I’m only marginally familiar with the immense Time-and-Money Vortex that is Warhammer 40,000. But, given my weak-willed propensity to become addicted to anything even remotely “collectable”, I knew enough to stay well clear. Still, I’d wander into my local game store and look longingly at the wall of sparkly miniatures, paints, and volumes of rulebooks, and I just knew there was a huge world of fun sitting right there. And while there have been many computer and console versions of the popular tabletop wargame, I’d never had the opportunity to give any of them a run, until now. Relic Entertainment’s latest foray into Warhammer 40K brings that tabletop game to wonderful life, giving us an entertaining, brutally fast-paced RTS that will surely please fans as well as newcomers. Warhammer 40,000: Dawn of War
focuses on four of the more popular 40K races: The Space Marines, the Chaos Space Marines, the Orks, and the Eldar. Not much explanation is given for all the bickering between these guys, but it seems that they just can’t share a planet without getting into a bit of a row. As I’m not all that familiar with the setting, there’s undoubtedly a great deal of background I’m just not seeing. Truthfully, though, it really doesn’t matter. Relic isn’t trying to tell a grand, sweeping tale here. Dawn of War is about putting a few factions together on a map and seeing who walks off alive, little more than that. Those wanting “plot” need to look elsewhere. The rest of us can enjoy some highly-polished RTS action.
Gameplay is traditional RTS. Players begin with a main base structure and a builder unit or two. First order of business is to get some income. There are only two resources for most of the races, three for the Orks. Requisition, the primary resource, is gained mainly through controlling Strategic Points on the map. These spots take a while to capture, and only certain units are able to do this. While several defensive structures can be built to help control a Strategic Point, these fall quickly to a determined enemy, so much of the game is spent frantically trying to grab and hold these points. Power, the secondary resource, is gathered simply by building generator buildings. Besides paying for units and buildings, Requisition and Power are also used to move up the tech tree, providing improvements to keep those units in the fight a bit longer. Orks need to accumulate a third resource which is, amusingly enough, Orks. Orks (the resource) are generated by building certain structures (the “Waaagh! Banner”), and are needed for filling out the military ranks. The most powerful units for each side also require the capture of Relic points which, like Strategic Points are fairly easy to take and quite difficult to hold.
Each race sports combinations of light and heavy infantry, ranged and melee characters, and vehicles. The Space Marines sport the basic, jack-of-all-trades units, decent at fighting just about any enemy unit, but not spectacular at any one job. Their units can take and dish out quite a bit of punishment, certainly more than the Orks or Eldar, but their costs are a bit higher as a consequence. The basic infantry squad of Space Marines can be outfitted with a few specialist heavy weapons, allowing them to tailor themselves to better face their challenges. Chaos Marines are much like Space Marines, although they have a much more sinister feel to them, and don’t have quite the same punch or durability as their non-corrupted brethren. Orks have a much higher unit cap than the other races, letting them use the advantage of force of numbers to swarm the battlefield. The Orks are the most amusing of the races to play, hands down. Any race which needs the “Pile O Gunz” building to help research techs to improve the fighting prowess of the “Choppa Boyz” (melee units) and “Shoota Boyz” (ranged units) is going to be entertaining. Finally, the Eldar are the “sneaky-but-fragile” race, able to teleport about the map and quite good at hit-and-run tactics.
Winning a skirmish usually involves capturing and holding a set number of Strategic, Relic, or Critical points. With a fairly low cap on the number of units allowed to each side, and given that defensive structures are not terribly effective, Dawn of War is a game of offense. Players (like me) who employ “turtling” tactics will find they soon have to change their ways, as this game is not kind at all for the defensive-style players. While actual rushing never seemed to work for me, I found that a constant and steady offensive push is needed to repeatedly succeed.
The single-player campaign here is very short, and only focuses on the Space Marines. While they certainly leave the story wide open for expansion packs to pick up, I really wish we would have had at least a little bit more time with the other races. The campaign itself is decent enough, although every mission is pretty much just more of the same “conquer the map” scenario. Dawn of War is primarily meant for skirmish and multiplayer play, and those who enjoy a deep campaign won’t find it here (although future expansions might pick up that slack).
The game looks, sounds, and plays great. Each race oozes personality and is captured in look and feel quite well. Controls and interface are typical RTS, and it takes no time to jump right in to at least basic-level play. Dawn of War does require a bit more unit micromanagement than some of the recent games, as most squads and special units each have their own suite of hotkey-enabled powers. A bit of a learning curve is in order for each of the races, then, as the hotkeys are not necessarily intuitive for each of the races and units. Dawn of War includes a nifty painting option, perfect for those who want the entire Warhammer experience of personalizing their units before sending them off to battle.
Overall, Dawn of War does a wonderful job bringing the rich sci-fantasy Warhammer 40,000 world to life. While the single-player offering is lacking, the well-polished skirmish modes make up for most of that deficiency. Dawn of War is the next-best-thing for those of us without the time or finances to purchase, paint, and field the vast tabletop armies. And for fans of the tabletop game, Dawn of War offers a nice Real Time change of pace in a beloved setting.