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Warhammer 40,000: Dawn of War 2 is a game in danger of being crushed under sheer weight of expectation. Were it just the sequel to Dawn of War it would be bad enough; the original might not have been the biggest or necessarily the best strategy game of the last five years, but it attracted a following that latched onto the game and its three expansion packs with an enthusiasm bordering on mania. However, Dawn of War 2 also arrives as the first strategy game Relic Entertainment has produced since Company of Heroes - arguably the most revolutionary RTS of the last decade. The result of all this is that you have some people who simply want a bigger, better Dawn of War clothed in the Company of Heroes engine, some who want a Company of Heroes in Space Marine battle armour, and some who merely demand a new solid-gold benchmark for the RTS genre. On all counts, Dawn of War 2 could be described as a failure.
Rather than rebuild Dawn of War or try to reinvent the sci-fi RTS, Relic has taken a similar approach to the one Blizzard took with Warcraft III, stripping the game of many of the elements of a classic RTS, focusing on a smaller number of units, and adding RPG elements to make those units more interesting. There is no base building or unit production in the single player game, nor any resource management or technology tree to worry about. Instead, you have a commander and a maximum of three two to four man units, each led by a hero unit who effectively anchors the rest of his men to your command. Ordinary troops can be respawned on the battlefield once you grab specific capture points, but your heroes need to be looked after and persist from mission to mission. In this game, every man really seems to count, and you'll find yourself guarding your troops with a caution you'd rarely exercise in, say, Command and Conquer: Red Alert 3.
The reasons why don't entirely come down to the scarcity of reinforcements. Dawn of War II actually goes further than Warcraft III did, throwing in a proper experience system, complete with levels, points you can use to boost attributes and 'traits' you can unlock and use, often to provide new or improved abilities on the battlefield. Better still, destroying particular enemy units can, in true RPG style, result in loot being dropped, while completing missions will often mean similar rewards. The weapons and armour so gained can be redistributed to your hero units between missions, so you're effectively levelling and upgrading a party just as you might in a Baldur's Gate style RPG.
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