There hasn’t been a new Warhammer 40,000: Dawn of War game in eight years. Dawn of War II launched in 2009, and the series went quiet following the dissolution of THQ. The franchise’s dormancy is coming to an end, however, with Warhammer 40,000: Dawn of War III. With original developer Relic Entertainment developing the title, Dawn of War III is the culmination of work and experience from the previous two games mashed together to make the ultimate RTS game. Finally, after all these years, a new Dawn of War rises, but is this a war you’ll want to participate in?
Warhammer 40,000: Dawn of War III’s campaign follows the Space Marines led by Blood Raven Chapter Master Gabriel Angelos, the Eldar led by Farseer Macha, and the Orks led by Gorgutz as the all clash on Cyprus Ultima. A legendary prophecy involving the Spear of Khaine has drawn all three armies to this planet, and their own individual fates. Dawn of War III’s campaign is filled with intrigue, espionage, betrayal, camaraderie, and a sprinkling of humor. The twists are easy to see coming, especially if you’re a fan of the lore, and the circumstances leading up to the final missions feel a bit forced like something one would find in a fan-fiction with an unsatisfying ending. Still, the campaign is entertaining, will keep your attention for over fifteen hours, and is the best tutorial one can play before jumping online.
While told in a linear fashion, the campaign’s chapters are split up to give each faction enough time in the spotlight. There is a total of seventeen chapters in Dawn of War III, and players will switch between the Space Marines, Orks, and Eldar with each chapter. It’s a clever way to give players experience with each of the races. The Space Marines and Eldar can be too serious most of the time, but the Orks, particularly Gorgutz, are just a blast to play thanks to their brand of humor. The writers and voice actors for the Orks nailed it.
The campaign ultimately serves as a tutorial for the rest of the game. Each chapter introduces new mechanics, Elites, and Doctrines related to each faction. By the time the credits roll, each player should have the fundamental knowledge to succeed in combat as any of the three factions.
Space Marines come adorned in ancient power armor. Though their numbers on the battlefield may be small, each battalion of troops can pack a punch. Unlike the other factions, Space Marines care capable of calling in reinforcements via drop pods, which, if properly aimed, can also deal massive damage to the enemy. Orks are brutal warriors that gain strength in numbers. With the power of their ‘WAAAAGH’ battle cry, a large army of Orks can quickly sweep away the enemy. They’re also great at utilizing scrap to build and upgrades units for cheap. Finally, there’s the Eldar, an ancient civilization that uses psychic abilities and very futuristic weaponry. They are the hit-and-run faction, capable of descending on unsuspecting enemies and then retreating into the Fog of War.
How you play will determine what faction is your favorite. Those who want a more rounded experience will be more apt to play as Space Marines. Anyone who likes to raise large armies and overwhelm enemies with a large force of enemies will like the Orks. If sabotage and striking from afar is your thing, then the Eldar are for you. Each faction is fun with its own units, Elites, super weapons, Doctrines, and mechanics. No matter who you choose, you won’t ever feel like you drew the short stick.
Fundamentally, anyone who has played an RTS game should be able to jump into Dawn of War III. The game is very much about managing squads of soldiers, collecting resources, and taking control of the map. The UI is clean, relegating most of the information to the sides of the screen, and displaying all your playable units at the bottom. Unlike other RTS games, players won’t be collecting resources through mining. Instead, players will need to battle and capture resource nodes across the map, which can be upgraded to provide more (blank) and energy over time. It’s an interesting change that encourages players to be more offensive at the start of the game rather than waiting at their base.
Dawn of War III takes the best elements of Dawn of War and Dawn of War II to make an experience that speaks to both players. From Dawn of War, players can build their bases anywhere, and build additional buildings elsewhere on the map. From Dawn of War II, players can take advantage of advanced AI, and an emphasis on taking cover and preserving your units. Players can have their units take cover at specific points on the map, giving their units considerable defensive bonuses. However, enemies do have means to retaliate, including units that can bypass those defenses.
Also from Dawn of War II is the focus on hero units. Known as Elites in Dawn of War III, these powerful units come equipped with special and passive abilities that can dramatically alter your playstyle. Players can take any three into a match (three per faction are unlocked from the get-go) but will need to spend Elite Points to summon them. Represented by a purple diamond, Elite Points accumulate over time, but, in multiplayer, can be farmed at resource nodes. The amount of points an Elite needs to be summoned will depend on their abilities, which make them early, mid, or late game entrants. Players will need to pick and choose Elites carefully, as they can make a big difference on the battlefield. A team made up of entirely late-game Elites can be a recipe for disaster.
It is with Elites where the majority of the game’s progression comes from. Each faction has about Elites that are locked and require Skulls to unlock. These can be earned by playing the campaign and multiplayer. Elites will gain experience for participating in battle, which grant players more Skulls, Doctrines, and eventually unlock an Elite’s mastery skin. Doctrines are passive abilities that provide battlefield bonuses and come in two flavors, Elite and Army. An Elite Doctrine is only usable when the Elite is on the field, but an Army Doctrine is available from the get-go. A good example of Gabriel Angelos’ Slam Barrier Doctrine, which gives Dreadnaughts’ Slam ability the power to put up a temporary barrier that absorbs shots. Elites are a fun addition, and learning which ones work best for your playstyle adds new layers of strategy.
Of course, an RTS game’s main attraction is the multiplayer, and Dawn of War III provides the tools for an in-depth experience. Players will be able to engage in 1v1, 2v2, and 3v3 matches across eight different maps against either AI or human players. This flexibility is great, giving players the opportunity to take the fight straight to other players or fine-tune their skills against AI opponents.
A multiplayer match boils down to two teams facing off against each other and trying to destroy their opponent’s Power Core. To do that, both teams will need to do a little legwork. Players will first need to destroy their opponents Shield Generators, then they’re Turrets, and then they will get access the Power Core. Destroying the core is the only way to end the match. All the while, a select number of resource nodes are made available, which leads to a mad dash to control them and get as many units on the field as possible. Dawn of War III’s multiplayer is an intense experience that will truly test a player’s knowledge of their faction, but we do wish there were more victory conditions. While the current model is fun, it would have been nice to see some additional game modes like destroying the main fortress ending the battle.
Warhammer 40,000: Dawn of War III’s presentation is one of splendor. Maps and units are well detailed with some extraordinary animation work. Also impressive are the numerous effects that litter the screen at any given time. Watching a Wraithlord go up against an Imperial Knight is a spectacular sight. Less spectacular are the cutscenes, which are just still images with some voice-over and only a bit of animation. They’re lifeless with a dull narrator. At least the briefings at the beginning and end of each chapter have a bit more personality thanks to some solid voice work. Though the writing can be corny at times, the actors do their best to ham it up. The Orks, in particular, are excellent at this.
A new Dawn of War has risen, and it’s an exciting return from a long dormant franchise. Warhammer 40,000: Dawn of War III successfully takes the best elements from the previous two games and blends them with traditional RTS mechanics to create a game with deep strategic gameplay. The campaign, which ultimately serves as a glorified tutorial, is entertaining and lengthy enough to keep players hooked for hours even though it’s predictable. The focus on Elite units differentiates Dawn of War III from its competitors by introducing a new sense of depth and progression into the game. Multiplayer is as strong as it has ever been, and players will be immediately sucked into it as they seek to dominate their opponents with their favorite factions. It would have been nice to have more victory conditions than the one we’re presented, but the one we have is still capable of soaking up a dangerous amount of time from players. Warhammer 40,000: Dawn of War III has risen, and the time of Space Marine, Eldar, and Ork has begun.