Just one of countless tales of war in the Warhammer 40,000 universe, Dawn of War III sees three races vie for the Spear of Khaine, with the Eldar led by Farseer Macha, the Space Marines with Gabriel Angelos leading them and the Waaaaagh! of Gorgutz and his Orks coming into conflict.
Those three races carry over into the multiplayer with the single player campaigns having (hopefully) taught you everything you need to know about building your base and getting the best out of your armies. The Space Marines are the all rounders here, with a nice mix of heavily armoured units that can really stick it out in battle, while their most traditional foes in the Warhammer 40,000 universe, the Orks, love to get up close and personal for a bit of melee combat, and the Eldar specialise in fast hit and run attacks, striking hard and then fading away from the fight when they need to.
Each has a very different feel to them, beyond just the cosmetic differences. What makes the Orks particularly interesting is that they actually require an awful lot of micromanagement, which isn’t really what you’d expect from them. Where you’d expect a headlong charge into the fray – something they absolutely can do – they’re also great for creeping across the battlefield, building the Waaaaaagh! Towers that periodically drop scrap metal.
That scrap metal is how you upgrade your units, from the basic War Boyz through to the hero units that you can summon to the battlefield. There’s no blanket unit upgrades as there are for the Space Marines and Eldar, but each unit that you create has to individually be told to pick up scrap in order to get their grenades, secondary fire, or whatever their special ability might be. It’s something that makes the Orks really fascinating to fight with.
Simplistically, Dawn of War 3 tries to find a happy middle ground between the action of the first game and the more focussed nature of the second, which introduced hero characters. Hero characters return in this game in the form of Elites, which can be single characters or elite units, but it also takes the scale and scope beyond that of the original. You’ve can throw dozens of units into the fray at once, and there’s even the towering heroes, such as the Imperial Knight Solaria or the Eldar’s Wraithknight, which are more than twice the size of any other units on the battlefield.
Being able to actually summon those heroes, however, takes a lot of effort. Heading online, you pick three hero units – they each have different summoning values, so that some hero units are better for the start of a match and others for later – and three battle doctrines for your army, taking a very different and more granular route to having specific generals in Company of Heroes 2.
Perhaps the most interesting thing is how Relic are looking to reinvigorate online multiplayer. Naturally, the traditional head to head game modes are still present, but the new Power Core mode helps to spice things up with a more objective oriented mode. Parallels will inevitably be drawn with MOBAs – look, I’m doing it right now! – as you have to destroy one of two enemy shield generators, then one of two turrets and finally the power core in or near their base.
With two paths of attack leading to the power core, you’ve got plenty of tactical options. You can lead a feint on one side, drawing forces away to then throw your main assault at the other side, or much more likely, battle to hold the resource giving control points and build up a large enough force to try and just crush the enemy defences.
Played in 2v2, there’s obviously a lot more tactical nuance, not least because you can share certain abilities – the Eldar, for example, can let Orks or Space Marines use a tank of theirs as a mobile spawn point – but just simply from being able to coordinate attacks. However, even in a 1v1 head to head, there’s more than enough scope for the fight to swing back and forth. Each time a shield generator is knocked out, it’s a victory, but hardly spells doom, and you can potentially use that loss to springboard your own attack as the weakened enemy retreats. You might have won the skirmish, but you won’t necessarily win the battle.
It’s a compelling mode, that’s for certain, and one I very much enjoyed playing. The trick will, as always, be in trying to lure players from the single player campaign across to trying the multiplayer in the first place. Having that ever-so-slight touchstone of MOBAs might help in that regard, but it’s a gateway to a much more involved and deeper strategy game.