We learned recently that the creators of Total War, The Creative Assembly, have scooped Games Workshop's Warhammer fantasy license. This is tip-top news. Warhammer is all about massive battles, Creative Assembly are really, really good at massive battles. It's a great match.
CA have set up a new develop team to produce games for the "multi-title" deal, but what would such a series look like? We're rather fond of Games Workshop's game of little fantasy men doing dice-war on tabletops, so we've rounded up a few features we'd love to see from an proper, epic Warhammer fantasy videogame.
When it comes to depicting clashes between thousands of men, the Total War series has few rivals. The Creative Assembly have steadily increased the detail and fidelity of Total War's skirmishes, and for Rome 2 they've built a massive mo-cap studio to make soldiers' movements more realistic. This makes them a perfect fit for Warhammer, which has always been about massive battles with massive units massively killing each other without remorse or restraint. They've got the tech to push well beyond Mark of Chaos' scraps, let's see it happen.
Warhammer generals wade into battle wielding weapons that have slain demigods, clad in armour that can turn aside cannon fire. Why would an ordinary soldier turn up to fight such a being? Extreme drunkenness, probably. Whatever the scale of the battle, it wouldn't be a Warhammer barney without some absurdly powerful power dressers taking out entire units single-handedly. The Creative Assembly worked some hero units onto Shogun 2's tech trees to mixed reaction from fans. An extension of the loadout functions on show in Shogun 2's profile avatars could be a good way to work in hero customisation. Relic's Dawn of War 2 heroes are a good model for gear systems that keep champions interesting and powerful over a long campaign.
Unit customisation and champions
Painting Warhammer's tiny models takes bloody ages. Tabletop armies are commonly fielded half-daubed in undercoat, shedding flock from poorly layered bases. Putting the time in to field an army that you're invested in really pays off in the long run, though, so let's have some of that. Virtual paint jobs can be applied with the click of a button in a game, and there should be room for players to design their own banners and name units.
I'd like to see Total War's the unit veterancy system leveling up unit champions, picking out heroic individuals from squads as a campaign progresses. If they become accomplished enough, you should have the option to promote them to General, giving players a way to foster new leaders in the heat of battle instead of a tepid menu screen.
This is a greater daemon called the Bloodthirster. He's like a giant cow with wings, an axe and a flair for the dramatic. According to Games Workshop, "the skies turn the colour of blood" when he appears and "the ground erupts with skulls and fountains of gore around it." He's the angry, fighty embodiment of a heavy metal album cover, and he's pretty much the reason you play as the corrupted race of Chaos.
Warhammer stretches familiar fantasy cliches to absurd extremes. That's a big part of the appeal. These monolithic juggernauts of mass destruction aren't just show pieces, though. They embody the personality of the race they represent. The Bloodthirster is a living avatar of the the bestial rage of his kin. The Wood Elves deploy a ten foot tall green hobo because they have spent years consuming Athel Loren's kaleidoscopic selection of mushrooms and don't know what's real anymore. Lizardmen fill a box full of dinosaurs and then bolt it to the back of a giant Triceratops. Creative Assembly strapped cannons to the backs of elephants in Medieval 2, so they're almost there already.
Randomised campaign twists
Rome: Total War worked a game-changing twist into its campaign that kept its twilight turns interesting. CA have experimented with similar ideas in Fall of the Samurai, which required factions to settle down and declare allegiance for nationalist or renegade forces for a final all-out territory scrap. This is good stuff, but it funnels the campaign into a prescribed final scenario. This is useful if you're trying to maintain a degree of historical authenticity, but a fantasy license should allow for boundless outcomes. The Wood Elves should be able to break out of their wood and occupy Brettonia. The Skaven should have the opportunity to consume and spread disease across the entire map, as is their wont. My favourite Total War stories are the ones I made myself in the vast, glorious sandbox that is Empire: Total War (much improved since launch thanks to CA updates and work from the terrific TW modding community). It'd be a treat to have similar opportunities on the Warhammer world map.
Those game-changing campaign twists may still have a part to play, mind. Terrible things can happen quite suddenly in the Warhammer universe. An unnoticed Orc WAAAAGH (an unstoppable angry green mob that grows bigger then more it loots and pillages) could roll in from the mountains and start washing through territories. A necromancer could get his hands on a long-lost item of power and start raising the dead in your homesteads. The incidental social events and scenarios that popped up in FotS could be expanded to deliver exotic challenges with more tangible rewards (claim territory X to gain a heart-seeking sword for your general), introduce new antagonists, and convey more of the exuberant character of the Warhammer universe.
A sense of humour
What has two legs, two tails and a thousand teeth? A LIZARD ON A DINOSAUR. Look, it has a MACE. And the dinosaur is WEARING A HAT. Warhammer is famous for its grimdark portrayals of eternal war, but it's often hilarious. Orcs and Goblins are considered to be the race of choice for generals who enjoy ridiculous, unpredictable battles, but the sense of humour that gives us units like Squigs and the Doom Diver Catapult can be found throughout the Warhammer universe. It's tough to work in wisecracks when you're presenting the brutal historical meat grinders of Rome and Shogun, but the Warhammer license gives Creative Assembly good opportunity to cut loose a little. Lizards riding dinosaurs. LIZARDS RIDING DINOSAURS.
I'm all in favour of a complex meta-game playing out on a strategic world map, but much of what makes Total War's infrastructure management interesting just doesn't fit into the Warhammer setting. If I'm in control of the Empire, I don't care about taxation rates, or ideological niceties like education and wellfare, I want to build the biggest damn steam tank my engineers can think of.
Many of Warhammer's races are just too weird to conform to the economic norms of a historical strategy game. Does an Orc Warboss tax his Goblin workforce? Of course not. If someone asks him for a pay rise, he'll probably just eat them. Do Dark Elves build schools for little Dark Elves? How efficient are they at mining ore? Nobody cares.
The only infrastructure we should be concerned with is the infrastructure of WAR. I want to build better spies to figure out where I should do war next. I want to research new tech to do war better. I want to find out how to breed demonic steeds so that I can do war faster. I want to build sacrificial pits and pledge souls to Nurgle to do war dirtier. Even when you're not waging war, you should be preparing for war, which is why you also need...
Everyone hates everyone else. This is a central tenant of Warhammer fantasy and GW's futuristic edition, Warhammer 40,000. Nobody has any real friends, but uneasy alliances can be wrought, and should. Some races, like Chaos and The Empire, are mortal foes who just can't be in the same room together without someone smiting someone in the name of Sigmar/The Mighty Khorne, but you should be able to tag along with a roughly aligned group to put down threats, and it'd be especially nice if they fought alongside you in battle from time to time.
The alliances should feel painfully fragile. If a spell goes awry and wipes out an allied unit, there's a chance they could turn on you there and then. Imagine if the process of cementing treaties had your generals marching out in front of opposing armies to seal the deal, giving both armies present the opportunity to betray their would-be friends and get in a surprise attack. That'd move those diplomacy screens back into the battlefield, letting you hash out terms in the fraught atmosphere of a military standoff.
Magic that backfires
Magic is extremely powerful in Warhammer. Mages can move scenery around to crush their enemies, speed up entire armies with a word and tear chunks out of the earth with great lashes of elemental energy. There's a twist: Warhammer's spell casters are incompetent.
According to the lore, magic is a wild force that can be directed, but not tamed. A pompous High Elf mage can miss a syllable and send that hill crashing into his own knights. Goblins shamans can get carried away and physically explode, taking out friends and foes nearby. Chaos sorcerers who misjudge a demonic pact can melt into a fleshy puddle or become warped beyond recognition by a possessing spirit. A streak of luck can decimate the battlefield, or gift your foe a great advantage.
There will be a temptation to tone down magic in the name of balance, which is probably wise, but part of me wants to experience the full, chaotic representation of Warhammer's magic system. The wonderful, crunching impacts of Fall of the Samurai's off-map bombardments could be incorporated into some delightful spells.
Alternatively, just make Mordheim
Perhaps there is no grand Total War-esque RTS on the way. Maybe The Creative Assembly are working on something smaller and more manageable with the Warhammer fantasy license. That's okay. It'd be great to see a proper High Elf force dice up the Empire en masse, but Warhammer presents good alternatives for smaller scale conflicts.
I've been a nerd for quite a while, and I reckon that Mordheim is the best thing Games Workshop have ever done. You control a small squad of about a dozen characters as they scour the ruins of a cursed city in search of precious Wyrdstone. Your warriors gain personality traits and terrible injuries as they level up between battles. If your general takes a terrible beating he can become horribly scarred and cause fear among is foes in future fights. Your men can lose arms and legs, or perform courageously enough to be promoted. As you amass a bit of coin, you can start hiring freelance mercenaries with their own strange back stories.
Imagine XCOM, but with much more emergent character development between missions, set in a dark, ruined city full of giant rat men, devout witch hunters and battle-hardened glory hunters wielding flintlock pistols. It was a bit of a pain as a tabletop game, as you needed a ton of scenery to represent the city. A game would do a much better job of representing Mordheim's warped, sinister cityscape and the evolving state of the treasure hunters camped within.
Those are our thoughts. What would you like to see from Total Warhammer?
A new blog post on the Relic Dawn of War blog details every ability and piece of wargear that the new Tau Commander Last Stand hero will unlock on his quest to reach level 20. It looks like Relic have not only nailed what the Tau are about, but have created a high-risk, mobile, ranged devastator that should provide new challenge for anyone who thinks they've mastered Dawn of War 2's superb three-man survival mode. This is a character who does ZERO damage in melee, but has access to a plasma gun and jump jets from the start, and abilities with names like "sky ray barrage."
Listing every upgrade and wargear unlock will be a bit spoilery for some, but if you're eager to see some of the slightly terrifying upgrades on offer, including heavy assault drones and nano-bots, you'll find the full list on the Dawn of War 2 blog. According to IGN the Tau Commander is set to hit Steam later today, and will cost $9.99.
Relic are also releasing some new chapter packs for Dawn of War 2's armies, including the Death Korps of Krieg for the Imperial Guard, and Word Bearers for Chaos.
Dawn of War 2's fantastic Last Stand mode will get a new hero later this month. The Tau Commander is the imperious leader of Warhammer 40,000's race of technologically advanced space-communists, the Tau. They stomp around in huge, customisable mech suits, which makes them perfect for Last Stand's loot driven progression system. With every level, new wargear is unlocked, opening up new build options that can completely change each warrior's role in the three-man team. See one in action in the trailer above, spotted on Reddit.
Going by the video above, it looks as thought the Tau Commander will play as a devastating artillery specialist, with some area of effect support abilities thrown in to keep team mates happy. It's fitting. In 40k lore, the Tau are one of the few races still making new tech, and the Crisis Battlesuit the Commander hides inside carries some of the best. Expect jump jets, drones and great big energy beams.
The trailer says that the Tau Commander will "be available for purchase at the end of October." There's no price yet. The Last Stand mode is available as a standalone purchase now on Steam and is on sale now as part of the tail end of a weekend Steam deal.
Dawn of War 2 made a bold shift away from the scale of the first game. It dropped base building and huge armies and replaced them with a cluster of upgradeable units with skill trees and armour slots. If you felt that the Dawn of War 2 format failed to capture the enormous armies and planet-sized scraps of the Warhammer 40K universe, then you might want to keep a close eye on Dawn of War 3. Relic marketing manager James McDermott told Eurogamer that the sequel will let you "build your own custom mega army," and aims to capture the sense of a "war that rages eternal." Oh my.
"Looking at what we had real success with with Dawn of War II – Retribution, with the DLC, and with customisation and building their armies and collecting being a big part of what 40k fans really love, we want to make that a big part of DOW3," said McDermott. "There's going to be lots of opportunities to expand and build your own custom mega army. That's definitely an area we want to invest in."
"With the 40k universe, the tagline is: there is only war. We want to give you that greater sense of the war. The battle. The war that rages eternal, and make that feel like that's really imposing and all around you, and you have your own personal, custom army in there."
"Your army and my army should feel very different. That's where we would like to get to."
There are no solid Dawn of War 3 details just yet, but Relic have said that they're planning a big announcement at Gamescom this year. What would you like to see them announce?
THQ core games boss Danny Bilson has told Eurogamer that development on Dawn of War 3 is well underway at Relic. Eurogamer understand that the third game in the series will take elements from the first and second games and "add something new." Bilson previously told EG that Dawn of War 3 will "have a much larger strategic component to it, more of a global battle going on with little tactical things, sort of MMO-like."
Bilson gave a rough estimate for a release date, too, saying the game will likely ship sometime between August 2012 and February 2013. Yesterday, Bilson teased a big new Relic RTS announcement for this year's Gamescom. "This one's built to announce at that place," he said. "I feel like an ass saying it's fantastic, but it is. And we're going to do something with it you haven't seen before."
Bilson originally said that Dawn of War 3 might end up being "a more digital free-to-play experience," depending on the success of Company of Heroes Online. CoHO closed down earlier this year, suggesting the new Dawn of War game won't be free to play, but we could still see features cross over from Relic's Company of Heroes experiment.
CoHO featured persistent hero units that could be levelled up between multiplayer encounters, unlocking new battlefield abilities in the process. The game also featured a player avatar that could be upgraded to unlock powerful, limited use battlefield abilities like air-strikes. It will be interesting to see if Relic bring any of these multiplayer RPG elements into Dawn of War 3's multiplayer mode to make it a more "MMO-like" experience.
Relic might also be looking closely at the success of the Last Stand mode, which replaces Dawn of War's armies with a single hero. Last Stand was released as a standalone game on Steam earlier this year.
Either way, another Dawn of War game is cause for excitement. We'll know more when the reveal happens at Gamescom in August.
The Last Stand has been one of the most enduring parts of Dawn of War 2 and Retribution has only expanded it with a new hero and map. The characters have completely new sets of wargear too, making it pretty daunting if you're not a Dawn Of War veteran.
We've combed through the community looking for the most efficient builds that the power gamers have been using to rack up the best scores. Follow our guide and you should break wave 20 in no time.
1. Space Marine Captain
The starting race for most Warhammer 40,000 players, the Space Marine is a tough but versatile hero, able to fight in melee or at range, call in minions, or maneuver with his jump pack.
Weapon - Plasma Gun (armour piercing, grants hellfire grenades ability) Armour - Armour of Resilience (immunity to knockback) Accessory 1 - Oath of Merciless Rage/Jump Pack/Terror of Xenos (something to keep him out of melee) Accessory 2 - Rite of Fortitude (+75 health) Accessory 3 - Rite of the Tireless Crusader (ranged resurrection ability) Commander - Larraman's Blessing (healing aura)
This selfless Marine sits back from the main battle and uses his healing aura and resurrection abilities to aid his allies. Never use the revive ability on Bloody Colosseum, your duplicates are tough enough without the ability to raise each other from the dead at will.
Weapon - Power Axe & Plasma Pistol (armour Piercing, +30% damage) Armour - Armour of Vengeance (damages attackers) Accessory 1 - Jump Pack (can jump across map) Accessory 2 - Parable of the Stalwart Brother (+1.5 health regeneration) Accessory 3 - Rite of Fortitude (+75 health) Commander - Dreadnought Drop Pod (grants dreadnought minion)
Simple but effective, this build is tough, does a lot of damage, and has a dreadnought for a pet. In battle his main concern is using his jump pack to stay mobile and harass ranged units. 2. Farseer:
Snooty space elf Eldar are quick and like to kill people with their brains, their lack of giant shoulder pads however makes them fragile.
Weapon - Witchblade of Isha & Pistol of the Warseer (+30% damage, increased speed, +0.3 energy regeneration, +25 energy) Armour - Armour of Vaul (immunity to suppression) Accessory 1 - Runes of the Harlequin (grants confuse ability) Accessory 2 - Runes of Deception (grants conceal ability) Accessory 3 - Runes of the Warp (grants group teleport ability) Commander - Spirit Stone of Vigour (energy regeneration aura)
A classic Farseer build, this the emphasis here is on support. Speed, teleportation and a cloak keep you and your allies safe, while you uase confuse as much as possible. If you still find yourself low on energy switch to one of the other armours instead.
Weapon - Witchblade of the Crone and Pistol of the Warseer (+30% damage, increased speed) Armour - Armour of Vaul (immunity to suppression) Accessory 1 - Runes of War (+40% damage) Accessory 2 - Runes of Wrath (makes a second, follow up, attack) Accessory 3 - Runes of Fortune/Runes of Evasion (reduce damage) Commander - Spirit Stone of Eldritch Might (large area attack)
It's a well kept secret that the Farseer can handle herself pretty well in battle. With combat expert, combat master and a bonus attack this build does a whole load of damage, while Fortune or Evasion helps keep her safe. In an emergency she can blanket an area with mind lightning. 3. Ork Mekboy:
Unpredictable and unreliable, Ork machines only work because Orks think they should, so if you think these builds are brilliant, they probably will be...
Weapon - Big Shoota Armour - Teleporta Pack (grants teleport ability) Accessory 1 - Cybork Parts (+66 armour) Accessory 2 - Sturdy Bitz (immunity to knockback) Accessory 3 - Choose One Commander - Trophy Rack/Boss Poll (reduces incoming damage/increases health)
Most people will start with something like this Mekboy. The cybork parts compensate for the terrible Teleporta Armour as he uses mobility to strafe his enemies. The final accessory slot affects the build very little, so it has been left open to choose from.
Weapon - Big Choppa (+2.0 health regeneration, gain +5 energy per melee kill) Armour - 'Eavy Armour (+75 health) Accessory 1 - Cybork Parts (+66 armour) Accessory 2 - Sturdy Bitz (immunity to knockback) Accessory 3 - Dok's Tools (heals Mekboy and allies when he is hit) Commander - Roks (large area attack)
An unorthodox yet popular build that uses the choppa to swiftly regain energy to fuel the devastating Roks attack. Counts on massive amounts of armour and health to stay alive.
Weapon - Dakka Deffgun (suppresses enemies, requires setup time) Armour - 'Eavy Armour (+75 health) Accessory 1 - Cybork Parts (+66 armour) Accessory 2 - Sturdy Bitz (immunity to knockback) Accessory 3 - Bubble Shield (gives the ability to knock enemies back if they try and attack the Mekboy) Commander - Trophy Rack/Boss Poll (reduces damage/increases health)
This build is even tougher than the last, with a trophy rack or boss poll (both have merits) adding to the durability. The idea is to set up in one corner and lay down suppressive fire for your teammates, turning on the spot but rarely moving.
Weapon - Burna (area attack, ignores cover) Armour - 'Eavy Armour (+75 health) Accessory 1 - Cybork Parts (+66 Armour) Accessory 2 - Sturdy Bitz (immunity to knockback) Accessory 3 - Bubble Shield (gives the ability to knock enemies back if they try and attack the Mekboy) Commander - Trophy Rack/Boss Poll (reduces damage/increases health)
Another tough Ork, this one cheekily uses a bubble shield to bounce enemies out of melee and into his flamer radius. Very strong against swarms of enemies.
4. Hive Tyrant:
The Hive Tyrant is one of the best of the Last Stand characters. It's as tough as a Space Marine, and comes complete with minions. Just try not to let the voice of the hive mind creep you out too much.
Weapon - Crushing Talons (+1 minion heath regeneration, minions attacks heal Tyrant) Armour - Poison Cysts (+25 Health, immunity to knockback and suppression, can create toxic miasma cloud) Accessory 1 - Explosive Decomposition (minions explode into miasma cloud when they die) Accessory 2 - Bio Feedback (Tyrant becomes briefly invulnerable when minions die) Accessory 3 - Genestealer Nest (grants Genestealer minions) Commander - Synapse (50% reduction to all ability energy costs)
This is considered one of the most powerful builds in Last Stand. The secret is feedback invulnerability and explosive decomposition. Whenever your minions die they explode and you get a burst of invulnerability. This can be manually triggered by summoning new ones. Synapse means you can do this really often too.
Another strong Tyrant build, here the massive ranged damage of the Ravener minion is exploited, backed up by the handy armour piercing Venom Cannon. 5. Chaos Sorcerer:
The Chaos Sorcerer has two main modes, make nigh invincible clones of his allies, and set everything on fire while cackling with glee. When he was first released a party of three Sorcerers could clone each other infinitely until the game crashed from the strain.
Weapon - Staff of Tzeentch (grants teleport ability) Armour - Armour of Eternal War (+40% damage, +40% Minion damage, grants ability to clone enemies) Accessory 1 - Demonic Gift of Retaliation (clones damage enemies who attack them) Accessory 2 - Demonic Gift of Sustenance (clone gains +2 Energy per kill, Gains Health equal to damage caused) Accessory 3 - Sigil of Greater Sorcery (improves Sorcerer abilities) Commander - Icon of Greater Summoning (allows Sorcerer to clone heroic units)
This build is all about maximising the potential of the Sorcerer's duplicate ability, meanwhile Teleportation will keep you alive to cloneeven more. On Bloody Colosseum clone your toughest ally and kill your own doppleganger before he does the same (we recommend a sniper round to the head). Never clone yourself, it just gets confusing.
Weapon - Staff of Tzeentch (grants teleport ability) Armour - Armour of Might Undivided (immunity to knockback and suppression, all clone bonuses apply to the Sorcerer instead) Accessory 1 - Sigil of Greater Sorcery (improves Sorcerer abilities) Accessory 2 - Daemonic Gift of Sustenance (Sorcerer gains +2 energy per kill, gains health equal to damage caused) Accessory 3 - Tome of Doom (grants Doombolt ability) Commander - Icon of Summoning (+125 health)
Built along the same lines as the Mekboy Teleporter, this Sorcerer moves quickly around the battlefield performing hit and run Doombolt attacks. Doombolt is inaccurate at long range but you can hit at short to medium range and use teleport to escape.
Weapon - Staff of Demonic Flame (grants let the galaxy burn ability) Armour - Armour of Might Undivided (immunity to knockback and suppression, all clone bonuses apply to the Sorcerer instead) Accessory 1 - Sigil of Greater Sorcery (improves Sorcerer abilities) Accessory 2 - Sigil of Master Sorcery (improves Sorcerer abilities) Accessory 3 - Daemonic Gift of Sustenance (Sorcerer gains +2 energy per kill, gains health equal to damage caused) Commander - Icon of Summoning (+125 Health)
Let the Galaxy Burn is one of the most potent (and best named) area attacks in the game, this build pushes up it's damage creating a durable and potent Sorcerer. 6. Lord General
Sadly the Lord General both lacks a tank to drive him closer, and is fairly poor at hitting things with his sword. He does however have some interesting minion choices, a handy turret and a sniper rifle that makes other ranged characters weep with envy.
Weapon - Flamer (area attack, ignores cover, Guardsmen also get flamers) Armour - Master Crafted Carapace Armour (immunity to suppression, grants ability to deploy Heavy Bolter turret) Accessory 1 - Medallion Crimson (+30% damage) Accessory 2 - Honorifica Imperialis (+25 armour, +2 health regeneration) Accessory 3 - Commissar (+30% minion damage) Commander - Guardsmen (can carry flamers)
A strong anti-infantry build, the Turret suppresses enemies while you and your Guardsmen burn everything in sight. Choose either a sergeant or medallion depending on if you value your men or yourself.
Big Game Hunter
Weapon - Deadly Sniper Rifle (+1 energy regeneration, grants high powered shot ability) Armour - Artificer Carapace Armour (immunity to knockback, grants ability to deploy Missile Turret) Accessory 1 - Medallion Crimson (+30% damage) Accessory 2 - Sergeant (+100 minion armour, +2 minion health regeneration) Accessory 3 - Commissar (+30% minion damage) Commander - Ogryns (have more health than other minions)
The classic sniper General, with the medallion crimson he is capable of taking out annoying Zoanthropes in a single shot, meanwhile Ogyrns with both a sergeant and a commissar are fully capable of decimating enemies alone.
The Plasma Rifle is a deadly tool, and this build is about getting them on the field and keeping them there. Very strong against armoured enemies.
Weapon - Deadly Sniper Rifle (+1 energy regeneration, grants high powered shot ability) Armour - Cadia Pattern Carapace Armour (+0.2 energy regeneration) Accessory 1 - Medallion Crimson (+30% damage) Accessory 2 - Honorifica Imperialis (+25 armour, +2 health regeneration) Accessory 3 - Rocket Run (large area attack) Commander - Storm Troopers (grants ability to fast retreat if in danger, Reduces cooldown on all abilities by 25%)
An unorthodox late-game build, the Stormtrooper's cooldown ability allows the General to cover an area with rockets, while strong armour protects him (and keeps his energy up). Some people don't even bother summoning the Stormtroopers when things start getting hard; the bonus abilities they bestow are enough.
These are the best builds we've found out there, but they're certainly not the only ones. What do you like to play as? Have you beaten wave 20 already? Honestly?
It must be hard to be a Guardsman. You’re standing around staring at an uncaptured control point and a box full of something called Requisition, and suddenly an Ork appears three inches from your face. His name is Spookums, he is wearing a pirate hat, and now he has exploded. You’re killed instantly – that’s one of the worst parts of the job – but Spookums is merely flung by his own explosion into a bush.
Luckily, Dawn of War 2: Retribution lets you be the Ork.
If you’d asked me before I played it, I would have told you Retribution was all about making Dawn of War 2 closer to a proper strategy game. It’s standalone, and where Dawn of War 2 was all about micromanaging just a handful of units, Retribution allows you to build up your force from the headquarters you capture midbattle. In theory, the big change is that you’re now commanding an army instead of leading a squad.
As it turns out, that’s not at all what Retribution is about. And thank God. You can build up an army, certainly, but almost every unit in it would have several manually activated abilities to deal with. Quickly and accurately ordering that number of units to use cover and activate their abilities is the kind of manual and mental torture test you could use to find out if you have a heart condition. Dawn of War’s interface, zoom level and controls just weren’t built for battles of that scale.
Yet Retribution is startlingly good – it’s the best Warhammer 40K game I’ve ever played. Because it’s not really about numbers, it’s about diversity. If you played Dawn of War 2 and its first expansion Chaos Rising, you’ve spent upwards of 30 hours controlling some combination of the same seven units. Retribution lets you choose between six different factions, with a total of around 70 squads, vehicles and heroes to play with. It’s a massive breath of fresh air.
Joy of six
There are six campaigns of around eight hours each, all playable in singleplayer or co-op. One of the six races is largely new to the game, the Imperial Guard, and they’re also playable in competitive multiplayer. Then there’s a new map and a new hero for Last Stand, the superb three-player cooperative survival mode Relic added to Dawn of War 2 in a free update. And if you’re interested in any of these ways to play it online, there’s the enormously welcome news that it now uses Steam for matchmaking and friends lists, instead of the horrific Games for Windows Live.
Frankly, the last time anyone went this nuts with an expansion was, well, Relic – with Dawn of War: Dark Crusade.
These aren’t six completely unique campaigns, admittedly. Play two and you’ll find they have about ten of their twelve missions in common, just slightly repurposed to fit a different plot. That only really hurts the early missions: the first three are overly long and overly scripted tutorials, and replaying them as each new race gets painful.
But once you do fight through them, you have enough experience points to start customising your heroes, and that’s where Retribution suddenly turns around.
Dawn of War 2 was one great fight, repeated. You set up your heavy weapons in cover, snuck your scout in to snipe a prime target, tanked them with your commander, and jumpjetted your assault guys onto the enemy’s strongest shooters. It was satisfying, but by and large it was the same every time. It was often the same map every time.
Retribution comes up with five new formulae, composed of the same basic elements of stealth, suppression, jumps, melee and damage types. Formulae that evolve as you decide how to upgrade each hero, what you equip them with, and how you want to use them.
It’s still tactical and manually intensive – you need to move each hero individually and activate the right abilities just when you need them, preferably with hotkeys. You can bench heroes in return for a free squad or vehicle and an increased army size limit in the field. But for most races, each hero plays such an important role that it’s hard to see why anyone would.
So for the most part, you slip into playing Retribution much as you did Dawn of War 2: four heroes, each with special abilities that mix with each other in excitingly brutal ways. I added a few heavy weapons squads to support my biggest gunner, and the occasional vehicle when I could afford it, then spent the rest of my money on upgrading and reviving my heroes.
I mentioned the Orks earlier: as well as the commando/commander switcheroo (where Spookums can swap positions with Bludflagg), their ranged specialist Nailbrain is ridiculous. He can teleport into battle, and one of his perks causes him to explode every time he does anything. So when he teleports, he also explodes, flooring everyone. He can then turn on his force field so that incoming damage will drain energy rather than health when everyone gets back up. This causes him to explode. Damage taken to his forcefield also charges his static blast, an ability that causes him to explode. And since it is an ability, it also causes him to explode. In addition to the explosion.
That part of the Ork’s combat formula is a result of the way I’d specced my Nailbrain. Each hero of each race has three stats: health, damage and energy. Those can be upgraded from zero to five, and almost every upgrade comes with some ability or perk that changes the way the hero works. The static explosion is a perk for upgrading Nailbrain’s damage to level 3.
I was rude about Guardsmen earlier, and I will be rude about the rest of the Imperial Guard later, but for what it’s worth they do have a formula of their own. The Lord General is a terribly British chap who can call in free reinforcements for squads who’ve lost men. The Commissar is a more sinister officer who can spur a squad to fight harder by shooting one of them – not that the Imperial Guard need any help getting themselves killed.
I like to have my Commissar use Execute on a Stormtrooper to kickstart that squad’s damage output, then cast Draw Their Fire on my General, forcing enemies to attack him instead. The behatted Inquisitor can then cast a protective shield on the General so he survives the onslaught. And after the fight, he can have a new stormtrooper dropped off to make up their numbers so we can do it all again. They’re not going to make the Fortune 100 for best places to work, but it’s satisfyingly effective.
In fact, a sadistic number of the Commissar’s upgrades revolve around his Execute ability, including a perk which lets you use it on enemy squads to demoralise them. Nice, but at that point aren’t you just shooting the enemy? Is that really something that needs to be unlocked?
Heroes of chaos
The units, heroes and abilities of the Chaos faction are split between three of their four gods. The god of violence is represented by a heavy weapons marine, the god of magic and change has a chaos sorcerer on the team, and the god of decay gets a brilliant muckspreading Plague Marine as his representative.
Kinky porno-god Slaanesh doesn’t get a hero – he’s always been the black sheep even in a family of pitchblack bloodgargling daemon deathsheep who burn in perpetual agony with the searing fires of the warp. Instead, your commander is a Chaos Champion who can choose his allegiance: each branch of his level-up tree serves a different Chaos God. I levelled up his health, enabling him to channel disease-god Nurgle in what is presumably Relic’s idea of irony.
As well as the usual tanking abilities, this changes the way your Chaos Cultists minions work. With Nurgle, they can worship on the battlefield to heal nearby Chaos units, and even build shrines that can then summon reinforcements from the warp. If I’d leant towards Khorne, shrines would periodically spew out daemons, while Tzeentch shrines cloak your units and fire doombolts at enemies.
But the highlight of the Chaos roster is the Plague Marine. He can spread a disease that heals Chaos units and rots enemies, and even ‘detonate’ the infection to wipe out a whole squad in an instant – or bring a pestilent friend back from the brink of death. A whole set of late-tier abilities cause the enemies he kills to come back as Nurgly diseasezombies. One of the most beautiful sights in the game is this guy squirting his horrible plague spreader into a fortified bunker, corpses falling out of the windows, then getting back up again and joining in the siege as zombies.
There are so many wonky and exotic options in the new races that it’s hard to imagine someone picking the Space Marines. But that campaign is kept relatively fresh in a clever way. Rather than bringing back the increasingly corrupt band of increasingly crazy brothers we’ve been playing in the last two games, we get a new team with only one familiar face. Their commander is similar and their scout is the same, but they now have a Tech Marine hero who’s all about deployables. And their fourth member, called simply The Ancient, can be specced to play any of three heroes’ roles you fancy: heavy weapons if you level up his damage, jumpjet assault if you level up his energy, or tactical tank if you level up his health. It’s a smart way of saying “Who did you like in the last game?”
Surprisingly, the weakest campaign is for the most potentially interesting race: the Tyranids. They only get one hero, who can summon a few free units on the field without the need of a base. But the limiting factor on your army is almost never the expense, it’s your population capacity. Summoned units consume that just as much as the ones you requisition at a beacon, so that whole set of abilities is effectively moot.
Without three other heroes to level up, there are few interesting interactions between Tyranid units. You don’t have the dopamine drip of constantly unlocking exciting upgrades, and there are no tough decisions to make between missions. Loot is rare and poorly judged – almost everything I found required a minimum level I wouldn’t reach until four or five missions later. Even the units seem poorly judged: I never found any combination as effective as massing the low-level Tyranid Warriors – tough, fast, cheap, and good against everything. They render the whole campaign easy, even on Hard.
The other bum note is the Imperial Guard campaign. They have some fun abilities, as mentioned, and it’s still worth playing if you’re after a challenge. But it’s a challenge not because the missions are harder, but because the race is a walking catalogue of inadequacies. The tactics that work – such as using your fragile melee units to bait enemies into large groups of heavy weapon emplacements – are the tactics that work for every race. The Imperial Guard’s twist is that they don’t have anything else.
Still, four great campaigns is impressive – it’s three better than Chaos Rising managed. And as usual, they can all be played with two players. That’s the other time requisitioning extra units in the field feels useful: controlling only two heroes each, you have the control bandwidth to take on a few more squads and use them well.
When Dan Stapleton and I played the Chaos campaign together, I tried benching my Sorcerer and taking the Dreadnought instead. It was fun to be able to requisition some cultists to follow it around and repair it, and easy to manage. Resources are shared, so generally you’ll check with each other before buying anything. It makes the individual missions more fun, particularly on harder difficulties. The only drawback is that however many units you build in the field, each of you only has two heroes to level up, so there are fewer interesting long-term decisions to make about kit and abilities.
The adversarial multiplayer is mostly unchanged, except for the addition of the Imperial Guard to the playable race roster. They’re a fine faction for it, since their vehicles are easier to come by than in singleplayer, but the design of the mode itself is still completely unsatisfying.
It has almost nothing to do with actually killing your enemy’s forces – any squad in jeopardy can flee at ridiculous speed to their headquarters to heal. In Victory Point mode, it’s just a game of weaponised musical chairs over three control points, and an early lead almost always means victory. Once you’re ahead, it's too easy to hold enough of the map to win - even if your opponent manages his units and resources better.
Annihilation mode is better – you have to destroy each other’s bases – but it just takes hours to get the huge economic and military advantage you need to overcome the powerful home advantage a player has at his base. Most games drag out in an interminable stalemate.
Last Stand was always more successful: three of you control one hero each and slay waves of incoming enemies until you die – and level up. The new hero, the Imperial Guard’s Lord General, starts weak but suddenly becomes fun once he unlocks the ability to deploy turrets – the best of which is vast and absurd. The new map, bringing the total to two, is absurd in the other direction: frantic, desperate and brutal from the very first wave. Both additions work primarily because the mode itself is so smartly designed and endlessly replayable.
Dawn of War 2: Retribution is such a beast of an expansion that there’s room for some of its elements to fail without adversely affecting the ones that work – those being the four great campaigns, whether you play them alone or with a friend. For those alone, this is an essential purchase for anyone who enjoyed Dawn of War 2’s tightly focused tactical scraps – even if they were sick of them by the end. It’s a complete revitalisation of that format, and more fun than Dawn of War 2 ever was. Just don’t go in expecting a game that’s slickly designed for large scale conflicts, because that’s not where Retribution shines.
THQ have announced that a closed beta for Dawn of War: Retribution will be launching at the end of this month. Anyone who's pre-ordered Retribution, or bought or registered a Dawn of War game on Steam will be eligible.
The beta will run between January 31st and February 24th, and will unfold in three stages. The first wave of invites will go out to global press and "key Dawn of War community members". Then, on February 1st, everyone who pre-ordered the game will gain access. Then on February 8th anyone who has bought a Dawn of War game through steam or registered a Dawn of War game on Steam well get an invite. The purpose of the beta is to test the multiplayer mode. All six races will be playable in the beat. At the end of the beta period Relic will use the information they've gathered to put out a day one balancing patch.
The details of the beta are all available on the THQ site. There's plenty more information on the Dawn of War 2: Retribution official site. The game's available to pre-order now, and will be released on 4th March.
THQ have announced details of the collector's edition of the upcoming standalone expansion to Dawn of War 2, Dawn of War 2: Retribution. The special edition box will come with bonus in-game wargear for each of the six playable races in the game along with exclusive artwork. Preorders are also now available for the game. Read on for details.
There's a special pre-order version for each of the six races in the game. The pre-order versions contain four exclusive "unique ability and wargear items" for each race. The Tyranid pack is available exclusively through the THQ e-store, the Ork pack is available through Steam and the other packs can be bought from any digital distribution store. THQ plan to release all of the wargear items as purchasable DLC on Steam once the game is released in March.
The Collector's Edition of the game comes with all of the Wargear for every race, as well as a poster and bonus art cards for each of the game's six races. Full details of the pre-order deals and the collector's edition can be found on the official THQ site. Here's an overview of the bonus wargear on offer for each race.
The Emperor’s Executioners – Instantly kill infantry units with less than a fifth of their health remaining. Blessed Carapace of Resolve – Friendly units within the area gain increased damage resistance. Honorifica Imperialis – Friendly units within the area have their ability cooldowns reduce. Helm of the Distinguished Imperial Officer – Friendly units within the area are healed and have their energy restored when you kill an enemy.
Holy Axe of the Honor Guard – this unique two handed power axe increases your defense against enemy attacks Armor of the Martyr – Attacks upon Diomedes heal allied units around him Chant of the Righteous – Enemies attacking Diomedes lower the cool down timer on his abilities Helm of the Veteran – Increases the health and armor of the character that equips it
Spear of the Ynnead – Attacks upon the enemy can now confuse them and cause them to attack each other Guile of Cegorach – The death of allied units now increases the chance of you entering an enraged state that increases your speed and damage Runes of Wisdom – Lowers the energy cost of using abilities Helm of the War Host – Your hero gains immunity to knock back and suppression
Chaos Space Marines
Skull Breaker: Hits on the enemy with this weapon have the chance to cause an explosive area of effect attack Armor of the Immortal: Gain the protection of an invulnerability shield when your character is critically injured Herald of the Warp: Equipping this item significantly lowers your ability cool down timers Mark of Chaos Favor: Your character gains the benefits of Chaos god worship from all the dark gods
Kan Opener - Your attacks now have a chance to disable enemy vehicles Angry Armour - Enemy attacks on the Warboss increases the damage he does Lucky Teef - When your Warboss kills an enemy, friendly units in the surrounding area gain energy Supa Flashy Boss Rack - Your Warboss now gains the benefits of both a boss pole and a trophy rack
Venomous Talons – Attacks upon the enemy now have a guaranteed chance to stun and poison them for a short duration Poisonous Cysts – After taking a fixed amount of melee damage your Swarmlord will now spray a poison cloud that damages your enemies Shadow in the Warp – When hit you now convert some of that damage to energy to power your abilities Warp Field – Calls forth an energy shield to protect your character from damage
The new general units for each race in Dawn of War 2: Retribution's single player campaigns will also feature in multiplayer mode. Relic have revealed some of the special abilities that will be available to the Tyranid Swarmlord and the Eldar Autarch.
Once you've upgraded your base to tier 3 you'll be able to deploy a Tyranid Swarmlord to the battlefield. In single player the Swarmlord has a direct connection to the Hive Mind, and is responsible for gathering Tyranids together to spawn an army. In multiplayer the Swarmlord won't be able to spawn troops personally, but units near him will move faster, and fallen allies can be reinforced without having to flee back to base. In addition the Swarmlord's four bone sabers make him devastating in close combat.
Abilities: Leech Essence The Swarmlord drains the life from surrounding infantry units for a duration which increases his health regeneration.
Blade Flurry Unleashes the full strength of the Swarmlord, heavily damaging and knocking back adjacent infantry. Eldar Autarch
Unlike the Swarmlord, Eldar players won't be able to train and deploy the Autarch from base as with ordinary units. Instead the Autarch takes the form of a special ability that can be activated once enough kills have been made. Upon activating the Autarch the play gets to hand place the landing points for a volley of grenades. Once triggered the grenades will be called in from the sky, once they've gone off, the Autarch crash lands to clean up the aftermath. Once the Autarch's work is done, she vanishes from the battlefield, ready to be called upon again at a reduced cost.
Abilities: Fleet of Foot Greatly increases the unit’s speed but reduces the Autarch’s damage output for the duration of the ability.
Leap Soar through the air and land at the targeted location. Upon landing the Autarch increases the speed, damage, health and of nearby infantry units.
There's more information about the different units that will be available in Dawn of War 2: Retribution on Relic's Dawn of War blog. If you're interested in exactly how the Swarmlord will work in the single player campaigns, check out our preview of the Tyranid campaign.