Warhammer 40,000: Dawn of War II Preview
Pre-E3 2008: Warhammer 40,000: Dawn of War II Preview
Relic seems to be doing great things with its next RTS. New information and screens inside.
Anyone familiar with real-time strategy games or PC gaming in general should be paying attention to what Relic's doing with Warhammer 40,000: Dawn of War II. The developer behind platform standouts such as Homeworld, Company of Heroes, and the original Dawn of War is fusing elements from its past work and the action-RPG genre with this sequel, currently scheduled for an early 2009 release. For this preview we took an early look at the E3 build, which featured a number of new features since we first saw the game earlier this year.
Before we get into the details, a brief overview is in order. From what we know so far, the Space Marine and Ork factions will be featured in the game. They will each have their own campaigns, and those campaigns can be played co-operatively. The single-player campaign is built around a non-linear succession of missions, at least as far as the Space Marines are concerned, where the player hops from planet to planet in a starship, responding to distress beacons and battling enemies in an attempt to remove a galactic threat.
Picking and choosing missions will have an effect on how the campaign plays out, as doing one mission might preclude you from doing another. As you take control of territory and planets, you'll also have to deal with enemy counterattacks. From an overview map, which we didn't get a chance to see, you'll be able to monitor your territory, see which foes are attacking where, and be forced to choose which territory to seize and which to defend.
For our demo, four squads were available for play, each led by a uniquely named sergeant and serving their own special functions. Before heading into a mission, you'll be given a loadout screen where you can swap around weapons, armor, accessories, and assign attribute points for the squad leaders. Attribute points are earned as squad leaders level up by experience gained for killing enemies and completing missions; you get one attribute point to assign per experience level. Depending on how you're trying to build a specific squad (ranged attacks, health, melee) you can allocate the point to that category. After specific numbers of points are pumped into a category, you'll get special abilities to use with that unit.
For instance, putting a few points into the health category gets you a taunt ability that lets the squad leader draw enemy units away from weaker or wounded squads and onto himself. Investing in ranged attacks can reward you with a focused fire skill which temporarily increases the distance from which you're able to fire on enemies, which is obviously useful for someone using a sniper rifle. There were numerous other abilities as well, but we didn't get a chance to see what they did, though it seems obvious that your squad leaders will increase in power and usefulness as the game progresses, since they'll accumulate better skills, weapons, and accessories.
While weapons and armor can have varying effects aside from just increasing damage output and defense ratings, the accessories will allow for squads to use a wide range of special abilities. For instance, an orbital beacon, the item that delivers the devastating orbital blast you may have seen in the video released for the game, is an equippable accessory. During a mission it can only be used once, but it can have a dramatic effect on a battle, wiping out enemies and environmental structures. Other accessories we saw included armor piercing sniper rounds (they basically kill enemy units garrisoned in structures in one hit), frag grenades for blasting apart cover positions, melta bombs for blowing up vehicles, and health packs.
It should be noted that there don't really appear to be any healer units in the game; instead, unit recovery is handled through health packs, which have a few uses per mission. Enemies killed during battle will also periodically drop, along with weapons and items, health pack rechargers or extra sniper ammo to replenish your supplies. Once a mission ends, all the use counts for accessories are refreshed automatically.
In a departure from most RTSes out there, this game won't feature any base building in its single-player campaign, or at least from what we've seen so far. Before starting out on a mission, you pick which squads you'd like to bring with you, and that's it. The squad leaders hit the field of battle with two lesser units in their group, and that's basically what you've got to work with.
Managing the battle will, like in Company of Heroes, involve a heavy use of cover. Various bits of the battlefield, such as sandbags, concrete walls, hedges and other plant life, can be taken advantage of by both sides to shield against enemy fire. Also, like in CoH, it appears you'll have the same kind of icon near your mouse pointer to indicate which cover spots are better than others. Even when you're not controlling your units they'll still scamper for cover if they're under fire, and they'll enter a suppressed mode if they get overwhelmed. To balance that out, it's also possible to cause enemies to flee if they feel outnumbered, indicated by a large exclamation point appearing over their heads.
To effectively fight against a well-entrenched opponent, Relic has designed the game so nearly everything can be destroyed. Grenades will shatter hard cover spots and bits of buildings, and the jump-jet marines can hop up into the air and slam down repeatedly on entrenched positions, knocking enemies every which way with a shock wave and causing cover to crumble. It appears these kinds of jumps can be used at varying ranges--from hopping from cover to cover across larger stretches of land to short-hopping to keep enemies stumbling around. While that might seem a little too powerful, it's possible for opponents to shoot a jump-jetting opponent out of the air by focusing fire upon them.
Line of sight also plays an important role in the fighting, as enemy units behind a large wall won't actually be able to see your squads. If you're able to sneak up on a position protected by one of these large structures, it's possible to set up an ambush. The demo we were given showed one squad of marines jump-jetting over such a wall, another squad moving around into open space to draw fire, and yet another taking up spots in a nearby building to wipe out a group of foes.
Approaching a shrine.
Naturally not all battles will go that well, and often times you'll lose lesser squad members or the leaders to overwhelming opposition. Since there aren't any bases, Relic has implemented different kinds of mechanics to ensure you can keep your forces at full strength. First off, squad leaders don't actually die, they just get incapacitated. By moving another squad leader into position, the one on the ground can be brought right back up to his feet. The lesser squad members, however, do die. Getting them back can be accomplished in two ways: by using a drop pod beacon (once per mission) or by visiting a shrine.
What's a shrine, you ask? Well, it's Relic's take on capture points in Dawn of War II. Located in certain maps, a shrine will usually be heavily defended by enemies, as they recognize it's a location of value. If you do choose to risk the lives of your limited units in taking over one of these spots, you'll be rewarded with the ability to revive fallen lesser squad members once it's in your possession. It'll also grant you some kind of galaxy-wide, persistent bonus, something Relic wasn't willing to go into detail about. They did say it'll somehow benefit your overall forces and that opponents will try and re-take the shrines, so whatever the benefits are they should be somewhat significant.
During the mission we were shown, which takes place in a rainy, jungle-like environment, the main goal is to kill an Ork warboss. Upon reaching his hideout on the map, a short cut-scene triggers where the boss taunts our squads briefly then shifts into battle. In addition to the giant Ork, swarms of smaller foes stream in from the top of the screen. The scene looks more like something from Diablo II than a real-time strategy game. The warboss even has a boss health meter visible at the screen's top and special attacks, like a shockwave move and a ground attack that lights up terrain in a line before a string of explosions triggered. The tactics of taking him down involve moving troops out of the way of his ground shockwave, steering clear of his melee attacks, and keeping a squad focused on clearing out the Ork rabble that keeps spawning. Once he is finally killed, he drops his gun, which is labeled as a "blue" item.
It's a good looking game.
And unfortunately that's all we were able to see. There are still tons of questions we have that Relic isn't ready to answer, most of which center around the game's multiplayer component. For instance, will limited squads be the focus of the game's online matches or will there be more traditional base-building mechanics? What other races will be playable? How will your items acquired in the single-player campaign factor into your online play? What sort of multiplayer service will the game use? How many different squad-types are in the game and how are those types implemented for each race?
It's worth noting that for this particular demo, Relic was actually playing the game as we watched, not just showing a demo recorded beforehand. For a game still a ways out, things ran pretty smooth. Relic is tuning Dawn of War II to run well on a wide range of PCs, though no official specs or anything like that is yet available. In case you completely missed the screens and video, this game looks absolutely fantastic. The unit designs are full of personality, the environment is in a constant state of flux as explosions tear apart terrain and units charge and flee.
The more we see the more impressed we are, and Relic rarely disappoints. While we'll certainly learn more about the game over the coming year, as of right now Dawn of War II looks to be one of the most interesting titles on the platform.
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