I’ve been in a very pickup-and-play mood lately. My mouth has been hurting a bit and that’s made my attention span pretty much zilch when it comes to focusing and doing anything specific for a long period of time. It’s been the perfect opportunity to play a lot of Dawn of War 2 Multiplayer Beta which has been available to the public on Steam. I played the first Dawn of War and the expansion packs (all but this most recent one) and enjoyed the game’s campaign and dabbled in the multiplayer. I never thought that the game held much against Warcraft3, Starcraft, or their ilk but it was a decent game nonetheless.
Dawn of War 2 changes things up a bit by removing the building aspects of the game and having players focus solely on creating squads from a main building and then using them to capture nodes and fight your enemies. There are two types of nodes on the map – to simplify it it’s basically money and power. You spend these to make squads of troops, which is as simple as it sounds. You can upgrade your main base twice to level three and unlock higher tiers of troops/vehicles. It’s rather simplistic and makes me miss the control I had of making buildings and such bu the simple nature of it works because of how intense the micromanagement is with squads.
The gameplay in DoW2 is pretty solid. As I said, you’re going to need to be good at micromanaging your squads as you use them on the battlefield. Squads can each be upgraded with different types of weapons and given squad leaders on top of your hero being able to upgrade and use different items from a selection of items unique to your hero. Additionally, it feels like each squad has special abilities to use including your hero unit which has spells and abilities as well. There are also racial abilities that can be used as you build up points for killing enemies (similar to the Command and Conquer games) that change slightly with which hero you’re using. Each hero for each races alters the feel of gameplay which gives the game a lot of diversity – 4 races – 3 heroes each.
My favorite race by far are the Orks. They’re crazy and offer a lot of options in battle. I find it best to always have a healthy mix of melee and ranged troops and work my way to tankbustas (anti-vehicle) troops to reinforce. Using the Mekboy hero allows me to throw proximity mines and really control the enemy’s movement. It’s always important to maintain a healthy army or else you will quickly find yourself overrun – especially against the Tyranids. Additionally, paying attention to what your enemy builds is crucial. Unit counters are yet another form of micromanagement in DoW2 and if you’re not making something that counters your enemy then you will feel completely useless as your units die within seconds and the enemy walks away unscathed because his units were strong against yours. It makes each game feel different and dynamic though, which is a plus in RTS games.
The maps in the multiplayer beta are pretty good. A big part of the gameplay revolves around using the terrain to your benefit. Commanding your troops to take cover is so very important because if you just ignore where your troops are standing then you leave yourself open to being completely annihilated through suppression, flanking, and other outright weaknesses with not taking cover like more damage. A big part of DoW2 seems to be controlling the map and disabling your opponent from being able to move troops around. If you control the crucial parts of the map long enough to hunker down and secure them then the game is won.
DoW2’s online matchmaking system is downright awful. It takes forever to find opponents and teammates to play with in “find game” option and the “custom games” where you search a list of games to join is plagued with the same issues that seem to pop up in every game like “NAT negotiation” problems and other lag/router/firewall issues. Why can’t another company replicate the Battle.net experience – it’s ridiculous. On top of the online lobby/matching being horrible, the game suffers from crashes, lockups, and intense lag. There is a bug right now that is causing some people (myself included) to CTD every other game. The lag in-game is horrific to the point of getting skippy gameplay and intense latency waits for players to catch up. Additionally, if someone in the game is running with their settings too high then it brings -everyone- down with them. A message pops up saying “So and so has their settings to high and is lagging the game” … it’s bonkers.
If the lag, bugs, crashes, and online matching system can be fixed then the game stands a chance of being fun. I’ve clocked like 10+ hours in it over the past 3 days because I enjoy it enough despite the annoyances. It’s no Starcraft, but it’s fun. Whether or not I end up buying the game when it launches will hinge entirely upon how much I’m enjoying my current selections and whether or not another RTS (Like SC2) launches soon.
If you have nothing else to do or find yourself interested in a decent RTS then I highly suggest you try the public open beta while it’s available on Steam.