Warhammer 40,000: Dawn of War Review

Warhammer 40,000: Dawn of War is set in the universe of the popular miniatures war game. This is not the first attempt to bring the world of Warhammer 40,000 to computer gaming – even though the Warhammer universe has a rich mythos and has taken hold of the imaginations of many traditional gamers, the video games versions have been pretty much dull and lifeless. Until now, that is. Enter Relic, the developer behind the legendary Homeworld games, a company that knows about creating compelling strategy games set in a story-rich universe, and you have Dawn of War. The result is the best Warhammer 40,000 game ever to grace computer screens and a solid RTS game in its own right.

The units are incredibly detailed.

First I should provide some background information to those of you new to Warhammer 40,000. The 40,000 in the title refers to the year in which the game is set – yes, that’s a full 40 millennia in the future. Humanity has of course expanded to the stars, but not as well-adjusted ambassadors of goodwill of the Star Trek vision of the future. Nope. Humanity has once again embraced religious dictatorship and has expanded across the stars in service of its emperor on the backs of its Space Marines. Not that what you find in space is any better. You have the Orks, ruthless and mindless killers that enjoy burying their enemies under the sheer weight of their numbers. There are also the Eldar, a race that uses its advance technology to stealthily eliminate the opposition. Finally you have the Chaos, who are basically former Space Marines who have thrown of the yoke of the emperor to embrace … demon worship. The inevitable conflicts between these factions are at the center of the Warhammer 40,000 universe, a universe which melds high-tech with high fantasy to create a fascinating reality.

Dawn of War is an excellent game for reasons that I will soon get into, but I first should point out that it might not appeal to two specific groups of strategy gamers if they are dead set in their ways. The first group is those who play RTS games for their story-driven campaign. Dawn of War does come with a campaign game, but it is only about a dozen missions long and only gives you control of the Space Marines faction. The locals on Tartarus have called for assistance against an Ork invasion and the Blood Raven division of the Space Marines is sent to help. As the campaign progresses, you’ll eventually encounter the Eldar, who are on Tartarus to stop a secret Chaos plot. The campaign provides a way to familiarize you with the game’s factions and gameplay mechanics, but the missions themselves do not provide you with anything that is significantly more compelling than what you get from the skirmish mode. Don’t get me wrong, the campaign is still fun to play. It’s just that the story is not all that memorable or compelling and the missions tend to emphasize a particular solution rather than being wide-open affairs. If all you’re going to be doing is playing the campaign, you’ll find that it will be over fairly quickly and you probably won’t have too much motivation to play through it again.

The second group is the base-builders. If you’re the type who likes to build large bases with big economies and intricate defenses, then you’ll be out of your element in Dawn of War. Dawn of War emphasizes the combat aspect of RTS games and is designed for fast action and plenty of battles. First of all you get a simplified resource system that does not require grunt units to constantly mine and harvest. Resources come from two sources, power generators and strategic points. The generators are built like other base structures and once in place provide the energy needed to run your structures and build new units. The strategic points are special locations on the map that generate points for the controlling side. A point is captured by sending a unit to secure it and the unit must remain fully occupied with capturing the point for a short period of time before it is secured. You can build a “listening post” defensive structure on a strategic point, but that’s it for automated defense. The more posts you capture, the more impressed with your performance are the powers that be, and the more weapons that made available to you. This system makes an aggressive approach vital to your success, and there is always a lot of ebb and flow to the games as players must try to defend their strategic post network while simultaneously trying to capture their opponent’s.

Another factor that encourages faster and more aggressive play is that build times are relatively short for both structures and units. You can build yourself a nice little strike force in less time than it takes in most strategy games. Couple this with the fact that there’s not much in way of base defense structures in the game and you get a game that favors aggressive play over a defensive and time-consuming approach.