If you read my previous coverage of Dawn of War 3 from EGX last September it shouldn’t come as a surprise that I’ll have some praise for the game. If that’s a spoiler, then I’m sorry. However, and this is another spoiler, I’m not as big of a fan as I thought I’d be. Relic have looked to bring back the wider approach of the original Dawn of War while retaining the specialized units featured in the second game. They’ve managed this, but have certainly cut corners or made bad decisions elsewhere.
Dawn of War 3 is the first game where all three factions take place on the center stage at the same time. This is the grand space battle. A clash of titans and empires, Relic are throwing everything, and the kitchen sink into the fray. In both single and multiplayer, it’s time to take on the role of the Orks, Eldar and Space Marines.
Bringing everybody into the conflict at the same time is a fantastic addition to the series. Each faction has their own quirks and abilities that allow them to stand out. The Orks will overwhelm with numbers, looting the scrap dropped from the wreckage they leave behind. Not only that, they’re happy to go into a rage with the use of their rage-inducing Waaagh Towers. Being the Eldar, on the other hand, sets you up for fast paced action. The options for sneak attacks and diverse movements are perfect as you create a network of warp points and can even teleport the buildings themselves, moving your whole base from one area to another.
Of course, you have the third, and surprisingly the most basic of factions: the Space Marines. It’s all force with no nuance. They don’t have the numbers or scavenging abilities of the Orks or the speed and tactical opportunities of the Eldar. What they do have is a blatant in-your-face attitude, leaping and smashing with oppressive force into the ranks of their enemies. Even their special ability, using drop-pods, simply results in more space marines being dropped on enemies’ heads. Only this time, it’s from a greater height.
All three of the factions have a wide variety of units at their disposal fulfilling specific roles. Frontline infantry with both guns and melee weapons, grenades and armored vehicles to make up the mainstay of your forces, backed up by fearsome long-ranged artillery and aerial units to rain death on the battlefield. They all follow the fundamental rock-paper-scissors of strategy games but manage to feel fresh at the same time by expanding and giving every unit that little bit extra.
What really helps expand on the battle is the return of elite units. These can range from a single hero like the Venerable Dreadnought, a walking, death-dealing metallic monster that highlights exactly what the Space Marines are all about. Maybe you’d rather use a group of suicidal Orks, the Stormboyz. These Orks equip themselves with jetpacks and are more than happy to launch in and blow themselves up in the middle of a group of enemies. You mustn’t forget about the Wraithknight, the Eldar’s agile ranged fighter ready to take out anybody with its rift-opening and beam-firing abilities.
This variety is complemented with a progression of both the factions and their respective elite units. Extra elite units, as well as skills, are unlocked through spending skulls. The elite units also have progressions through experience gained in battle. One major problem is that these skills, or doctrines, are needlessly complicated. Some are elite or building specific, others army wide. Others require level requirements, which can lead to the perplexing scenario where a building doctrine can only be unlocked by leveling up to a certain level. There is also the fact that they have to be unlocked with Skulls gained in either single or multiplayer. While it all does offer a sense of progressions, the problem is that it indicates what seemed to be the core focus of Relic for Dawn of War 3 – multiplayer.
It’s a shame when I have to say that the campaign is, frankly, poor. There’s no doubt there’s a fair amount of quantity to it. There are 17 missions, each lasting at least twenty minutes with some over an hour. The problem comes from the fact that several are simply boring. Gone are Relic’s usual well-crafted missions that offer something fresh and new, or at least a decent challenge. The overarching story is a dull and dreary one, all three factions chasing after an ancient superweapon. Every now and then a few interesting elements are thrown in, nearly always with the Orks. But, for the most part, it’s paper-thin and the characters just aren’t interesting.
This lack of interesting characters also expands into a severe deficiency in interesting missions. For the most part, you’re guided through narrow corridors, fighting from one objective to the next. There’s sadly no real tactical nuance allowed beyond the very basics. Every now and then a decent level comes along, something that offers something a little more interesting. One early example is still a more narrow approach, pitting you as the Orks facing against other Orks. You lead a small band, upgrading and building vehicles or Waaagh towers from huge amounts of scrap that rains from the sky.
Levels like these are interesting because while they may have a scripted nature, they still offer that little bit of interest. Other levels are equally scripted but since you’ve been able to build up a base, can keep throwing out units, any scripted parts feel false. Recon runs made by the enemy don’t come as a natural part of the AI attempting to find the enemy that has been taking them out, they’re events simply made for you to stop. There’s no difficulty, nuance or even intelligence to it. It all seems a little too false, something the genre grew out of and shouldn’t be slipping back into.
It all leads to the simple fact that multiplayer is where Dawn of War 3 really shines. Everything is all about offense. The major lack of real defensive options means that playing defensive almost entirely leads to defeat. There are few defensive structures and maps may have cover points, but these are also few and far between. Some areas allow for small bits of tactical thinking, vents blowing up smoke, high levels of foliage and more all allow for hiding units to set an ambush. It all leads to the old-school Dawn of War feel with large battles in open areas.
If you don’t take the offensive in these matches there’s no doubt you’ll eventually get overwhelmed. Harassing the enemy, taking the fight to their elites and any massing of units means you can control more resource points and eventually overwhelm them yourself. It may seem strange that you have to go on the offensive, particularly since one major aspect of multiplayer is protecting a power core, but you really need to. Though, something that needs to be said is that like with single-player, being defensive is just boring. There’s no hiding that key fact, Dawn of War 3 does not cater for anybody defensively minded.
This is where the game shines. The heightened battles shine as every unit has been designed with such a high level of detail. The explosions, the lasers, the projectile weapons. This is supported by outstanding sound design, from the ambiance, the music and even the voice acting. Everything combines to make a glorious spectacle. One thing that I want to reiterate is the voice acting and just how great it is. Every unit is voiced and done in a way that highlights differing personalities in the units. It’s particularly great, and a highlight of the campaign, with the voice acting of the Ork missions and any Ork related cutscenes.
Relic have always been one of the forerunners of the RTS genre. Strong stories, intelligent level design and excellent balance of units and the varying features of factions. This is something you were always able to find from the company’s games. It’s just disappointing that you don’t find all of the same here. The storytelling somehow manages to be bad, with only a few redeeming areas.
Thankfully this didn’t spread far outside of the campaign and story. Outstanding army balancing with a huge variety of units are only one great aspect of the title. While Dawn of War 3 may not live up to the expectations imagined by fans of the franchise, it’s certainly a strong title. The focus on multiplayer to the detriment of single player disappoints, but it’s far from a major blow to the game. The series may not have evolved in any considerable way, but Dawn of War 3 is certainly great at what it does.
Review code provided by the publisher. You can buy the game digitally via Amazon.
Dawn of War 3 may not be revolutionary, but it’s certainly an improvement on the previous iteration. Bringing in the best of Dawn of War 2 to the RTS elements of the first, the game is only let down by a rather boring campaign that acts more as a tutorial for the excellent multiplayer.