Pre-order Warhammer 40K: Dawn of War III
Warhammer 40K is probably one of the most famous tabletop games on the market. The franchise isn't limited to tabletop games, and a wide range of video games has developed around it. From third-person shooters to strategy games, the franchise is ripe for the digital medium. Warhammer 40K: Dawn of War III is the series' latest offering in the strategy game genre. At its core, it's an attempt to mix the last two games in the franchise, combining large army combat with more focused, fast-paced, skirmish-heavy gameplay. We tried out the multiplayer beta, and what we played looks promising.
Dawn of War III has three playable races: Eldar, Orks and Space Marines. The Eldar have powerful units but can rarely afford to spend them carelessly, so they often depend on quality over quantity. They have many mobility options, including the ability to teleport almost anything, which makes them flexible in a way the other races aren't. Orks are all about numbers and mobility. They can upgrade in the field using a resource called Scrap; since their units are more disposable, they're better spent in rushing wave attacks. Space Marines are powerful and technologically advanced but require a heavy investment of resources. From what we've seen, they're the most "balanced" of the three races. They can excel at everything but need someone who can make the best use of their power.
The core gameplay will feel familiar to fans of RTS games. You have to build up your bases and capture resource points so you can continue to build your base faster than your opponents. You do this by creating structures and buying and upgrading units using the resources of Requisition and Power, and most things require a bit of both. The bulk of your units is disposable, though they come in all shapes and sizes. Each race has its own mix of abilities, and you'll need to figure out what is necessary for a good fight. Is it worth deploying melee-oriented offense troops to keep foes off your squishy backline, or are long-distance snipers or stealth recon units the way to go?
Dawn of War III has a regimented early game. Your goal is to destroy the enemy's power core, but "zerg rush" tactics are not going to find much success here. The power core is defended by turrets, which are defended by a shield generator. Any attempt to approach the power core without first disabling its defenses will lead to massive casualties. This forces the flow of battle around breaking down your enemy's defenses before you can attack their vulnerable center. It encourages longer but more meaningful matches. You're unlikely to lose a fight right off the bat because you didn't prepare for an early-game rush, but it also doesn't make those early-game rushes unimportant. An enemy who disables your shield generator early gains a massive advantage. You have to deploy more defensive forces to protect the now-vulnerable turret, and a wise enemy can exploit that. It's a good balance between limiting early aggression without making it worthless.
Probably the most significant factor in a battle in Dawn of War III is your elites, or named hero units. Each race has multiple units it can bring into battle. You have to set your elite units before the game starts, and your selection determines the doctrines, or passive abilities, that are available to your army. For example, deploying Imperial Knight Solaria allows you to either have your infantry units move and fire at the same time or improve Whirlwind missiles to create a damage-over-time cycle. Deploying Gabriel Angelos gives Dreadnoughts the ability to make a barrier or have drop pods heal an area around them when they land. Doctrines can significantly change how your army fights, even before the elites exist on the battlefield.
Elites must be summoned with Elite Points, which are earned over time while fighting, though you can use upgrades to earn additional points faster. This is an important factor because not all elites are created equal. To use my earlier examples, Angelos is a low-level elite who specializes in crowd control, so he can create barriers or stun entire groups of enemies, but he isn't the very best at damage. This means you can summon him earlier in battle to give you the advantage early on. On the other hand, Solaria requires a bunch of points to deploy but brutalizes entire armies on her own. Deciding when and where to spend your points is critical.
A major factor in Dawn of War III is its mix of macro and general command gameplay. Elites effectively control the flow of battle even when they're not on the field. When you don't have elites, you're focusing on building and controlling resources for when they appear. You can launch offenses and work against the enemies with your more disposable forces, but any soldier is best backed up by an elite who can optimize their combat capabilities. You perform lower-impact preparation and building of resources with your troops, and that's followed by massive elite-backed pushes against enemy forces. Knowing when and where to deploy your elites is critical to victory. It's not entirely a new thing for RTSes, but it's a significant part of the experience.
As such, Dawn of War III also expects a lot of micromanagement of individual skills. Your elites are only as effective as you make them. If you deploy an elite and use their skills willy-nilly, you'll find them to be little more than expensive, nonthreatening targets. On the other hand, careful use can make a smaller fighting force brutalize a larger, unprepared one. You need to learn how to position your forces. Bunching up might be faster, but it means one good AoE attack can clear half of your forces in a single shot.
All in all, Warhammer 40K: Dawn of War III looks to be aiming for polish over distinction. A lot of the features we've seen in our multiplayer beta have existed in one form or another in many RTSes. It will be difficult to say how everything balances out before the final version, but the beta feels good. The races are interesting, and the more structured flow of combat helps it feel like a fight, not a rout, even when you're on the losing side. Fans of the franchise have a lot to look forward to when Dawn of War III comes out exclusively for the PC on April 27.
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