Reviewed on PC, copy supplied by publisher.
Back in high school I was part of a pretty elite club of social climbers and studs. At lunchtime we would take our laminated cards into a deserted classroom and play the fuck out of some Warhammer. Armies of poorly painted Orks would butt heads with Imperial Guard to cheers and ecstatic dice rolling. Memories like these put Warhammer 40,000 in a place close to my heart, and the dark setting and iconic factions laid the backbone for my interest in sci-fi and tabletop games.
After changing schools and countries at a relatively young age I left the Warhammer world behind, only to occasionally gaze into the windows of Games Workshop and remember how often my fingers would end up glued together.
I’ve had some experience with the Dawn of War series, but for me my RTS passions have always sat firmly with Starcraft. So when the opportunity came round for a review copy of Dawn of War III to land on my desk, I pounced upon it hoping for a nostalgia kick. Booting it up I was not disappointed. Drawing players in with an epic cutscene, which is just a bit reminiscent of the Lord of the Rings opening, I was back in the 40K world, ready to fuck shit up.
The lore may have advanced a bit since the late 90s, and the effects of time may have warped my memory, but I still had a cursory knowledge of the universe I was playing in, which is pretty mandatory here as the game doesn’t slow itself down for the uninitiated.
Jumping into the campaign the plot is relatively generic, but still enjoyable enough to persevere with. It’s the typical factions warring over a planet rich with ancient artifacts plot. The voice acting is pretty solid throughout, which helps to elevate the game and encourage investment in the characters.
As you progress through the story you will jump between the Ultramarines, Eldar and Orks, taking control of hero protagonists. Each hero is well thought out and command interesting abilities, with each faction representing their tabletop counterparts extremely well, but something still nagged me throughout the solo experience.
It might be from playing so much Starcraft in the past, but the RTS mechanics in Dawn of War III seem a little archaic when used in a campaign setting. Don’t get me wrong, they’re still enjoyable, but I feel this exact game could have released a decade ago and not blown any minds. It’s the usual attack point A, defend point B fare cut across different settings and with different units in play. It’s fun, but is starting to feel old. Maybe as an exercise in understanding RTS mechanics it makes sense, but for the most part I felt like the campaign was somewhat of a slog for the already initiated. However, one thing done well is the way you can upgrade squads with loot scattered around the maps, giving the game an almost RPG edge.
The multiplayer improves the gameplay significantly, blending RTS and MOBA elements as you battle it out against AI or real life opponents. Admittedly I sucked at the game in my online attempts, so for review purposes stuck mostly to AI opponents, and I enjoyed this significantly more than the campaign. Game modes have you racing to attack your opponents shield generators and taking out their power core, it’s the standard MOBA ‘eliminate the oppositions nexus/core’ type deal, but with the micro and macro of RTS. If that sounds cool to you, you’ll probably love it, personally I gushed over it.
Differing from most RTS games, the way you handle resources is unique in Dawn of War III, in the sense you don’t necessarily have to concentrate on mining. Resources come from control points on the maps, so dominance and strategic map placement are more important than building mass drones. This changes the way you think and fight, as holing up in a defensive shell will see you outgunned quickly.
Each faction feels unique, and cycling between them is pretty fun. Typically in games such as these I would pick one faction and main it, but in Dawn of War III I liked to mix things up, mainly because I adore the models so much. Ultramarines are your typical military guys with decent range and fancy vehicles, the Orks are brawlers, favouring getting up close and personal with large numbers, and the Eldar are your advanced species with some pretty nifty powers. Strategies and early/mid/late game deployments will vary for each faction, so a play style can be easily adopted for each.
The real point of difference comes with the elite units, which you can call down to aid you in combat. These include the campaign heroes, commando squads and terrifying vehicles. Sadly what’s missing are more factions to bolster the offering, and considering the universe we’re playing in, that’s kind of inexcusable.
Technically speaking the game isn’t exactly all peaches. It runs well, but the graphics (even maxed out) are a bit of a shrug, but thankfully the map designs and character models are all interesting enough to give this a pass.
To round up this review with a positive edge as the game does deserve it, the soundtrack is sublime, especially with the Orks when activating their elite units or setting off a WAAAGH tower. The industrial beats really gets you jacked up enough to collect some human scalps.
Overall Dawn of War III is a competent RTS set in a rich world that is sure to only get better with updates and additional content. If you’re looking for a solo game I’d say give it a pass, but for those seeking multiplayer action, it gets two thumbs up.