Pick Your Poison
While the Space Marines are considered the toughest of all the races in Dawn Of War II, their hero units are actually not the toughest in the game. At least, not in terms of hitpoints, armor, of offensive power. However, the Space Marine heroes are useful in their own right, providing a tough to crack offense, in the case of the Force Commander, or an intricate balance between offense and defense, in terms of the Apothecary and the Tech-Marine.
Early on in the Dungeon & Dragons players handbook, there is a description about different styles of playing the game. Among them is the “bust-down-the-door” style, accompanied by a picture of a warrior kicking in a door with such fury that it explode in the face of the monster stupidly standing on the other side. If that style of play sounds appealing to you, then the Force Commander is your guy. Okay, granted, you might need to replace “door” with “ugly Orc mug”, but the concept remains the same. The Force Commander has a lot of health, good base damage, and a standard special ability called Battle Cry which allows the Force Commander to perform special attacks every time he strikes, which is another way of saying that he kicks a lot of ass for as long as Battle Cry is active.
In terms of weapons, the Force Commander has four upgrades. Out of them two are notable, those being the Thunder Hammer and the Power Fist. The Thunder Hammer is an incredibly common upgrade because it has an amazing knockdown attack which, when combined with Battle Cry, allows the Force Commander to carve a swath of destruction through enemy ranks. The Power Fist is less appealing against infantry, but it is effective against vehicles, as it does serious damage against them and has a stun which disables them for a short amount of time. The Power Sword and Sword-And-Shield, the other two Wargear upgrades, are dramatically less interesting, and generally not work buying.
Armor is less exciting for the Force Commander, as his main two armors, the Armor of Alacrity and Artificer Armor, offer modest health boosts. Most go for the Armor of Alacrity because it gives the Sprint ability, which is useful given that the Force Commander is a melee hero. There is also the Terminator armor, but it is less an upgrade and more a re-purposing of the Force Commander. It gives the Force Commander a big gun, making him a ranged hero rather than a melee one. However, the Force Commander also loses special abilities gained from previous Wargear upgrades, so the Terminator armor is generally a bad choice.
Surprisingly, the Force Commander’s utility options are extremely good. The cheapest option is the Iron Halo, which gives the Force Commander a shield that runs off energy. This increases survivability, making a Force Commander with an Iron Halo one of the toughest hero units in the game. More subtle players may opt for the Teleportation Pack, however, which allows the Force Commander to instantly move to any spot within a large radius. This is extremely useful for taking out deployable squads which are suppressing your troops, and it also makes for some nasty combinations. For example, you can use the Teleport Pack to place your Force Commander directly next to an enemy tank. Then you can use the Power Fist’s Flesh Over Steel ability to stun it, and then send in your Tactical Marines to kill it with missile launches without worrying about retaliation. Finally, the Force Commander has the Sacred Standard, which provides a sizable inspiration buff, increasing damage output of squads near the Force Commander. The only problem with it is that the Force Commander is a melee fighter and most Space Marine units are ranged, so your Force Commander is often not close enough to your squads to make use of this. Because of this, most people go for the Iron Halo or the Teleportation Pack instead.
A dedicated healer, the Apothecary is a support hero who aids your troops in battle by keeping them alive. The Apothecary can be either a ranged or a melee hero, depending on what kind of Wargear you outfit him with. Because the Apothecary is considered a support hero, he does not have that many hitpoints. This can make him difficult to use when outfitted as a melee hero, but choosing between ranged or melee for the Apothecary depends on how you’re playing. No matter how you outfit him, the Apothecary differs from the Force Commander in that he should not stray far from your squads. While the Force Commander can chase down an enemy hero or vehicle, or can crash in on a few unsuspecting squads, the Apothecary’s lesser combat abilities makes him poorly suited for such bold tactics. Also, his healing abilities have a range limit, so you’ll need him close to your troops to use him effectively..
The Apothecary’s two melee options are the Anointed Power Axe and the Sanguine Chainsword. The Power Axe is an energy-stealing weapon that is extremely useful if you believe you will be fighting an enemy hero using a shield (like a Force Commander or a Warlock), but it is only average if no enemy fields those defenses. The Sanguine Chainsaw is more expensive, but it does more damage and heals the Apothecary with each hit, which in effect gives the Apothecary a greater pool of hitpoints. Its a good choice if you’re fighting melee-heavy Orks and Tyranids. The only ranged weapon is the Master-Crafted Bolter. This ranged weapon is fairly damaging, but its real strength is that it grants the Full Auto ability. This is one of the longest ranged knock-downs in the game, and it makes finishing blows against fleeing enemy heroes much, much easier.
The Apothecary’s armor Wargear actually features one piece of Wargear that isn’t armor at all - Combat Stimulants. This grants an ability that increases the attack power of nearby units, but the buff is not significant enough to turn the tide of battle. The Apothecary’s second option, and first real armor, is the Apothecary Armor Of Purity. This armor decreases the recharge time on the Apothecary’s healing abilities by a significant amount, making it a decent choice. However, I recommend getting the Armor Of The Apothecarion, which gives a bonus to the Apothecary’s health and grants the Health Regeneration ability, an AOE heal which, though it requires the Apothecary to remain immobile, is also extremely effective. If used correctly, an Apothecary with Health Regeneration can make nearby Tactical Marines nearly unkillable.
Finally, we come to the utility options, none of which are quite as exciting as the best armor and weapon Wargears. Purification Rites is Wargear that causes nearby enemies to take damage whenever the Apothecary heals a unit. I don’t recommend it, as the damage is minor at best. Going with the Purification theme, the next Wargear upgrade is Purification Vials, which are actually grenades. Grenades are always good to have, particularly because they add another form of knock-back - a well placed grenade followed up by a Full Auto blast from the Master-Crafted Bolter will keep an enemy hero pinned down, allowing you to land a killing blow. Finally, there is Improved Medical Equipment, which increases maximum energy and energy regeneration. It is a good upgrade so long as you have purchased the Armor Of The Apothecarion, because you’ll want the extra energy to keep your healing going. You should probably stay away from Improved Medical Equipment if you’ve already purchased the Anointed Power Axe, however, since the energy-stealing ability of that weapon will keep your energy topped off.
While the ranged-only Tech-Marine seems like a bit of a wuss compared to the far deadlier Force Commander, the Tech-Marine makes up for it with a vast array of special abilities. The Tech-Marine, despite being somewhat sturdier than the Apothecary in terms of hit-points, is unquestionably a ranged support hero. He has no melee Wargear upgrades, and his base ranged weapon is only moderately more intimidating than a squirt-gun. However, the Tech-Marine has three abilities that are available from the beginning of the game which make up for his lack of personal combat skills. The Tech-Marine can build Tarantula Turrets, weapons platforms which can do serious damage to enemy units and also provides suppressing fire over a fixed firing arc. He can also build Relay Beacons, which heal nearby units and allow you to call down reinforcements onto the battlefield. Finally, the Tech-Marine can repair armored units, making him the only Space Marine unit that can repair vehicles besides Scouts. Because he can repair, and because the Tech-Marine has the Wargear upgrades that sync well with the use of armored units, the Tech-Marine is the hero of choice for those who like to make heavy use of Razorbacks, Dreadnoughts, and Predators.
When it does come to shooting-time, the Tech-Marine has three Wargear upgrades available. The first, the Plasma Gun, is strong against infantry and has an overcharge ability that makes it fire more quickly than normal. This does decent damage, but compared to most other Wargear options it is entirely unimpressive. Next up is the Master-Craft Bolter, which is actually not a replica of the Apothecary’s version, as the Tech-Marine’s bolter has an ability called High Powered Shot which does extra damage and suppresses an enemy rather than knocking him down. Of the three Wargrear weapon upgrades, it is probably the best for straight combat. Last is the Consecrated Bolter, which grants the Brothers In Arms ability, a buff that increase ranged damage of all nearby sqauds. This is nice to have as it fits in well with the Tech-Marine’s support role, but it is worse than the Master Crafted Bolter in terms of the Tech-Marine’s personal ability to do damage.
The Tech-Marine’s armor Wargear is more interesting, and makes for some difficult choices. The Artificer Armor increases health and grants proximity mines, a nasty defensive trap that is good against fast, light units attempting to charge or flank your ranged squads. The Signum Armor grants a small health boost and the incredibly powerful Mark Target ability, which increases damage against the target by 75%. And finally there is the Bionics armor upgrade, which increases health slightly and grants the Powerful Sweep ability, which knocks enemy units away from the Tech-Marine and does AOE damage. All of these armors are powerful and their use depends on your strategy and personal preference.
Surprisingly, the Tech-Marine only has two options for utility Wargear, but both options are useful. The first is Orbs Of The Omnissiah. The Orb is a grenade which drains energy and stuns vehicles. This is useful against enemies using a shield to protect themselves, and the stun against vehicles can clinch your victory in a tank-on-tank battle. The Refractor Shield, on the other hand, gives the Tech-Marine a big boost in survivability. It should be noted, however, that the Tech-Marine uses special abilities much more often that the Force Commander, and so the Refractor Shield will probably not be as strong of an upgrade for a Tech-Marine. Tech-Marines rarely have a mass of unused energy available to power the shield.