When it comes to Warhammer 40000 tabletop gaming, I must say I am not a huge fan. Whether it be the somewhat eerie workshops these massive games are played out in, or the total lack of skill on my behalf, I just never felt the "come play, we don't care if you suck" appeal come through. Nevertheless, the concept has always intrigued me, and until I pick up enough courage to walk in and ask for a newbie kit, I will remain intrigued. In the mean time, though, I and many other strategy fans alike can enjoy what the interactive gaming world has to offer in the form of Warhammer 40000, with the latest from THQ, Dawn of War, in review today. Is the name the only selling point as with previous titles from this series, or can Dawn of War prove to be a worthy strategy title for gamers who may have never even heard of Warhammer 40000?
Game modes consist of the usual Skirmish, Multiplayer and Campaign modes, as well as an "Army Painter", which is basically a paint shop allowing you to edit the skins of units and vehicles (the virtual version of painting your Warhammer 40000 figures, I presume). As for the gaming modes, they are self explanatory and don't differ from what you'd expect from most other RTS titles. Kudos goes to THQ and Relic Entertainment for allowing direct IP play, nothing annoys me more when it comes to multiplayer gaming than having to deal with "official multiplayer programs" when you simply want a quick game with a friend, and with Dawn of War it is as simple as putting in an IP and clicking "Accept".
Campaign mode is your basic story style mode where as cut scenes tell the story of the mission, and after each mission is complete, the story continues. The cut scenes feature some important plot twists so it is a good idea to watch them, but they also feature pretty ordinary voice acting and predictable events so don't expect to be compelled.
One of the first impressions I received from this game was not a positive one. When moving multiple squads at once, they will automatically spread out which makes distinguishing who's who much easier, however since a lot of the fighting is done in close quarter situations, this also makes commanding sizeable armies quite difficult. If you tell all squads to attack an enemy unit or squad, only a few of your squads will manage to move into position for attack as most will be spread out too far, leaving the rest just standing there doing nothing. To prevent this, you must take control of each squad individually and order them to attack one by one, which can get a little tedious at times. If you want to win a large battle you will certainly want to make sure each and every squad is in a position to attack, so it would have been nice to see squads automatically positioning themselves more appropriately without having to baby sit them all the time.
On top of this, movement of large unit numbers in general is not very well executed thanks to somewhat lacking AI path finding. If two moderately sized units try to cross paths in a compact environment, most of the time they will simply give up and stand there waiting until you clear their path, one by one. In that example only two units were involved - imagine 30+ units; the result is nothing short of a nightmare. Unfortunately this game's path finding AI is not designed for "self thinking" scenarios when it comes to solving "complex" situations (like units taking turn in moving through a narrow valley rather than both trying at the same time, for instance), and when you consider most of the maps are somewhat restricted in moving space, this is exposed reasonably harshly. In fact, during the early stages of the game's story mode, chances are most of your time will be spent navigating your army through a maze of narrow passageways rather than trying to defeat the enemy as such.
With movement issues aside, Dawn of War is, without a doubt, one of the most action packed, high paced RTS titles out on the market to date. Creating units and buildings generally doesn't take too long so in a reasonably short amount of time you will be ready for high octane combat, and high octane combat is just what you'll get. Like Ground Control 2, Dawn of War works off "control points" on your map, where you will be rewarded with the in-game currency, "requisition", based on the amount of points you hold. This is a good system and in my personal opinion, allows for much better gameplay than resource collecting systems, the focus in Dawn of War is very much on action and not development. Perhaps the only issue with this "control point" based system is that, during multiplayer battles, if you start to lose control of strategic points on the map, the power of your opponent(s) only grows stronger, so it is very hard to make a comeback when they're simply getting bigger and richer by the second and in turn becoming much greater than you are. This leads battles to be lost very quickly. On top of requisition, there is also power requirements when building your army, however simply building more generators will fix that.
Since the major resource of requisition is granted based on your combat success, developing the skill and number of your units is generally "no-nonsense", which means management, and whilst its not exactly easy, is not bothersome. Many RTS titles in the past made micromanagement way too complex, creating a 'chore' sense rather than a sense of enjoyment, so it is a relief to see a premier RTS title focus more on actual combat strategy than base strategy. The balance between micromanagement and action is actually quite exceptional, Ground Control 2 did it well too, however Dawn of War does it just as well if not better without resorting to removing buildings altogether. Granted, there are only a few buildings and they are hardly in-depth, but it is all that is really needed to create a sense of management without going overboard.
RTS titles are not necessarily known for their visual splendor but that is not to say Dawn of War doesn't look great, because it is certainly one of the better looking RTS games in recent memory. The environments are rendered very nicely and feel "real" for the situation on hand - this is a gloomy war people, not picnic time on the grassy plains. On top of this, unit detail is reasonably high, giving each individual unit visual distinctions. The game looks best, however, during the heat of battle, where explosions and weaponry fire off in spectacular form, sometimes it is hard not to get distracted from your management duties when a battle commences as it does look very impressive.
Whether you're a fan of Warhammer 40,000, or whether you just dig a good strategy game, Dawn of War is not going to disappoint you. Although some mechanics certainly need work, it is hard to fault Dawn of War when it comes to pure gameplay, which it certainly excels at. The balance of management and action is exceptional, the visuals are up there with the best RTS titles to date, and the action is plentiful - it is hard to ask for much more than that. With many equally impressive RTS titles in the past already widely available, Dawn of War may have a hard time proving its worth, but rest assured, this is a title deserving enough for any strategy gamer's collection. Now, where is the closest Games Workshop.