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Dawn of War 2: Retribution
Dawn of War 2: Retribution is the second expansion for THQ and Relic Entertainment's award-winning game. Set 10 years after the events of the previous expansion, Chaos Rising, Retribution makes a few changes to the Dawn of War 2 forumula. Gone is Games for Windows - Live, allowing matchmaking and achievements to be handled by Steam instead. Six campaigns are included so that players can experience the single player game with the race of their choice. Multiplayer has been expanded with the addition of a new race and a new map for the "Last Stand" survival mode. Though some players were nervous about the changes, Relic has created a game that's enjoyable and diverse right out of the box.
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Dawn of War 2: Retribution offers three distinct game modes, letting players enjoy the game however they wish. The singleplayer game mode features the game's campaigns, all of which can be played at four different difficulty levels either alone or with a Steam friend in co-op mode. Multiplayer features two distinctly different game modes; standard multiplayer and "The Last Stand." Standard multiplayer offers 1v1, 2v2, 3v3 and free-for-all gameplay, while "The Last Stand" pits three players against wave after wave of creeps in a 20-wave survival mode. Each game mode is different enough that they all have their appeal, avoiding the problem that some games encounter where the only real difference between game modes is whether the game uses AI opponents.
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Single Player Experience
Instead of a single campaign following the Blood Ravens Space Marines like previous Dawn of War 2 installments, DoW2: Retribution offers six fully scripted campaigns for players to enjoy. Each campaign follows a slightly different storyline, and unique dialogue and mission objectives helps the game to avoid the trap of having the same campaign with different races being played. Unlike the previous DoW2 campaigns, Retribution lets you choose either your heroes or "honor guard" replacement squads for each mission. Instead of controlling four squads throughout the game, players can build larger armies that drastically increase the scale of the conflict. The Dawn of War 2: Retribution campaigns blend singleplayer and multiplayer aspects well, though unfortunately some of the included multiplayer features such as paying to revive fallen leaders back at your base take away a bit from gameplay. The detrimental features are few and far between, however, and the excellent voice acting and general fun of the campaigns help to overcome them.
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Without Games for Windows - Live doing the matchmaking, Dawn of War 2: Retribution has shifted from the TrueSkill ranking system previously used to an ELO-based system managed by Steam; though the shift makes it impossible for Retribution players to match up with players of the original Dawn of War 2 or Chaos Rising, more players are reported as online for Retribution than were for Chaos Rising at its peak. Players can access all of the game's multiplayer races without owning the previous games, including the new Imperial Guard who shakes things up with a number of vehicles and a significantly different play style. New heroes have been added to "The Last Stand" as well, in addition to a new map that contains 20 different waves of creeps than the original. New maps have been added to Retribution's multiplayer list as well. A multiplayer beta helped Relic to iron out some of the biggest issues with the game prior to release, so DoW2: Retribution offers up at least as strong of a multiplayer experience as either of its predecessors.
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Controls and UI
The controls and user interface for Dawn of War 2: Retribution are nearly identical to those of DoW2 and Chaos Rising, though there are a few minor differences. Most notable is the inclusion of customizable hotkeys, allowing players to easily change what keys are required to use abilities without having to take the time to click UI buttons. As with its predecessors, Retribution's minimal UI works well and displays a wealth of information through the use of icons, text and graphic indicators above squads.
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With expansions come smaller budgets, which generally mean that there are fewer graphical improvements and less new content than you would get with a full game. Dawn of War 2: Retribution offers quite a bit in the way of new visuals, including new models for previously-included Imperial Guard units, new units such as the Eldar Autarch and the Space Marine Land Raider, and a variety of new visual rank unlocks. Unfortunately, a few of the new models seem visually worse than the models included in the campaigns for DoW2 and Chaos Rising for the same units. In general the graphics are on par with the previous Dawn of War 2 games, though Retribution doesn't go out of its way to raise the bar.
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Because of the changes made to the base game platform as a result of moving completely to Steam, Relic re-recorded all of the dialog in Dawn of War 2 along with the new lines specific to Retribution. While this is a task that the company likely wouldn't have undertaken if it could have been avoided, the end result is largely an improvement with a few rare exceptions. Combining this with the passionate and often superb voice acting in the campaign cutscenes and banter, Relic has delivered one of their best-sounding games to date. Aside from a few voices that sounded better before the re-recording, the only complaints that can be had about the audio is that a few of the campaigns could have done with a few more lines here and there from characters other than the stars of the story.
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Six campaigns. Steam achievements. Visual rank unlocks earned by playing against other human players. Unlockable wargear in "The Last Stand" to customize your favorite characters. Dawn of War 2: Retribution offers a lot to encourage players to keep playing, and for the most part these incentives work. Even though the campaigns repeat a lot of missions, the cutscenes, banter and general storylines are sufficiently different that most players will make it through some if not all of them before they get bored. Unfortunately, those players who didn't like the differences between Dawn of War 2 and traditional RTS games aren't likely going to keep coming back to Retribution once the novelty of the new race and campaigns wears off. Likewise, players who enjoyed the RPG aspects of the DoW2 and Chaos Rising campaigns may be put off my the more streamlined approach that borrows from multiplayer. DoW2: Retribution has more replayability than previous entries in the series, but without additional DLC to draw players back in it's likely that only the core DoW2 players will keep coming back for more.
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Dawn of War 2: Retribution is a solid expansion pack, capturing the feel of the previous games in the series while having just enough differences to make it clearly its own game. The campaigns tie up loose ends from the Space Marine campaigns of both the Dawn of War and the Dawn of War 2 series, and the multiplayer aspects offer access to all of the game's content without having to own previous DoW2 games. While there are places that the expansion's budget and shorter development time show through, the game is well worth the expansion pack price.
Image Credit: Screenshots by J. Edward Casteele. "Dawn of War 2: Retribution" copyright 2011 THQ and Relic Entertainment