In the grim darkness of the far future, there is only war. Those words immediately bring to mind images of bloodshed, greenskins and giant shoulder pads, and few have perfectly encapsulated them so well as Dawn of War. Offering fans a glimpse into the nightmarish bloodshed of a galaxy going to hell, the franchise has (with one glaring exception) stood strong over the years, and Relic are looking to extend their story into a new era with this latest release; following a three-way war between the Blood Ravens, Biel-Tan and the ever unkillable Gorgutz.
The story here is definitely a strong one, and even after the natural end to the Blood Ravens’ arc in Retribution, Relic have thought up a few new things to play about with. As there are many returning major characters and big ideas at work, and with Chaos out of the picture for once the Imperium vs xenos war is a refreshing change of pace for the narrative. Combined with a number of major hero abilities, full scale mecha and a well delivered twist, there’s plenty for fans to gush over in the campaign. Better yet, it paces itself well, slowly introducing mechanics and ideas, adjusting you to the new mechanical elements and direction of this latest title.
Many building ideas have been tweaked and reworked, removing much of the typical busywork and streamlining the experience. Massed units are far easier to keep track of, and technological upgrades are much easier to navigate without having lost their complexity. While you still need to carefully decide upon building placement, and spam the build unit option, working towards new forces, units or the like is not nearly so fiddly as it was in Dawn of War II.
Unfortunately, as strong as the single-player campaign is, the multiplayer element is oddly bland.
The big problem RTS veterans will find early on is that – while the units are excellently designed, engaging and effective – in terms of basic mechanics there’s little difference between the armies. Despite their varied nature, the Orks, Eldar and Space Marine squads will play out in a very similar rock-paper-scissor format, and there’s not enough here to really make each army stand out beyond its visuals. Once you remove the flashy paintwork, the mechanical direction underneath is incredibly similar from one force to the next, with only a few somewhat gimmicky power boosts like the WAAAGH! towers to help one stand out from the next.
What’s more, quite a few old tactics have been artificially curbed, and you’ll find it’s actually impossible to rush an enemy base early on thanks to the massive defensive fortifications everyone starts with. You simply can’t overwhelm them without a massive force at your back, meaning you can win every early engagement with the enemy, but it means squat because you cannot press the attack. Plus, even some of those battles won’t rob an enemy of resources or truly hurt them. Some units need only to be bought once and can then respawn after a time for no extra cost, notably the big Knights everyone now has.
Do not misunderstand this review, Dawn of War III is still fun to play, but in comparison to its previous releases it just seems as if Relic are playing it safe. Most of the thrill you’re going to find lies in the story, visuals and lore over actual mechanics. There’s nothing nearly as ambitious or revolutionary as Retribution’s squad upgrade system or the original’s decision to remove the divide between exclusively ranged and melee units. Everything has been balanced to the point where it’s difficult to get any kind of major edge short of sheer unrelenting firepower, and it doesn’t seem to reward skill so much as the ability to simply build towards end-game units faster than the other guy. There’s just no risk here, and without that there’s no real sense of victory in multiplayer.
On the whole, if you’re someone who is after a solid Warhammer 40,000 campaign and little else you’ll definitely have some fun. Equally, if you’re someone who has typically avoided the RTS genre thanks to relentless zerg rushing with no opportunities to actually learn from your experiences, give it a look. For everyone else though, you might want to look into the likes of Sins of the Solar Empire, Ashes of the Singularity or Grey Goo.
DAWN OF WAR III / DEVELOPER: RELIC ENTERTAINMENT / PUBLISHER: SEGA / PLATFORMS: MICROSOFT WINDOWS / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW