Okay, yeah. Way behind the curve on this one. Terribly, stupidly behind the curve. But I’m not going to let that stop me.

The most recent darling of the real-time strategy game genre is Relic Entertainment, a Vancouver-based company that got off to a darn good start with Homeworld, gained a lot of publicity with Warhammer 40,000: Dawn of War, and finally struck pure, molten platinum with Company of Heroes.

But other than trying the Homeworld and Homeworld 2 demos back in The Day(TM), I’d never played any of their games.

So I was poking around Steam the other night and saw that Steam has some of Relic’s games, and they all have demos. Figured I’d give Dawn of War and Company of Heroes a shot and see what the fuss was about.

I loved Dawn of War.

I hated Company of Heroes.

Dawn of War is a superbly designed game, taking the base-building elements of Age of Empires, the resource gathering of Total Annihilation and the character of Warcraft III and blending them into a delicate tasting fruit smoothie.

Company of Heroes comes along and adds lots of crunchy, chewy bacon bits.

The thing I adored most about Dawn of War was that most of the decisions made took the emphasis off micromanagement. You don’t have to set up an ant line to collect resources; you get them automatically based on how many control points you own. You do have to manually build your buildings, but you can easily queue all that up and forget about it. And you can reinforce in the field.

Let me explain. Every time you create a “unit” of Space Marines (for instance), you actually get a squad of four. Clicking this squad reveals that you can add units to the squad wherever the squad is – no more making more units and then having to run them up to the battle. As long as one member of the squad is alive, you can create more wherever the squad is.

The end result of all these changes makes a game where it’s not nearly as necessary to micro. You don’t have to manually target your unit’s special weapons, nor are you constantly having to zoom back to your base to either defend your ant line or make new troops. My favorite tactic was to have one squad equipped with grenades and another with Storm Bolters. The grenadiers would knock the enemy squad down and the Bolters would make short work of them as they tried to get back up. It was pretty damn wonderful.

So how did Relic cock this system up with Company of Heroes? Simple, by adding back just as much micromanagement as they originally took out – they just added different micromanagement. You still don’t have an ant line and you still can reinforce in the field, but now each type of unit has at least one special ability that must be manually selected and manually targeted. Squads can come under fire and be suppressed or pinned. Control points you take must now be contiguous or they are considered “out of supply” and you get no benefit from them. And of course they had to add another resource to worry about – fuel.

The final straw for me was when I was directed during a tutorial to manually drive my tanks around so I could hit the enemy tanks in their weak rear armor.

I so hope that Dawn of War II is actually going to be Dawn of War II and not Company of Heroes in the Warhammer: 40,000 universe.