…I don’t like it.
Well, okay, maybe that’s a little bit harsh. Retribution is perfectly good fun, but it’s telling that at no point during the campaign did I actually have to engage my brain to formulate that mythical thing known as “strategy”.
Let’s start at the beginning. Retribution is a standalone expansion for Dawn of War 2, for which they are charging an eyebrow-raising £30 – mint new game price, in other words. For that sort of money it has to offer something significantly more than what I can find in Chaos Rising or the original DoW 2. At first glance, it does appear to. Retribution adds the standard new army – in this case the Imperial Guard – but also campaigns for every army in the game. Sounds like a huge amount of new content worthy of the asking price, right? Yes, except for one significant catch: they’ve half-assed it.
It’s the only real way they could have done it, to be fair. The campaign in Retribution consists of a set of twelve-odd missions. Those missions are the same for every race. There’s minor variations, but if after completing the Ork campaign you boot it up again as the Tyranids, as I did, you’re likely to be disappointed to find yourself doing exactly the same tutorial map except with Eldar instead of Imperial Guard. This hurts the game in two ways: there’s the obvious replayability issue, but there’s also the problem that in order to accommodate six different armies the missions have been made as generic as possible. This means there’s less heroic last stands as found in the first two instalments, and more “Go here. Blow up thing. Go here. Blow up other thing. Blow up really big thing. Win game.” I expect more from my RTSes since the release of Starcraft II, and there’s only a couple of missions out of the twelve that show the kind of imagination I saw there.
The cut-and-paste nature of the missions leads me to my next problem: the plot. There isn’t one. Perhaps you see more of it if you play as the Space Marines, I don’t know, but after two games spent playing the blandest armoured juggernauts in the galaxy I needed a break, and went for the Orks. They’re pretty well voiced and very Orky, which is a plus (I’m probably going to be incorporating the word “gitfinda” into my vocabulary from now on) but the campaign storyline, for them, mainly revolves around Kaptin Bluddflag’s attempt to acquire a new hat. This is pretty funny to start with, but provides no explanation as to why my orks are now on an ice planet. Or a desert planet. Or a space hulk. They just bounce around the star map randomly until they wind up on a planet that’s coincidentally inhabited by the end boss.
Ah, the end boss. I’ll get to him in the minute, but first I have to mention the most unforgiveable change Retribution has made: they’ve ditched the slow, methodical tactical gameplay of DoW2 and Chaos Rising for PUSH THE BUTTONS PUSH ALL THE BUTTONS PUSH THEM PUSH THEM PUSH THEM. Heroes no longer have squads attached; while you can still build squads separately they have all the staying power of a snowcone in a volcano (at least until you get Nobz, literally the only buildable Ork unit with any staying power), meaning that heroes are now doing nine-tenths of the heavy lifting. They’re pretty good at it – Spookums in particular can be broken in an entirely awesome way so that he vomits explosives everywhere – but it reduces the gameplay to pushing ability buttons. Dug-in infantry? Push a button, problem solved. Armour turns up? Push a button. Big, all out assault by a hundred baddies? Push all the buttons at the same time. There’s no management of manpower, no laying down bases of fire, no advancing by squad, no holding back the assault troops to be committed at the right moment. Just all buttons, all the time.
This made the inevitable end boss encounter even more painful because – completely inexplicably – Relic decided to make him un-meleeable. This is insane. It means that two of your four heroes can’t even touch the bastard with their biggest weapons – don’t even think about taking regular squads near him, they get gibbed in a couple of seconds – which makes chipping away at his vast reservoir of health (oh yes, we can’t have a Dawn of War game without this shit, it’s practically a tradition now) even more wrist-slittingly tedious. When I fight an end boss I should be excited, nervous, challenged. I shouldn’t be bored.
This criticism isn’t even getting into the more mundane problems with the game – godawful pathfinding, enemies getting stuck in cover and being invulnerable to melee, not being able to save mid-mission1 (when your computer bluescreens under stress every hour or two this is a big deal). Taken together, it means that Retribution is a huge regression from the promising potential Chaos Rising displayed to some unholy combination of an RTS and WoW. And that’s just no good at all.
- It was later pointed out to me that you could in fact save mid-mission and I’d somehow managed to miss the option in the menu. I have no idea how this happened. ↩