Dawn of War 2: Retribution Tyranid campaign preview
Oh yes. Tyranids are confirmed as the third playable race in Dawn of War 2's standalone expansion Retribution. This means a full story-driven single player campaign for Warhammer 40,000's swarming, spiky, acid-spitting aliens, for the first time ever. I've seen it in action, and it's horrific. But before I tell you the gruesome details, there's a twist to this announcement: in Retribution's Tyranid campaign, unlike its others, you have just one hero. You're the Swarmlord.
As the name implies, he's not a solo operator. He's your only hero, but he can spawn close-combat Hormagaunts and ranged Termagants any time he has the energy to do so. And Retribution works very differently to Dawn of War 2: capturing certain outposts lets you produce squads of small units in the field, and others even let you produce the big stuff like Carnifexes. If you go for pure numbers, your Swarmlord can lead an army of around 140 units. This isn't even in the same genre as Dawn of War 2: Relic are back in the RTS business.
For anyone wondering why Tyranids are such a fan favourite, I'll put it this way: they have guns that fire beetles that eat through flesh. StarCraft's Zerg owe a significant debt to them, but they have a bony, nasty elegance that squelchier alien races often lack. Lead designer Dan Kading says that in Retribution, you'll get to customise your Swarmlord almost as you would a humanoid hero.
"He has his traits that he can level up just like anybody else, and he has a variety of biomorphs that he can equip over the course of the campaign: including scything talons, crushing claws - which is a more anti-vehicle, anti structural style melee weapons - Barbed Stranglers, and Venom Cannons - which is a massive ranged anti-vehicle weapon that the Tyranids use. He’ll get different carapaces he can pick up, and a variety of equipment that will change his various abilities from Rippers, which will just form an entourage around him, to the ability to regenerate some of his units on the field, or to spawn Spore Mines which can drift off and attack."
In action, he's the scrappy backbone of your swarm. As a six metre tall creature wielding four swords made of bone, he takes care of himself pretty well. But he also functions as a caster, chucking the Barbed Stranglers Dan mentioned to slow down and suppress large groups of units, or flush them out of a building if they're garrisoned. His underlings do most of the fighting: huge, ever changing hordes of small units washing over the battlefield. They spawn fast, they die fast, and you're constantly rethinking what to create.
At one point Dan's strength-in-numbers army was smashed by an Ork force heavy on the vehicles. So he rebuilt it rather differently: no squads, just three lumbering Carnifexes, each taking up as much of his population limit as 30 lesser creatures. They cut through the shonky Ork hardware like bone through butter, and he completes the mission.
What you can build in the field depends on what you've unlocked in the Army Builder, a persistent roster of the units you have access to. At the end of each mission, you get to choose from rewards that include Wargear for your hero, new units for your army, or upgrades to those army units that you can then grant them in the field.
"[The Tyranids] have only got the one hero," says Dan, "which was partly done for story reasons and for the nature of the ‘Nids, which are meant to be much more swarmy. But as a result that also means that since there’s only one guy, more of their rewards tend to focus around the army unlocks, and there tend to be more of those army builder unlocks available to them. Definitely if you want the armada, either for band-boxing (selecting everything and right-clicking the enemy) and washing over the enemies, or a micro[management] style army, you’ll have those options available to you through the ‘Nids. But some of those are going to come through the forms of buildable micro-units (units which have manually activated abilities) such as the Lictor or the Zoanthrope, and the upgrades that you can potentially unlock for them."
Retribution now has three confirmed single player campaigns: Orks, Eldar and Tyranids, each more than fifteen missions - the length of previous expansion Chaos Rising's campaign. Dan assures me there's "at least" four total, which would be a strange thing to say if there were only four total. There are only two other races in Dawn of War 2 right now, Chaos and the Space Marines - it'd be a shame to exclude Chaos so soon after introducing them, and Space Marines seem like a given. Retribution will introduce one new race to Dawn of War 2, but Relic won't say whether it's playable. My guess is it won't be, but if they do announce a full Necron campaign, I will do a little dance.
Tell us your theories about the remaining campaigns, and the surprise race, in the comments. And grab the next issue of PC Gamer for a full preview feature on Retribution.