Real time strategy games hold a special place in my heart. Command & Conquer, Age of Empires, and Dawn of War – all staple memories of my childhood. But it’s taken me almost a year to get around to Dawn of War 3, even after pre-ordering it. Developed by Relic Entertainment and published by SEGA, released for PC on April 27th 2017, Dawn of War III is the third standalone game in the titular long-running series.
The Warhammer 40k franchise has such deep, interesting lore that you can find enthusiastics in any corner of the globe. The developers could literally have pulled the story from any number of existing storylines. Dawn of War III initially portrays a general war between the Orks, Eldars and Space Marines, however Archeon, leader of the Dark Eldar, shows up and starts picking fights with the other factions. The three armies set off on their own separate paths to find an artifact called the Spear of Khane to take down the Archeon. The spear is soon revealed to be a trap, set to lure all the armies into one place as a pure blood sacrifice. The three armies then must rally together to take down the greater demon.
I’ll be honest, the story didn’t capture me. My love from this series stems from the tense relations between the factions, not playing pally and working together to take out a greater evil. I would much prefer to see individual story lines from the three factions rather than the one large overarching story Dawn of War 3 presents.
To really appreciate what is going on, it would certainly help you to have some understanding of 40K lore – there are a lot of names, topics and jargon thrown around that would mean very little to a new player. This is understandable, given that it is the third game in the series, but with such a large amount of time between the second Dawn of War and this release, it would have been beneficial to go a little lighter on the terminology.
Since Dawn of War III was purely a backlog playthrough for me, I had only one interest in mind: the singleplayer. A full playthrough took me roughly 17 hours. This was just the right length. It doesn’t explore the full depth of the gameplay the game has to offer, but scratches the surface of the strategic elements that will be carried forward for those wanting to try their hand at the multiplayer in a satisfying way.
I was a little disappointed with the scale of the story mode though. It felt as if half the missions were based around controlling a small squad of troops and your main elite unit. That’s not what Dawn of War is for me. It’s about base building, managing resources. When you do get to those missions that allow you to build your base and your own army, the game is ridiculously fun. But don’t make me control a small squad of Space Marines, monitoring their health so much that I am watching their status bars rather than the bloodshed happening onscreen.
I came into this game wanting to create a chunky army of Space Marines armed with Plasma Rifles, Heavy Bolters and Flamethrowers. But most of the time I was shoehorned into bland escort missions that left me wishing for more.
Each faction is led by an elite unit. These units are super powerful, named characters that will march your units into battle. They have their own unique abilities to aid you in fights, and they can never truly “die”, instead respawning a minute or two after dying. By the end of the campaign, you will have access to three of these hero style units in each mission. While they do add a little oomph to your army, they can be a little unwieldy to manage, often requiring more babysitting than the rest of your army, as their abilities all have to be manually activated rather being passively triggered. The micromanagers out there will love this, but I would like to see the option to set those abilities to auto.
Most missions have a couple objectives for you to complete before moving onto the next level. None of the objectives are that unique. It’s all run-of-the-mill “wipe out the enemy”, “protect so-and-so” style. There are so many different style missions that they could have crafted from the Warhammer lore, but they just took the safe route. The results are mediocre at best.
Where I had all my fun was obviously in the base building missions. Only around half the campaign actually cuts you loose on this style of mission. Relic really missed an opportunity to build on their best elements in Dawn of War III. This game is never going to be up there with the StarCrafts when it comes to unit and resource management, and I wouldn’t want it to be, because I suck at video games and would never be able to play it, but Dawn of War III hits all the right notes when it comes to the base management.
The game includes a pretty ample pre-campaign tutorial, and gets you right up to speed with the basics of the controls and keybindings. The campaign introduces more in-depth mechanics, and teaches you as and when needed. That’s the best way of doing tutorials nowadays.
Nothing beats building up the dream army that you always aimed for in the tabletop game. Space Marines were my favorites, and still are. Freaking Bolt guns kick ass! All of the units look absolutely badass in Dawn of War III. Its aesthetic is second-to-none and Relic should be proud of what they have accomplished with the graphical prowess of this game. You’ll struggle to find a better looking RTS on the market to date, and they deserve a ton of credit for pulling that off.
I really think my nostalgia for the Dawn of War III series didn’t do it any favours. I was expecting something completely different. This game has all the makings of one of the best RTSes to come out in a long time, but there just wasn’t enough of those amazing moments to elevate it to such a height. What we got was a very watered down, basic RTS that, whilst fun, could have been so much more. It might be worth keeping this one in your backlog for a little longer, unless you have a real craving for some 40K action.