Don’t be fooled by the package – Chaos Rising is actually less chaotic than his daddy-o, Dawn of War II. Dressed somewhat nicer than Queen in the “I want to break free” video, this expansion pack dragged its vacuum cleaner all across its predecessor, to clean up all the moldy corners. Which means DoW II fans will most likely receive this Child of Chaos with their arms wide open. However, those that are still nostalgically crying for bringing back base-building in the Warhammer series will once again have to shyly retreat in a corner and punch the meat bag.
Chaos Rising spices up everything you could have ever liked in Warhammer 40.000: Dawn of War II, this time around making sure that it is somewhat gentler with the player’s brain cells. Your prayers have been listened to and you can now easily skip the introductory movie without having to input Steam console lines. You can also forget having to wait for mission briefings in the co-op mode. But believe me, that’s nothing for your multiplayer buddies, compared to how they had to wait for half an hour for you to finish your single-player mission, because you couldn’t save your progress.
Things are a bit better now, in the sense that you can accept the invitation to a multiplayer match without fearing that you’ll lose everything. You can even go for the fridge, or anything else in the real life and this trusty game will keep everything tidy until you return. But it could have been better. For example, you don’t have more than one save slot per campaign and if you fail a mission you’ll have to restart it. These are the rules: Dawn of War II doesn’t do checkpoints.
Born in Chaos…
Chaos Rising excels at combining RPG elements with a twisted story, tainted by a thick Warhammer 40.000 lore. Hardly did the Tyranid presence fade, that a new danger can be seen on the horizon: planet Aurelia, thought lost, has suddenly emerged from the anomalies of the Warp and it is teeming with the demonic forces of Chaos. It’s up to the Blood Raven Space Marines to find out what went awry. But I don’t want to spoil the surprise. Let’s just say it’s all about betrayal, double betrayal and, if you let things slide in a particular direction, you could even talk of infinite betrayal. As you’ve probably already noticed, your decisions weigh more in the expansion pack than they did in the original campaign.
The first thing that really stands out in Chaos Rising is how natural the continuity between the two campaigns seems. Things may not be as thorough at the narrative level, but it’s essential to note that you can smoothly import your characters from the Tyranid campaign. The new level cap being level 30, you can expect your squads to retain all the abilities and also all the items in their inventory (with the exception of the Terminator armor which has been rendered useless until a techmarine can repair it). If instead you choose to start the game from scratch, you’ll have to spend your ability points to level your squads up to level 17 and you will also receive a default war gear.
Nothing to worry about, because you’ll soon realize that everything you carried on from the main campaign is bullbutter compared to the most humble drop in Chaos Rising. Once again, the developers made sure we won’t get bored with the variety of the arsenal, which has been enriched with new types of weapons and usable items, some of which can only be obtained by blindly donating to the Librarium. I got the chance to play the game on the highest level of difficulty, so I had to repeat some of the missions for at least three times. Still, every time the drops were different and just as attractive.
Starting a mission is done similarly to the main campaign, through choosing a destination on the star map after you have decided what squads to deploy. All the six familiar squads are back and they’ll be joined by a highly secret ninja unit whose name I won’t mention because I don’t want to die. Let’s just say that he’s the SF equivalent of the wizard and that his inventory is a bit more flexible than that of the other squads, because it relies both on tomes that unlock new abilities and relics which improve the existing ones.
Once you land on any of the familiar planets (except the snowy Aurelia, you’ve already been on every one of them) you will reach the conclusion that the Warhammer universe has become a bit more noisy. Faction confrontations are finally full-fledged battles, booming with explosions and visual effects that can paralyze the eye, but never the video card (I must say, the Essence 2.0 engine is pretty scalable). You no longer have the feeling of a directed wrestling match.
The developers tried to twist the level design a bit, so you can now take more than one path to complete your objectives, even if at times you have the feeling that maps are made just of mirrored halves. You now have a wider range of objectives to tackle with: besides your usual point conquering, bringing down a stubborn ork and defending a long-forgotten village, you will now have search a Tyranid infected space station for relics, or sneak through a camp. And even your average boss fight is not as average anymore, because the monster is no longer restricted to its detection area, but will rather follow you across the map, so that you can no longer hit, run and restock.
Come to the Dark Side, we have cookies, beer and women
Another thing you will notice in missions is the fact that you now have to choose between two objectives. This leads us to the key feature of Chaos Rising, the corruption system. Each time a Blood Raven makes a decision that doesn’t appeal to the moral code of the Emperor he becomes a wee bit more tainted.
Do this often enough and you’ll have big scary red numbers floating above your squad to signal that it has lost its innocence and has gained improved, evil versions of its current abilities.
In other words, you trade an improved version of your health and energy regeneration, as well as your healing spells, for the nifty ability of letting your troops possessed by demons, spitting fire out your mouth and resurrecting all units on the current map. Not to mention that Tarkus has an invincibility exploit on one of his malefic abilities. Quite a fair trade, don’t you think?
But nooo, the developers remind us that our parents had taught us not to sell our soul to the devil by killing baby seals with a club. I guess that’s why they keep reminding us how easily we could finish one mission the evil way and harassing us with calculations (look, you only have to gain x evil point to unlock the next overpowered evil ability). They also invented corrupting items that are almost impossible NOT to equip because they are too friggin’ stat-sexy. I would have preferred this system to be less quantifiable, more discrete and blended in the story, if you know what I mean. The road to Hell is paved with good intentions, not Broadway lights, for God’s sake!
I can only think of one reason for not to embrace the dark side: there are some powerful armors later in-game that are restricted to pure characters. This is the way of producers punishing you for taking the part of the New Orleans voodoo witches. In addition, the characters that you control have a much more pronounced personality this time around, as well as a pretty thick moral fiber. So, if they find your laugh too evil, they might just disappear one day. Or they might go cuckoo because of the entourage. Again, I’m gonna shut up.
Of course, nothing is irreversible, so if you suddenly decide that it was better among the cherubs, you can make donations and penitence acts (like wearing totally useless and cheesy armors) which will progressively wash away your sins. One piece of advice though: don’t change your mind too often, or you might end up with a set of uncertain powers, instead of overpowered abilities.
All quiet on the Warhammer front
In contrast with the main campaign, Chaos Rising is a lot shorter and it lacks tough secondary missions. The designers have added more varied objectives to make up for the small number of actual missions and the interesting dialogues between characters also fill some of the gaps. Your squads now have their own opinions. They also fight, argue, give you advice and sometimes even beg to be taken on a mission. But if you put the campaign aside, you will reach the core aspect that has been bothering Warhammer players all over from the beginning: the multiplayer backbone, a veritable fragmentary entity that has no link to the single-player part whatsoever.
No matter the number of content patches, the public opinion stays the same: Dawn of War II is not robust enough, Company of Heroes still being preferred when it comes to this type of matches. And Chaos Rising doesn’t bring any improvements either. It just adds a new faction and a couple of balancing units to the other ones. The universe is still shrinking, because the visual diversity cannot overcome the style of gameplay which consists in unit micromanagement.
I have nothing against this style of play, but some grandeur-obsessed players might become allergic to it. In addition, the Chaos units are not as demonic as they should be. Half of them, actually, look like an emo version of the Space Marines. And you get to the real demons just end-game, when The Great Unclean one won’t be as fun to make fun of, trust me.
If you add two new The Last Stand heroes that actually change the overall mechanic of the mode (you can now spawn creatures yourself) to the package, I think you’ll be satisfied with what Chaos Rising has to offer. If you used to spend more than five minutes in the squad inventory of the Dawn of War II campaign, Chaos Rising will most likely seem irresistible, no matter how you savor it – alone, or in the presence of another player.