The Dawn of War 2 Beta, once costing $7 to join, is now free and available for download at Steam.
I have checked it out and am getting pretty excited about this game. The beta is for multiplayer only, so if you don't like the excitement of online gaming then you might want to skip the 5GB download. But for those that do, you will get a pretty solid gaming experience for free.
Dawn of War 2 is touted to have all the best features of the original Dawn of War and the much more recent Company of Heroes. Being a big fan of Company of Heroes, I wanted to check this out for myself. I absolutely loved the way the AI worked and the realistic way that your units would move and react in this World War II epic. I wanted to see how this AI would work with in the world of Warhammer 40,000.
I must say, it works great. Cover is directional in Dawn of War 2, just like in Company of Heroes, and it is really fun to stick a company of Space Marines with a heavy bolter behind a wall and watch a horde of Tyranids get mowed down as they approach your troops.
Another key benefit that the team at Relic and THQ have brought over was the AI. Troops will actually seek cover when attacked by an enemy instead of just standing out in the open. This is great for any player who is not superb at micromanaging his large forces across the map.
But most importantly, I think Dawn of War II avoids some of the major problems inherent in Company of Heroes game play. These problems are static game play, overpowered factions/units, and uncounterable meta strategies.
Static gameplay, while existing at some points of the game (like when a machine gun is placed in a building that you really wish it wasn't), almost never exists for very long. There are simply too many different strategies and counters to this across all factions and across all tiers. A machine gun holding a key position can be flanked, rushed with speedy hand-to-hand combat units, attached with jumpers, assaulted with a vehicle, or taken out with a hero. Even the more difficult machine gun in a building can be removed by a well placed grenade, a sniper, or a unit with a flamer thrower.
The only point at which the game truly becomes static is when your opponent has completely overwhelmed you, destroying most of your forces and pinning you in a small portion of your territory or base. But this has nothing to do with the design of Dawn of War 2 and everything to do with you loosing the game badly.
Another key feature of this game is the ability to reinforce units. This makes the game more and fun and more realistic in my opinion. It also introduces a new strategy element that increases user involvement in game decision making that rewards skill and wisdom over simple button mashing.
You also won't be finding any buildings that you will have to build in order to create some of the more powerful units. In fact, there are no building units in this game and I think that this is a big, big plus. You can truly focus on the best parts now - capturing territory and fighting your opponent. You also won't find your starting zone so cramped that you have to be a master city planner if you are going to be able to get the building that you want in there.
And finally, the hero system is a nice touch. I like how each hero has its own strategy and can impact the overall course of the game.
There are obviously some balancing issues that need to be taken care of, but the game is still in beta and I am hopeful that the developers will be able to work a lot of the kinks out of the game in time for its February 19 release date.