It’s hard not to love Warhammer 40000. In an age when it seems like everybody is desperate for games to be toned down so they can be taken more seriously, 40K remains the same old-fashioned screaming-and-dying war simulator about giant men in robot suits that it’s always been. If there are any 40K stories that are about feelings and crying, they certainly aren’t the face of the franchise. It’s refreshing.
Also refreshing: new 40K video games! In particular the new real-time strategy title Warhammer 40000: Dawn of War 3.
If you’re somehow unfamiliar with the franchise, here’s the skinny: in the year 40,000, humanity is a race of religious fanatics who fight an unending galactic war against alien life. By this point, the scale of things is too enormous to really consider wins or losses; it’s just war, all the time, forever. Got a problem with that? Well, that’s heresy, and you’re going to get shot for even thinking about it. There’s a reason that the term “grimdark” was originally taken from 40K.
Dawn of War 3 is an RTS take on the franchise. At the moment you can lead the Space Marines, Orks and Eldar, though as with previous Dawn of War games it’s almost certain we’ll see expansions increase the number of available factions. They each play a little differently with their own quirkd. Your SPESS MARINES, for instance, are all-rounders who are able to construct extra units in drop pods and bring them down as reinforcements during heated battles. Orkz, on the other hand, are focused on wave tactics, producing vast numbers of units that you can buff en masse with towers before swarming your foes. Finally, Eldar are big on quality over quantity, rewarding patient tactics and micromanagement thanks to their stealthy units and ability to hide teleportation gates behind enemy lines.
Another key aspect of each faction is the selection of Elite units available to them. You’ll accumulate Elite points during each match, particularly if you capture Elite generation spots on the map, and then spend these to summon an Elite unit from a selection of three that you choose before battle. These vary in their utility and effectiveness; cheaper Elites like the Ork Stormboyz are basically a more powerful squad of regular units with some tasty special abilities on top, while more expensive units like the Space Marine Imperial Knight tower above the battlefield and can swing entire conflicts all on their lonesome. You only have to pay the Elite point cost for an Elite unit once, after which they’ll respawn upon death; if you have spare Elite points, you can spend them on special faction-based abilities like an orbital laser, psychic maelstrom or asteroid drop.
That’s all well and good, but one feature that might cause a little controversy is the game’s progression system. You’ll earn experience points for your chosen Elite units after each battle, and gaining levels will unlock new perks that can be applied to your entire faction, as well as currency that can be spent on more perks or even more Elite units. You can only choose a few of these perks at once and they provide mechanical tweaks rather than massive game-changing buffs, so it’s not like a veteran player is going to crush a newbie by virtue of having more of them. Still, the fact that they aren’t all available right from the start can be a bit of an annoyance.
You’ll take your forces into battle in the single-player campaign or multiplayer, where the latter offers both AI bots and other players to wage war against. The campaign is a great way to get your feet wet before leaping into mulitplayer; it’s a gripping tale of a bunch of really big people yelling at each other before armies clash and everybody gets chopped to ribbons. There’s around 20 missions and the game tends to cycle you between playing as each of the factions, which is enough to give you a taste of how each plays but not quite sufficient to achieve mastery with any of them.
For that, you’ll want to hop into multiplayer and get to fighting. You can team up with friends or randoms and engage in up to 3v3 battles on various maps sized appropriately for the number of players in the match. Where Dawn of War 1 was a more traditional RTS focused on base-building and Dawn of War 2 tried to be something like a Warhammer-flavored take on DotA, this game’s got some elements of both. Base construction returns from the first game, so it’s present but not especially emphasized; your attention will be on the battles taking place, since your units have tons of special abilities to use and you’ll want to be able to micromanage them to be successful.
It’s a good time all around, particularly since all the carnage is a pleasure to look at. At max settings, DoW3 is a great-looking game that runs nicely; watching a Space Marine commander jump into battle and send an opposing horde of Orks flying is as great today as it was the first time you saw it in the original Dawn of War. The sound and voice acting are right on point as well, meaning there’s plenty of shouting and no shortage of hamming it up. How much more Warhammer can you get?
RTS fans who are willing to accept that this is a new game that makes some changes to the formula are going to enjoy Warhammer 40000: Dawn of War 3. Most of those changes are even good, though there’s probably some discussion to be had about the presence of the CoD or Battlefield-style progression system. Generally, however, it’s a solid RTS experience that really shines when you get some friends together and dive into multiplayer.