by Matt Porter
reviewed on PC
Back to the future
A new Warhammer game comes out every week these days, but this was the one people were waiting for. Warhammer 40,000: Dawn of War was widely revered as a fantastic real time strategy game, and it was a perfect fit for the transition from tabletop game to video game. Warhammer 40,000: Dawn of War II went even more towards the tabletop game end of things, sacrificing base building and throwaway units for more hardy squads and hero units. However, a large number of people lamented the loss of the traditional strategy elements. So, with Dawn of War III, developer Relic is returning to its roots. Once more you’ll be building a base, amassing an army and sending them out head to head with alien enemies. But does it live up to the first game in the series?
The main story follows three factions, the Space Marines, the Orkz, and the Eldar, and you’ll be playing race specific missions throughout the campaign. Instead of playing through a full list of Space Marine missions, followed by Eldar, and so on, you’re playing a single story from the perspective of all three races in real time. A planet which only appears every 5,000 years just so happens to be appearing, and on the planet is a powerful, ancient Eldar artifact. Clearly, everyone wants to get their hands on it, and a full scale war breaks out between everyone nearby. As you might expect from an RTS story, there’s drama, there’s betrayal, and there’s more action than you can shake a pointy stick at.
When you’re creating a sci-fi story in a video game featuring three warring factions though, you’re going to draw obvious comparisons to StarCraft. Sadly, when compared to the shine and polish of StarCraft II’s recent campaigns, Dawn of War III falls short. The characters aren’t as engaging, and the story being told through voice acting over barely animated storyboards can hardly stand up to the hugely impressive cutscenes which Blizzard can churn out. In Dawn of War III the voice acting is strong, and the story itself is perfectly fine, but it’s just missing an extra spark. The highlight of the storytelling is the comic relief provided by the Orkz and the way they speak, but it hardly speaks for the rest of the narrative when the most memorable moments are designed to make you laugh.
The art of war
The actual gameplay is much stronger though, and is almost a hybrid between the first two games in the franchise. You will generally start out a mission with a handful of squads and a hero, and will fight through to a place where you can start building a base. The map will expand as you complete objectives, and you’ll progress onwards until reaching your final objective. Missions themselves are fairly standard RTS fare, where you’ll be tasked with finding specific objects, defending from oncoming enemies, or simply wiping out the enemy. There are some standout moments, but the long term appeal of the game will of course come from the multiplayer. One major issue with the campaign is the lack of autosave during missions. I lost a good half an hour of progress when I failed a mission right at the final objective and had to restart the entire thing.
Multiplayer is very much a return to form, although not a carbon copy of the first game in the franchise. Instead of annihilating the enemy base, you now have to destroy their shield generators, followed by their turrets, followed by their power core, in a style very reminiscent of a MOBA. Economy management is very important. In 2v2 or 3v3 matches, your resource income is shared throughout the team, but you will have your own pool of resources with which to build and upgrade your buildings and units. Therefore, it’s crucial that you win the early game and push out to the various capture points across the map which grant you energy and requisition points. Falling behind in the economy race often spells disaster, and it’s only with excellent play that you’ll be able to catch back up. If you’re behind, and don’t manage to break through, your game is likely finished before it ever really started.
War is hell
An Elite Point generator, of which there are only usually one or two on each map, is necessary to build up enough points to call down your best units. You select and can customise the passive abilities of these elites, as well as some specific things about your entire army using Doctrines before the game. Your elites can singlehandedly change the tide of battle, so again, it is imperative you push out to these points as early as possible. The elites are the most exciting part of the game, able to crush entire squads with just a single ability, and taking a lot of firepower to bring down. They dwarf the other units, and this is one of the flaws in the new design. It almost seems like the standard squads of warriors you have are too small compared to the environments they’re in. They’re often hard to pick out in a large melee, and trying to select a specific unit is very tricky. You have small icons representing your army at the bottom of the screen, but without using control groups, it’s hard even then to quickly select the exact squad you want. At times, large battles are hard to read, and it becomes difficult to tactically maneuver. The visual effects are impressive, but it would help if things were clearer.
Even so, it feels good to be back in the base building, hard hitting, cool looking world of Warhammer 40,000. Winning early skirmishes before slowly building up your armies for a single massive engagement is still exciting, and very rewarding when you win. The single player campaign is good, if a little stale at times, and multiplayer has mostly gone back to what made it great in the first place. There are some issues to be found, but if you’re looking for a modern game akin to the popular origins of Dawn of War, this is certainly a good attempt.
A return to form for the franchise, elites look and feel powerful
Campaign is nothing revolutionary, some issues with readability