Review by BloodGod65

"In the 41st millennium, there is only War"

Regardless of whether or not you know what Warhammer 40,000 is, chances are you've experienced it indirectly. Many of its ideas have been adopted throughout the realm of science fiction and others have been shamelessly ripped off. In fact, one of the most well known and revered RTS games of all time – Starcraft – lifted all three races straight from the Warhammer 40K mythos. And it would seem strange that an intellectual property with such a rich and fleshed out universe as this has not had a proper entrance into the video game arena. Thankfully, with Dawn of War, that has now been remedied.

For anyone who has any passing familiarity with the Warhammer 40,000 franchise, be it through the tabletop games or books, the story won't be anything out of the ordinary. The action takes place on the Imperial planet of Tartarus, where Orks have invaded. A Space Marines Chapter, the Blood Ravens, has been called in to deal with the green-skinned brutes and save the populace. It quickly becomes clear that there is more going on than a mere Ork war campaign, as the mysterious Eldar and the forces of Chaos come into play.

By the end of the game the tale that unfolds covers all the old standby themes of Warhammer 40K (duty, honor and corruption). However, most of it just feels hollow. Perhaps that's because the same ground has been covered dozens of times or maybe it's that the plot is just a flimsy excuse to get the game's four factions together and killing each other. Either way, I can't really hold the shallow story against the game because Warhammer 40K has never been known for intricate storytelling, but rather explosive action.

That focus on explosive action is where the game really comes into its own. Dawn of War is not an average real time strategy game. It favors fast paced action over resource gathering and brute force over meticulous strategizing. In short, it is a breath of fresh air in the often stuffy realm of modern strategy games.

The first differing point is that your units don't arrive alone, they come in squads (unless you build a vehicle). From the get-go, this means they're already stronger and more capable of fighting, which in turn means players spend less time building up an army. Even better, they're customizable. Every squad can be reinforced with more units, have a sergeant added and given special weapons that make them more effective against certain enemies. In effect, a single squad can be transformed into a pint-sized army, capable of raising merry hell with the enemy.

However, the unit cap is a bit restrictive. Maxed out, you only get twenty points for infantry and another twenty for vehicles. Given that some units can take as many as five points, the unit cap is often reached far too quickly. In effect, this means your army can often become a little too condensed and spread out across the battle zone, leading to the possibility of having a vital position overrun.

Even the resource gathering (what little of it there is) plays to this fast and hard style. You won't actually spend time mining minerals out of the ground or any of that other time consuming garbage found in other RTS games. Instead, strategic points are scattered across the map. Capturing one of these strategic points with a squad of Marines will endow the army with an increased requisition rate, which constantly provides more income with which to build units and buildings. Captured points can be reinforced with listening posts thereby making them less susceptible to enemy attack or recapture. The power resource (required for vehicles, buildings and upgrades) is also easy to attain. Simply build some generators and watch it flow in.

The actual fighting is similarly easy. Although there are some units that are better at killing units of another type, this never becomes too big of an issue. With enough firepower, anything can be brought down relatively quickly. The squads themselves are intelligent too, choosing their targets based on range, and ability to inflict damage. Unit path finding leaves a lot to be desired, though. When moving, squads will often break up, leaving a single unit to forge ahead into enemy territory while the others move ahead one at a time. This usually leads to entire squads getting slaughtered when they aren't being micromanaged. Vehicles are downright atrocious when it comes to path finding, and it's often hard to even get them where they need to go.

The campaign itself is focused solely on the Space Marines. While it is a lengthy campaign, it's more than a little disappointing to realize Relic has taken Warhammer 40K's four most distinctive and awesome races, but only lets you use one of them in single-player. While this makes some sense within the context of the story, it just feels like a bad design decision.

That feeling is compounded by the fact that the Space Marine campaign becomes boring long before its conclusion. While the action never lets up, the mission objectives remain the same – Build an army, proceed to a location across the map and annihilate the enemy. There could have been some variation between missions to break up the routine.

When it comes to graphics, Dawn of War won't exactly push your PC to its limits. Even with the settings maxed out, this isn't a great looking game. The environments are bland and barren, largely consisting of blasted dirt and rubble. Texture work also leaves a lot to be desired. Get past that set of minor problems and things get much better. Units and buildings look very nice in contrast to the environments. Zoom in and it's possible to pick out a surprising amount of detail, although some texture problems stick out. In the default, zoomed out view, units still retain enough detail to be able to pick out which is which in the middle of a firefight.

There a few minor, but admittedly cool touches that really give the action a little more “Oomph!”. These include the bright tracers of bolter fire and smoking rocket contrails. However the coolest thing is undoubtedly the fantastically brutal animations of close combat. These include Space Marines impaling enemies on their chainswords then throwing them off, and my personal favorite, a Dreadnought picking someone up in its massive claws and ripping them in two.

Overall, the game sounds good. The sounds of battle are well done, with lots of explosions and screams. The voice acting, especially of the Space Marines and the Orks, is well done. However, the one glaring fault is with the Chaos Marines, whose acting is so atrocious it's hard to put into words. One of the Chaos leaders constantly snorts when he talks, making him sound like an obese pig struggling to breath. His companion follows the age-old bad guy monologue formula of reveling in his dastardly plans and teasing his enemies with inane mutterings.

Although the single-army campaign and poor pathfinding cause some frustration, the fast and brutal combat makes up for much of it. The fact that hardly any time is wasted on resource gathering is also a plus. If you can get over the few dumb decisions, you'll be rewarded with an explosive RTS quite unlike anything else on the market today.

Reviewer's Rating:   4.5 - Outstanding

Originally Posted: 10/20/08, Updated 07/07/10

Game Release: Warhammer 40,000: Dawn of War (US, 09/20/04)

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