Relic has announced a beta for Dawn of War II: Retribution will hit sometime in "the new year", and also revealed the game will forgo the use of GFWL like previous titles in the series by using Steamworks only.
A new back end, guest passes, free multiplayer weekends
Retribution will use Steamworks for the "all new matchmaking and ranking set up" in the game, and will allow for other added benefits.
"This new back end will allow players to invite friends into matches from their Steam friends lists, and take advantage of the full set of Steam community features including groups, achievements, and Steam overlay chat channels. We are also going to include an all new matchmaking and ranking set up, built specifically for Dawn of War II – Retribution," said Relic in a statement.
"The move to Steamworks will also allow us to provide features like guest passes, free multiplayer weekends, pre-loading and the ability to provide fast turn-around on future patches and updates.
"To accomplish this transition, Dawn of War II – Retribution will be a completely stand alone title in the series and will provide multiple campaigns to play, as well as all six multiplayer races, with new units for each of the existing five races and one new unannounced one. In a change from our previous strategies with expansion packs, we will not be patching this content back into Dawn of War II and Chaos Rising.
"Owners of Dawn of War II and Chaos Rising will get the chance to try out the full set of Retribution’s Steam features in a multiplayer beta that will take place in the new year. More details on the beta will be announced at a later date.
"Dawn of War II and Chaos Rising will continue to operate on Games for Windows Live, in order to preserve the owners of those titles ability to earn Live achievements as well as their established friends lists."
Dual support of GFWL and Steam added "a lot of extra complexity"
Retribution’s producer, Jeff Lydell, told PC Gamer one of the main reasons for the switch to Steamworks was Dawn of War II and Chaos Rising players having to log into both systems to play.
The team felt this was "cumbersome", and dual support of both systems added complexity to updates.
"Dawn of War II and Chaos Rising are hybrids of Steamworks and Games for Windows Live, and require the owners of those games to log in to both to play" said Lydell. "We’ve always thought this was cumbersome, and only implemented it because back in Dawn of War II’s development, we needed digital distribution and matchmaking features from both platforms.
"Since then both Microsoft and Valve have worked to catch up with each other, and on Dawn of War II – Retribution, we’ve decided to utilize the Steamworks SDK for networking and matchmaking.
"We couldn’t do the switch on Chaos Rising because of the method we used to link campaign progress by importing save games. When we started work on Retribution we had a different plan for the campaign content. Rather than continuing with the exact same characters and progression, we’ve added new campaigns for different races and new stories. This meant we were free to change up that aspect of the game.
"Dual support of GFWL and Steam did add a lot of extra complexity and testing time, across the team here at Relic, the QA team and with Microsoft’s certification team."
However, despite the extra work involved which tended to slow updates to both games, Lyndell said the slower progress had more to do with "scheduling multiple fixes for a certification appointment".
"We’ve been able to update Dawn of War II and Chaos Rising many times since we launched. We’ve done more updates to DOW II already than we did for the entire DOW I series across all four products, and it is more dependent on our commitment to responding to our community than it is on the networking provider.
"The biggest drawback is it’s rarely possible to release an update to fix a single issue, since we were usually scheduling multiple fixes for a certification appointment. That can snowball and slow down our development and testing time.
"I’m most excited that we are going to be able to take full advantage of Steam’s features like free weekend trials and cloud saving. We are also working with Valve on some new exciting features to be announced later."
Relic said in its statement there's "more exciting announcements in the coming weeks" regarding Retribution, so everyone needs to "stay tuned".
We've mailed THQ to find out if Steamworks will be it's exclusive partner on this in the future.
Dawn of War II: Retribution is slated for Q1 2011.