Relic has done some wonderful things with the Warhammer 40K franchise in the past few years. They’ve managed to capture the flavor and fun of the tabletop miniatures game very well, while still giving the franchise a fresh new perspective. The latest installment, Warhammer 40000: Dawn of War-Dark Crusade continues the string of great RTS titles.
Dark Crusade still plays very much like the original Dawn of War. Armies vie for control of the various Strategic Points on the battlefield, gaining valuable Requisition resources from holding the positions. These locations are relatively easy to take, but quite tricky to defend. Because of this, Dark Crusade is once again a game geared more toward aggressive RTS tactics, with rushing and constant forward pressure a necessity rather than an option. One of the new races, the Necrons, allow for a bit more of a “turtle-style” play, but even they have difficulties holding out long enough to get their defenses in order. Since the original, Relic has tweaked some of the population and elite-unit limits, and has changed how some of the unit abilities, such as stealth, manifest. These changes aren’t huge, but they do make for a tighter, more streamlined play.
The two new races are both a lot of fun, but as a turtler I find myself drawn to the undead Necron race. These guys are slow-moving, slow-developing, and incredibly tough to defeat once they’ve had time to dig in. In addition to some pretty frightening units, the Necron stronghold can be upgraded to a point where it becomes a terrifying juggernaut, able to slowly wend its way across the battlefield, spreading destruction. The other new race, the Tau, are almost polar opposites to the Necrons. The Tau are ranged-attack specialists, and pretty much fall apart when they find themselves locked in too much melee. They are a hit-and-run race, and although they don’t require quite as much micro-management as the Eldar for these tactics, they are certainly a bit more difficult to master than the plodding, unrelenting Necrons. The other races also get some new units to play with. The Eldar Harlequin finally makes a Dawn of War appearance, along with the Chaos Space Marines’ Daemon Prince. The rest of the races get some new help as well, each useful in their own particular situations.
The single-player campaign in Dark Crusade is a great deal of fun, much better than that of the original. In a “Rise of Nations” style setup, the planet of Kronus is split into 25 provinces, each under control of one of the various factions. Each turn, players can move their hero unit across the map, attacking a particular province and initiating the RTS battle. As the game progresses, the hero unit is awarded Wargear, upgrades which turn these already-frightening units into single-unit armies. Many of the provinces are just typical “destroy the enemy stronghold” missions, but several, including each of the races’ home territories, are much more detailed affairs, with a nice variety of RTS-style objectives. Final victory is awarded when only one faction is left on the planet. While there’s nothing terribly innovative about this style of campaign, I enjoyed it quite a bit, and have started over with several of the races just to see the slightly different points of view. The voice acting and cut scenes are all very well done, and the gritty Warhammer 40K humor is firmly in place.
Dark Crusade looks and sounds much like the rest of the Dawn of War series, which is a good thing. All the new units and races are well animated and well voiced, and they fit nicely into the Dawn of War look. On that note, there really aren’t any noticeable improvements to the graphics or game play, so those hoping for something more won’t be able to find it here. It should also be noted that Dark Crusade is a stand-alone expansion, so newcomers won’t need the earlier titles to jump right into the action.
Overall, Dark Crusade is a solid choice for fans of the Dawn of War series, and for RTS fans in general. The new campaign, the new races, and the game play tweaks keep the series fresh while maintaining all the fun of the earlier titles.