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Although Dawn of War doesn't push the genre forwards by any leap, it does offer an experience that RTS and Warhammer fans alike will enjoy...
The real-time-strategy genre has become much maligned in recent years, and whilst many developers have made attempts to push the genre forwards, the end result is often not far enough to appeal beyond die-hard RTS fanatics.
However those who fondly remember the glory times of the genre around the release of Command & Conquer: Red Alert, will find something to shout about with the release of THQ and Relic Entertainmentâ??s Warhammer 40,000: Dawn of War.
Based around the popular tabletop games of the same name from Games Workshop, Dawn of War not only represents a fine addition to the genre, but also perhaps the finest videogame adaptation weâ??ve seen of the franchise to date â?“ and you donâ??t even need to be an angst-ridden teenager with a 12-sided dice to enjoy it.
The gameâ??s introduction perfectly sets the course of events for the game, and does a good job of bringing those not particularly au-fait with the subject matter up to scratch. The game features four of the most popular races within Warhammer 40,000, and basically pits them together in the battle to end all battles.
Those included are the imperialistic Space Marines, who rely on technology and firepower; the savage green Orcs, whose sheer numbers outnumber any other race within the game; the cunning Eldar, who rely on their manoeuvrability and guile; and finally the Chaos, former Space Marines that have become enslaved by demonic powers.
Naturally Relic Entertainment have had a lot of the work already done for them in the design of the troops and various units, however praise should certainly be given for the efforts theyâ??ve spent into faithfully bringing these to life â?“ as those whoâ??ve been following the Developer Diaries will no doubt know, these guys certainly love their Warhammer. Despite the inclusion of multiple races within the games multiplayer and skirmish modes, the Single-Player campaign exclusively focuses around the Space Marines in a chapter entitled the Blood Ravens.
Despite only being 10-missions deep, the campaign begins when the Ravens are called in on a distress signal to assist the defence of a planet named Tartarus, which has become engulfed by a legion of Orcs hell-bent on destruction. Without wanting to spoil too many surprises, itâ??s not long before the Ravens find themselves up against the Eldars as well, who seem to be searching for the same something sinister device that the Chaos are after.
Sadly the game offers few surprises or innovations to the genre, with the basic mechanic relying on the tried-and-tested methods of constructing a base, building up your forces and eventually swarming into the mighty conflict. Occasionally the missions are spiced up a little through the use of scripted events, which on the whole add to the overall excitement of the game and ensure the player is kept on their toes. That said the overall difficulty of the game will be disappointing for RTS fans, whilst the lack of variety between the varying races could also be frowned upon; although the game does manage to offer up many options in the tactical side of the game, and as with the best that the genre has to offer, it can certainly take a long time to master the finer specifics of each race.
Resources are the same for each race, with players having to capture and hold strategic points scattered throughout the war-torn environment. Gaining control of these takes a precious few moments, however once youâ??ve captured it the point grants you a steady flow of resource points, which are crucial to acquiring new buildings, units and upgrades. Naturally these points are open to attack from the rival races, however youâ??re free to build listening posts which in turn can be upgraded to automated defence turrets, ideal for a sudden surprise against an inquisitive pack of Orcs. This dynamic certainly lends the game a novel twist to the proceeding action, and ensures that the tempo of the battle is always kept to a maximum.
Battles can be won either by taking control of the majority of the strategic points or in the traditional method of completely annihilating the opposition; regardless the game certainly emphasis offensive tactics over defensive.
Additional resources are gained through Power, which is automatically collected by building generators. Throughout the map youâ??ll find few places to build more powerful generators, which increase the speed of resource collection and become crucial to success later on in the game.
Certainly the resource management isnâ??t overly complex, which has the knock-on effect of putting emphasis solely on battle tactics; players can elect to upgrade their units, or simply create as many as possible â?“ itâ??s as beautifully simple as that, and probably one of the reasons why Warhammer 40,000: Dawn of War doesnâ??t fall down the same pits as many recent RTS titles.
Interestingly the game features a rather different way of handling upgrades to traditional RTS titles, allowing players to select specific squads to which they want to upgrade; for example, having researched heavy firepower, youâ??re free to apply this to all infantry units or just a few specific ones. This helps to ensure that infantry units are very much important to the outcome of the battle and the tactics you decide, instead of just researching the most advanced units out there. In addition you can assign leaders and powerful characters to the squads, each of which will improve the overall power and efficiency of that particular one.
Finally itâ??s important to keep an eye on the morale level of your units, which is depicted as a blue meter above the green meter that represents health. Morale along with health is decreased when a unit comes under attack, whilst certain units and attacks will affect morale more so then health. When a unitâ??s morale has become completely depleted it will not run away blindly, but instead its overall strength becomes substantially crippled â?“ so naturally itâ??s a good idea to get those shivering at the knees out of there. Different races each have varying morale characteristics, so youâ??ll find it harder to scare Space Marines compared to Eldars for example.
Occasionally the micro-management of units becomes a little too much, and there does appear to be some glaring omissions when it comes down to organisation with only a brief selection of default settings, however itâ??s unlikely to cause too many problems if youâ??ve played RTS titles in the past, whilst such touches as the morale ensure thereâ??s a nice element of depth to the overall gameplay..
Various elements of cover are scattered throughout the mission maps, with units able to take cover in craters and buildings. Sadly the game does appear to have problems in this area, with units coming under attack when it blatantly appears that theyâ??re perfectly under cover; being fair itâ??s not too much of an issue as weâ??ve said previously the game places emphasis on aggressive tactics instead of defensive, whilst such areas are very far and few between on the war-torn maps.
RTS fans may be disappointed to learn that the game doesnâ??t ship with a scenario editor and thereâ??s a distinct lack of maps available, which presumably sets the path for an expansion pack or two. That said thereâ??s still a wealth of enjoyment to be had from what the game offers, particularly when you take it online or multiplayer over a LAN setup. Fans of the source material will be overjoyed to learn that the game does however include a Painter Mode, whereby players can paint and design their own motifs for the various units â?“ just like being a 12 year-old again.
Visually the game cannot be faulted, and itâ??s likely to even impress the die-hard Games Workshop fanatics out there. The game is packed with detail and thereâ??s just so much action on-screen, perfectly capturing the chaotic feel of how youâ??d imagine those tabletop battles to manifest themselves. Special note must be paid to the animation of every individual unit, with a staggering number of varied animations for each individual such as the ruthless Space Marines squashing opponents and throwing away their lifeless corpses like litter in the trash; particularly the larger units (some of which reach a hundred foot tall) are gobsmacking and an absolute joy to behold.
The emphasis on battles and action should certainly strike a chord with those who grew tired of the micro-management and resource heavy titles in the past; perhaps the only complaint we can level is the lack of maps and options such as a Map Editor.