The fundamentals of the Real Time Strategy genre were ineffably set in stone many moons ago, and even the sharpest development teams behind some of the finest RTS titles in recent memory have always remained steadfastly reluctant to tinker with them to any substantial degree. When Dawn Of War II was released last year, it was a fearlessly refreshing concoction that melded some seriously compelling RPG elements (like unlockable abilities, loot gathering and character progression) to create a game that didn’t just feel refined and new, but also outright revolutionary.

By completely doing away with the base-building element that has played a pretty large part in helping the genre to stagnate for so long, developer Relic hit upon a formidably appealing formula that brought a whole new audience not only to the Warhammer universe, but to the RTS genre in general. The only real complaint that ever got leveled at Dawn Of War II – that the single-player mode got a tad repetitive in the run-up to the finale – was only ever made by a pedantic few. Nevertheless, those people will have one hell of a time attempting to level that same grievance at Chaos Rising.

Anyone who has played Dawn Of War II will be pleased to hear that you can import your character (and his kit) directly into Chaos Rising, but newcomers are free to toy with statistics from the off, to suit their style of play. One of the very best things about Chaos Rising is the addition of the points-based ‘Corruption’ system. This is another RPG lift that works absolute wonders, and although it sometimes seems like any videogame in this day and age can’t launch without boasting some variation of a dynamic that urges players to make endless moral choices, here those choices are never intrusive, and are occasionally deviously troublesome in the best possible way. Being able to take two entirely different approaches to this system will inspire many into partaking in multiple playthroughs, and the richness of the campaign seems almost custom-built for it.

As in the original Dawn Of War II, the main campaign can now be played cooperatively, which at first glance always seemed like a novelty “me too!” addition, that was in danger of diluting the whole experience for the sake of a potentially lucrative ticked box. Those who didn’t engage with co-op in the original game are heartily encouraged to do so here, because it still works about as well as a co-op mode in an RTS title possibly could. The aesthetics are still pretty outstanding, with some really rather lush visuals, complimented by a booming, electrifying soundtrack that has much in common with the likes of Battlefield: Bad Company 2. Its a commendably overpowering experience that screams “BLOCKBUSTER!” at every turn, and it isn’t hard to get swept up in it.

The multiplayer surely needs no introduction, being easily the most highly-praised aspect of the original game. And for fans looking for the sweetest possible music to their ears, then they’ll hear it when they see that perennial devotee favourite ‘Last Stand’ makes a welcome reappearance. A new Free-for-all mode pits you in either head-to-head games or ones equipped for 2v2v2, and Relic have been indelibly shrewd by allowing Dawn Of War II players to do battle with those in Chaos Rising, whether the former group have invested in the add-on or not. Its a brilliantly uncynical move, and by keeping the expansion in view as an optional extra but never strong-arming the original’s indomitable user base, they’ll almost certainly net themselves a sizable amount of custom, when the original’s players see some of what they’re missing.

This is a truly world-class expansion. It offers up more of what fans loved last time, bolstered by more polish, more focused and varied missions in the story mode, and a mini-wealth of excellent new additions in both single and multiplayer. Also available as a double pack with the original Dawn Of War II, Chaos Rising is already a must-own for some, but deserves seriously earnest consideration from others. The Real Time Strategy genre has never been so smoothly accessible, or sleeker, than it is here. Our advice? Get involved.

Watch the Dawn Of War II: Chaos Rising trailer here…

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