Vancouver-based developer Relic Entertainment has pushed the evolution of the real-time strategy genre for years. Its last few efforts – Homeworld, Company of Heroes, and the first Dawn of War game – play a large part in defining what we think of as RTS. With Dawn of War II, the company takes that expertise and re-imagines the most basic tenets of the genre. Only letting players control a few squads at a time is a major change, but Relic managed to craft a unique game out of it.

At a basic level, the combat in Dawn of War II is just plain fun. It's a blast to give your Assault Marines a combat jump order and watch them use their jetpacks to slam into an enemy formation with literally explosive force. Watching your heavy bolters tear through the most robust of enemy troops is a joy, and seeing your Force Commander go toe-to-toe with a hostile mech is awesome. These examples are of Space Marines, but the other factions' units fulfill largely the same roles. The abilities of the various squads at your command mesh together in a tightly interlocked engine of destruction when used properly, and the low-level tactical gameplay is unmatched.

The Space Marine-only single-player campaign offers dozens of replayable hours of entertainment. There is no resource gathering, but randomized loot drops allow you to equip your squads with powerful war gear. The Mass Effect-like leveling system strikes a brilliant balance between giving you access to sweet powers and forcing you to make choices as you customize your units. The rating you receive after each mission (which also ties into bonus rewards) constantly pushes you to improve your game.

The biggest downfall of Dawn of War II is a lack of variety. Though different enemies populate each mission, you'll still conquer the same handful of maps over and over during the campaign. Despite getting new weapons with better stats, you'll use the same basic tactics repeatedly for the vast majority of the game. Even while fighting on different planets, you'll have the same objectives and fight bosses with carbon-copy abilities over and over again. It's a good thing the basic gameplay is so amusing, because there isn't much else to keep it fresh.

Multiplayer is another departure from genre norms, and includes some basic resource gathering via strategic nodes. Compressed forms of the leveling and item systems are also present. Players have a choice between builder, brawler, and special-ops archetypes, and must work together to secure victory in three vs. three matches. Many interesting ideas are at play here, but I'm not convinced that no base-building and few units per side is a superior model for RTS multiplayer. More maps than the five out of the box (plus three more in the launch-day patch) would be nice as well.

It feels weird to me to not be falling head over heels for a Relic title out of the gate, to be honest. Still, this is an amazingly visceral title with a second-to-none presentation that delivers some of the best tactical action we've seen to date. I applaud the developers for moving the staid RTS genre in a new direction, even if I feel that Dawn of War II stumbles a little bit along the way.