Warhammer 40,000: Dawn of War III
Andrew Whitehead scoffs at tabletop war game nerds from behind his piles of Pokémon cards
Watching someone play Warhammer 40,000: Dawn of War III is both engaging and intimidating. It looks like chaos, but the one behind the keyboard and mouse knows it’s a controlled chaos. Often real-time strategy games lack the flair of other action-focused genres, making them less fun for newcomers to watch. But man, when that orbital laser came down to wreak devastation across the icy planes of Acheron, I couldn’t help but think how much I wish I was the one doing that.
“It’s been seven years since the main Dawn of War II and about five years since the last expansion,” says Philippe Boulle, Game Director on Dawn of War III. “So we’re well aware of that, and we really wanted to make a game that appealed to the fans of the franchise but was also open to everyone that was new to it.”
To ease newcomers into the world of Dawn of War, the campaign features one long narrative featuring all three playable factions. The first, and easily the most identifiable, is the Space Marines. These genetically engineered soldiers specialise in concentrated firepower and can call in reinforcements with drop pods.
“That means you can be facing one Space Marine scout squad and think, ‘Oh, I’ve got this covered,’ and then bam, bam, bam, there are heavily armoured soldiers there,” says Boulle.
Relic was staying tight-lipped about the other two factions, but did talk a little about the Eldar, a race of space elf warriors who view Space Marines with complete disdain. During the demo their superior mobility helped them move quickly across the battlefield to perform fast hit-andrun-style attacks.
The final faction of the game wasn’t on show at this time, but what would a Warhammer game be without Orks? Usually, acting as the comic relief in the series, the Orks will apparently play more outwardly aggressive, but Relic isn't revealing much about them at this point.
TELL ME A STORY
The story of Dawn of War III follows the aforementioned factions as the descend onto the frozen planet of Acheron after learning of a secret weapon hidden beneath the planet’s surface. Some familiar faces are returning, including Ork horde leader Warlord Gorgutz and Farseer Macha of the Eldars, while the Blood Raven Space Marines are led once again by the celebrated and victorious commander Gabriel Angelos.
“I’ve been playing Warhammer 40,000 on and off for 25 years,” says Boulle. “But there was a time when I knew nothing about it and I just fell in love with that little miniature … So we wanted to do that same thing. We have a big epic story, but a small cast where you’re focused on a few characters that you guide through this whole story. We spent a lot of time and effort on it and I think people will be really happy with it.”
Within each faction’s armies are your regular units and the more powerful hero units. At the beginning of the live demonstration, the legendary Space Marine Gabriel Angelos arrived on his own on the planet of Acheron quickly cuts a bloody path through a group of Eldars. Soon after, though, enemies begin a ranged counter-attack from across a ravine, but the quick use of his God-Splitter ability sees Gabriel launch at his new enemies and completely annihilate them.
Adding another layer of planning is choosing your three Elite Units. A story-centric hero like Gabriel will
almost always take up one slot in the campaign, but you can customise the remaining slots with power units of your choice.
After few more skirmishes, backup arrived in the form of a 15-metre tall Imperial Knight mech being piloted by Lady Solaria. New Eldar warriors closed in, but her Gatling Barrage cut them down where they stood. As the battle progresses, more Space Marines arrived in drop pods and joined the fight. There were moments when things got too intense and the weaker Space Marine had to take cover inside emplaced dome shield systems, rather than having to take cover from certain angles like in Dawn of War II.
At this point the developer taking the demonstration commented that he had gotten too cocky and may not be able to finish the mission.
But eventually the hero unit Gabriel was able to call down an orbital laser strike and clinch victory.
It’s hard to explain in words how Dawn of War III looks when being played. It’s a a violently beautiful game that juxtaposes burning red lava beneath frozen blue platforms or ice lit by the white-hot glow of machine gun fire. Relic has made sure to use just about every colour in the palette to paint the perfect picture of interstellar warfare.
THE HIDDEN DETAILS
Relic isn't ready to talk about multiplayer just yet, but there were assurances that it will be revealed sometime soon as they know how important it is to the series and its fans. In fact, the team has been listening to fans throughout the development of Dawn of War III and vetting which requests make the most sense for the game and which should be left behind this time around.
“Things like the return of base building,” said Boulle, “[it was] largely absent from Dawn of War II but was very present in Dawn of War, it’s back in Dawn of War III. There were gameplay reasons we wanted to bring that back but it was definitely also because the fans missed it, so we brought it back. People also enjoyed the heroes in Dawn of War II, so that gave us a little incentive to leave them in there.”
From what I have seen of Warhammer 40,000: Dawn of War III, I’m convinced this game will continue the already strong legacy the last two games established. And what makes it even more enticing is Relic is consciously making Dawn of War III the perfect jumping-on point for newcomers while still welcoming back fans who have stuck by the series for over a decade.
BASE BUILDING WAS LARGELY ABSENT FROM DAWN OF WAR II BUT WAS VERY PRESENT IN DAWN OF WAR. IT'S BACK IN DAWN OF WAR III
It's called 'Warhammer', not 'Stand-aroundlooking-coolhammer', dammit!
In Warhammer, a hero's death is the only kind you should strive for