Dawn of War Retrospective Part 7: Retribution

Well, we come to the final article in the retrospective. But, before I start properly, I’d like to add something for you guys: when I started to write this retrospective in January, I was honestly writing it just because I wanted to share my thoughts on the series. I’d read bits indicating that a Dawn of War III was in the works, but I wasn’t expecting anything to come out of note related to the franchise for a good while.

When I was writing last week’s article for Chaos Rising, one of the things that I was informed of was that a new piece of DLC for Dawn of War II: Retribution was being released. That piece of DLC was the addition of the Necron Lord to the game’s The Last Stand mode. I highly doubt my articles have had anything to do with this DLC being created (considering coding and whatnot can take many months to do well, it’s far likelier than the Necron Lord DLC had been in development before I started writing this series), but what it means for the franchise as a whole is far more important, because the last time anything related to the Dawn of War franchise was released that had any major impact upon the game (there WAS a mod released in October, but all it did was cause the blood content in the game to be drastically increased) was in October 2011, around half a year after the original release of Retribution.

Why am I saying all of this? Well, because I think that alone is proof of not just the popularity of the franchise even now, but also is practically proof that the franchise will continue in the future. As someone who loves this franchise so much that he attributes it to him returning to both video gaming and Warhammer 40,000 in general after over three years and holds it as one of his favourite franchises of all time, this new DLC is an amazing thing to see. It might turn out to be a red herring, like the Tau Commander DLC in 2011 did, but I am hoping that this is the sign that a new installment in the series is going to finally come out, because, as I hope this retrospective will have shown to readers who have stuck through with it from the beginning, it is a genuinely excellent franchise that deserves to return. Sure, it has had its ups and downs, but what franchise hasn’t? What matters, at the end of the day, is the quality of the installments in the franchise. In the main series (probably not so much the spin off novels), Dawn of War stands as a franchise that I truly think cannot claim to have a completely bad installment to it: even Soulstorm is still enjoyable enough to make it worth playing if you don’t mind some poor areas which clearly needed refinement! I hope that this retrospective has encouraged people who might not have considered giving the franchise a go to do so, but, if not, then I close this retrospective with my only aim when I started writing it completed: to give my thoughts on the franchise and hopefully allow you to see why the franchise holds a place in my heart.

With that hijacking of the article over with, let’s close the retrospective with Retribution.

So, as you might have gathered from my ramble, Dawn of War II: Retribution was released in March 2011. There’s not really a lot to focus on that happened between the release of Chaos Rising and Retribution, if I’m honest: while Relic Entertainment DID release another game in 2011 (Warhammer 40,000: Space Marine) and it was their first release on a PlayStation platform, that wasn’t released until September 2011, so it’s a little bit past the scope of what this article is focusing on (although I may cover it in the future, since it DOES have connections to the Dawn of War franchise).

Speaking honestly…I think this is about the closest Dawn of War II got to making a game that lived up to Dark Crusade. Unfortunately, it’s a case of being one step forward and one step backward, as some of the decisions made in this game’s campaign mode are the wrong decisions to have made while some of them actually improve the campaign mode a lot and should have been the ones made from the start of the sequel’s creation.

Let me get the obvious comment out of the way: yes, on a purely controls based level, there’s nothing new here from Chaos Rising. To be fair, it is an expansion, so making huge changes to stuff is not the point of the game, but, if you didn’t like the control scheme in Dawn of War II, you’re not going to suddenly be won over here. The main changes are the campaign mode and bits of the multiplayer.

The campaign mode, luckily, has a lot of changes to it, and some of them are actually really good! If you’re like me and want to have a game where has a lot of replayability, then Retribution is already a step in the right direction, because you can choose which of the six forces you want to play the campaign as. While it doesn’t amount to a lot overall (you do end up basically playing the same missions in each campaign), it’s actually a really neat touch and one that I really like a lot, because you get to see what drives each force and you witness all of the sides work out in their own ways what is happening in the sub-sector. I particularly would rate the Ork campaign as brilliantly done, with some genuinely hilarious lines (then again, it’s Orks: a campaign where they weren’t amusing wouldn’t be fitting for them!) and excellent voice acting, but there’s none that I felt were poorly done at all. I also like the streamlining of the leveling up system in this game: rather than putting points into four slots and getting a new ability if you put enough points into it, your points here are in three slots and EVERY point gives you a new ability. It’s actually a much better way to do things, if I’m honest, and I’m somewhat surprised that this wasn’t the method used from the start of the sequel series, because it feels less complicated than the one used in the last two games. Another nice little addition is that you have an honour guard which can be rotated out for squads instead, giving you a larger squad cap in the mission if you need it or you feel a member of the honour guard is ill suited for the mission ahead. It’s not a flawless system, admittedly, but I do appreciate that the developers thought ahead on the fact that you only have four units to control at the start of missions and they also allow you to call in units above and beyond your standard units, which helps bring the scale up a bit and makes it a bit closer to what a multiplayer game is like.

Unfortunately, there are problems with the new campaign mode, a few of which likely stem from the decision to go for a multiple campaign option. The first one is the length of the campaign mode. If you play only one race, don’t play the optional missions and don’t lose a single mission, then the campaign will feel very short by comparison to the previous two games and I will say that the ability to bring in additional units does have an impact on the difficulty of the game, as it doesn’t feel as difficult as the previous two games. I suspect this was a response to the notoriously difficult final boss of Chaos Rising (where you have a HUGE force capable of helping you defeat the final boss that doesn’t actually get involved in fighting it), but it should have been implemented better, as none of the bosses really have had their difficulties scaled up to compensate for the larger forces capable of fighting them than in the previous game. I also have to question the rewards system in this game a bit, as your rewards can range from new weapons, new units or upgrades for previous units. I get that it’s trying to give you a choice, but I went for the new units or the upgrades for previous units every time and I ended up steamrolling most of the missions as a result! I think a better idea would have been to do something like what Dawn of War did and have the units unlock as the game goes along, as it would have allowed for the difficulty to be raised to compensate for the fact that there’s definitely new units being added every time rather than having to keep the difficulty low in case someone decided the weapons were more important than the new units or upgrades to them. I do like that the game had the balls to go through with having a planet destroyed (and the cinematic for that scene sums up the scale of it brilliantly), but it doesn’t excuse the fact that there’s very few missions on each world. None of them are repeats of worlds from previous games and you do have to travel across whole maps this time rather than constantly returning to previous ones, though, so I guess that’s a plus!

Really, though, I do have to say that I enjoyed the campaign mode for this game, in spite of all of that. Honestly, it feels like the perfect fusion of what Dawn of War and Dawn of War II are, with a few elements that maybe a future installment in the series could have refined or even removed to improve the campaign better. That, really, is why I personally regard this as the best campaign mode that the franchise has had since Dark Crusade: it has a lot of replayability, it has a lot of interesting ideas (some of which didn’t work as well in practice as they should have done, admittedly), it refines that which needed refining and, while the difficulty is a bit lower than it should have been, it is, ultimately, well done overall.

The multiplayer is not too far removed from the previous game, just with a few extra maps, a few additional units and the addition of the new race, the Imperial Guard. Honestly, I LOVE playing as the Imperial Guard whenever I play this game in multiplayer, although I will admit that I’m a fan of stories where humanity has to stand up to terrifying monstrosities, which, in the 40k galaxy, puts the Imperial Guard at the top of my list of favourite armies as a background force, so it’s not really for power reasons (certainly, I’d say they’re reasonably well balanced overall!). Really, there’s nothing of huge note about the multiplayer compared to the previous game.

It’s here that I have to bring up the only game mode in the sequel series that I haven’t discussed yet: The Last Stand. In this mode, you and two other players select one of the multiplayer characters (or, if you have the DLC, the Tau Commander or the Necron Lord) and aim to survive together against 20 waves full of enemies, with you receiving new wargear through gaining experience in the mode. There’s no offline mode with this mode, but it is honestly a fun experience if you have two friends and you all have systems and internet capable of running the mode! I certainly have had a lot of fun playing this mode and, with the addition of the Necron Lord, I can see this mode being very popular for a good while!

So, overall, I’d say that Retribution is a very solid game, but hampered by a few creative decisions which don’t really pay off. As a closure to the Dawn of War II side of the franchise (at the time of writing), Retribution is a very solid way to bring the curtain down on the series, managing to blend elements of its predecessor series and its own series in a way which is very interesting, tying up a lot of story elements that had been dangling since the original series in a satisfying way and doing it all with a lot of replayability. I wouldn’t go so far as to call this the best game in the franchise (that spot still belongs to Dark Crusade for me), but it is definitely my favourite game in the Dawn of War II side of the series. It’s not a perfect game, but it closed out the franchise on a very good note.