Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Dawn of War 2 - Co Op Campaign Mode

Warhammer 40k: Dawn of War II is fucking sweet. It is, in many ways, a game that I have been waiting to play for a very long time. Why, then, am I coming so late to the party? The multiplayer beta's been available for over a month. I never played it. The fact is, however, that I wasn't waiting for the game's traditional RTS multiplayer. I was waiting for the co-op campaign.

I like RTS games a lot. I started right around the first Warcraft game - back when there were just humans and orcs, and the orcs were just humans in funny suits (even more so than they are now). I, like the great nation of Korea, fell completely in love with Starcraft. The thing was, with the advent of (and really starting with WC2 over Kali) I realize that I wasn't the best at them. I enjoyed the campaigns, and playing against an easy computer, but I would get throttled by real human beings. See, I liked to either spend all my time building my base, or spend my time microing a few small groups. I always loved the infiltration missions. But I never paid the right amount of attention to micro and to building at the same time. Thus, I got eaten.

As time went on, I got better. I got a massive crash course in college as most of my friends at the time were freakishly good at the game. College is where I learned how much fun multiplayer comp stomps were. The cooperative experience was amazingly fun, whether or not we were able to hold off the computer.

When I heard that Dawn of War 2 was going to have a cooperative campaign my ears perked up. I already loved the 40k universe. I already really liked the first set of Dawn of War games. Adding to that the ability to play through the campaign with a friend sounded like an amazing opportunity. This was all before I had heard anything else about the game. Once I started reading about the game, I began to salivate.

Dawn of War 2's coop campaign works like this: each player gets to control 2 squads. Each squad has a different flavor and is led by a named character with a distinct personality within the story. One squad is composed of just the commander. Another squad is specialized for long ranged damage. A third excels at jumping into combat zones and dealing hand to hand damage to what they find there. While the first player always controls the commander, the rest of the units can be swapped around throughout play as long as each player controls 2 total.

As has been said elsewhere, this makes the game feel almost more like an RPG than an RTS: more Baldur's Gate than Command & Conquer. Well, that and the fact that units gain experience and have basically the same levelling system as you enjoyed in Mass Effect. And there's equipment that you can swap out. Really, it's a lot like an RPG. But then, the original roleplaying game grew out of war gaming. In much the same way that dolphins and sharks evolved dorsal fins independant of each other, the changes from the campaign in DoW 1 somehow bring the game into the world of the RPG. And this is great, because it lets Dawn of War be a fun RPG without almost all of the bullshit.

No towns to walk around or NPCs to interact with. No walking around the world wondering where the fuck to go to next. Very little traditional grinding -- you can clear a map, or you can shortcut to the boss. Video cutscenes that are just long enough. And to top it all off, I get to play it with my friend from back west who I used to play Dawn of War 1 comp stomps with.

Having said all that, the game does have some issues. For one, what I've seen of the story so far is just there as an excuse to keep fighting (to be fair, this does match the setting very well). The game as is could never manage the kind of stories that, say, Suikoden 2 or the aforementioned Mass Effect pull off. The boss battles do go on for probably longer than they need to, but then, so do all boss battles.

Most of my complaints are like this -- things that I would have liked to see but which are not strictly necessary to the game. I would have liked to see a broader loot tree. I would have liked to see a more involved story. But you know what? The compactness of it is a selling point. It's virtue lies in how boiled down it is.

In many ways, I think this game is the PC answer to the console tactics games. It has the same general misson based structure without fooling around in the middle. Yes, you lose the large armies to manage. However, I've never been able to adequately play a tactics game co-op with friends. There's a lot of juice that comes from saving somebody else's ass in real time, just ask Left 4 Dead.

As I said, it's not a perfect game nor is it my absolute favorite game. But then, I do love cooperative games, and I love RTS games, and this marries the two in a very satisfying way that I've been looking for for a while now.

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