Well I was lucky enough to get a hold of the recently released private beta of DOW2 (for Soulstorm owners, next week it goes public) and I thought I'd share my opinions with everyone as well as get the chance to hear the views of fellow gamers. Note my experience relates to 3v3 matches, the beta also allows for 1v1 matches.
Right off the bat, if you have played and loved any or all of the previous entries in the DOW series you will be throwing away most of what you know and are used to. DOW2 resembles Company of Heroes far more than its actual forefather and while this is no means a bad thing it is certain to ruffle a few feathers.
Setting Up The Game
Firing up the game through Steam, you will be treated an excellent pre-rendered scene that is comparable to that of the original DOW, many of you will recognise it from long released media but it never gets old. Into the home screen now and you have a few choices at hand. Firstly you will have to create/log into a Games For Windows Live account, if like me you have a Live account for your 360 you can simply use that. If not you will need a Windows Live Passport (essentially a hotmail or associate MS account). Now having signed in, you can persuse through the options menu which will allow you to tinker with most graphic settings as well as sound and control options. As far as I can tell, in the beta there is no option to bind keys.
After hitting what you think is your performance sweet spot (use COH as a reference as DOW2 uses an enhanced version of the same engine - Essence Engine 2.0 for the curious-) you jump into the multiplayer option. From here you can either allow the Games For Windows matchmaking system to find a game for you, peruse through a lobby or create your own custom game. Starting from scratch the Trueskill system seemed to do its job well enough as from 4 games I was never hopelessly outclassed nor was I ruthlessly crushing the dreams of innocent young lambs.
Much like the beta of Demigod you can set up a game so that you are only versing computer opponents. Use it as a quick baptism or for a casual game but get out of there asap if you are looking for a competitive game. I'm no mug but nor am I a gung-ho wannabe-pro when it comes to RTS but the AI posed little challenge, even at high levels.
Phew, lots of info to digest! I'm sorry about the long winded nature of the content but I figured I'd give most everything a run down. Joining a game lobby will see you making your choice of race (Space Marines, Eldar, Orks, Tyranids) and your commander type. (it varies from race but generally it's Attack, Defence, Support). You also have the option to invite up to two of your buddies into the match. Once connected properly to a game lobby you can change round you race/hero choices and chat to your allies. Normal fare here.
Come match time you start with your commander and 1 unit of your lowest tech troops. All 3 bases are right next to each other and each building is essentially the only building each team will get so treasure them. Once again COH veterans will be familiar with game types; Victory Point Control and Annihilation. Essentially both games will boil down to one side dominating the capture points. All capture points can be taken by infantry units or hero units but to my knowledge no vehicle can take a point.
Resources are broken into Power and Requisition. Req points need only be captured to yield +11 points/min. Power points need first be captured for a +2/min yield, then need to be invested in with Req to activate and then lay down up to 3 generators for a maximum yield of +19/min.
My impression is that this game is geared towards resource scarcity. Unless you are completely dominating all the resource locations you will in no way be able to spam units (i'll deal with spamming later). This will force you to treasure your units at hand. You WILL use cover and you WILL learn when to retreat. However, as a reward for clever tactics, squads thatstay together will gain experience and level up. Currently this leads only to increased HP and perhaps increased damage (the only stat visible is HP so I'll unsure). However, squads do not gain new abilities with levels which is a bit of a downer but it could change with DLC.
Onto Commanders... Commanders are useful creatures, usually providing you with a means to turn the tide of battle to your favour. So far i've made use of the Space Marine Commander (A), SM Tech Marine(D), Eldar Farseer(S), Eldar Warlock(A) and Tyranid Hive Tyrant(A). So it has been Attack/Support primarily. Commanders don't start out too flash and can easily be downed if you aren't awake to danger. Once downed you can either pay Req to revive them, starting out at roughly 700 points, capping down at 250 once enough time has elapsed. Or an allied hero can revive them. Either one proves to be a pain in the midst of battle so be sure to look after them.
Like units they too level up and like normal units they do not gain abilities based on their levels. Instead their abilities are tied to either purchasable wargear or to the Tech level of your base (starting at 1 and capping at 3). Furthermore abilities generally cost a combination of Req/Power AND each races unique ability currency e.g Zeal/Waaagh etc. There is a nice assortment of abilities, ranging from relatively low cast enhancements to massively expensive game-turning ones. You will never get tired of blowing 900 zeal (of a possible 999) and 900 Req points to drop a squad of terminators on your opponent.
Your population is capped at 100 and you are only given 8 or so unit choices to fill that roster, some of which are merely different permutations of the same unit i.e Heavy Bolter Devastator Squad and Plasma Cannon Devastator Squad. Tech 1 units can and most likely will be carried through to Tech 3 and there are some nice goodies to be had at the higher tiers. Coming back to that spamming line i mentioned earlier, the pop cap coupled with the Req/Power cost of units will likely prevent many players from spamming game turning units. Dreadnoughts, Wraithlords, Carnifexes and co. are hard to obtain and units like Terminators and Venerable Dreadnoughts, which rely on Zeal can be at times nigh impossible to gain access to. This makes strategising your unit choices essentially your highest priority.
Many players will find the choices limiting and will be left wondering why so many units were left out. Swallowing my own dissapointment, the best answer I can give is that tactical nature of the gameplay lends itself to fewer more specialised squads. So while it would be awesome to have Striking Scorpions AND Howling Banshees, having both would prove to be redundtant. There is however hope, as Relic has promised there will be (free?) DLC to expand on the game, although mum is the word on the actual content right now.
So far it would seem that DOW2 is really COH:41st Millenium, which at heart is really the truth. Funnily enough, at times I actually felt DOW2 was channeling Demigod, with the way in which you must utilise your commanders and the ebb and flow of the battlefield. Ultimately though, DOW2 may alienate players migrating from DOW1. Compared to the zany, frenetic gameplay of the original, DOW2 has taken a more measured, tactical approach ala COH. Once I found my groove though, I thoroughly enjoyed the experience.
Once again sorry for the epic rambling nature of the post but once i'm on a roll I tend to be nigh impossible to stop. If anyone has any questions I will do my best to answer them and I'd be more than happy to discuss the game with fellow beta testers. Finally if anyone wants to play a game with me, pm me. But bear in mind I do reside in Australia, i am somewhat of a night owl but there are limits if you crazy kids come from somewhere in the northern hemisphere/other side of the world.