Warhammer 40,000 games have been going since at least the early 1990s, and most of them have had some manner of strategic bent as a nod to their tabletop wargaming roots. The latest game, Warhammer: Dawn of War III, sees a return to the RTS roots of the original Dawn of War, ditching some of the RPG elements of the prior game. Grab your armour and weapons, and let’s get ready to kick some Ork butt. Or Eldar butt if that’s what you prefer.
If you’ve never delved into Warhammer before, you have a lot of catching up to do. There is so much lore involved that it’s almost intimidating. In any event, the main campaign story involves the fight over a legendary weapon, the Spear of Khaine, being located on planet Acheron. Naturally, all three factions involved—The Space Marines, the Eldar, and the Orks—all want a piece of it without giving quarter to the others. The battle is going to be furious and bloody, but does the fight for Acheron’s treasure hold more in store for everyone than they had bargained for?
If you played Warcraft 3, you’ll be almost immediately familiar with Dawn of War III, since they share many characteristics in common. Dawn of War III is an RTS game with the now-familiar hero characters in play for each faction—called “Elites” here. Many of the usual RTS tropes are here: base building, resource gathering (in the forms of power and requisition), and churning out armies while learning the niggles and intricacies of using each faction. Honestly, it had been a while since I’d played anything more complex than Command and Conquer, so it took me a while to sink my teeth back into Dawn of War III. Bear in mind that the last game, Warhammer: Dawn of War II, was released back in 2009, and that many of the Warhammer-branded games released since have been shooters.
The weirdest part of the campaign mode is that you don’t get to choose a faction and play it, honing your ability to use the various units and idiosyncrasies. Nope! First you control the space marines, then the Orks, then the Eldar, and then wash, rinse, repeat for seventeen missions. It feels a little more haphazard to start with, but given the way the story plays out, it makes a little sense. That’s not to say that the story couldn’t have been portrayed better, but it works. Be prepared to set aside blocks of time for the missions, though, because some of them will have you battling it out for several hours. The campaign can easily take in excess of 20 hours to finish.
After going through all the tutorials and the campaign, I felt I was ready to hit up the online component, which comes off as more of a MOBA than an RTS battle. The object of the mode (yes, one mode is all you get) is to take down your opponents’ power cores. You have a choice of 1-vs-1, 2-vs-2, or 3-vs-3 battles and this last one gets chaotic. My poor PC was struggling to handle that kind of game, sadly. Is Dawn of War III telling me it’s time to upgrade my GPU? Perhaps.
Multiplayer mode is where I started running into interesting problems with the way Dawn of War III handles matters, and the biggest chink in the armour is the Elite characters. These characters are so overpowered and disruptive that each game pretty much felt like a race to garner enough elite points to bring an Elite to bear on the field so that they could go hammer and tongs on the power cores. Everything else seems to be either building your points, or stopping your foes from taking enough resources to build their own Elites. It’s not a traditional multiplayer RTS battle in the least, and strategically it’s a little lacking.
Overall, Dawn of War III is an interesting take on the RTS genre, and Warhammer games can always be counted upon to switch the formula around, even if not all of it is successful. Fans of the Warhammer universe should definitely pick this game up, even if only for the story. It’s certainly a beautiful game to look at, and when played right, can be heaps of fun. I wouldn’t necessarily call it a gateway game to the Warhammer universe, but there is definitely much enjoyment to be gained from crushing your enemies to the ground with a Morkanaut or singing along with an Ork WAAAAAGH (insert as many “A”s as you feel you need there).