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The really odd thing, however, is that Dawn of War II even plays like an RTS/RPG hybrid. While most RTS games remain obsessed with building and defending structures, making tanks then wrecking bases, this one focuses much more on exploring the map, despatching mobs of Orks or Eldar (basically Space Orcs and Space Elves, respectively) and working your way towards - of all things - an end of level boss. Abilities like grenade throwing, healing or melee charges are absolutely vital, and I can't remember an RTS where close-combat plays such a fundamental part. You'll even find yourself dodging boss attack patterns, which just shows how far outside the strategy genre Relic has been willing to go.
All the same, there's enough small-scale strategy here to make Dawn of War II more than a four-man Diablo clone with guns. As in Company of Heroes, finding and using cover is an essential survival skill and you need to pay close attention to the positioning and direction of your units. What's more, learning to combine the abilities of your various squads is of extreme importance. Space Marines armed with heavy bolters can dish out the damage, but they sure can't take it close up. Those with jet packs make effective shock troops, but won't last long in the thick of melee combat. Even your commander needs intelligent handling. Use his nigh-unstoppable charge attack at the right time and he can carve his way through a crowd of Orks like a chainsaw through a carcass. Leave him alone and vulnerable and he can be knocked out of commission, putting your chances at risk in missions where he's the only medic on the team.
If you liked the ever more epic direction that Dawn of War seemed to be taking with its expansion packs, this change of approach might not be welcome. The missions are paced cleverly in terms of moving from small encounters to more frantic scraps, but even in its biggest moments Dawn of War II doesn't move beyond the skirmish level. Those who (like me) played the tabletop Warhammer 40K in its infancy, might think this fits in with the original game's character, but those who preferred later editions might find it all a bit small-scale. Personally, I like it. I can't name an RTS since World in Conflict that has kept me so constantly engaged with the action, or so keen to come back for another mission when the last one ends. It's not as demanding an RTS as Company of Heroes, but neither is it as dumb an all-action blockbuster as the last two Command and Conquer games (bless 'em). It's fast-paced. It flows. It's horrendously addictive.