Thursday, February 26, 2009

Byte: For the Chapter!

With World of Lagcraft still being a total disaster zone in terms of playability, I have at least been able to devote a huge amount of time to Dawn of War II. I completed the main campaign last night (on Normal/Sergeant difficulty), which is in itself a great sign of quality. I only ever make the effort to complete games I really get a kick out of, and even then, that's not necessarily a guarantee I will complete a game (I've still not finished the main campaigns for TIE Fighter and GTA: Vice City, and they're both in my Top 10 games ever), so Dawn of War II is one of a proud few games in my collection that can be considered pwnz0red.

HUGE FECKING SPOILERS, AHOY!

Overall, I really liked it. In fact, I'd got beyond that in saying that it's truly excellent and dangerously compulsive. The main campaign has a pretty decent story and though there might not be many surprises if you're really up on your Warhammer 40k lore (which I'm not, really), it's still executed nicely. The game is also constructed quite well in terms of varying the enemies you fight, since it's not Orks, then Eldar, then Tyranids, or at least not exclusively. You still get to go back and fight the Greenskins and the Space Elves every now and again once the 'nids turn up, which is a big improvement on the original Dawn of War campaign.

There's been a lot written about the game being repetitive, but for me it never really became a huge issue until I got about 75% through the main missions, and done a few optional missions on the side, by which point you've visited every map at least twice. Mechanically, I don't care what other people say, any RTS or RPG is fundamentally repetitive - indeed, I think that's part of the attraction. A few more maps would have been nice, but even so, more maps wouldn't change the base experience of the game (the joy in micromanaging the combat and seeing your troops kick Xeno-butt), and the original game only had eleven maps in the campaign, so there is more on offer here, especially since there's a greater variety of terrain on offer.

I played a bit of the original and Dark Crusade to get a fresh comparison, and I have to say, I think that Dawn of War II is a definite improvement - and I don't just mean graphically. I really like the specialisation of having smaller squads and employing them in the right way, rather than just marauding around in huge groups. You also get a bit of replay value in having to choose three squads from a possible five - on my first play-through I neglected Cyrus a lot once Thaddeus turned up, and replaced Tarkus with the Dreadnought-ized Captain Thule when I got far enough into the campaign to "save" him. I will be definitely replaying this a lot, and experimenting more with squad composition. I'm not sure about upping the difficulty, though. I've flirted with the Captain difficulty level, and it seems a bit *too* micromanagement heavy on the combat. I can't imagine what the optional mission where you have to take down the Avatar of Khaine must be like on Captain or Primarch difficulty. He has nearly 300,000 hit points on Sergeant (regenerating!) and it took me 20 minutes to whittle him down two-thirds before I got bored and quit to do something more interesting. That Terminator armour might be enticing as a mission completion reward, but it's not worth that long a slog, re-ordering each squad every ten seconds to move them around to stop them from getting wasted by Adds (that's 'additional enemies called in by the boss' in non-gamerspeak) or the large, flamey fucker's area of effect attacks. (Lesson One: Never, EVER put people in buildings during boss fights) Some people might like that kind of thing, but I've got better things to do. Like watch the 'splodes...

But yeah, it's really fucking good, and I'm glad I decided to splurge the money on it. So good that it's been eating up playing time that I should have been using to review Race Pro on 360 (More on that at a later date). If you're reading all this and still aren't sure how good I think it is and need a number, then okay, have a 9/10 from me, for what it's worth. Happy now?

In other news, I'm currently downloading review code for Empire: Total War from Steam. Get this: Disk usage - 15091MB. That's got to set some kind of record, surely. On my 2Mbps pipe, I've downloaded 15% in the last three hours. OUCH. This... may take some time!
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