The novelization of Dawn of War 2 was one of the first Warhammer books I'd gotten, and as such the game has a somewhat special place in my heart so far as Warhammer games go. And given my (not subtly expressed) grave concerns for Dawn of War 3, let's all take a blast to the past and talk about its predecessor. The first thing to know about Dawn of War is that it's a Warhammer 40k game. Now I've only covered one other Warhammer game on this site, and that one was fan made so let's take a look at the official real deal.
I can remember that Dawn of War 2 was the first game I'd played that fused Role Playing with Real Time Strategy, and this is one of the biggest point's in its favor and arguably one of the best choices made for the game. The squads you control grow, evolve and follow you throughout the course of the campaign and you end up developing an attachment to them as an intricate narrative is weaved around them, forcing you to actually care about these pitiful few Space Marines as they're thrown against seemingly impossible goals.
Let's talk a little bit about the plot for a moment. Now we're talking about the original vanilla, not Dawn of War Retribution or Dawn of War Chaos Rising, just to clarify that important little bit. The story centers around The Force Commander (you) leading your forces against the Ork invasion of Calderis, an imperial planet that is vital to the recruitment efforts of the Blood Ravens, your chapter of genetically-altered super soldiers who dedicate their lives to fighting off the myriad threats to mankinds domain. Orks are, well, Orks. Giant green monsters that spread like fungus across the rotting corpse that is our milky way galaxy, they exist only to wage war and have brought man to the bring of ruin time and time again.
As you progress along the first few missions you begin to encounter Eldar forces. Enigmatic, ancient, and powerful aliens, the Eldar have been both friend and foe to humanity over the years and their involvement usually hints at some grander threat waiting just around the corner, one that threatens more than just one world in Mans empire.
Every mission is different, requiring a different set of goals and as such you might want to consider a different line up of squads. You'll be given the chance to talk to your sergeants and get their tactical input before the mission and swap your gear around. Let's say that you need some heavy hitting for one mission that has a particularly nasty boss fight and the current Devastator squad (your dedicated heavy weapons team) isn't cutting it. Slap on some Terminator armor on them that you picked up last level and boom, next problem. It lives up to the genre that it is in, Dawn of War 2 is a Real Time Strategy game.
Gameplay is fast. Dawn of War 2 is not the slow and ponderous game that Dark Crusade was, you'll be fighting a dozen skirmishes with 3-10 individual units at any given time, probing and poking for weakness. Positioning is everything, cover is everything. Gameplay feels like your actions have genuine consequences and every decision matters. There is no 'whoops I just lost a squad, oh well I'll just go off and make more.' in Dawn of War 2.
You could be taking cover in a building and then, bam! A tank collapses the building with your unit still in side. This destructible terrain is a huge contributing factor to the almost seesaw nature of warfare in Dawn of War 2. You may be able to hold a good position for awhile, but it's only a matter of time until the grind of war takes its toll and you have to re-deploy. This forces you to stay on your toes, to keep an eye on everything and quickly think. Gameplay is fantastic in this regard, I mean it really captures the grim darkness of the far future vibe that we're always told about. Terrain is destructible, bodies don't despawn and the dead lay where they fall.
Experience points are gained in the traditional manner. Kill your enemies and capture command posts. Units are capped at 20 and you can't max every skill bar, leaving some abilities locked. In all honesty, it's similar to the system you would see in a game like Mass Effect 2. And you know what that means? That means you'll be playing the game multiple times before you can say you have seen everything. In all honesty, this is the kind of game that you will be playing more than once anyway.