Warham­mer 40,000: Dawn of War III /£ 40 inc VAT

DE­VEL­OPER Relic Stu­dios / PUB­LISHER SEGA / WEB­SITE www.dawnofwar.com


Relic’s spin on Games Work­shop’s per­pet­ual sci-fi con­flict is al­ways evolv­ing. The orig­i­nal Dawn of War was a rel­a­tively typ­i­cal RTS, in­volv­ing base build­ing, unit pro­duc­tion and large-scale com­bat. Dawn of War II, mean­while, swapped out its big armies for smaller, squad-based com­bat led by pow­er­ful in­di­vid­u­als. In Dawn of War III, the war ma­chine evolves once more, with Relic at­tempt­ing to merge th­ese two ap­proaches.

Base build­ing and big armies are back with a vengeance, but th­ese armies are led by recog­nis­able in­di­vid­u­als with unique and of­ten dev­as­tat­ing abil­i­ties. It’s a bold and bom­bas­tic vi­sion of Games Work­shop’s bru­tal uni­verse, gen­er­at­ing spec­tac­u­lar and tac­ti­cally re­ward­ing bat­tles. How­ever, to pro­duce such scope, Dawn of War III sac­ri­fices ac­ces­si­bil­ity. The re­sult is akin to an Ork Mek; bulky and brutishly ef­fec­tive, but also un­wieldy and un­re­li­able.

The cam­paign sees Space Marines, Orks and El­dar en­gaged in a three­way bat­tle over the Spear of Kaine, a leg­endary weapon said to bring god­like pow­ers. The cam­paign lets you ex­pe­ri­ence this con­flict from all three sides over 17 sub­stan­tial mis­sions.

Dawn of War III’s fac­tion ros­ter is the smallest of the three games, but the fac­tions are all very dis­tinct. Not only does each one look dif­fer­ent and pos­sess unique units, but they also have unique tac­tics and meth­ods of unit pro­duc­tion. Of the three, the Space Marines are prob­a­bly the most fa­mil­iar. They play like most RTS armies, al­though they tend to fo­cus on small num­bers of pow­er­ful units, and can drop newly re­cruited units into bat­tle from or­bit, re­in­forc­ing your army and dam­ag­ing your op­po­nent’s con­tin­gent in the process. The Orks, mean­while, are scav­engers and im­pro­vis­ers. They can col­lect re­sources and make units from build­ings like any fac­tion, but they can also use scrap on the bat­tle­field to up­grade ex­ist­ing units or con­struct new ones. What’s more, they can up their tech level by erect­ing ‘Waaaugh’ tow­ers. As well as en­abling the Orks to re­cruit more pow­er­ful units, Waaaugh tow­ers can ac­ti­vate a speed and dam­age boost, as the pound­ing rock mu­sic emit­ted from the tower works nearby Ork units into a frenzy. Yet per­haps the most in­ter­est­ing war­riors are the El­dar, who pos­sess a no­madic base. All El­dar build­ings dou­ble as por­tals, which can be linked to one an­other for units to travel through them. What’s more, build­ings can be re­lo­cated to any po­si­tion on the map where El­dar forces re­side. An ef­fi­cient El­dar player can build a net­work of por­tals that will let them move al­most any­where on the map in­stan­ta­neously, and even re­lo­cate their en­tire base to a more de­sir­able po­si­tion. The way each fac­tion works has been thought through in ex­treme de­tail, and the re­sult opens up de­light­fully de­vi­ous tac­ti­cal pos­si­bil­i­ties. A seem­ingly de­feated Ork army can sud­denly res­ur­rect it­self us­ing scrap left over from the bat­tle, while an El­dar base ap­pear­ing out of nowhere can be ef­fec­tively coun­tered by the Space Marines with a few tar­geted drop-pods.

Sit­ting along­side th­ese unique me­chan­ics are more gen­eral new fea­tures. All fac­tions have ac­cess to spe­cialised scout­ing units, which are weak in bat­tle, but in­vis­i­ble to en­e­mies un­less spot­ted by units with the spot­ting abil­ity. Hence, they can be used to scout out en­emy bases be­fore you mount an as­sault. Dif­fer­ent fac­tions can use them in dif­fer­ent ways too. The Space Marines, for ex­am­ple, can com­bine scouts with their ar­tillery units to rain fire on an en­emy po­si­tion from be­hind the fog of war.

As al­ready men­tioned, all fac­tions also have ac­cess to spe­cialised Elite units. They’re in­cred­i­bly ro­bust, pos­sess unique pow­ers and a few of them are cen­tral char­ac­ters in the cam­paign. Gabriel An­ge­los, for ex­am­ple, is the leader of the Space Marine Blood Ravens. With his com­bi­na­tion of a jump pack and Thun­der Ham­mer, he can leap into the midst of bat­tle and dis­perse thick crowds of en­e­mies like a wreck­ing ball. Mean­while, the Ork leader, Gorgutz ‘Ead ’Un­ter, is equipped with an In­spec­tor Gad­get-style arm he can use to quickly tra­verse the bat­tle­field, and swing around his head to ab­sorb en­emy fire.

Dawn of War III looks in­cred­i­ble in mo­tion, and it feels great to de­ploy some of the units’ spe­cial abil­i­ties, from the As­sault Marines’ jump at­tack to the Dread­nought’s crush­ing ground-pound, which sends en­emy body parts scat­ter­ing in all di­rec­tions. But the tac­ti­cal meat be­hind the fire­works is where real sat­is­fac­tion lies. It isn’t a build-and-rush game such as StarCraft. De­ploy­ing units and abil­i­ties ef­fec­tively can make the dif­fer­ence be­tween vic­tory and de­feat.

It’s a shame, then, that Dawn of War III can be so un­wieldy. Dur­ing com­bat, it’s tricky to de­ci­pher what’s hap­pen­ing, your units’ lo­ca­tions, and who is win­ning and los­ing. More­over, be­cause com­bat hap­pens so quickly, by the time you’ve fig­ured out what to do, found the ap­pro­pri­ate unit and se­lected the abil­ity you need, the fight­ing is of­ten all but over. The UI makes se­lect­ing units and abil­i­ties as easy as pos­si­ble, but it still isn’t enough to keep up with the pace of Dawn of War III’s en­coun­ters. The cam­paign struc­ture doesn’t help ei­ther. Rather than play­ing through each fac­tion’s story in­di­vid­u­ally, you play as one fac­tion per mis­sion, and change for the next. As such, you can never be­come ac­cus­tomed with how one fac­tion works be­fore be­ing forced to play as an­other one. Relic has a par­tic­u­lar story it wants to tell, and it’s en­ter­tain­ing enough, but it’s not ex­actly Shake­speare, and doesn’t jus­tify the chop and change struc­ture used to tell it. The mul­ti­player of­fer­ing is also a dis­ap­point­ment, with only one mode and eight maps, al­though the tac­ti­cal va­ri­ety be­tween the three fac­tions helps it here. A big­ger prob­lem is that matches tend to drag on for longer than ideal, be­cause of the Elite units. Not only are they enor­mously pow­er­ful, but they can also respawn once killed, so a bat­tle that would oth­er­wise be won is per­pet­u­ated be­cause of respawn­ing Elites. When Dawn of War III works, it works fan­tas­ti­cally. It lets you play with some of Warham­mer 40,000’s most fear­some units, and re­wards smart tac­ti­cal play with vi­o­lent and ex­plo­sive dev­as­ta­tion of your op­po­nent. How­ever, it of­ten smoul­ders rather than scorches. It’s a vol­cano that spends a lot of time threat­en­ing to erupt, but doesn’t al­ways fol­low through. When it does, though, it’s a force with which to be reck­oned.

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