Friday, August 28, 2009

Warhammer 40,000: Dawn of War II - The Last Stand

Relic is working a new cooperative gameplay mode for DoWII that pits player controlled heroes against swarms of AI. Hit the link to GameSpy for the for the full preview. Click here to view the trailer in HD glory.

The Last Stand amounts to killing everything you see. And even if you die or don't hold the control points, your team can up your score simply by surviving. After all, since score and experience are the main reason you're playing, you never really lose, but instead just gain levels and win new pieces of gear to use in subsequent battles. So even in defeat you're rewarded. The result (if you have teammates you get along with) is a desire to jump right back into the fight again and again in order to level your character, equip new items, and get just a little bit further than before.

The leveling process is an important part of Relic's strategy for keeping players engaged. Each level you gain gets you one more item for you to equip on your hero in future battles, allowing you to customize your character's load-out to work best for how you want to play. Early on, for instance, I teamed with a lower-level Ork who used a heavy machine gun to combat enemies from a distance. Later, this same player equipped swords and heavy flamers (flamethrowers to you non-Warhammer people), getting into the enemy's face and crushing skulls right alongside my Space Marine. The ability to equip various items also adds a deeper level of strategy for teams who want to work on their high score, as players can coordinate complementary armaments. In one round I played a character who wielded a suppression weapon, allowing me to slow incoming forces while my teammates ran into the fray and ripped them apart.
The desire to progress would wear thin if you were just fighting increasing numbers of the same enemy over and over, but Relic's more clever than that. While the type of enemy is preset for specific waves -- the second wave will always be X, the third will always be Y -- you don't just fight one enemy type over and over again. Every few waves your team encounters a "boss" wave. Early on you fight a Space Marine hero accompanied by two healers. To make it through this fight your team must separate, drawing the healers away from the hero and killing them one by one. Fighting a predictable order of waves may seem kind of boring, but since the goal is to achieve a high score, Relic doesn't want players to rely on a "lucky draw" to determine how far they get; instead it wants them to strategize with one another about how to fight upcoming waves. In practice, it works -- once I got a sense of how the waves flowed, I quickly found myself placing my character at key points in the arena for bosses, or sticking close to assist teammates when I knew a particularly difficult fight was coming.