Review by Tannhauser
"It is the dawn of war, and it is good."
First of all, I have to say that when it comes to the genre of Real-Time Strategy games, my experience is somewhat limited. I have played Warcraft 3, but I have never played Starcraft or any of the Command & Conquer games. So, my review will not be a comparison of Warhammer 40,000: Dawn of War to other RTS games. Instead, I will be reviewing the game directly, based on its own merits and flaws, along with my eight years of experience playing the Warhammer 40,000 tabletop miniatures wargame.
Dawn of War is a RTS set within the universe of the Warhammer 40,000 tabletop miniatures wargame. In the tabletop game, two or more players gather an army of figures (assembled and painted by the player) and, using dice, resolve battles ranging from small skirmished to massive battles. The Warhammer 40K universe began in 1987 with the release of the game Rogue Trader by Games Workshop. Since then, the game is now in its fourth edition of the rules, has expanded to include eleven basic armies (with many variations on some of them), has seen several spinoff games (Epic 40K, Battlefleet Gothic, etc.), many novels, extensive background information, and a few video games (of varying success). Now, this game and its universe is being introduced to mainstream gamers everywhere through Dawn of War, developed by Relic and published by THQ.
There are four armies to choose from in Dawn of War: Space Marines, Eldar, Orks, and Chaos Marines. The four races are very different in their selection of units and in their various playstyles. Space Marines are the genetically engineered superhuman warriors of the Imperium and can do all tasks equally well. Eldar are esentially Elves in space, and are a hit-and-run, finesse-style army. Orks are a sledgehammer type of army that makes up with numbers what they lack in subtlety. Chaos Marines are the traitorous Space Marines that chose to follow the dark gods of Chaos 10,000 years ago, and they are more inclined towards close-combat than normal Space Marines and they also use demonic powers and gifts.
For all armies, you start off by building a field base and creating your army from there. Two resources are used for constructing buildings and recruiting troops: Requisition and Power. Power is easy enough to understand: you get it from power plants you can build at your base. Requisition comes from controlling various Strategic Points throughout the map. The more points you control, the more Requisition you gain. Along with Strategic Points on the map, there are also the Critical Points (which are essentially the same, but can also contribute towards a scenario's victory conditions), Relics (which are a prerequisite to building some of your most powerful units) and Slag Deposits (where you can build more powerful power plants to generate even more power). The Points are easy enough to capture; you just send a squad of troops to hold it for about 10-15 seconds and it is yours. Most Points allow you to build minor fortifications on them to make it harder for your enemy to take them from you. It is also important to note that Orks use a third resource, "Waaagh!" resource, which is generated by building "Waaagh!" banners (fortified towers).
Armies are improved and expanded by making the necessary improvements at your base. By upgrading your HQ building, constructing the needed buildings, and performing the required research, you can gain access to more powerful units. This ultimately culminates in each race's "super unit" (available after you also capture a Relic Point). For Eldar, this is the Avatar of Khaine (a giant warrior capable of killing quite a lot in combat). Chaos gets the Bloodthirster of Khorne (a giant demon that can also kill a lot). Orks get the Squiggoth (think of a giant rhino that can carry troops, has a big gun on its back, and can toss aside infantry like bowling pins when it charges). Space Marines, however, do not exactly get a "super unit." Instead, Space Marines have a large selection of high-quality units like Terminators (heavily armed and armored marines), Land Raiders (very powerful transport tanks), and the ability to Deep Strike (teleporting a unit anywhere on the map that they can see) many units. There are also a wide variety of troops and vehicles for each race, and many of them can be upgraded to counter specific threats (for example, Space Marines squads may be given missile launchers to destroy vehicles, plasma guns to kill heavy infantry, and so on), meaning that basic troops are still necessary even in the later parts of a game. The four armies also have their commander units as well that can greatly contribute to the battle with their special abilities.
In battle, it is important to choose your targets carefully, and to make good use of cover (trees, foliage, craters). Troops in cover take less damage, allowing a single protected squad to potentially take on twice it's numbers and still win. It is also important to keep an eye on each unit's morale level. When a squad loses its morale (from losses in combat and being hit by weapons like flamethrowers and sniper rifles), they will break. They will do significantly less damage in combat while broken, but retreating from battle for a moment and reinforcing them is usually enough to regain their morale and send them back in. Squad leaders and commanders can also improve a squad's morale.
Scenarios are won through several means. The most common way is by Annihilating your enemy. You can also Take and Hold the majority of the Critical Points on the map for six minutes. You can Control the Area by holding the majority of the Strategic Points for six minutes. Destroying their HQ or Assassinating their commander are also possible victory conditions. These conditions are selected by the game's host.
The singleplayer campaign is only for Space Marines, and is only eleven missions long. While it is entertaining, you can usually finish it in six hours or less. Multiplayer is the primary purpose for playing this game, and it truly shines there. All four armies are balanced with each other, and you can play games anywhere from one-on-one to four-vs-four or even up to four teams of two players each.
Unfortunately, I have to run the game on minimum settings most of the time. However, I have seen the graphics when set to maximum quality, and they are amazing in their detail. The models are taken directly from the tabletop game, with all of the markings and symbols available. The animations, however, are truly impressive. Squads don't stand around doing nothing: they look around for enemies, and even the Chaos Marines will spaz out occasionally from their corrupt connection to the Dark Powers. In combat, you can see every swing of their weapons, every kickback of their guns, and the clouds of blood fly when a soldier is crushed and thrown by a Dreadnought's power fist.
Also, the game comes with an Army Painter utility allowing you to customize the color and symbols of your army. It already includes several preset combinations for the popular armies in the tabletop game, but it does give you the option of playing the Hot Pink Brigade if you wish.
The music is rather generic for this style of game. It's not bad, but it's not memorably good, either. You'll tune it out fairly quickly. The voice acting in the singleplayer cutscenes is also not too good. The voices are appropriate to the characters, but sound uninspired. The sound effects, however, are quite good, as you can hear every gunshot and the movement of vehicles. The unit quotes (when you select them and give them orders), unlike the singleplayer cutscenes, are quite good as well. Hearing Chaos warriors say "Can you hear the voices, too?" is always great.
In closing, Warhammer 40,000: Dawn of War is an excellent addition to the RTS genre. Despite the relatively short singleplayer campaign, the true strength of the game lies in multiplayer. As a longtime player of the tabletop game, I feel that Dawn of War is an excellent game that immerses me in the 40K universe. True, it is not the tabletop game, but in my opinion it is still Warhammer 40,000. In the Beta-test alone, I played nearly 100 games online. With the full release, I will certainly surpass that number. For me, like in the future, there is only war.
Reviewer's Rating: 4.5 - Outstanding
Originally Posted: 09/29/04
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