I've just finished the single player side of Chaos Rising, and thought I should put down what I think!
The original Dawn of War game was widely lauded for its fantastic presentation though it sadly started to look slightly dated by the third expansion), the charming (and, well, gory) character animation, and fast paced action.
Dawn of War II built on these key strengths, but mixed in some other elements Relic had used in their Company of Heroes games. It was generally well received by critics, but if you head over to the game's Amazon's page you'll find a slew of bad reviews, something I have talked about previously. The most controversial change was the removal of base building, something I loved but others hated.
The single player campaign revolved around small missions with a handful of Space Marines which could level up and be equipped with RPG-style wargear. Unfortunately the missions became quite samey, especially towards the end of the campaign, as they were fought over a fairly limited selection of maps.
Enter the first expansion (or, more properly, expandalone) for DoWII: Chaos Rising.
Warhammer 40,000: Dawn of War II - Chaos Rising (sorry, I had to use the full title just once. From now on I'll use the simple acronym WH40K:DoWIICR... ehhh, maybe just Chaos Rising then) introduces, unsurprisingly enough, the Chaos faction to Dawn of War II. There is a host of new content, including multiplayer game modes, a single player campaign, maps... All that jazz. There might be some balance issues addressed maybe? I don't care that much about it as I mainly love the game for the single player and the odd game of Last Stand (essentially multiplayer for idiots).
The presentation is as good as I've come to expect from the Dawn of War games. The new Ice Planet looks fantastic, though the Space Hulk levels are a slight disappointment to a geek like me. Sounds are appropriately thumping, and the burping, squelching, and drippling noises the Great Unclean One makes are positively disgusting.
The single player campaign takes the Blood Raven characters from the original game up from level 20 through to 30; if you have the original, you can even load one of your saved games and carry on with the same squads. The campaign dumps your characters on a planet recently emerged from the Warp which, predictably enough, turns out to be infested with Chaos Space Marines.
The story is standard stuff, though the characters do stand out as being quite good... for an RTS, that is (seriously though, can you name any characters from an RTS game? Except for Kane, of course). Still, I enjoyed the appropriately gravelly dialogue from everyone, and was interested enough to pay attention until the end of the campaign.
What I did enjoy was the new corruption mechanic. By acting in particularly un-Space Marine ways your squads can gain corruption points and later new bloodthirsty traits and abilities. So far, so black and white morality system. Where the system shines, though, is that some of the choices you have to make are genuinely tough. For instance, in one mission foul Xenos are squatting in the tomb of a great Blood Raven hero. You can risk damaging the tomb (and consequently gaining corruption) to purge the aliens, or you can leave it alone. Or, you can purposefully destroy and raid the tomb to gain access to a powerful bit of wargear.
It's further complicated by corrupting wargear, purposefully overpowered weapons and equipment which slowly corrupts the wielder each time it's used (offset by redeeming items which weaken your character and reduce their corruption), and by a series of increasingly powerful corrupting abilties.
It has the effect of adding yet another layer of strategy on top of the RPG stylings of the original game, and though it feels a bit heavy at times (seemingly arbitrarily punishing you with corruption if you don't take certain squads with you in particular missions) I thought it was a very good addition to the single player.
The Chaos faction in multiplayer is good fun to play. Many people seemed to worry that they would end up too similar to the Space Marines as they shared several units. This doesn't seem to be the case, and they end up feeling very Chaos; I just hope the ability to build 'shrines' around the map (which provide some sort of localised buff) doesn't indicate a return to the game's base building routes...
I'll put summing up thoughts, including what it builds on over the original and whether or not you should get it, in my next post!