Review by Bluefire252

"The Warhammer 40K universe comes to life in this solid RTS"

Whether you're a fan of the table top game, an avid RTS gamer, or just someone who's interested in picking up a new game to play around with, Warhammer 40,000: Dawn of War has something for you. When I first picked it up, I was worried THQ would simply use the Warhammer 40k title to try and attract fans of the table top game only to be disappointed by how far off Dawn of War strayed from the 40k world. That was nowhere near the case, and what we were given is an excellent and solid RTS filled with the figures that bring back memories of the days spent painting our own collections. Nostalgia aside, here's my review of Dawn of War.

Graphics - 10/10
A key point to RTS games in my opinion is how well the graphics are done. After all, you're going to be watching the same building and battle animations and looking at the same textures and maps for hours over and over again. If the animations are choppy, or the battle sequences poorly done, it can take away from the entire experience. Dawn of War gives us nicely rendered maps filled with futuristic mechs, soldiers, lifeforms, buildings, and anything else you'd expect to see in the 40k setting. The attention to detail sticks out well in this game as all of the units are vivid and look just as metallic and futuristic as you'd expect them to look in real life. The maps are even filled with obstacles from huge craters, forests, rivers, any many other things that can either serve as cover for your troops, or put you in position for an ambush. The way each map's graphical designs plays into your strategies is a nice effect.

The battle animations are another plus to be mentioned. Each regiment usually has a variety of weaponry that can be added, each with it's own animation. There's nothing better than watching your squads of Space Marines engage in a fierce fire fight with the enemy and then have a backup of heavy mechs blasting lasers across the bullet filled battlefield. There's also a certain joy in watching your Dreadnought walk up to a unit, lift it from the ground, and have it's way with it before discarding it to the side. Things like that just never get old for some reason.

All in all the graphics are top notch for an RTS game. It's not something that'll be a jaw dropping experience, but I had a hard time finding anything to complain about.

Gameplay - 8/10
For the most part, every RTS out there plays out the same way. Build up your bases, collect resources, scout the enemy, and then lay waste to them with your massive army. There's nothing wrong with that though, right? Base building is pretty standard in Dawn of War, you've got your simple builder unit that constructs all of your buildings and repairs mechanical units. Luckily with resources it doesn't require these builder unit's attention like in some games. You simply build a certain structure over certain points on the map, and then leave it be as it does the collecting by itself. All of your army comes from the same structures you'd expect to see. For instance with the Space Marines they have their standard Barracks and Machine Cult along with other buildings that can spawn men.

The battles are interesting enough to keep them fun and exciting, even after you've fought more wars than you care to count. Each regiment can be customized much like in the table top game. You can choose to give one group three bolt throwers and a rocket launcher, or deck your melee units out with flamethrowers to watch your enemies scramble around as their morale breaks down. Speaking of morale, it comes with it's ups and downs. It's an interesting idea how a regiment suffering heavy losses breaks up and flees, but the problem is, they don't always break up and flee. Most of the time a regiment that falls apart will just hold their ground and fire and you can still command them as if they were fresh out of the Barracks. Seems like it just wasn't executed well.

Besides that, game play proved to be strong without any vital flaws. It did seem like every race was just a clone of the Space Marines with their own little tweaks and original aspects, but there's nothing wrong with that. Overall it's typical RTS game play performed at it's finest.

Controls - 6/10
This is where I had a slight problem. All of your good ol' RTS controls are here, which was a relief because I was able to hop right into the game and command my armies like a seasoned veteran. Unit commands all have shortcuts, as do building commands and everything else. If there's one thing I can't stand, it's an RTS without shortcuts or hot keys. The problem came with camera control. The camera stays focused on whatever regiment you're currently controlling, and you can of course scroll it around by moving the mouse. However the Alt key is supposed to let you rotate the camera, but it was way too sensitive for me. I would barely move my mouse and the thing would spin around half the screen. Plus it usually left me hunting for an angle that wasn't awkward or simply tough to see with. The other minor problem I had with the camera was the zoom feature. You weren't able to zoom in or out very far at all, so it seemed kind of obsolete. Maybe it was just me, but I eventually just quit using the camera functions all together.

The big drawback is in close quarters combat. If you've played RTS games before, you probably know how important micro-management is in the tide of battle. Moving your squads to certain locations, or rotating one out to regroup as another comes in is vital to success. However, when units are engaged in battle in DoW, they become unresponsive to your commands sometimes. I frequently find myself telling a unit to fall back time and time again only to see them scramble and trip up over each other and often block their own escape route and prevent another unit from coming in to help. This is simply unacceptable in close quarters combat, since the whole group tries to spin around and leave while still in formation instead of just make their priority getting out of there alive. It's a pretty frustrating experience to watch your front lines get chopped up while you rapidly command them to retreat.

Music/Sound - 9/10
The soundtrack does a nice job at setting the atmosphere of futuristic battle. Most of the time I didn't really notice it was there, but that's because it seemed to just blend in and flow with the action nicely. The sound effects fit, to say the least. There wasn't anything special about them, but every laser gun being fired, every rocket soaring through the air, and every frag grenade exploding in your poor guy's face was played out well enough to at least warrant a good score. The voice acting in between missions wasn't too shabby either. Each character's personality became apparent just by their tone of voice in certain situations which helped to flesh out their stories and their decisions.

Story - 5/5
Normally this is a 10 point category, but in an RTS I really don't care about the storyline as much as I do the online community and the game system itself. Dawn of War plays out your typical storyline of a world on the brink of chaos, filled with deception, hasteful decisions, power seeking demons, and of course backstabbing. The good thing is, even though it's a predictable story for the most part, I was still left with enough interest in it to look forward to the next chapter. Normally at the beginning and end of each mission you're given a cut scene that wraps up the current situation and prepares you for the next. Even though the cut scenes can be rather lengthy, it never felt like it was dragged out or something that didn't even matter and progressed nicely. That's pretty much all I ask for from an RTS.

Final Words
While the online community isn't large at the time of this writing, it's easy to see that Dawn of War holds potential. The game isn't packed with a map editor, but there's word of one being released soon. This will most likely open the doors to modding the game, creating custom story lines, and obviously making new maps. Their is also an army painter that lets you set the colors for the races and units. I haven't played around with it myself, but if the colors you pick are saved in the online games, it's definitely a nice feature that adds a personal touch to your regiments.

So with online features, skirmish options to play against the CPU, and an average length single player mode, Dawn of War houses plenty of replay time. Playing with the different races, trying different strategies, and learning the different maps is really the essence of RTS games, and Dawn of War pulls it off just as well as the greatest RTS games out there.

Reviewer's Rating:   4.5 - Outstanding

Originally Posted: 09/30/04

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