eSports, Dawn of War 2, and StarCraft: part 2

Subtitled: why are you playing Dawn of War 2, and why should I care?

OK, StarCraft 2 is a no brainer. It’s one of the most-played games that has ever been released, and is the subject of numerous tournaments which have prize pools in the hundreds of thousands. It’s exciting! And, the more you understand it, the more you can appreciate high level play. Huk’s sick micro in the MLG finalswas breathtaking, as was idra’s dual harrass earlier in the evening (versus who? I don’t remember! Some Protoss player).

But what the heck is Dawn of War 2?

Dawn of War 2 is a real time strategy game developed by Relic Entertainment (the makers of Company of Heroes, Homeworld and a bunch of other awesome games). It was released in 2009 to critical acclaim, despite being a Games for Windows: Live title (GFWL matchmaking, TrueSkill ranking, and friends list interactions are typically looked down upon). It went on to spawn 2 expansions: Chaos Rising, which added a new extensive campaign and a new Multiplayer faction, and Retribution, which is really a standalone game that retails for the price of and expansion and uses Steam to deliver multiplayer content.

Dawn of War 2 is a Warhammer game, licensed through Games Workshop. Warhammer 40,000 is a tabletop squad-based tactics game. It was created in the late 1980s and remains one of the most popular games of its genre.

For brevity’s sake, I’ll list some of the reasons that Warhammer is significant:

  • WarCraft: Orcs and Humans was originally supposed to be a Warhammer title. Blizzard’s games continue to subtly reference and be inspired by the Warhammer series
  • Warhammer 40,000 has 12 playable factions from which lore, RTS factions, and more can be drawn. Dawn of War 2 currently includes 6 of these factions.

So, let’s get into gameplay. I’ll be really high-level here, since, as an RTS game, it’s fairly complex. Dawn of War 2 is a suqad-based tactical RTS. I call it “tactical” because, unlike in StarCraft 2, there is no basebuilding or harvesting system which drives the game’s economy. All squads are built from a single central building, which has 3 “tiers” of units. Tiers are unlocked similarly to Zerg hatchery levels in StarCraft 2: resources are spent, a timer ticks down, the building is upgraded, and you have access to more powerful units.

The game economy fits into the tactical nature of the game. Dispersed throughout the map are Requisition points and Power Nodes. For those of you familiar with StarCraft, Requisition is more or less equivalent to Minerals (abundant resource) and Power is more or less equivalent to Vespene Gas (scarce resource). These nodes are captured by the squads you train, and are often contested throughout the entire game.

Units are trained in squads of between 1 and 10. They have upgrades (often mutually exclusive) that specialize them to damage certain other unit categories, or improve them more generally (charge, more HP, etc). Losing all units in a squad will “kill” the squad. Unlike in most other RTS games, losing units isn’t just unfortunate. It’s terrible. There is a mechanic that will let your units automatically retreat back to your “base” on the map to prevent unit death. I may deal more with this mechanic in later posts. The point here is simply that preserving ones forces is paramount, especially in tier 2 and 3 where units can be prohibitively costly to replace.

Also, each faction has 3 possible hero units. These function similarly to heroes in WarCraft 3 (this is unsurprising, as WarCraft 3 borrowed the idea in its essence from Warhammer, where all armies have a powerful commander unit). The hero or commander is a unique unit which can have a great effect on gameplay, as its unique skillset is leveraged in various ways to change how the faction works. For instance, the Tyranid faction has the Lictor Alpha, a stealth hero that specializes in hunting down enemy commanders and picking off high-priority targets, the Hive Tyrant, a powerful frontline fighter that also buffs the army, and the Ravener Alpha who specializes in mobility and force deployment. In this way, even mirror matches can result in widely varying armies.

So, why should anyone care about Dawn of War 2?

Well, for one thing, it’s fun to watch! If you like Warhammer, you’ll love watching Dawn of War 2. The game is beautiful, with Assault Marines rocketing around the map with trails of fire behind them, Orbital Bombardments being called down in screen-shaking laser lightshows, vehicles destroying parts of the terrain as they roll into action… it makes for some exciting battles!

For another thing, this game distills RTS gaming to its core. The major focus of Dawn of War 2 is fighting, adaptation, and unit composition. Your squad cap is limited, so you have to carefully consider which squad or upgrade will best help you against your opponent’s strategy. You have to outflank, maneuver, and micro like a champ. All of this results in some big battles over critical areas of the map, with dramatic light effects, lost of explosions, and lots of dudes running around. It’s good times.

(edit) Those of you who played and/or watched WarCraft 3 should also appreciate the game. It requires a similar level of micromanagement, and has leveling/hero mechanics familiar to those of you who enjoyed WC3.

Also, as I said, Warhammer partly inspired StarCraft, so there are a lot of stylistic similarities between the 2 games. I think of these games as 2 sides of the same Science Fiction coin: playing Dawn of War increases my enjoyment of StarCraft, and vice versa. They’re different, but complimentary, RTS games.

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