Dawn of War II: Chaos Rising
For its duration, Chaos Rising operates almost entirely around one key exchange with the player: you give it clicks, and it gives you death. If death is currently unavailable, the game is happy to substitute it for destruction.
After shooting enough bullets and swinging enough chainsaws to fend off an entire Tyranid swarm in last year’s Dawn of War II, you return to your squad of Blood Ravens in this standalone expansion as they get wrapped up in another epic quest to save their precious Aurelia sub-sector. This time round the enemy is a band of Chaos Space Marines who’ve moved into the neighbourhood by warping their very own planet into the middle of the galaxy.
With them they bring a corruption meter for your own squads and an introduction of the gameplay mechanic that’s currently all the rage: morality. While these generally range from the typical industry norms of hug a puppy for good points and drown a baby for bad ones, the familiar mechanic slots nicely in with the strict religion and code of the Emperor and his warmongering Space Marines and doesn’t detract from the tone of the proceedings.
It also affects your gear. Chaos Rising gives away so much loot you’d think it was going out of business, and some of the many items you pick up find themselves corrupted in some fashion. They’re usually much stronger than their non-evil counterparts, which throws even the most noble of players into an ethical quandary, and equipping these items hastens your own characters progression to the dark side, which also brings some evil new abilities and a tendency to stray towards the darker shades in choice of attire.
Chaos Rising’s single-player RTS/RPG hybrid campaign acts out in much the same fashion as in the vanilla game: you manoeuvre a squad of four main units around the levels, occasionally making them take cover by propping them against walls or having them occupy buildings, and use their unique abilities to successfully vanquish relentless waves of enemy forces.
The gruff Avitus and his Devastator marines, for instance, primarily carry mini-guns and lay down potent sheets of suppressive fire. At this point my favourite tactic is usually to then use the brash Thaddeus, whose second-to-none melee abilities and nifty jetpack help mop up the enemies caught in the chaos. Then there’s decent all-rounder Tarkus, incorruptible Dreadnought Davian Thule, sneaky scout Cyrus and wise librarian newcomer Jonah Orion. Rounding off the mix is your character, the Force Commander, who has more destructive potential than a whole cache of nuclear weapons. You kick ass, take names and accrue a bevy of XP to level up skills and abilities.
With the option to import your party from the end of Dawn of War II, Chaos Rising gives itself plenty of opportunity to further ingrain these characters within its storied universe. It helps that the pared back and intensified campaign features far more gusto and a greater degree of originality in its mission objectives, which all combines to evoke a genuine sense of progression over the course of the (surprisingly lengthy) campaign. Unlike the original, it feels like a more cohesive experience and not just a cluster of levels where you either defend point A or chop down whatever stands in the way of point B – though you’ll still find yourself doing a lot of that, mind.
Part of the broader appeal comes from an enemy able to speak and intelligent enough to contribute to the overarching narrative. The Tyranids are great – and make a cheeky return in the form of some levels that pay homage to the Space Hulk board game – but there’s only so much you can do with a species that only ever operates on a cycle of invade, hack everything alive to bits and make a big icky alien nest on the remains of their planet. There are enough customary appearances from the Orkz and the Eldar to remind everyone they’re still doing the rounds, too.
Online hasn’t received such a significant change – some new maps and characters for Dawn of War II’s original four races – though it never needed much tinkering to begin with. If your mouse handling skills are keen enough to survive in the frantic online domination mode, however, the ability to play as Chaos will probably be more than enough to secure an investment. They were sorely missed from the original.
As an expansion, Chaos Rising does exactly that, generously expanding on the core experience of Dawn of War II but also managing to sidestep a few of the downsides of its campaign. Relic’s current RTS formula has almost become a subgenre of its own, and with Chaos Rising they effortlessly prove themselves masters of their domain.
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