So a couple weeks ago I reviewed “Dawn of War,” the Warhammer 40k real-time strategy (RTS) game that felt to me a lot like “Starcraft.” I take that back a bit, because, like I said, A. a lot of RTS’s “feel like Starcraft” and B. definite mechanical changes, while small if you really look at the big picture, make enormous impact on playability. And partly because the more time that distanced myself from playing it, the more I realized how different the two games felt. So I take it back, sorta. “Starcraft 2” is the RTS I have by far the most time in so it's only natural that I’m going to compare it to any other RTS I play. “Dawn of War” still does feel like “Starcraft” in a lot of ways, but practically speaking it plays way different. I also say this because “Dawn of War II” really isn’t “Starcraft.” It also really isn’t “Dawn of War.”
I was honestly kind of expecting this review to just be a lazy checklist of every little tweak made between the two games, noting a couple new features, some balance changes, and a new faction. So I booted up “Dawn of War II” in a multiplayer match, learned I needed to pay $30 to play chaos and very nearly rage quit. Seriously, it was a base game faction in the previous game, on the tabletop game they are arguably the second most important faction behind only the box-art space marines, and the DLC to unlock them cost $10 more than the base game. And the game is from 2009. But back on topic, I booted up a multiplayer game expecting to have the hang of things, spawned a hero, and then soon had to alt-tab to a wiki to figure out how they worked.
Summing up the differences between the two games would be one hell of a checklist. But I think the most important difference is what’s at the heart of each game, what each one is focused on. It feels strange to call “Dawn of War I” a “macro-based game” because of how much less macro there is to worry about than games like “Starcraft,” but it is. The focus is very much so on making these large battles between big clashing armies. Most of the macro focus came in outfitting your units, giving them special weapons, sergeants, and researching upgrades for them. “Dawn of War II” takes things on a much smaller scale, and generally focuses on smaller forces with much more depth to them. Each faction's basic troop unit can be upgraded to use two different activated abilities, and big units can easily wipe the floor with everything else. The emphasis is on making your units as strong as possible, preparing for fights and then micro-ing until calluses bigger than a seasoned FGC veteran. This is most easily exemplified with the new hero units. Heroes are the equivalent of character units on the tabletop, important leaders or skilled warriors more distinguished than rank-in-file soldiers. Except unlike the tabletop, characters can easily take on entire hordes of enemy troop units. Troop units aren’t there to carry weight, they’re there to support heroes.
Superficially, there are a few other differences. Tyranids were added as a faction, much to my friend’s delight; there are more units and upgrades, et cetera et cetera. But that’s really not what you’re going to notice when swapping between the two games. It’s not like a lot of sequels, that are either the previous game with more refined mechanics or the previous game with more stuff. Replace either games’ 40k aesthetic with anything else and they could easily be separate games. In a way, each represents a part of the tabletop game. “Dawn of War I” represents the big battles, your 2000 point armies with dozens of units and twice as many models. “Dawn of War II” represents the character focus of the game, the character units that make up the centerpieces of those tabletop armies. The only thing left to do would be to combine the two, making an RTS where characters acted as powerful force multipliers or beatsticks for the meat that was the rest of your army like on the tabletop. And a lot of people expected “Dawn of War III” to do just that, to combine the two and make an RTS more in line with the spirit of the tabletop game that inspired it. Unfortunately, that is not what happened. But we’ll talk about that if I do a review of “Dawn of War III.” For now though, my Warhammer 40k review month is over, thanks to my one reader for humoring me through it.
Final Score: 5/10, they included Thousand Sons this time but paywalled them behind a $30 DLC. I do think it’s just kind of better than the first one, mostly because it's newer and has a more narrow focus.