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Dawn of War III Review

As an avid Warhammer fan, I have naturally played the Dawn of War series. I primarily played the first DoW and completed the campaigns for all the races including those added later in the Winter Assault, Dark Crusade and (throws up slightly in own mouth) Soul Storm.

The second in the series, aptly named Dawn of War 2, was primarily focused on the story, having stupid amounts of large mission areas to base the stupid amounts of missions on that are in the game. Not that that’s a bad thing, it was a completely different beast to the first game. Where the first game was first and foremost an RTS at heart with a touch of RPG-ness, the second significantly amped up its RPG qualities. In DoW2, you levelled up not only your main character (the leader of the faction you choose to play), but all your other secondary characters, meaning you formed some attachment to them. With the original DoW, you could play one of several race campaigns one at a time, each one telling a story, however in DoW 2 you could only play the Space Bro faction, in particular the Blood Ravens, high-fiving your way through the sector and stealing everyone’s relics and generally behaving like you’re in a drunken frat house…the dirty thieving crows…

Don’t we all?

In the campaign, each chapter you play as features a different race, those being the Space Marines, Eldar and Orkz. Each race you play as offering differing perspectives on the same core story. The Space Marine chapter you play initially has you once again taking up the mantle of the Blood Ravens, and naturally you are after an artefact or relic. The Inquisition turn up and are characteristically quiet about what they are doing, the Eldar are salty about the Blood Ravens going after the relic (it’s naturally an Eldar Relic) and the Orkz? Well, they just want to beat the hell out of everyone.

The story starts fairly strong where the Space Bros are mid-battle with the Orkz, when the Eldar show up talking about prophecies of something coming (DoW 2 called, it wants its story line back), and how they used to be all powerful and how sad they are now. It’s typical Warhammer 40K fare, nothing ground-breaking or innovative but it gets the job done and provides good context for the unfolding action.

Enter Wraithlord

Make Total Destroy

The original Dawn of War games had a classic frantic RTS feel to them; capturing points, reinforcing points, building units, upgrading buildings and units, defending your base and assaulting enemies were the flavour of the day, and multitasking was essential. Oddly, Dawn of War 3 feels quite slow in comparison, especially the rate at which you gain precious resources. At times I tabbed out of the game in order to let resources stock up, only to tab back in to build three units and tab out again because, even with all the resource point upgrades, it still feels so damn slow. In the time it has taken me to write this paragraph, with four resource points fully upgraded, I can make one tank and three basic units. Dawn of War 3 really brings the ‘Real Time’ into Real Time Strategy. Comparing to the first game again, I used to play Necrons (yeah I was one of those people). The thing with Necrons (in the Dark Crusade expansion) was that they were slow. You needed to capture and hold a certain amount of resource points to be able to move, build and upgrade at normal speed. DoW 3 is slower still, even playing as Orkz, who are the Warhammer equivalents of Cockney rabbits.

There is, on the other hand, a smattering of resource caches around each map. If you go out of your way to collect as many of these as you can you will be able to build just fine, as long as you can get to them. These caches can be life savers, but when you are already low on resources and Orkz are constantly dropping in on your base behind you, your forces AND resources will suffer very quickly.

Dawn of War 3 is trying hard to be better than its predecessors, mixing the large scale battles of the first game with the RPG aspects of the second. Both aspects are good, but it doesn’t seem focused. You can see the intent, but juggling unit customisability with gameplay appears to be a bit of a struggle. I imagine conversations in the office happening in two separate rooms, where the first room held the RTS crew trying to make an RTS, and the second the RPG crew, listening in on what the other team are saying: “Did they say tank? How can we customise a tank?” “Let’s do it outside of the mission as a pre-mission setup, were the player won’t know what to expect in the next mission so they can only take a guess at what they might need!” “Make them buy the upgrades with a brand new currency called Skulls that are meaningless!”

Dawn of War 3 is trying hard to be better than its predecessors, mixing the large scale battles of the first game with the RPG aspects of the second. Both aspects are good, but it doesn’t seem focused.

Out of mission you can set up ‘Army Doctrines’ that allow you to customise the way you play your next mission (kind of) and select your elite units for the mission. Army Doctrines include things like increasing unit and building health, shield increase or extra abilities for one unit type. You can only choose 3 Doctrines out of 30, so most of them will go to waste, and only a few actually seem useful, making a lot of them outright redundant. The trade-off seems very heavy when you can only choose one unit upgrade, one vehicle upgrade and one building upgrade.

Beside normal units, there are more powerful elite units you can deploy, and you can choose these (to an extent) to align with a certain playstyle. Some of them are geared towards stealth while some are just brute force characters. Your first elite unit is predefined depending on the race you happen to be playing, and the second is one of a few story characters. The choices are limited though, with the second often only having a small pool to choose from. The only time you really have expanded choice is with the third elite, but really they are only normal units that have slightly more health and maybe an ability or two.

Meeting of giant mechs called to order

The end is nigh

The best thing about the gameplay is the large battles you get to take part in. Seeing Eldar Wraithlords sprint into the fray, dragging their swords through swathes of enemies is spectacular, and this is just one of the great bits of chaos you can create. It’s a very flashy game, and it’s clear that a lot of time and love has been put into bringing the hallowed source material’s denizens to life.

On the technical side, I had a passing issue with controls, where my mouse and keyboard functionality were basically switched. The only thing I could do was use the ‘AWDS’ keys to move the map, and the mouse could only select units and access the menu. Infuriating, to say the least, but this issue eventually stopped occurring. The always-online nature of the experience (which continues to be a bad idea) can also cause some frustration. At one point I was over half way through a mission playing as Eldar, and I was unceremoniously disconnected from the server, and promptly booted from my game straight back to the main menu and was forced to reconnect, having lost all my progress in that mission.

While to me single-player is the main event in a Dawn of War game, there is of course online multiplayer as well. While I can see some of the appeal, it’s not really my cup of tea. Earlier I said Dawn of War 3 was trying hard to be an RTS/RPG hybrid. In multiplayer it’s trying to be a MOBA on top of that. You build your base and units, upgrade them and attack the enemy, though instead of attacking the enemy head on like other classic RTS games, you need to first destroy Shield Generators and Turrets that are placed in front of the enemy base. Once you have destroyed those, you need to destroy…their Core. It’s like they made multiplayer with eSports in mind but forgot what genre of game they had made. If it was classic MOBA style, with creep waves controlled by AI and you only controlled champions, then I could understand it, but this is an RTS, and I just couldn’t reconcile all the moving parts. Multiplayer still suffers the same resource drought that the campaign does, and there’s also a dearth of maps and modes which makes the multiplayer on the leaner side content-wise.

Final Thoughts

DoW3 is a relatively solid RTS, but personally I don’t think it compares to DoW1 or DoW2. While battles are spectacular to look at, slow resource management, questionable income to unit cost ratio and a tendency to get bogged down in its customisability elements means the pieces don’t completely come together. If some of these criticisms seem harsh, it’s only because its predecessors set the bar so high. When all’s said and done, fans of the Dawn of War series and the Warhammer 40K universe in general will find a lot to love here.