You know, there are entire standalone, non expansion games that deliver less content than the latest Dawn of War II instalment. It drop pods onto PCs fit to brimming with stuff, and that’s pretty much what we’d expect from the company that taught us that expansions need not be a way to merely edge a bit of new content into a game at the expense of gamers’ wallets. Relic delivered consistently standalone expansions for the Original Dawn of War, and the last Dawn of War II expansion was much the same.
But Retribution features an insane amount of content to get your teeth into. Whether you believe the Emperor is the true manifestation of humanity’s destiny, or just want to watch the galaxy burn, this game has something for you.
So many ways to die
There’s a campaign in Retribution for every race presented in the expansion, including the brand new Imperial Guard, playable now for the first time since they showed in an Dawn of War expansion, Winter Assault. These campaigns are not long, and the opening levels are repetitive tutorials, but there’s a lot to get into as they progress.
Perhaps most intriguing are all the vastly different play styles on show. By now, you might have gotten a little tired of the power-armoured warriors that are the Space Marines (and if you have, you make the Emperor cry), so a little change of pace is very welcome; good things these are some serious pace-changers, especially when it comes to the depth of character customisation from each race.
The Orks, as you’d expect, are brutal and close-in specialists with a ribald and violent sense of humour. If you’re not quietly sniggering to yourself as you cause explosion, after explosion, after explosion (and that’s just one of the Orky characters!), you’re not playing it right. Chaos brings a similar sense of ultra-violence, but with some more suitably icky flavours, like Plague Marines. These worshippers of the Chaos god Nurgle can infect the enemy, buff your own troops, and cause widespread damage.
The Eldar are more suitably... enigmatic, with elegant weaponry and lots of highly mobile troops. They’re kind of like fencing, compared to the brute force of other factions. And speaking of brute force, there’s the new kids on the block, the Imperial Guard.
They’re not for everyone, we admit, but we should also admit that the largest single army we own for the tabletop version of the game is a Guard army – we love Guardsmen. Pretty much every other race is superstrong, immortal, powered by mystical energy... the Guard have what most in the hobby refer to as t-shirts and flashlights. That is, lasguns – next to useless – and flak armour – next to useless. But there are a lot of Guardsmen, and you can use large units of them to mob opponents with firepower or even just as a meatshield while your heavy weapons and vehicles do the job.
It ain’t pretty, but it does the job. It can also be argued that the Guard have the funniest banter between their heroes, and arguably the coolest of characters – the Commisar. This guy’s a motivational leader who can make Guardsmen around him rally, attack, and all kinds of stuff – but only by killing one of them.
Now that’s grim.
There is only war
The multiplayer options are just as rich, though some of them are hardly unchanged from the original.
The ability to play through each campaign in co-op mode is certainly a very welcome addition, and the Last Stand mode of the original game makes a welcome return – in those mode you and two other players stand off against endless waves of enemies, levelling your characters as you go. It’s a cinematic and very unique hoot.
The Imperial Guard are well-suited to the game’s more standard multiplayer, since their vehicles are easier to come by and relatively powerful, but at the same time we still feel this is the game’s weakest link. Maybe it’s because of our desktop leanings, but the game seems to lack punch in this area – it’s either too long, or over too fast, and the unit synergies never quite seem so natural as in the campaign.
Regardless, even with its niggles, for an expansion Retribution is an outstanding achievement, bringing back everything that’s great about Relic’s adventures in the 41st Millennium along with some new factions and units. It’s a great place for anyone to get started with Dawn of War, and should be just as much fun for established fans.