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Warhammer 40,000: Dawn of War III Review - Something old, something new

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I have been a fan of the Dawn of War series so far and love the universe that these series of games take place in. I was eagerly awaiting to see where this third instalment would take me. Warhammer 40,000: Dawn of War III, developed by Relic Entertainment and Published by SEGA, delivers an experience both familiar and new for RTS fans to enjoy.

As is “normal” in the Warhammer 40K universe, the Imperium of Man continues to fight against the forces of Chaos, the Xenos, heresy and corruption that threatens Mankind from both without and within. The beginning of this tale once again reunites us with now Chapter-Master Gabriel Angelos of the Blood Raven Space Marines, who has come to the rescue of Lady Solaria of the Knight world of Cyprus Ultima defying orders from Imperial Inquisitor Holt. The Orks invaded due to their desire for scrap (more on this later) and the simple joy that fighting brings these monstrous beings. Meanwhile, the Eldar have also surfaced from one of their Craftworlds. These three factions are in search of a legendary artefact, said to be on a wandering rogue planet, about to emerge from the Warp around Cyprus Ultima, called Acheron.

In addition to Angelos from the Blood Ravens, other notable characters have been re-introduced from previous titles in the series, including Ork Warboss Gorgutz, as well as the Eldar Farseer Macha, who have significant roles in the single-player campaign.

PC Specifications

  • Processor: Intel i5 4690k
  • Motherboard: Gigabyte Z97X U3DH
  • Memory: 16GB Samsung DDR3 1600 Memory (4x4 layout)
  • Storage: Samsung Evo 840 SSD + 1TB Seagate Hybrid HDD
  • Power Supply: Corsair HX-620 Modular PSU
  • Display: 2x Dell U2412M
  • Display drivers: Radeon Crimson 17.4.3, GeForce 382.05
  • OS: Windows 10 Pro 64-bit, version 1703 (Creators Update)
  • Graphics card(s): Asus RoG Strix nVidia GTX 1080ti, Asus RoG Strix AMD RX580, nVidia GTX970…

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Came for the story, stayed for the Orks!

The single-player story and campaign are told in a series of missions, swapping between the factions with each new mission. This is a notable departure from the previous games, where expansions in the past games would include a dedicated campaign of some sort to play, most notably in the first DoW. This can be a bit distracting as it makes getting back into the swing of the DoW strategy mindset difficult. Starcraft 2 also did this with some missions during the three set-piece campaigns, but it felt like a change of pace mixing it up this way; I’ve found this to be very jarring here in Dawn of War 3, especially since the playstyle for the three factions are vastly different.

Gameplay and base building

Dawn of War 3 plays similarly to the first Dawn of War while taking in some lessons learned from the second. Units are typically created from player-placed structures (Imperial Barracks, da boyz’ hut, <eldar thingy>, etc) and sent on to go beat the #$%@ out of your opponents; both in single and multiplayer modes. Structure roles have been simplified and functions are generally similar across all factions: One infantry building, one vehicle building, one defensive structure, one upgrades building, etc. Building more unit-producing buildings of course works, allowing you to crank out more units if you have the necessary resources.

Gameplay typically revolves around infantry and mechanised units. While there isn’t a specific thing that says so, it feels to me that if your unit production has ramped up to produce mechanised units and a general “tiering up” to produce the shinier units available to you, the game is generally in your favour faster. There is one specific counter to this, the so-called Elite units, which I’ll cover later.

Each of the three factions has different gameplay mechanics, not just related to the fact that they have separate units. The Space Marines haven’t changed much from previous iterations – build the unit, build upgrade structure, upgrade military tier, push button for an upgrade, newer units available (and some extra things that were previously locked on existing units), keep going and repeat the cycle. The Orks, on the other hand, have a lovely new system with their scrap collection mechanic – the defensive WAAAAGH! banner structure also periodically produces scrap which can be harvested by your units to both buff stats and grant new abilities.

If Ork structures are destroyed, they can usually be rebuilt very quickly with the builder unit, or otherwise repurposed into another unit at a fraction of the cost. Ork units tend to be fragile, but can be created very quickly. Eldar tends to be difficult (for me at least) to play, but some of their advantages include base relocation (like the Terrans from the Starcraft universe) and unit teleportation through the web gateway network, which must be built, like, everywhere.

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I apologise that I’m light on info about the Eldar, but space elves leave me gassy…

Resources are handled, once again, in the form of capturing strategic points on the game's map, both in single- and multiplayer. Unlike more “traditional” RTS titles that require resources to be harvested or otherwise retrieved, the biggest difference here is that players need to capture and hold “strategic” points around the map, which once captured, will provide the player with a steady stream of “Requisition” and “Power”, which is then used to build units for your army. This is different from the previous titles as BOTH requisition and power are now harvested from points; previously one had to build power-generating structures at ones’ base. These can be augmented by building upgrades on the point, in addition to a defensive “listening tower” to make strategic point capture more difficult for opponents.

Map-based defensive and offensive advantages have been significantly simplified versus previous titles. Previously, if your army was forming a water body, this would result in a temporary nerf in armour as your units were considered vulnerable, or conversely, taking cover in a bomb crater would give your units a defensive buff. Now, this mechanic has largely been removed, replaced with specifically designated and marked “bunkers” which can be occupied by (ideally) long-range units. The quickest way to break this is to send a melee-based counter in to remove them – for example, an Ork Shoota squad has captured one of these points, counter this with a squad of <not tactical> Space Marines with a jump boost to close in and scatter them with a quick stun. Line-of-sight mechanics hasn’t changed much and some thought can be put into not engaging an enemy immediately if stealth is required to pass onto a different target.

Other than that, there really isn’t any new mechanic that stands out that is innovative, revolutionary, or seriously hampering that I saw while playing.

About Elite Units

Whether playing single or multiplayer games, each victory or loss rewards players with “skulls” as a currency, which can be used to unlock new so-called Elite Units. These are featured in the single-player campaign; as an example, Gabriel Angelos and Gorgutz are considered elite units. While Elite Units within the single-player is more to drive the single-player story, in multiplayer they can be summoned into play with various unique abilities, such as the Gorgutz’ claw jump and defensive claw swing, or the Eldar unit‘s spear which can be thrown, and subsequently detonated to stun a target area. As these units progress, some of the elites’ passive abilities can be turned into an Army-wide doctrine, rather than a skill requiring this elite unit to be present for a particular game.

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Still early on, with my basic selection of Space Marine Elites

Graphics

For those new to the Warhammer 40k universe, game art is a heavy gothic architecture theme, and decay, and destruction... Everything from a human source is gothic, old and usually wrecked. It’s a wonderful world to live in…

For gameplay graphics, Relic has once again put it out there with their violent, grizzly and gory mechanics that everything will tear everything else apart in a usually spectacularly bloody spectacle. This is something that cannot be readily described, if you haven’t seen it before in a Warhammer 40k setting, so, just have a look at it. Unit dismemberment is a thing, and the game have done this beautifully.

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Shiny from afar, also shiny up close

Dawn of War III also includes a graphical benchmarking tool, which I accidentally discovered while tiring for one evening of working on the RX580 review, which is a great way to tweak what you see. It works quite well predicting what your FPS is going to be before even running the benchmark itself.

Multiplayer and Skirmish

Multiplayer and solo skirmish modes function in much the same manner. In either case, the match revolves around the sequential destruction of an opponents’ shield generator, energy turret and eventually the power core. Depending on the map layout, there may be multiple pairs of shield generators and turrets, but always a single power core. Each one of these structures has to be destroyed in sequence, preventing rush tactics and generally ensuring that there is a full escalation of units per game. This is the Warhammer 40k universe, it would be unseemingly if one were to not experience the full range of destruction that this universe can offer.

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Stupid Space Elves! Green is Best! Orks! Orks! Orks! Orks!

There is also an “escalation” mode built into multiplayer. At pre-set times the game will escalate, which will increase the rate of requisition acquisition; this is meant to intensify and… escalate the game by allowing quicker resolution of any given match.

Impressions and Conclusion

You get those odd people that really like to sink themselves into the universes of the stories the like to follow. For myself and a few others, the Warhammer 40,000 universe is one of these. It’s beautiful and terrible at the same time, following an extended story of corruption, deception, betrayal and yet triumph, but at a terrible cost. It is this story that keeps me playing this game, rather than its own merits.

I don’t know how to properly enunciate that this game somehow feels shallower than its predecessors. There’s certainly nothing wrong with the production value that has gone into this title, you can see, hear and feel it is a top-tier title (unlike some of the other Warhammer licensed titles), and Relic Entertainment are not slouches when it comes to this, they KNOW their strategy games (Homeworld, Company of Heroes, the previous Dawn of War titles). Something just feels… off. Like those Thursdays that some people can’t grasp and get around.

Everything that has been woven into this game and on an individual level everything is just fine, I like the tiered objective approach to multiplayer, it extends the match and allows players to fully utilise their arsenal without necessarily dragging it out. Cover mechanics, while simplified, make sense and don’t necessarily cause a problem in gameplay, and does provide a tactical advantage (or disadvantage, depending on perspective). Graphics are amazing as always from Relic titles; attention to detail at both the micro and macro levels is superb. Single-player story progression and unfolding is good; Elite units and how they factor into your overall strategy is great.

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The shiny units are shiny though...

If you’re new to the DoW series, then this is as good as any place to start – the game is great, and I highly recommend it on its merits when NOT compared to its predecessors. Yet somehow, something feels wrong when standing shoulder to shoulder with its siblings. I can’t help but feel that the subtle nuances that made the previous games as awesome as they were, were lost when making DoW.

I believe this knowledge is giving me a severe case of rose-tinted shades and making me judge Warhammer 40,000: Dawn of War III unfairly. Somehow, everything combined just makes me feel as if this game, “smells of heresy, and needs some more DAKKA!”. This is the problem – that statement will make sense to a veteran of the Dawn of War series.

So, if the statement doesn’t make sense, then Dawn of War III is just what you’re looking for if you’re yearning to try a new strategy game. However, if it DOES make sense, be warned, you may be in for some disappointment.

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"If you’re new to the DoW series, then this is as good as any place to start"

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