It is a problem that has befuddled RTS developers for years: how do you create a compelling single-player campaign that's more than just a glorified multiplayer training manual? So many games, even now, don't even bother to try. Relic Entertainment, with standalone Dawn of War II expansion Chaos Rising, has dared to, and the result is perhaps the best effort yet.
When it comes to daring to try, Relic has form. Before Dawn of War II was released, World War II RTS Company of Heroes wowed PC gamers with its incredible graphics, fast-paced action, and... shock horror... stripped down gameplay. Dawn of War II took the streamlining of the genre one step further, dropping base building and resource gathering almost entirely (it remained in multiplayer, but you got the impression it did so through gritted teeth). Some lambasted Dawn of War II for hardly being an RTS at all, labelling it a slightly more complex Diablo-style dungeon crawler. Others praised Relic for moving things forward. I sort of sat on the fence.
My main beef with Dawn of War II wasn't this shift in focus, but the distinct lack in variety in the campaign missions. Most of them followed one of two repeating patterns: last stand against Tyranids/Orks/Eldar; or make your way around a map and fight a boss at the end. Truth be told, it got boring after a while.
This is where Chaos Rising excels. It not only improves mission variety (to my mind, I can't remember any two missions the same), but adds layers of strategy and excitement, so much so, that you start to forget you're playing an RTS, and instead believe you're embroiled in some kind of Warhammer 40k-fuelled Modern Warfare.
Relic has surely played Infinity Ward's influential shoot-em-up; Chaos Rising's campaign is packed full of set-pieces, scripted moments, and hurtles along at such a relentless pace you worry it may reach its exciting end without you. Put simply, there's a lot more going on.
Take, for example, one early mission set on the frozen planet of Aurelia, which has mysteriously reappeared after thousands of years lost in the Warp. The Blood Ravens, once again guided by the disembodied voice of Gabriel Angelos, are fighting Chaos, as they have a want of doing.