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.