3 seconds to set up, 1 second to fire, and 2 seconds for travel from barrel-to-skull of an unsuspecting Mekboy. The subsequent interaction causes the rocket to explode, incinerating the area, concussive blasts leveling the surroundings. Said Mekboy separates into approximately 5 meaty fragments. Welcome to the world of Warhammer 40k: Dawn of War II.
This game crunches. Crunches hard. By crunch, I mean, of course, that the game has an impact. The Tim Rogers definition of crunch, the quality of the response one gets from one press of the action button, is the key to describing the design of the action in DoW II. Weapons and attacks crunch concomitant to their appearance and statistics, melee and ranged alike. Melee attacks dismember whole bodies following thunderous blows from toothy swords and axes. Explosives raze buildings faster than any uranium-powered lifter could build them. Bolters ravage landscape and flesh alike with unrelenting fury. Unfortunately, this crunch is soon revealed to be filled with airy, gypped-by-potato-chip qualities that crop up in the squad-building metagame.
Crunch, while good, while necessary, is unfortunately not the main course of this game. Had it been, had it been that the developers focused on the crunch and the punch and the pow-smack-hit play-by-play now-you-see-it-now-it’s-dust experience, we may have come out with a very different, straightforwardly entertaining game. Unfortunately, (and certainly! So unfortunately) in attempts to add depth to this lighter-than-air crunch-ain’t-enough experience, a semi-customizable, loot and nebulously-experience-based progression system is used to convey a sense of advancement amongst each of your squads. Now, verisimilitudinous issues aside, the use of a RPG-lite progression system is not a bad idea, but its implementation requires commitment to balancing, depth, and longevity. Clearly, things that can be defined by the term “RPG-lite” will inevitably lack in these three areas.
There’s this Chinese snack, these small bread-cracker-type snacks. They’re delicious. I know the devil himself made them. I know he did. They’re addicting and they’re bite-sized. Irresistible. I eat them, gobs and gobs at a time, handful shoveled into my mouth once the package is opened. I know the devil made them because inside, they’re empty. That’s why they’re so easy to eat. That’s why you never feel full or guilty or satisfied when you eat them. But then you look inside and its empty. Each little sweet baked bread bun is but a shell, a husk, an empty promise of flavor and fulfillment and satisfaction, just enough to get you to bite, but far from enough to keep you satisfied. What’s worse is that the more experience you have from eating them, the more sophisticated your attempts become at extending the experience. I mash them with my tongue, creating as large a slurry of the flavor as possible to keep it alive in my mouth. I shovel increasingly larger amounts into my mouth in a single go, sometimes even multiple handfuls. I still enjoy the initial tide of flavor, but the result is always the same. Empty.
Dawn of War II is a good game. It’s a good game because it punches you in the gut with a powerfist, knocks you off your feet with a plasma cannon, and shoots you in the head with a sniper rifle. Frags fall, buildings crumble, rockets explode, orks, tyranids, and elder alike fall before the might of the Imperium while the universe continues to roll on the ebb and flow of the tide of war. But in the midst of it all, the slow, ponderous footfalls of RPG-lite echo throughout the universe, the ominous harbinger of an inevitable eclipse of a shallow, homogeneous doom.