I'll admit I'm a latecomer to the Warhammer 40k Universe, as such, I don't know every intricate detail regarding the humans epic battle against Orks and the various other races that litter the game. But it wasn't long into Dawn of War 2's campaign for me to become completely invested in the game's story, and find myself fully invested into the well being of my squads. You see, Dawn of War 2 isn't your traditional RTS - in fact I'd say it shares more in common with an Action RPG like Diablo, and just like any solid action RPG Dawn of War 2 offers a co-op experience.
Dawn of War 2 has you creating a hero to lead three squads of space marines into battle. Each squad is led by a hero unit who has their own unique personality and part in the story. Some squads are better at carrying heavy weapons and laying down cover fire, others are assault marines capable of using jet packs to launch into battle. Your hero, like these squads, is also flexible with his type. He can be ranged with heavy guns, or up close and personal with a chainsaw. Whatever your squads speciality is, you'll find yourself with a choice of deciding which ones to bring into a particular mission. The missions are launched from a strategic map which players pick and choose battles. These battles are time sensitive, meaning that choosing one battle over another may cause you to miss a unique item or resource.
Coordination is key to any attack in Co-Op
Speaking of items, RPG nuts are going to have a field day with Dawn of War 2. While every mission rewards you with items like weapons, armor and secondary attacks; you'll also find random drops of items from enemies. Anyone familiar with an MMORPG will be right at home with rare, unique and regular items colored to designate just how cool they are. Between missions you'll be able to load out your squad with what you picked up, cash out useless items for experience and level up your characters. Leveling up will unlock new abilities for your heroes as well as increasing traits like damage, health, rate of fire.
Things generally like to go BOOM in the game.
Co-Op in Dawn of War 2 is identical to the single player campaign, except player two controls two of the squads in battle. As you work your way through the maps with your teammate you'll find that constant communication is key. Every map ends up being a series of small skirmishes that when executed properly with a teammate are extremely satisfying. Coordination is key - perhaps your teammate can lay down cover fire from the left and as soon as the enemy is pinned you launch your squad of assault marines right on top. There's tons of possibilities that become apparent in these little battles that really make for a fun experience. When your squad falls your hero is left to be revived either by your other squad or your co-op buddy. This keeps the action flowing, and forces players to focus on taking control points to bring in reinforcements.
The co-op mode does have a few glaring flaws. For one players don't get to bring experience or items back into their own game. It's sort of understandable, because you are only controlling two squads in co-op if you were to bring them back into single player you could potentially have a very unbalanced set of four squads as well as a really underpowered hero unit. The other downside I noticed is there's no co-op match making, so you'll need to know the name of your buddy to play with before jumping into a game. Finally progress isnt' saved for player two's single player campaign, but you can continue playing through the entire game in co-op and earn all the achievements and unlocks as you would in single player. As long as you stay with the same partner you can essentially treat the co-op campaign as your own.
That red on the ground? Yeah that's not corn syrup.
Dawn of War 2 went out on a limb and did something different for its single player and co-op campaign. Relic combined an RTS and with RPG and made it a unique and gritty experience. While purists might be a little upset, I think they broadened the appeal of the game while still keeping it a hardcore gamer's experience. While some of the shortcoming of co-op are disappointing, the overall fun factor of the game is second to none. Dawn of War 2 truly is one of the best games to hit PC in a long time - one that can be enjoyed either by yourself - or better yet with a friend in co-op.
Update: Our impressions of the Dawn of War 2: Chaos Rising expansion.