Warhammer 40,000: Dawn of War III is the latest offering from real-time strategy stalwarts Relic. A follow-up to the popular Dawn of War II, the third instalment of this franchise takes clear inspiration from the popular MOBA games of the day in an attempt to change things up.
Pick a side.
I have a passing understanding of the Warhammer 40,000 universe, albeit nothing one would consider remotely in depth: I hold a basic familiarity with the world setting and the warring factions therein. It is possible a complete newcomer might struggle to find a foothold in such a vast universe, but by and large, I felt the game was pretty accessible right off the bat – especially for anyone who has played a lot of RTS games.
Dawn of War III’s three factions are all comprised of units which are appreciably distinct. The Orks are more ‘tank’ like and deploy overwhelming numbers, the Space Marines are a useful ‘all-rounder’ with powerful technology, and the Eldar are a more mobile, ranged race most effective at hit-and-run tactics. I genuinely found each of these factions enjoyable to play. Mastering the nuances and effective strategies for each race will certainly provide the player with a challenge.
The game comes with a very basic tutorial, sufficient for equipping total newcomers with the bare bones knowledge required to play. However, Relic’s strong campaign does a great job of building on this and, indeed, almost serves as an expanded tutorial in and of itself. For example, through the first three missions the player is charged with taking command of each of game’s races, thereby usefully gaining instant familiarity with each faction.
The campaign itself is both thorough and gratifying, offering scenarios such as seek and destroy and defensive-based missions. While the campaign doesn’t offer too much in the way of variety (or, indeed, a particularly gripping or original story), the seventeen missions are still intense and exciting. They also work to effectively solidify the player’s overall understanding of strategy, game mechanics and unit management.
Dawn of War III’s Elites – all-powerful, heroic units – add another dimension to the overall gameplay experience. Again, each of these units is satisfactorily distinct from the other. While they feel a little overpowered when marauding the battlefield, Elites possess an array of active and passive abilities. As such, they operate as a central facet to Dawn of War III’s overall battle mechanics, and thus must be astutely managed and defended against by the player. Elites can also be collected and upgraded by purchasing new ‘doctrines’ for them via the in-game Skull currency, which allows the player to adjust the loadouts of particular Elites.
MOBA-lize the troops.
Relic have clearly endeavoured to shift Dawn of War’s multiplayer so that it more closely aligns with popular contemporary MOBA titles such as DOTA and League of Legends. It’s a bold move, given that this shift in focus is likely to alienate some fans of the franchise regardless of how successful it is.
The MOBA impact is clear in Dawn of War III’s primary (and currently only) multiplayer mode, Power Core. While players are still required to acquire resources, accumulate units and base-build, they must also accomplish three victory conditions for a win: destroying an opponent’s protective shield generators and turrets before finally taking out the power core itself. Familiarity with Elite units is therefore essential, as they wield significant influence over the tide of battle.
The game’s overall presentation is also gorgeous, featuring a nice level of detail to all of the units, smooth animations and an overall aesthetic that is extremely polished. In addition, Dawn of War III comes with an ‘Army Painter’ feature, which utilises a variety of Warhammer 40,000 paints and allows the player to customise their army as they see fit.
Waaagh, waagh, waaaaaagh.
One immediately noticeable negative is the fact that map and menu navigation is frustratingly cumbersome at times. Dawn of War III, for example, recommends the player ‘save often’ due to the tides of battle changing quickly. However, there is no auto-save feature, nor even – absurdly – a quick-save mechanism.
The game also has a relatively steep learning curve. Ultimately, Dawn of War III rewards the studious player – while this isn’t necessarily a bad thing, it may alienate players who do not have the time or focus to truly master all of the various units and stratagems, and simply want to dive into a few skirmishes from time to time.
Finally, as cool and fun to wield as they are, Elites have a tendency to frequently threaten the overall balance of the game. These heroes really are incredibly powerful, and Dawn of War III too-often comes dangerously close to overstepping that delicate balance between a particular Elite unit being ‘formidable’ versus ‘game-breaking.’
Roll with it.
Dawn of War III certainly isn’t the type of sequel that fans of the series may have anticipated, albeit it is still a title that is faithful to the Warhammer franchise. However, Relic’s gamble of adapting their franchise in a way that more closely aligns with the popular MOBAs of the day has largely paid off, even if the game does suffer from a bit of an identity crisis in the process. It was a brave, risk/reward move – while it may disappoint some fans, it will certainly gain others and gives the series a fresh look rather than replicating more of the same.
Review copy of game provided by publisher.