Will I Find Purpose?
Although Warhammer 40k has been a fixture in gamer culture since the eighties, this is my first earnest introduction to it. Sure I had those friends in days gone by who were avid fans of the setting, but I never had the time or the money for the investment that was Warhammer 40k. By the time that Warhammer 40,000: Dawn of War emerged it was 2004 and I had already fallen out of love with the Real Time Strategy style of game.
But here we are, and these old bones are about to get crushed under the weight of the heresy.
Since I dread the mockery of my much younger gaming peers, I started with the single player campaign mode. With little but a passing knowledge of the setting, learned mostly through nerd osmosis, I dove in to the murky depths of my first RTS since I was told I couldn’t play Zerg in the original Starcraft.
Bitter? No, of course not, that’s just sea salt.
However there was one thing making me nervous about this game, and that’s the stark difference between the critical and consumer reactions. It is fairly vast at the writing of this article, so I think it’s important to know this review comes from a near-completely fresh set of eyes on the series. I’ve not played the predecessors and as such, I’ll taking this game on its own merits without any comparison to previous games in the series. That said, I hope you will find it informed enough that you’ll be able to draw your own comparisons.
Warhammer 40,000: Dawn of War 3 is the latest in a series of popular Real Time Strategy games put out by Relic Entertainment and published by Sega. Currently it sits at a modest price of 59.99 USD. So we’ll be digging out the old man glasses and taking a gander to see if it’s worth the cost of admission.
So, this doesn’t seem to be a popular thing in any series right now. But I like it. This game seems very friendly to new players and first timers. There are some control issues. Personally, I found the three part tutorial very simple and I was able to get in and start playing the single player campaign with no problems. All the fiddly bits came out as I played and read more. There are conflicting feelings about the single player game and this old dog doesn’t want to steer the young pups wrong.
While I’ll talk about it in greater depth further on, I found the single player interesting enough to keep me engaged. Still, it felt somewhat bare bones – it’s clear the devs’ focus was on multiplayer for this release, so people here looking for a deep, immersive story maybe a bit let down.
While I am not experienced in the realm of MOBA’s it is clear that the Multiplayer is veering away from traditional RTS games and leaning more heavily into the popularity of the MOBA genre. To be fair, while doing this article I discovered these new-fangled ‘Multiplayer Online Battle Arena’ games were just what I would have called an ‘Action Real Time Strategy’ back in the day, though the emphasis is on destroying a specific structure or building rather than the wholesale destruction of all of your enemies’ units like in the RTS games I played of old. Similar enough, though – the roots are there.
Basically, if you are looking for something like a Starcraft 2? You may want to keep looking.
As the Prophecy Foretold
When the DoW3 cinematic trailer dropped, it got my attention. It was being posted everywhere, friends were sharing it, people were excited. So I watched it and, well, I got excited too. I didn’t know what kind of game it was, when it was being released, or anything about the lore. But the trailer did its job and got my interest.
Then comes launch day. I had learned more about the game, and boy was I nervous about jumping back in to an RTS. But those visuals. I wanted to see that on my screen. I wanted hordes of orks fighting space marines, and you know, what ever those boney looking pointy headed folks were. And mostly, I kinda got what I wanted.
Once in the game, I remembered that this was neither an Action-RPG, nor an RTS of the sort I used to play. The lack of a distance zoom option really hampered my ability to get a scope of the field, I always was just kind of at arms length with the game. Close enough to see my elites, but not far enough to feel I was playing a strategy game. Despite those issues, I loved the look and feel of the game. The graphics were above average, the voice acting was great, and the orks are absolutely delightful. I haven’t been so entertained by green skins since I played Middle Earth: Shadow of Mordor.
While the story was simple and lacks great amounts of depth or twists, it was easy to enjoy. I didn’t feel excluded. That can happen a lot with established and rich franchises, where you can sit down and play but get the feeling that everything is going over your head. Suddenly it’s “who is that” and “what are those guys” or “I am afraid and there are wolves.”
This game got me interested in Warhammer 40,000 in a way that my enthusiast friends had failed to do for years. I wanted to know more of the world, beyond the simple single player campaign.
The Blood and Guts
Players will, generally speaking, have the choice of three different factions: The Space Marines, The Orks, and the Eldar.
The Space Marines are your zealous humanity-first “suffer not the xenos to live” servants of the God-Emperor. They are mechanically straight forward and are in my opinion the best starter race to play.
The Orks are the big, aggressive scavengers of the world. Obsessed with getting more of everything, they are fantastic with horde battle mechanics and their interesting ability to upgrade through having a unit scavenge through junk is really fun.
Finally the Eldar. I didn’t want to like the stupid boney space elves, but they became my favourite. The ability to network bases as warp points and also straight up building teleportation sold me. Mobility is key to me in most games, regardless of genre.
So, off the bat, the controls are not good. Not at all. Worse still, they defy what I recall as standard RTS setup and refuse to let you rebind. There is no real indication of why they wouldn’t allow something as standard as keybinding. Regardless if this is played single player, co-op or competitive – players want to customize their controls. I can barely think of any tactical game in the past decade that I haven’t fiddled with the controls or UI in someway so I could play the game the most comfortable way for my style.
While in the game, I have little issue with the UI – in fact, I can think of some tiny little features I liked. I was able to quickly understand that I could access my buildings, and thus their troop productions, with an easy to recognize button near the top left of my main interface. The icons, even for the different races, were so easy that even an aged newbie like myself could pick up on them quickly. However, the UI for the menus getting into the game are a different matter. I found them slow to load, despite getting 60 fps while playing.
It also took me sometime to realize how to actually buy doctrines, and there was no clear way to sort them, which made investigating them all a bit of a chore. Even then, I had a few dumb moments where I struggled to even equip doctrines. [Editor’s Note: I received a review copy of the game as well, and despite playing through all the tutorials I had no idea what doctrines were nor how to equip them. This may or may not have played a factor in Old Man Mordaith trouncing me during our multiplayer match together.] Making the main menus a bit more intuitive could go a long way, new players like myself can get turned off if we can’t figure out how to turn it on.
As far as the all important resource generation is concerned, I was a bit confused. I couldn’t build my own resources generators? I had to take over particular resource nodes, defend them from my foes, and upgrade their defenses and capabilities. Well fine then, make me work for it. Yes, at first I was very soured at this way of doing things. But I came to appreciate it greatly as I got further into the game.
Combat itself is a pretty simple affair. Box select troops, move them around as individuals, or create custom groups. The entire troop management was really well done, while I may not be a fan of the control layout, and I really wanted to customize them, I quickly found myself flitting between setting up defensive choke points and rolling around the battle field making sure all my little humies were doing fine. I often get overwhelmed by these sorts of games, but I found myself getting into this very quickly. While by no means am I cam tactical master in this game, I felt playing still rewarding and fun.
Rewarding as well, was understanding the simple differences and unique abilities of each faction. However, on the frustrating side of things was figuring out the abilities of the various elite units. I see some general dislike among fans over the elites, and they are not above reproach. But all in all I liked them. Selecting them and making sure they were going along with the rest of your troops often was a pain. You would select them mostly by hitting the preassigned hotkey to do so.
Finally, one thing that struck me, and maybe this is more of a standard now that us old foogies don’t get, and that is capture points. I am familiar with them in my various First Person Shooter games, but I do not recall them being part of the RTS genre back in the Starcraft days. I liked the mechanic. It was pretty easy to understand, and it added a bit more strategy to the game than just “bowl over the enemy.” You needed to destroy any defenses established there, then remove it from enemy hands, and finally capture for yourself.
The story, the spectacle, and the setting. These things all tie nicely into the Warhammer 40,000: Dawn of War 3 single player campaign. However, problems start to arise when the initial adrenaline wears off. While I enjoy the story, learning about the wonderful creatures of the Warhammer universe, and the writing and voice acting are all decent, there is a sneaky feeling about. A horrible sneaky feeling. That feeling that the single player campaign is just an extended tutorial to get you playing multiplayer.
And honestly, that is not a bad thing if that was the only issue. In fact, I’d be mostly okay with it. My largest problem of their approach to the campaign design is that you are playing one large story, and as such you can not just choose a faction to play. You need to play the faction they choose for you as the missions crop up.
It was the most disappointing thing about the single-player campaign to me, as a new player. I wanted to dive right in playing Orks, learning about all the mechanics I couldn’t figure out during the three part tutorial, and then master those mechanics. However, as we were forced to jump around from faction to faction, as a novice, I couldn’t get a handle on any of the larger mechanics. By the end of a map I started to get a hand on somethings, then by the next, I was forced to mingle with these other factions new mechanics.
There is limited replayability in single player mode. Very limited – mostly just dependent on which of the difficulties you choose to play on. I assume the harder the difficulty and the more freedom a mission offers, the more replay value you may find. That being said, as a whole, the single player does not offer much for those that want to do it all over again.
Get the Boyz
I was hesitant with multiplayer. While I do play some online multiplayer games, none are as fast-paced as I often perceive an RTS to be. So, fortune turned for me as my editor climbed into some Space Marine armor and grumbled his way in to the fray with me. We both had zero experience in the DoW series and our RTS training was long out of shape. So, we were a fairly even match. Except I knew about the Doctrine system. Which gave me a slight edge.
So it is a pretty simple formula. Build your troops, advance on enemy base, trash enemy base. Except there are somethings here I didn’t recognize. First, the game passes through four escalation phases – each phase has a different set of modifiers that impact resources, building hit points, and other mechanics of the game. This was pretty cool, I like a dynamic field of play. It would have been more entertaining if each faction had its own escalation rules, or maybe if your doctrines could have altered or replaced aspects of an escalation phase. (Actually, the latter might already be the case, but I didn’t see any evidence of it.)
The second thing I didn’t recognize were the attack points. First you needed to take out the shield generators, then you had to tactfully take out their turrets, then you could finally move on to the main base. Now, I’ve seen this compared unfavourably to how MOBA’s operate, but I had a lot of fun with it. I look back to my days of Starcraft and wonder – if the game had been set up with such goals, if I would have still been playing by beloved Zerg?
So the fight was upon us. The vastly inferior Blood Ravens decide to use their stealth units to take as many resource nodes as soon as they could. My fantastically superior Eldar only discovered this after establishing some more infrastructure and started upgrading. Some mistakes were made on both sides. My opponent and I both were nearly or completely wiped out a few times. After a 37 minute or so skirmish I was victorious. And it was really satisfying. When my massive elite unit came in to take out the undefended enemy turret with a mighty leap, I was really getting excited.
So accessibility in the game is important to me, and while it stumbles to make some mechanics clear (notably doctrines), the multiplayer is fun – at least when you are playing with someone of a similar skill level. A pair of interesting things to note with multiplayer, finding and holding a resource node that generates Elite points is so important. The site of the lone Elite point generator on our small map saw several fights for control and it passed hands multiple times.
Another thing I liked, and it only comes in to the multiplayer category by virtue that the option is located under the multiplayer menu, is the ability to set up solo matches vs the AI. I can not explain how important this is for me. I love games where you can fight AI bots to improve your skills without the stress of being yelled at by other players. If I am able to rise above my filthy casual level, I may actually play against strangers with this one.
The Setting Sun
So I went into this not knowing how it would pan out for me. There was a lot of dread involved; I hate taking on a game that I feel like I may not be the target audience for. And maybe I’m not part of the die hard fan base of the Dawn of War series, but I felt like I was for sure part of the target audience. This game welcomes new players, albeit with rather awkward and clumsy arms. It gives the tools for newbies to learn the game, and while some instruction was lacking, it did a good job on me overall.
If you are looking for something that strikes an RTS chord but leans into the realm of MOBA’s for a few things, or if you are just looking to get into something a bit more fast paced and has a great multiplayer, this is going to be up your alley.
If you are just looking for a clone of the early games in the series, it doesn’t look like you’ll be getting it. Many old fans of the series are looking at some of the changes with disapproval. For sure don’t get this if you are looking for faction-based campaigns or a deep and riveting story.
That said, the graphics are good, the multiplayer is good, and it captures the bizarre world of Warhammer 40k very well. And I wound up liking dirty space elves way more than I wanted to.
The game struggles in the single player capacity and some poor design choices, but the multiplayer is very rewarding – plus I really like the doctrine system.
Rating – 8/10
Reviewed by Old Man Mordaith
Edited by Jesse Roberts
This game was received for free for purposes of review.