Dawn of War II

“Dawn of War II” is, at its core, a real-time strategy where you play as the commander of a large military force from an overhead perspective where you work to build an army, control resources and do battle with your enemies. 

The experts warned us that the pandemic was likely to drag on for months if not years but the reality of just what “months if not years” is has really only dawned on me in the last month as I’ve missed more and more time with friends, travel and visiting my family in the Lower 48.

My brothers and I have been looking for ways to stay connected during this time — most of which has been in the video game space — but we’ve also dived headfirst back into revisiting our childhood hobby of Warhammer 40,000, a tabletop game filled with tons of plastic miniatures to assemble and paint.

I have fond memories of the crafting-side of the game with many weekends spent sitting around the kitchen table with my brothers, a pile of plastic sprues, superglue and some cheap craft paint. We had no idea what we were doing, but we had fun.

Now we’ve been sitting around our own tables in Alaska, Washington and Oregon, painting, crafting and sharing pictures over the text message chains and I can’t wait until we can safely reunite, but until then we’ve had to find a way to scratch that itch for, well, playing Warhammer.

In the video game space, you can actually recreate the tabletop game in the excellent-if-a-little-clunky “Tabletop Simulator,” but there’s nothing quite like seeing the heroes and villains of the “grimdark” Warhammer 40,000 universe in action.

On that front, we went back into our game libraries to the 2009 release of “Warhammer 40,000: Dawn of War II” to play through its cooperative campaign, a story mode where each player takes control of small squads of Space Marines to battle space orks, space elves and aliens. It can be played in single player mode, but you’ll be juggling as many as four different squads while doing so.

“Dawn of War II” is, at its core, a real-time strategy where you play as the commander of a large military force from an overhead perspective where you work to build an army, control resources and do battle with your enemies. Its campaign is a more pared back version where you’ll be playing through tailored scenarios where your super squad is powered up to beat huge hordes of baddies.

Along the way, you’ll also face decisions about which missions to take — do you rush to combat the Tyranid infestation on one planet or do you hunt down that Ork boss who has a neat missile launcher? — as well as experience to level up your units, granting them new skills, and additional gear to improve their stats.

Even more than 10 years after its release, it’s still a blast to play.

Many of the missions will really challenge you to work together with your teammates, stick together and watch their back in case their units are overwhelmed. Each mission is also relatively short, perfect for knocking down a few missions each night.

The graphics and animations are still a delight — seeing a mechanized dreadnought smash through a mob of orks is always going to be fun — band the game’s age doesn’t really show in the game’s overhead view.

There really hasn’t been anything quite like the cooperative campaign in “Dawn of War II,” and it’s really a shame.

Real-time strategy games like this have come an incredibly long way in the last 10 years, especially with the advent of multiplayer online battle arena games like “League of Legends,” “Dota 2,” and “Heroes of the Storm.” Those games in particular have fine-tuned the movement of characters so well that players can pull off incredible maneuvers in competitive matches.

Often in “Dawn of War II,” we’d find ourselves wrestling with the clunky movement in “Dawn of War II,” frequently watching in frustration as a squad of units would indecisively walk back and forth in the middle of a pitched battle only for them to get mowed down by an Eldar Prism Tank.

The upgrade system is also painfully archaic and it doesn’t offer any way for you to redistribute each squad’s skill points, which is particularly frustrating when we reached the max level for the teams and I came a point short of unlocking powerful terminator armor for one squad.

I’d really like to see this kind of game — a cooperative, player-based, lightly tactical game — to get some new life but until that day, I do have a mountain of plastic miniatures to paint.

Matt Buxton is a freelance writer and gamer. He can be reached at matt.a.buxton@gmail.com.

If You Play

Game: Warhammer 40,000: Dawn of War II

Rating: 4 out of 5

Platforms: PC

Price: $20 (but frequently on sale for as little as $5)

Release Date: 2009