Tuesday, August 4, 2009

There Is Only Defeat

Anyone who has had the misfortune to talk to me about PC games will know that I bang on endlessly about how much I love Dawn of War II. While I found the single player campaign to be a step backwards from a more traditional RTS, the multiplayer in Relic's latest game really hooked me. Dispensing with most of the usual faffing around you get in an RTS, it was a game that you would be killing each other within a minute of starting a game, and it would be all over in 25 to 30 minutes at most, while still retaining a lot of tactical choices and strategic variety. Plus, it has Space Marines in it, which is an immediate plus in my book. I've clocked up over 300 ranked matches in it so far, and it has almost stopped me playing any other PC game for the last few months.


When Relic released the "There Is Only War" update last week, I was pretty excited. This update promised to completely rebalance the game, as well as more than double the number of multiplayer maps. Well, having downloaded and played it for a few days, I'm hating it. They seem to have ruined the game for me.

The changes are too many to mention, but I think the root of the problem is that Relic increased the power cost to advance to tier 2 enormously, thinking that players wanted to stay in tier 1 and fight it out for a while. This doesn't appeal to me, because I've never been a big fan of the swarm theory in RTS games. I much prefer having small skirmishes with 2 or 3 diverse units, rather than a huge clump of low-tier melee units trying to overwhelm the opponent.

Of course, this by itself would be too much to bear, but they've wrecked the two races that I play. The Space Marines, previously one of the stronger and more versatile sides in the game, are now completely hopeless. Space Marine units are now expensive, slow and poor in melee combat (they always were expensive and slow, but they used to be good in any situation), which means that in tier 1 you just get rushed down, as every other race now has a cheap, powerful melee unit. Because it is now harder to retreat, if you don't leg it before you've even fired a few shots, you are going to lose one or two units before you make it back to base, which is not such an issue if you've got between six and eight units in a squad like the other races do, but when you've only got three in a squad, this is a serious problem, and you end up having to spend all your resources just reinforcing injured squads. Because you can't control territory, you can't accumulate resources to advance to tier 2, where you get some (expensive) methods to deal with swarms. By the time you tech up, the game is usually nearly over, and you don't have the resources to build the units you desperately need.

This happens to you a lot post-patch

The Eldar, on the other hand, are now far stronger than before. Guardian squads are stronger and tougher than they used to be, but what really swings it is how ludicrously powerful howling banshees, the Eldar melee infantry, have become. Banshees just rip most units to shreds, especially space marines, and because they now have no power cost, you can build them as soon as the game starts. You'd think I'd be happy about the increased potency of the Eldar, previously one of the more difficult races to play, but I don't like the way the changes have modified their playstyle. With the power of banshee and guardian squads, they're effectively now another swarm race in tier 1 (which is where a lot of the game is now taking place). I appreciate that they've made rangers more deadly, but there is still not much reason to use them, and by the time you get to tech 2, where you can use warp spiders, wraithlords and falcon grav-tanks, the units I really like, the game is often nearly over. Eldar are now like the tyranids were - easy to win with, but not that much fun to play.

Playing Dawn of War II is now just making me angry as I lose game after game. I still have this urge to play, but it's mainly from remembering how much I used to enjoy it rather than how frustrating I am finding it now. I've had Eldar and Ork opponents tell me that they used to be Space Marine players but have had to switch because it's impossible to win a game with the marines, but unfortunately, they're now the only race that plays the way I enjoy playing. Hopefully Relic will get a balance patch out soon, but even if they weaken banshees and make marines better in melee again, the basic nature of the game will still have been changed in a way that I'm not very fond of.


  1. Yeah, but you've got to remember that most players out there only have the brain-power to produce a swarm, aim and click. All this "strategy" stuff is just waaaaay too complex for them, and they just want to feel good as they see a billion units swarm over their opponent.

    For the games companies this means that there are more idiots looking for a quick win then there are strategists looking for a challenge, so this is a good move for them.

    Of course is they somehow managed to make one of the units both (a) powerful and cheap, and (b) modelled on buxom Swedish bikini models, then they really would be in the money.

  2. Ugh, And I thought it was just taking me a long time to get to Tier 2 :P Maybe I should pay more attention. Didn't do to badly with Space Marines though, but it was agaisnt the computer, which is a different ball game anyway I suppose. :P

  3. Bill: DoW2 players generally aren't stupid, but they are efficient, and they will ruthlessly pursue any strategy that works. As for option (b), you clearly haven't seen any of the more recent Red Alert games.

    Bri: I played a 1v1 Space Marine vs Ork game against the AI on expert on Calderis Refinery (a map I have yet to win on in a ranked game), and I managed to beat it. It wasn't easy, but human opposition usually stomps me flat before I can even get to tier 2. The AI doesn't clump its units as much as most players do, which is what gives you a little breathing room.

    My rage against the game has softened somewhat after I won 2 out of 4 games last night (before I was something like 2 wins from 15 or 16 games with marines since the patch). Admittedly, one win was against another space marine player, and the other was against an Eldar player who wasn't that good (he wasn't rubbish, though), but at least it's an improvement. I'm trying out the techmarine, who doesn't seem to be as useless as he was pre-patch, but I still feel like the odds are heavily stacked against me whenever I play non-space marine opposition.

  4. That was kindof my point. DoW2 obviously had a good strategic balance before and plenty of strategic players, but someone pointed out, "Hey, if we rebalance it so that some sides are dead-easy to play we can attract a whole mass of new players!". I've seen it happen with a whole lot of games that start out good, and then some idiot in marketing realises that by making things "easier" they can "broaden the appeal".. and the game ends up sucking badly because a 5-year-old basic mouse skills can beat you unless you always choose the uber-cheese option.

    ... I must look into the Red Alert option though.

  5. I've just downloaded the patch, though for me, I'm more interested in the level editing tools than the actual online play ;)

    But anyway, I guess they're just taking a leaf from GW's book (or blizzard's for that matter). Each new patch will shift the focus onto another race / unit. That way people keep trying new races / units rather than relying on one winning 'key-path'.
    A friend of mine who plays a lot online says he thinks the marines were too strong before. But I've yet to play a ranked game online and only just got off the first planet in the single player :/

  6. Having had more than a month to get used to the new patch, I have to admit that I'm not hating it any more. I can now win the occasional game as space marines, and I'm losing quite a lot as Eldar again, so the balance isn't as out of whack as I initially thought. It's still frustrating to lose to people who just swarm you with masses of hormagaunts or slugga boyz, as once you lose a squad it's almost impossible to get back into the game now, and I still think they need to buff space marine's melee abilities a little, but the patch has forced people to play in a different way, and it's nice you to see people actually using the Techmarine now, before space marine players just played the Force Commander or the Apothecary.