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Dawn Of War II: Retribution Multiplayer Preview

War! Huh! Yeah! What is it good for? Absolutely nothing! Which is a bit of a problem since Warhammer 40,000 tells us that “In the grim darkness of the far future, there is only war.” What is the far future good for? Absolutely nothing!
Although I’d argue with that. The grim darkness of the far future is at least good for the Dawn of War series, which has never been less than darkly entertaining. It’s a future in which humanity’s best hope for survival against the encroaching alien hordes are the Space Marines – essentially, a religious cult of genetically-engineered supersoldiers which are racist, fascist, and genocidal. Oh, and the Imperial Guard: regular soldiers thrown into battle against the sort of things that manage to kill off said genetically-engineered supersoldiers, only without the amazing equipment those supersoldiers have backing them up.
And that’s perhaps Retribution’s biggest change, going from the multiplayer: the Imperial Guard are now a playable race, with three heroes and ten units of their own, and right now, they’re my favourite of the bunch.
Part of this is undoubtedly down to the fact that they’re the new guys. Experimenting with an entirely new side is always a fascinating experience with an established RTS – you get to see what niche they fit into, how they work, and tinker with them to your satisfaction. Part of it is down to the fact that they seem to fit pretty well into their own niche: squishy troops, specialised infantry, and unstoppable mechanised forces.
Of their three commanders, the Inquisitor is the typical attack-focused hero, with plenty of powers and power-ups that inflict direct damage. The Lord General is a more defensive type, coming with his own expandable retinue, global abilities that allow the construction of some fairly hefty turrets, and personal abilities that heal, reinforce, and improve nearby troops. But my favourite is the Commissar Lord.
While Commissars in general can be attached to Guardsmen squads, the Commissar Lord is a commander unit in his own right. He can tear things apart in melee and has the “Inspire Courage” ability (read: execute a friendly soldier), which can be upgraded into “Inspire Terror” (read: execute an enemy soldier). Depending on his wargear he can call in off-map artillery, or Lead By Example, upping the damage of nearby soldiers and giving his own melee strikes a knockback ability. He can regenerate his own health based on the amount of infantry around him, or he can make surrounding infantry temporarily invincible when they’re critical health.
Even so, this still isn’t enough to make the Imperial Guard a powerful fighting force at Tier 1. There are useful troops scattered about in there – Guardsmen squads can construct turrets or cover, Sentinels are early mechanised units that can decapture enemy points, and Catachan Devils are specialised troops with some nasty grenades and shotgun blasts – but it’s Tier 2 when the Imperial Guard really come into their own. This is where they get mainstays like Storm Trooper Squads and Ogryn squads, which dish out plenty of ranged and melee damage respectively. This is where they get the Manticore artillery for long-range bombardment and the Chimera APC, which infantry can board and then shoot out of (and, yes, the Commissar Lord does indeed proclaim “Drive me closer! I want to hit them with my sword!” upon entering it, reminding me why I love Relic so much.)
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And if the Imperial Guard manage to tech all the way up to Tier 3… well. The Leman Russ battle tank awaits, which can be upgraded to either deal a bit of extra damage to all units, or a lot of extra damage to vehicles. And if the Guard player has a huge amount of requisition and power floating around, they might call in a Baneblade – the Imperial Guard’s super unit – at which point the war is pretty much over.
The Baneblade is a tank. A big, big tank. A big, big tank, equipped with autocannons, heavy bolters, lascannons, and a main cannon so ludicrously powerful it’s player-controlled through the abilities bar. Oh, a concerted effort can destroy one, but I’ve seen an army fall to a Baneblade, and I’ve seen a 3v3 ended by a Baneblade backed up by two Leman Russ tanks.
Which, to an extent, sums up my experience with the Imperial Guard: while a bit squishy to begin with, they have a variety of abilities and troops that can keep them in the game and make them a pain to deal with – and that pain rapidly becomes game-ending as they tech up and gain momentum.
Naturally, as this is an expansion, everyone else gets some fun new toys, too. Tyranids, Orks, and Space Marines all get Tier 3 units – the Swarmlord, Battlewagon, and Land Raider Redeemer, respectively. The Eldar get a new pseudo-commander unit in the form of an Autarch, called in via global abilities once Tier 2 has been unlocked. The Auturch is powerful, certainly, and its appearances are preceded by grenade volleys. Once it’s been summoned, it can be sent back into the sky via the global abilities, and resummoned at a greatly reduced cost – complete with more grenade volleys.
And Chaos? Chaos get Noise Marine squads. It’s not exactly what I’d been hoping for, I admit, but I appreciate them a lot more having spent time tooling around with them. A Tier 1 unit, the Noise Marine has a rather handy initial ability in that anything it’s shooting is incapable of using ranged attacks, and while ludicrously squishy in melee, it has an ability that knocks back nearby allied and enemy troops alike. Upon reaching Tier 2, however, it can be upgraded with a new weapon that requires setup time but knocks back everything it hits.
Retribution is shaping up well. While I daren’t comment on the balance at this stage, and while I’ve yet to see the ambitious single-player for myself, skirmish and multiplayer are both great fun and the new units look to reshape player tactics in interesting ways. There’s an entire new side to get to grips with, and the swapping of Games for Windows LIVE for Steamworks means less hassle when firing it up and grants the ability to invite players from your Steam friends list directly into a match. Roll on March – although if you can’t wait, anyone with Dawn of War II or Chaos Rising linked to their Steam account should be able to give the beta a whirl for themselves by the time this article goes up.

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