Warhammer 40,000: Dawn of War
Writer's Note: This review was originally started in June 2008, hence the timing inconsistencies. See below for more.
Wow, should I have played this one sooner. I have been playing RTSs since I got a computer back at the end of 8th grade, spent my own hard-earned money on it too. Back then the new hotness was the Command & Conquer series, which I REALLY got into with the release of Command & Conquer Red Alert. Westwood was shutdown by Electronic Arts shortly after they purchased them (for Command & Conquer basically) and have raped that franchise since. However, Command & Conquer Red Alert 3 is looking pretty good so far, and having Gina Carano helps...sorry but she's cute and kicks ass. I digress though. The point of this isn't a history of my gaming days, but to point out that I enjoy the RTS genre, and since the release of Warcraft III: Reign of Chaos in 2002 I haven't found a new RTS that was really worth digging into. Well I have now, sadly it's years after it was released.
What the frak is going on?!
I will be honest, even though I played the shit out of Red Alert, I don't really remember the storyline that well. I remember the basics but it never struck me as being an awesome story. Dawn of War on the other hand, wow what a great campaign. The production of the storyline seems to have been of high importance, not just the writing and story, but also the animation, pacing, and especially the delivery of the dialogue. As any fan of the Resident Evil series could tell you, a game's immersion can be destroyed by terrible voice acting as easily as bad dialogue (or in the case of Resident Evil, both). The story is nothing groundbreaking, especially those familiar to the miniature board game that the title is based on, but it is a mature story nonetheless. Did I mention the writing was really good?
The only beef I have about the campaign itself is that it is simply too short. Most RTS titles would introduce all of their playable races as part of the campaign. Oh, they would also have them be playable, not simply show them. The developers over at Relic Entertainment only managed to do a campaign mode for the Space Marines, leaving the other three races as pawns in the overall campaign. It is likely that Relic planned to incorporate campaigns for all four of the highly diverse races, but due to time or budget constraints, had to dump that idea and promote them as expansion features. Whichever it was, I am glad you focused on the gameplay first, and added the campaign in after that was solid.
Get me into the mix, sir!
Any player of Warcraft III will quickly notice that there is not nearly as much to micro in Dawn of War. This could be a good or bad thing, depending on the players mindset. My brother for one thing would hate this because he wants full control over every unit on the screen. That is pretty much why he is so damned good at Warcraft III though, uber-micro and all. I, on the other hand, only have an average micro, and would rather focus on the strategy part of a title which is how Dawn of War was designed. Not only is there substantially less to micro at any given moment, but there is more straight up strategy rather than resource hording and then microing better than you opponent. Relic Entertainment accomplished this by having units be comprised of more than one individual, therefore they are squads. These squads are controlled as one, but can be upgraded throughout their life with weapons, leaders and even additional members to fill out the squads ranks, or replace fallen comrades. The designers also removed the gathering unit, simply giving one resources by controlling key points on the map.
Warcraft III was the one of the first RTS titles to institute terrain mechanics into the core gameplay. They may not have been the originator, but they did it well enough for it to be an important mechanic to know. Should you have the higher ground, all ranged attacks have a 25% chance to miss, giving that player a huge advantage. Relic took that mechanic from years earlier and fleshed it out further, offering defensive buffs or debuffs depending on the terrain your army is traversing. This is another facet of the title that puts more emphasis on the strategy over one's ability to micro quickly.
I can't believe that I let such a stellar RTS slip past me for so long. Personally, there is no one to blame but the folks at Blizzard Entertainment, and not because I was hooked on Warcraft III, but its big brother World of Warcarft. While I enjoyed this title thoroughly, I can't really recommend it to many folks now that Dawn of War II, the sequel I am highly looking forward to, is coming out next month. If you are that interested in Warhammer 40,000 then it is worth the purchase, otherwise wait for DoWII so we can duke it out via Games for Windows Live.
On a more personal note, you may have noticied that I have noted updated this blog in months. Well, for the foreseeable future that is going to change, starting with a few more quick recaps of titles I beat last year. Stay tuned for my thoughts on Pokemon, Rock Band, Mario Strikers Charged, Mario Kart Wii, Too Human and, believe it or not, Half-Life 2. As my last few blog posts pointed out, I have been kept busy by writing for a variety of video game sites, which is why these reviews are taking so long. Over the next few weeks I will be taking the time out to catch up on those posts and adding new ones for more recent titles as well.