I’ve already spoken at length about the multiplayer aspects of Dawn of War II – at least those present in the beta test – and if most of the main reviewers had said that the single-player campaign played exactly like the multiplayer portion, I probably wouldn’t have given the game a second look until it turned up, some months down the road, looking a bit forlorn in a game-store discount bin.  However, all of a sudden, everyone was exclaiming how different it was, and how much it was a game-changing experience so far as RTS games go.  So, despite my initial misgivings about the multiplayer, I picked up a copy on Steam, and played nonstop through the first week of campaigns, at which point I realized that I could literally see squad indicators every time I closed my eyes and decided it was time for a break.

I will say that, somewhat thankfully, the single-player game is not the frenetic, CoD-style aggravated mess that reared its head in the multiplayer.  Instead, at first, it felt a bit like some of the earlier campaigns in the original Dawn of War, back before all of the expansion packs, before you get into any of the base-building attributes.  I suppose this is fairly easy to do, as once again, the single-player campaign focuses entirely on the Space Marine faction as they seek, once again, to wrest control of a number of territories from various opposing armies.

Now, admittedly, you will notice a number of similarities to CoD when playing the single-player game, at least in terms of unit movement.  Cover works mostly the same way, although a lot more time seems to be spent on its destruction as well, and once again you can make use of various buildings and fortifications for your troops to shelter in and use as a hardpoint against an enemy assault.  Many of the abilities, especially in the way they function, are very much taken from CoD, especially the use of grenades and satchel charges (although, interestingly enough, your grenades explode on impact, while the enemy ones count down to give your troops time to avoid them).  And, while they have yet to make much of an appearance in the single-player campaign yet, vehicles operate in a similar fashion.

Of course, what you probably notice immediately about the single-player campaign is the scope.  There are no resources to collect, and no bases to build, and instead of vast armies filled with squads and vehicles, you get one hero character, three squads of troops, and that’s all you can have on the field.  As a result, the levels are much more condensed in scope – instead of branching out and controlling an entire map, your troops operate more like commandos, small groups moving in to clear a series of objectives, and fighting in skirmishes against limited numbers of enemy troops.  As a result, the game feels much more tactically different than most RTS games, and even its own multiplayer, in that it focuses so heavily on the micro instead of the macro.  In a way, it’s almost like the opposite of Supreme Commander – instead of zooming out, you’ll almost always find yourself zooming in, because the game is entirely about small-scale, close-in action.

Interestingly enough, in most cases, this doesn’t seem to be a bad thing.  For one, it keeps things moving – no more massive maps, slowly climbing the tech tree, and building up a massive column of troops to send at the enemy.  And, while it is admittedly less explosive than its predecessors, with little in the way of massive, epic confrontations due to the four-squad limit, it seems (at least so far) to be more tactically interesting, as combat is much more fluid and offers a bit more in the way of tactical options.  

Additionally, a number of quibbles that I had about the leftover CoD effects in the multiplayer are, at least to an extent, remedied in single-player.  For one, the agonizing setup time of machinegun squads has changed to be more in line with how it was in the previous games, and instead of having to set up again every time you needed to change the gun’s field of fire, the squads can now turn (albeit slowly) and begin firing on a target as soon as their field of fire overlaps (and perhaps more importantly, they do this automatically, without you having to direct them!).  Also, in most levels, there are various reinforcement points that can automatically reinforce a squad that has lost members, meaning that depleted squads don’t need to flee all the way back to the beginning to reinforce (plus, the commander has tools to drastically heal the squads in the field if they begin to take damage).  Admittedly, I still liked the old reinforcement system, but since the game has no resource management to speak of, I suppose that the current solution is a workable alternative, and fits in with the new style of gameplay.

Also, the suppression/cover system seems to work better in the single-player campaign, and most squads have ways to break out of suppression if need be.  Rarely is your entire contingent pinned down by suppressive fire, and usually if one squad ends up pinned, there is usually away to use your other squads to take out the threat while you move your vulnerable squad back to cover.  And, at least at this point, things are much more balanced than in multiplayer, and you’re not suddenly faced with vehicles that can decimate your infantry squads in a heartbeat.  

So, in many ways, the single-player campaign seems to redeem many of the flaws that are present in the multiplayer section of the game.  And, to this point at least, I’ve had quite a bit of fun with it, at least as much as with the previous games in the series.  There’s much more I could write about, from the loot/RPG-esque leveling system, to the end-level “boss battles,” to the new take on the campaign map… and perhaps I’ll touch on those a bit in a follow-up review.  However, the main takeaway is this: Dawn of War II brings back the notion that a good single-player campaign can still make for a great RTS, and with the stripped-down, up-close-and-personal gameplay, it manages to transcend the beta and become an unexpectedly compelling and enjoyable game.