In 2009 the boys at Relic, known largely for the Company of Heroes franchise, helped to turn Dawn of War II into a fresher and faster paced animal than we had been used to in the original. Taking the best aspects of CoH and combining it with the Warhammer universe, the Dawn of War sequel ended up becoming something that put a heavy focus on speed, on defensive bonuses, on smaller scale battles, on cover systems, and the destruction of that protective cover.
But the world of Dawn of War II is a slightly different place now. Retribution might let you work your way through areas from the previous games, heading on through the deserts of Calderis and the Arctic wastelands of Aurelia, but as the new stand-alone expansion to the series it comes with enough changes from the vanilla DoW II that you could casually consider it a sequel. In fact to a degree Retribution changes some of the more traditional aspects that we've grown accustomed to. Instead of playing the standard Space Marines throughout the campaign you can choose from five other races: Orks, the Imperial Guard, Tyranids, Chaos and the Eldar.
Even between the races you get a lot of variation in campaigns. The Ork campaign for instance revolves around a group of Ork Space Pirates who are led by Captain Bluddflagg (this is what I'm naming my first born, trivia fans). Bluddflagg is accompanied by three other hero characters: one that specialises in stealth, a jetpack wearing hero and a heavy weapons hero, along with a slew of disposable meatshields to throw into battle. On the other hand the Tyranid campaign differs significantly in comparison. With the Tyranid you only have one hero and you're it, a Tyranid Swarmlord. Compared to the Ork campaign you have a much different line-up on your hands. A Tyranid Swarmlord can spawn close-combat Hormagaunts and ranged termagants, and even capturing particular outposts lets you create units. So the Tyranid play style focuses largely on expanding with the least amount of heroes in tow. Luckily swarms can grow to the size of up to 140 units. It's a much more traditional style of play for an RTS, certainly compared to DoW II and Chaos Rising - one where bigger means better.
You'll also find a change between the previous two titles and Retribution in the number of heroes you can actually choose from. Where originally you could choose out of six heroes now you get four, albeit with a bit more complexity added in. You can choose whether you want to take or leave a hero, giving you the opportunity to drop the guys you don't like and trade them in for a replacement squad or vehicle. There's a level of tactical choice involved which means you can use what suits your play style.
Alternatively there's enough of a margin for safety that you can stick with the heroes that you're not that keen on and still gain a benefit. Heroes in Retribution also have traits that help to give upgrades to your replacement squad, so if you're having to deal with levelling certain heroes that you couldn't give a toss about you're still benefiting from the upgrades they can provide to the squad.
Dawn of War II was particularly good at implementing RPG elements into the real-time strategy formula, and you see that again with Retribution. The expansion now gives you the opportunity to have a new ability every time you level, so you have a wider opportunity for customisation.
It's a solid continuation of the series and as a standalone sequel it has the opportunity to appeal to a wider range of new players. Despite the Warhammer brand there is always going to be an issue pulling RTS players off of StarCraft 2 and onto DoW2, and it will certainly be even more difficult keeping them from ricocheting back to Blizzard once they're done. However Retribution looks like it's putting up a good fight.
A closed beta for Dawn of War II: Retribution is beginning January 31 and will be running until late February. The game hits retail on March 4.