Warhammer 40,000: Dawn of War II - Chaos Rising is the first stand-alone expansion to Dawn of War II, 2009's popular real-time strategy/tactical role-playing game based on the Warhammer: 40,000 universe. Leaving core gameplay essentially unchanged, Chaos Rising adds a new single-player Blood Ravens campaign, the Chaos faction for multiplayer games, two new heroes for the Last Stand game type, and several multiplayer maps. Although you don't need the original DOWII to enjoy the campaign, you'll probably want both games for multiplayer, since Chaos Rising alone won't give you access to the original four factions in multiplayer matches. Even with this caveat, however, Chaos Rising is a gem of an expansion that shines on its own, thanks to immersive gameplay, robust cooperative play, and a delightfully evil tone.
If Mr. Lovey can be corrupted, what hope is there for the rest of us?>
The single-player campaign, which you can also play cooperatively, with a friend controlling half of your squads, brings back your party from DOWII. This includes characters such as Avitus, the rage-filled devastator squad leader, and Captain Davian Thule, whose disembodied spirit pilots a dreadnought battlemech. If you'd like, you can import your existing characters from DOWII, but be warned that they'll arrive without their best war gear, including their terminator armor, which has been damaged and can't be equipped until later in the campaign. Chaos Rising also adds a new character, Jonah Orion the librarian, a versatile and highly customizable spellcaster more at home on the battlefield than at the circulation desk. These simple but robust characters, combined with an intriguing storyline, varied battles, and the cooperative option, make the campaign the highlight of Chaos Rising.
Chaos Rising's campaign forgoes base building in favor of real-time battles, followed by breaks to customize your characters' skills and equipment, listen to intelligence briefings and determine which squads will deploy to your next mission, and (optionally) communicate with your team members and superior officers. In addition to experience points, your characters can now gain corruption points, which grant them access to corrupted war gear and twisted, magnificent new powers bestowed by the Chaos gods. Corruption comes from a variety of sources, including wearing tainted war gear, using Chaos powers, betraying the Empire or your Space Marine brothers, and prolonged exposure to dark energies. Similarly, you'll get plentiful opportunities to redeem yourself and earn the right to wear war gear that requires a pure spirit; however, being good gives you only one special ability per character, so the dark whispers of the void can be very persuasive. Another reason to give in to the dark side is that the "pure" ending cutscene has a tendency to crash to desktop. Although you'll notice in-game consequences for becoming corrupt and evil, sadly you don't get any additional missions as a result, which can be a bit of a letdown if you spend the entire campaign plotting to turn against your commanding officer and do battle with the incorruptible dreadnought Davian Thule.
41st-century swords double as antitank weapons.
Your band of intrepid Space Marines must do battle against the Eldar, Orks, and Tyranids over the course of the campaign, but the new Chaos faction is your primary antagonist, not just on the front line, but within the ranks of your own chapter. While fighting the forces of Chaos, you soon discover that one of your own has turned traitor and heretic, working to undermine the Blood Ravens from within. Consequently, your adventure focuses on both driving the Black Legion from Imperial space and unfolding the foul conspiracy infesting the chapter. In Chaos Rising, you'll revisit some of the planets from DOWII, but thankfully, you won't play the same map twice, which keeps the gameplay fresh and engaging. The downside is that the campaign is only about 10 hours long. However, it does have some replayability if you take a different approach to corruption, use alternative skill and equipment builds, or deploy different squads to the battlefield.
After you finish the campaign, you'll want to collect some "skulls for the skull throne" and try out Chaos in multiplayer or skirmish mode. Their units range from psychotic humans, such as the Chaos Space Marines, to grotesque demons, such as the monstrous Great Unclean One, who can fling enemy infantry to their deaths with his agile intestines. Additionally, you can customize several of your units by devoting them to different Chaos gods, who in turn grant unique blessings. For instance, Havocs, the Chaos version of Devastator squads, can earn a rate-of-fire bonus for their loyalty to Tzeentch, while Chaos Predator tanks blessed by Nurgle gain health at the expense of speed. Furthermore, each of the three heroes dedicates himself to a distinct Chaos god, granting you access to both special Chaos powers and the ability to build shrines to his master. The melee-heavy Chaos Lord favors the blood god Khorne, whose shrines periodically spawn powerful demons; the defense-oriented Plague Champion prefers Nurgle, whose shrines heal allies and reinforce your units; while the fragile but potent Chaos Sorcerer lets you build shrines to Tzeentch that shoot bolts of energy at incoming enemies.