The Warhammer 40k franchise has come a long way since its tabletop inception. The proper game requires a healthy dose of imagination when playing it on the tabletop (especially if you couldn’t be asked to paint all those fiddly little figurines). I understood the basic concepts of the game (it involves a lot of dice rolling) but I was far more interested in the lore of Warhammer 40k – the different races, the belief systems, the wargear, the underlying fiction behind the game…it was all so painstakingly detailed, and really helped to bring the game to life. However, I was more focused on leading rockets in Quake than I was in tabletop gaming. So much for imagination.
Dawn of War 2 brings the experience to PC by offering a micro-manager’s dream – you are put in control of several specialist hero squads, each with their own special talents, and you are to guide their way to victory as they shoot, carve, melt, immolate and detonate their foes “in the name of Emperor”. For a micro-strategy game, it did rather well.
Chaos Rising shifts the focus from the Tyrannid hordes featured in DoW 2 to the Forces of Chaos. The level cap is bumped up to 30 and, rather pleasingly, you are allowed to continue your campaign from the original game, with most of your characters’ stats and wargear persisting (although certain items are locked until the completion of the first few missions).
The most obvious addition to the game is the introduction of Corruption. The idea is interesting enough – Corrupted wargear picked up in the field can be used and is extremely powerful, but it will increase a squad’s Corruption rating. Certain actions in the field (such as failing to protect shrines or allowing NPCs to die) will also increase Corruption. With Corruption comes new and powerful abilities, but have it too high and bad stuff may happen. I suppose the idea is that if you are having a hard time on a particular mission, you can equip some overpowered gear and mow down the opposition. Even so, I kept my squads purer than driven snow and had little trouble in combat.
The Forces of Chaos are hardier than your standard Tyrannid meatwaves. Units tend to be tankish and slow moving, dealing out explosive and disruptive damage in an attempt to scatter your units. It felt intimidating at first, but once you grind out the necessary perks for your squads, you can easily use a combination of suppression, explosive displacement, high-powered melee and the occassional heal to make short work of anyone. It’s amusing to see your merry band of Space Marines make short work of 2 tanks and a Chaos dreadnought, all at the same time, with nary a scratch (although sentry turrets still take forever to kill).
And that’s probably where the expansion falls short – the game has a somewhat decent length for an expansion, but veterans may find it all a bit too easy. As mentioned previously, I never felt the temptation to use Corrupted wargear to pass a mission, and keeping my Corruption levels low was not a difficult affair. There’s the mild replay appeal of seeing some alternate endings, but it’s a weak lure. At least you get a couple of extra characters for The Last Stand.
Nonetheless, I still had fun manoeuvreing my little men around a landscape for some tactics-based goodness. Chances are if you are a fan of DoW 2 you’ve already got your hands on this one anyway.