- Still no option to play campaign from non-Space Marine point of view.
- Lack of optional missions means no chance to collect extra wargear.
- Not enough Terminator weapons available.
- All the best new wargear is Chaos oriented.
- Units still have some major pathfinding issues.
- Early levels are very linear and slow.
- Plot reveal makes no sense for a pure non-Chaos playthrough.

by: Smurfzursky

Copyright © Gamecell 2010