After the victory on Typhon, you might expect things to settle down a bit for the Blood Ravens. But if you did, you obviously don’t know how things work in the world of Warhammer 40k. Before the dust has even settled on the last game, Relic’s offering up a new chapter that brings them into direct conflict with the dreaded Chaos Marines. This time around the Chaos Marines have burst back onto the scene in grand, Warhammer style. The sudden appearance of a new planet from the Warp, the slow corruption of the forces of good and the ubiquitous giant demons are all on hand for this grand chapter in the history of the Blood Ravens.

The single player portion of Chaos Rising is extremely satisfying. It offers up only a little over a dozen missions but they’re fairly long, packed with variety and scripted payoffs, and more than enough to get your heroes up to level 30. It also comes with a very surprising and unexpected twist that we won’t spoil for you here. Just suffice it to say that it draws the player in and gets them even more invested in how things play out than in previous strategy games. The characters are just as interesting this time around, and I particularly like the way the Librarian is inserted into the story.

On the surface, Warhammer seems to be all about the battles, but once you dig into the lore, you’ll find loads of details and interesting stories in every corner. Chaos Rising, like Relic’s other Warhammer games, really runs with this idea and gives players plenty of interesting characters and situations. I mean, it’s not Mass Effect 2 or anything, but presentation and the interesting conversations between missions really help you get involved in the story.

Some might complain that the campaign is a bit short, but you won’t find any boring or repetitive missions here so there’s really no filler. One mission you’ll be slogging your way across the surface of an ice planet, and the next mission will have you skulking through the narrow corridors of a darkened space station. You might find yourself assaulting Chaos gates to keep the reinforcements down as you make your way to the mission’s final boss battle, or you might be rescuing soldiers and fighting a last ditch defense alongside dozens of AI allies. Each mission offers something new, and a few of them even give you alternate objectives and even a few choices as to how you want to accomplish your main goal. When you add in the handful of purely optional missions, the campaign really comes to life and feels like it’s responding to your choices as much as it’s responding based on the designers’ intentions.

The only real downsides to the missions are those rare moments, particularly towards the end of the game, where you’re facing off against outrageously powerful bosses. It’s not so much that I mind the challenge, but the whole affair really comes down to maximizing the damage you’re doing and minimizing the damage you’re taking. With no unique interaction with the setting and no clear way to exploit the bosses’ weaknesses, these battles are really more about patient micromanagement than spontaneous strategies, which leave the player watching the numbers instead of the action.

The game packs a lot of tactical action into a very tight package.The difficultly of some of these battles exposes a frustrating problem with the game’s save system. Rather than letting players save and load directly from the mission itself, saving is only possible if you’re willing to quit the mission altogether. I’m grateful for the chance to save, of course, but it’s just silly to have to bounce back and forth like that just to ensure that you don’t have to replay sections of the game. On the plus side, Chaos Rising lets you retain all the gear and XP you’ve accumulated up to the point that you fail a mission, so the next time you try it, you’ll be a bit better equipped.

In terms of equipment, you’ll need to be mindful of the new corruption system. Depending on the choices you make during the mission, and the gear you’re using, you may find that your heroes become more and more corrupt as the game moves on. It has an influence on the overall direction of the story, even if the context for the changes is a little thin within the missions themselves, but the real practical concern is how corruption changes your access to certain pieces of equipment and certain abilities. If managed properly, it can be an interesting way to shift a hero from one type of role to another. The Librarian, for instance, can trade his healing abilities for more direct damage attacks.

It’s a fun mechanic to play around with but the numbers are more obvious than the implications, which seem backwards to me. The game makes sure that you know all about the overall effects of your decisions to take certain heroes on certain missions or to ignore certain secondary objectives but then it makes the overall outcome of those decisions a bit too vague. I’d much rather see it the other way around where you weren’t really sure when or how your squads would be corrupted but then had an immediate sense of what the corruption means in the overall story.

Apart from the issue with saving and loading games, Chaos Rising’s other flaws are relatively minor. I still think the inventory system is a bit inelegant, but it does manage to get the job done. I’m less inclined to forgive the occasional pathfinding problems that crop up. When combined with the fact that you probably won’t be saving this game that often, having your hero get stuck in the environment or having an entire army of reinforcements befuddled by a simple bunker are real problems that are bound to cause frustration. Fortunately, it didn’t happen too terribly often, but when it did, it meant you had to micromanage your active units even more closely.

The story is interesting and full of the usual Warhammer eccentricities.The Chaos Marines are an overdue addition to the game’s multiplayer roster, and the inclusion of new heroes and several new maps, including ice levels, helps to add even more variety to the experience. To help balance things out, the existing armies also get a few new units. All in all, it’s a great way to add a bit more life to the current multiplayer setup.

Closing Comments
If you like Dawn of War II, you’ll like Chaos Rising. All the great things about the core game are preserved here and the new Chaos Marines content is fantastic. The story’s great, the twist is surprising, and the tactical choices are consistently interesting. That said, Chaos Rising isn’t for people who haven’t already gotten their feet wet with Dawn of War II. The game starts out tough and doesn’t let up until you’re done, so newcomers may find it to be a tougher challenge than they’re ready for.

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