When THQ invited me to come out to San Fran to check out Metro 2033 and Chaos Rising (the new stand alone expansion pack for Dawn of War II) I thought it would be a nice diversion. It's been a while since I've done a press junket (which happens when your soon to be former employer takes away three vacation days) and I was pumped to learn more about Metro 2033 and just a bit excited about the Dawn of War II expansion.
To prepare for the Dawn of War II part of the event I fired up my copy of the game so I could gain some insight into what I was going to be seeing. I had played the first few missions of Dawn of War II before getting pulled in a separate direction and had never had the chance to go back and finish the game. What started as preparation ended in near obsession as I got further and further into the game. Not even the siren call of Bioshock 2 and Mass Effect 2 could tear me away from Dawn of War II as I started squeezing in sessions before I went to work in the morning and before bed time at night.
The obsession turned turned out to be a good thing as it helped me see all the little changes Relic has made in Chaos Rising. During the four hour press event, I got to play through two of the new single player missions and play a few epic multiplayer matches against some of my fellow press members.
The single player campaign picks up right after the events of Dawn of War II. This time around their mission is to defeat the Chaos Marines and their black magic. The plot line in Chaos Rising is a bit more personal than Dawn of War II as you're fighting former space marines and their evil brood instead of the faceless/mindless Tyranids.
The folks at Relic heard the criticism that most of the missions in the single player side were a bit too similar and have pledged for more mission diversity in the game. The campaign will also get some replayability with the new Chaos system. In certain missions you'll be given choices about how to approach a situation and how you react to that will govern your level of Chaos. This is important as you'll gain extra abilities depending on how chaotic or good you are. The key here is that you should pick one path or the other as you need to rank up on one side to get anything useful.
One example of this is in the third mission of the game. In order to save the city, you can either jump some of your units up to a ledge to open the gates of the city (opening them up to enemy fire) or you can destroy the gates to get in quicker. If you choose to blow the gates, you get a chaos point and if you open them correctly then you'll earn a point on the righteous path. It's an interesting mechanic and should add a bit of re-playability when you finish the game.
The second single player mission we got to saw was the new planet in the single player campaign. What was interesting about the ice planet was that it was slowly being converted by the forces of Chaos so as you played through the level the terrain was constantly changing as massive spikes of rock shot up through the surface.
You'll also be getting a new squad in Chaos Rising as you'll have the services of Jonah the Librarian at your disposal. I know what you're thinking...a librarian? Really? The answer is that Jonah is to Librarians what Chuck Norris is to Texas Rangers. Jonah isn't a melee guy as he prefers to stay in the back and unleash a wide variety of spells from the rear echelon so you'll have to work that into your mix. He's deadly though and he can provide some light healing as well as damage. He's also a talky and righteous fellow who's not afraid to let you know when you're pissing him off so keep that in mind when you swap him into your squad.
Relic has also upped the level count on abilities and added new skills and traits for levels 20-30. The game will also ship with new weapons and items for your squads to use. One of these items was a set of lightning claws that allows you to rip through enemies. No word on if Relic has added anything that makes Cyrus useful though.
Speaking of weapons, Relic has changed the item user interface a bit to show all the attributes of the weapons and items to help you compare them. This is a tremendous help and should help players figure out which weapons work best. There are a host of other tweaks and improvements which help make getting around and playing the game a bit easier.
Multiplayer gets a few tweaks as well. The biggest is a new free for all mode which will allow you and some buddies to got at it without worry about things like objectives, flags, and capture points. I didn't have a lot of experience with the multiplayer in Dawn of War II so the press event was the first time I've ever played the game against other human beings. I can't believe I waited this long to play the game online as the experience was a blast.
Normally a standalone expansion pack like this would segregate the community into two groups but Relic is committed to keeping their community together. This means that those who already own Dawn of War II are going to get some new units for the core races they have already (Ork, Tyranid, Eldar, and Space Marine) when Chaos Rising ships. The original owners will be able to take those units online and play the folks who only have Chaos Rising. Those folk will only be limited to the Chaos units though. Of course the best deal is to own both and that will cost you an additional $30. While that's a bit on the steep end for an expansion pack you are getting a ton of new content.
If you own Dawn of War II and loved it just go ahead and pre-order the game. If you're an RTS fan and want something different, then I think you owe it to yourself to check out this fantastic game when it comes out. I just hope I can finish the last few missions of Dawn of War II before March 11th when the game hits stores.