Review by Sarpadeon
"The Ravens Are Out for Blood This Time!"
I haven't played the tabletop Warhammer 40k games, but due to their art and extensive lore, had knowledge of it. Upon closer inspection and scrambling about on the internet, I decided to acquire Dawn of War - mistakenly assuming that it would be akin to Warcraft 3.
Boy, was I wrong (in a good way).
Dawn of War takes place in the Warhammer 40K universe, and presents you with the Space Marines chapter Blood Ravens, and a story revolving around heavy Ork presence on the planet Tartarus, and carries on from there when Chaos gets involved.
Before venturing further and into the specifics, a little word of advice: if you have only heard of Warhammer 40K and have had no experience with it prior, make sure to do some research on Warhammer 40,000 lore before actually getting into this. Foreknowledge of certain concepts actually help you understand more of what's going on, and can boost your game experience.
Now, let's proceed.
Graphics - 10/10
The graphics are astounding, especially if you enable to the full 3D camera controls. The units are highly detailed and modeled after their figure counterparts, and just as magnificent to look at. Further, game takes into account what you upgrade or give to your units alternatively, and the models change in accordance with those upgrades (so instead of seeing a sword when the Sargeant has been given the Power Fist, you see the Power Fist). Terrain detail is excellent; especially in more urban settings, you find yourself just admiring the ruins that appear to be spawned natrually. The graphics reflect the atmosphere, yes, that's the way to put it.
Sound - 7/10
There is incredible music, from eerie operatic/epic tunes when in a battle or choirs weighing down on you when you are facing a rather dire situation. The music mostly changes in accordance with the mood, or what is happening in the story. Yes, the pieces recycle themselves throughout, but most of the time, amidst a battle of epic proportions, the music kicks in with the right song at the right moment.
BUT, one thing that can be bothersome is the voice acting. Half the time, you hear overly-over-the-top, line-by-line renditions passing off as voice acting. Although some characters and scenes are tastefully done, the remainder becomes somewhat irritating to hear - not enough to ruin the game for you, you understand, but just enough that you may wish the cutscenes to end quickly. One other issue with the voices is that, whenever you reinforce a squad, each arriving member gives off a salutation, which can, again, be irritating after a while. Add to that the limited number of responses each unit is given, it's quite possible you'll get sick of hearing "On alert, brothers, the enemy must be nearby!" quite easily.
Gameplay - 9/10
Gameplay is outstanding - especially for someone who doesn't like strategy games (me) and turtles a whole lot(i.e. plays exclusively defensively, which is also me). The game has its own flexibilities - for instance, there are "Relics" that you must capture to build certain powerful units and structures, but you can manage (often times BARELY) without them. The enemy keeps you somewhat busy at the start of each level, if you're turtling and trying to get a full-blown base, but cannot stand in your way once you have.
In terms of resource-gathering, well... there are no "pools of resources that a designated unit (which drains some sort of resource itself) must be built and must be set to venture to". Instead, you have two types of resource: Power (duh), which is gathered by building Plasma Generators, and Requisition. Now, Requisition resource is something you absolutely NEED to play the game. This resource is gathered by capturing "strategic points"; if you capture a point, the point constantly generates requisition. You need at least three-to-four points to get your base and army off the ground; this feature forces you to branch out of your 'starting territory' and into the fog of war, sooner than later, and gives you an imperative to both move your butt, and to think strategically (for, without requisition, you're nothing, but haphazardly grabbing a strategic point right beside an as-of-yet-undiscovered enemy base is equally bad). Or maybe that's the turtle in me talking. Anyway...
What merits mention is the actual war. This IS a strategy game, based on a universe that's all about war, no? Further into the game, as one might expect, the sizes of battles grow, the mission objectives branch out, you come to be outnumbered at every turn (often even having to build a base in crossfire). Never fear; though it may sound crowding, the gameplay is relatively easy. You build your base, capture strategic points, prosper your army, do the research and then go crush the enemy - simple as that. Once your army begins to tear into the opponents', you can just sit back and watch the show. What makes this possible is the amount of micromanagement required to actually lead an army; instead of going from unit to unit to unit in order to see and direct them, you can just give them the order and leave them to do it. This has a flaw - often, crowded groups move in extremely jumbled groups, one soldier leaving behind an entire squad or the medic unit Apothecary being the first one to get to the battle scene. The scatter of your troops makes it difficult to get them across long distances without giving them waypoints to follow or likewise tedious instructions.
A little tweak was introduced with DoW into the battle system however, and it is quite useful (or ruinous, depending on which end you're on) - morale. Each infantry squad comes with a morale bar; this morale, depending on the battle conditions, remains or drops. Once it reaches zero, the squad "breaks", meaning it doesn't fight, has reduced efficiency or runs away from the battle. This can lead to quite a few surprise moments when your most trusted squad breaks amidst an important battle (same for the enemy, which makes it a good surprise) if you don't pay attention. So, although not requiring immense micromanagement, the game requires your attention to the battle (even if only to watch the show).
A minor flaw in the overall gameplay is that the single player campaign is only 11 missions long - each lasting about an hour or so if you're incredibly slow to get to the action (like me), which isn't quite that much, all things considered...
Story - 7/10
What gets the 7 rating on the story is not its "dazzling originality". Things will ring familiar even if you know nothing about the Warhammer 40K universe. But the story carries it's own weight, adds a sense of purpose to some of your units, and overall, gives you a sense of purpose. It is, nonetheless, epic and manages to covertly (as opposed to overtly) create the situations to pit you against your enemies' bases and keeps a nice flow going. The characters are well-done and there are surprise moments. All-in-all, maybe it isn't the story to redefine the science-fiction/fantasy genre, but it is good enough.
Replayability - 6/10
Well, the part where the game loses its merit is in its replay value, at least for the single player campaign. A hardcore-type player, especially if he gets into action quick, can beat the game in a few hours flat. More slower, casual players can take up to a week or so (Depending on how much time they have) to finish it. But the single player campaign, in all respects, short. What gives incentives for keeping the game installed lies in the multiplayer - in multiplayer, you can choose one of the four races you encounter in the game and either play against the AI, or become a part of the vast network of players. Multiplayer games undoubtedly can keep you glued to the screen for hours on end.
The good sides of the Dawn of War makes it worthwhile and the little flaws it contains sieve through the player: they are minor inconveniences as opposed to major drawbacks. If you want to play a strategy game but can't be bothered with all the micromanagement, if you just want something to do with Warhammer 40, 000 universe, if you just want to have a good time by playing a game, then, Dawn of War is for you.
Reviewer's Score: 9/10 | Originally Posted: 01/07/09
Game Release: Warhammer 40,000: Dawn of War (US, 09/20/04)
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