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Game Review: Dawn of War

Developed By: Relic / THQ

Platform(s): Windows

Genre: Real Time Strategy

Overview

 

Dawn of War (the first series) is a real time strategy game set in the 40k universe. Starting with the Blood Ravens space marine chapter, your assume the role of Gabriel Angelos, as he tries to get to the bottom of what’s happening on the planet Tartarus. In the later expansions (which we will also discuss here), you branch out into the various other factions of the 40k universe, including the Imperial Guard, Eldar, and even Tau and Necrons. Command huge forces and build your bases, as you try to edge out your opponents and claim victory! In this review i’ll be talking about Dawn of War, plus all of its expansions: Winter Assault, Dark Crusade, and Soulstorm.

Gameplay

 

Missions in the game can vary, but almost every faction will follow the same developmental stages. You will start out with a stronghold building – this must be defended at all costs, as you will usually lose the mission if this is destroyed. This building can usually produce basic troops, and also your builder units which are needed to expand your base. This part of the game definitely has a Command and Conquer vibe to it (for those familiar with that RTS stalwart), as the different buildings you can add to your base offer different features and functionality. To use the Blood Ravens for example, you can build the Chapel-Barracks to get access to tactical and assault marines, while the Armoury lets you research technology and wargear which improve your units, making them more flexible and tougher to defeat.

Unlike Command and Conquer, resource generation isn’t done by “harvester units”. Instead, the game uses two main resource mechanics – Requisition, and Power. You can gain power by constructing power plant buildings, which give you a constant stream of the resource. This is usually used to pay for vehicle construction, or key research upgrades, but in the case of the Necrons in Dark Crusade for example, power is their ONLY resource. Requisition acquisition however is where the game really comes into it’s own tactically. To gain an improved requisition rate, you need to use your troops to capture requisition points. To do this, they need to move to such a point and hold it for a certain amount of time. During this time they are vulnerable, and could be attacked. This is where you need to work out the best approach – some missions will comfortably allow you to hold 3-4 points within the relative safety of your base, while others will challenge you and force you to venture into the undiscovered parts of the map, only to potentially find an enemy has claimed the point for themselves first! Requisition and power points can be spent on creating new units, bolstering the strength of existing units, buying buildings, or applying upgrades to any of the above. To access the most elite aspects of your army, you’ll often need to capture a Relic – there are often only 1-2 of these on an entire map, making it a highly sought after prize, and adding another tactical dimension to the game.

Balancing your resources is an important factor when trying to successfully complete a mission. Sometimes you will have the luxury of accumulating as much resource as you want, hoarding your forces and then rushing the enemy – but in others you might not get the time or comfort to do so, as you’ll be under constant attack, or need to protect a key resource within a time limit, or achieve some other objective. From my opinion playing the core game and the expansions, I actually feel that Winter Assault offered some of the most exciting and challenging games. In this expansion, you play as the forces of Order (the Imperial Guard and the Eldar) or disorder (Orks and Chaos Space Marines). Both of these campaigns felt very in character to those factions. For example, in one Eldar mission you need to assist the imperial forces by utilising webway gates to launch quick attacks, before retreating again. In a later mission, you need to actually teleport your base to a safe location to escape. The Chaos sections were very in character too, with one mission requiring you to enslave guardsmen to be sacrificed to the blood altars of Khorne. The Campaign for the first game is still very enjoyable, but it’s mostly comprised of “go here, kill this” missions. That’s fine though, because as the first game it’s important to become familiar with the tactics and units that are required to win, and the curve along the expansions is actually fair and instructive.

Dark Crusade and Soulstorm have great strengths in their campaigns as well. Instead of a Narrative campaign focusing on a single faction, you’re instead thrown into a territorial battle for the planet/system:

The map is divided into standard missions, and special missions. Most territories on the map will result in a standard “destroy the other army” game of Dawn of War. But if you are trying to attack an enemy stronghold, or a territory that will confer a certain ability to your campaign (such as attacking twice a turn), then you’ll be faced with a mission that has an alternative victory condition, or has lots of sub objectives that can be achieved to make your primary objective easier. The campaign mechanics are super enjoyable, because as you accumulate victories, your warlord’s honour guard grows, as does your ability to utilise powerful effects.  Your commander also gets access to more wargear, making his influence on the battlefield even more telling than it may already have been.

Although you can play in skirmish mode in all of these games (one off battles), Dark Crusade and Soulstorm absolutely offer the biggest single player replay experience. By the time you get to Soulstorm, you will have access to all of these factions:

  • Space Marines
  • Imperial Guard
  • Sisters of Battle
  • Eldar
  • Dark Eldar
  • Orks
  • Chaos Space Marines
  • Tau
  • Necrons

There are also fan made patches for Tyranids out there on the internet if you’re so inclined to look for them – absolutely worth the time and effort if you can find it. All of the factions have their own unique quirks and rules which nuance the game slightly in different ways – the fun is in the experimentation! Lots of units have lots of different applications – form deep striking tactical terminators, to the fearsome resurrection of a Necron monolith – there is a massive array of units and strategies you can play with in order to win.

One last fun feature which i’m so glad was added is the Army Painter. You can customise the schemes of your choice for your games, making it something more personal to you, or just more badass, if the original schemes aren’t up your street. There are lots of potential combos here, as above, the fun is in the experimentation! SPOILERS BELOW!

Story

As mentioned above, the games of Dark Crusade and Soulstorm are more geared towards the conquest of territory, than following the specific exploits of one faction. There are cool “final battles” when you attack each faction’s stronghold, and you get a brief conclusion briefing after these games, but that’s the gist of it. That’s absolutely not to say that these games aren’t as good – they’re just good in a different way.

Dawn of War follows the story of the Blood Ravens – more specifically the exploits of Captain Gabriel Angelos. The Blood Ravens are initially drawn onto the planet of Tartatus to assist the beleaguered Imperial Guard forces, but soon learn there is more to the menace than just some random Ork attacks. It’s not too long before it’s revealed that the true puppet masters are the forces of Chaos, led by the Sorcerer Sindri. Adding yet more intrigue to the story, is the slow burn corruption of the Librarian Isador, who constantly seems to be struggling with Sindri’s psychic whispers. This plotline goes deeper still, as the Blood Ravens find themselves accosted by Inquisitor Toth, who suspects Angelos of heresy. Having purged his own homeworld Cyrene, it has made him fall under the scrutiny of the inquisition, helping tell an entertaining story of suspicion and betrayal. Overall the game gives a good flavour for the characterisation of the Blood Ravens, and well establishes them in 40k Lore, also paving the way for their appearance in future 40k games.

Winter Assault has two more varied (although shorter) campaigns. There are four playable factions involved this time (Imperial Guard, Eldar, Chaos and Orks):

The four factions find themselves on Lorn V through happenstance, but soon it becomes clear that a bigger prize is at stake – a fallen Imperial Titan. The campaigns describe how the two pairs of allies work together (or don’t in some of the cases) to overcome their common foes. All four have their own agenda and plans for the titan if they get their hands on it, and the stakes are made plain and clear for the player fairly early on.

The most interesting aspect of the campaigns is the fourth mission. For order and disorder, both sides play the first four missions. During this mission though, the player has the option of switching sides to the other faction. The idea in this mission is that only one half of the alliance is able to progress to the “final” battle, and it’s actually a really neat concept that firstly allows some small replayability of the campaign, but is also very innovative, and allows that particular mission to be completed in various ways.

An exciting ambush by Necrons awaits whoever participates in the final battle – and even the Titan can get involved here! All in all i’d probably rate Winter Assault as my favourite of the four games, but they are all really good and an incredible amount of fun.

Roundup

Dawn of War is definitely getting on a bit in terms of it’s age, but it 100% holds up. When it was released, it was responsible for bringing 40k into the mainstream gaming domain for a while, and it’s a fantastic gateway for anyone wanting to dabble in the hobby. The gameplay is still fun and solid, and the game is absolutely drowning in 40k themes and lore. Its a fantastic blend of 40k, Command and Conquer, and Starcraft – and all three of those games are incredible. You can still get this series of games on Steam, which I absolutely recommend. This is probably one of the most essential 40k video game experiences, you absolutely can’t afford to miss out on it.

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