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PC Review - 'Dawn Of War'

by Thomas Leaf on Oct. 5, 2004 @ 2:25 a.m. PDT

Ten thousand years have passed since the treasonous acts of Chaos toppled the Golden Age of mankind. Fires burn brightly throughout the galaxies, illuminating carnage and slaughter as mankind defends itself from ancient enemies. Hardened forces collide with one goal in mind, the complete extermination of their opposition. Control one of four unique races in head-to-head or cooperative multiplayer action, where faith, skill, and strategy are requisites in ruling the universes.

Genre: Strategy
Publisher: THQ
Developer: Relic
Release Date: September 20, 2004

Buy 'WARHAMMER 40,000: Dawn of War': PC

A New Game Dawning…

I was first introduced to Warhammer: 40,000 in Eric Nelson’s basement back when I was in high school. Eric showed me his little models and the terrain he had built along with his older brother, Arvid (who we all called Rob and now writes a comic book entitled Rex Mundi) who was an avid hobbyist and fellow geek as well. I wasn’t sure of what to make of all of it at first. In time I collected a small Space Marine army and played a few games and began to learn the whole mythology of the Warhammer universe. I found it to be totally insane, completely dorky and utterly engrossing. Ever since then I had been dying for someone to come out with a game (and a movie). It’s been a long time in coming, but finally someone’s done the tabletop game justice.

Leave it to the guys who brought Homeworld to get the job done. Warhammer: 40K has such a long winded history and expansive history that is supplemented by comics, novels, off-shoot games and parallel tabletop games such as Warhammer: Fantasy, Epic and Battlefleet Gothic (not to mention Necromunda, Mordheim, Blood Bowl and Inquisitor). To top it off, the Warhammer franchise had yet to make an impact on video gaming with lackluster titles such as Space Hulk and Legend of the Horned Rat. To say that the pressure was on for Relic to deliver is understating the situation entirely. Another critical and commercial failure for could well spell the franchises doom in the digital realm. On top of that, Warhammer: Dawn of War was due to release within a week of the 40K fourth edition rule book release.

To put it bluntly, Relic assaulted their objective with √©lan and poise and held against all counter attacks. I haven’t played an RTS this much fun in a long while and I felt so compelled to finish a game in an even longer time. I actually put aside Doom 3 to finish this game and don’t regret the choice at all. Of course you may say I am biased, but read on intrepid reader, read on and you too will see why there is so much to appreciate to this game.

If there is one overall quality of Dawn of War that pleased me so much it was Relic’s adherence to the universe. I could not pick up any discernable deviations from the 40K universe that could even be considered “artistic license” or compromise. Everything about Dawn of War’s mechanics is meant to translate the tabletop experience into a smooth, playable and faithful real time experience. I was put severely on edge when I first heard Relic was going real time. I wondered why they wouldn’t even at least adopt a “We go” approach to the game much like Combat Mission’s gameplay which is not only authentic in its approach to war gaming but requires the same sort of tactical know-how that the table-top game demands. The simple reason to that question is appeal. Relic needed to appeal to a broader audience, the trick was not to water down the game to do that.

The basis of Dawn of War is just like that of Warhammer: 40,000: the squad. 40K armies are built around squads that you can tailor with wargear, characters and psychic abilities. Dawn of War allows the same manner of customization to your squads and each time to requisition a squad you get a group of troopers who maintain squad coherency (a major rule to the table-top game) as they maneuver and you can upgrade them with a Veteran Sergeant, plasma guns, flamers, heavy bolters, power-swords, power-fists and attach independent characters to lead a squad. You can do all of these things to your table-top army as well. Meanwhile, Dawn of War streamlines this whole process and limits you to whatever amount of requisition and power points you have accrued through the battle.

What is even better is that table-top tactics translate rather well into the real-time gameplay of Dawn of War. I found myself building what amounted to Space Marine Devastator squads armed with heavy bolters and missile launchers and give them orders to stand off and pound away at range. Meanwhile I’d beef up another squad with close combat weapons like flamers or plasma guns and lead them with a strong close combat character and left them get up close and personal while my Devastator squad laid down suppressing fires. When the enemy broke or was suppressed I’d jump my assault Marine squad in over the enemy’s heads to take an objective point or finish off the assault. Latter on in the game you can add Dreadnought walkers into the mix with their autocannons and power-fist which are perfect for tearing holes into enemy infantry while a Predator tank armed with twin lascannons or better yet a Land Raider took the fight to enemy armor. Of course, you could try and take an enemy tank or Defiler (Chaos version of a Dreadnought walker) with a regular squad of Marines but their weapons simply aren’t geared for cutting through armor and so they would be woefully ill equipped for the job and cost you time and Marines. Neither of which is a good thing. I found that three squads of Marines were all I needed for most of the early missions assuming I knew their capabilities and employed them appropriately. Making sweeping advances in this manner was so satisfying.

Another fantastic aspect of Dawn of War is the graphical flare and polish of the game. On the tabletop you are left to imagine the carnage. On your monitor Relic not only reveals it to you, but relishes some of the goriest moments of battle. I remember the first time I jumped a squad of Assault Marines into the fray against some Orks. I zoomed in the camera to watch as my Marines efficiently dispatched the greenskins with relative ease. What caught me off guard was when one of my Marines ran an Ork through with his chainsaw sword and used his boot to kick the dead alien off the blade. Another great moment was when my Dreadnought picked up an Alpha Legion Chaos Marine and held him up while the power-fist’s grip crushed his spine and began to twirl him around before flinging him over a ridge and off the screen. When playing as an Ork Warboss I saved up all my Orky resources to get myself my very own Squiggoth which is basically a ginormous iguana with ten foot tusks and a turret on its back. One of this thing’s special abilities is the Rampage where you nominate a squad of suckers to stomp over and kick about which sends everyone flying. It’s one of the coolest moments of the game.

Dawn of War also boasts a strong single player campaign which will be to the liking of any gamer, Warhammer fan or not. The reason being is that the main character, Gabriel, is a very troubled man. He is a Captain in the Space Marines which means he fought for nearly over an century and distinguished himself other than the fact that he’s lasted this long. In case you’re wondering, Space Marines are genetically enhanced and have a lifespan of nearly a millennia. They also have three lungs, a solid ribcage and can turn off half their brain and let it sleep and thus never need to sleep themselves. If that isn’t cool I don’t know what is. Anyhow, Gabriel is haunted by a recent command decision which I won’t spoil. On top of that, Relic definitely embraces the fact that Space Marines and the Imperial Forces as a whole are essentially xenophobic fascists. I was wondering if they would incorporate that into their characters and they certainly have a very grim and edgy feel to them.

The campaign begins with the player trying to stop an Ork invasion on the planet Tartarus, which is a direct reference to the Greek Mythological Hell. In this invasion Gabriel leads his vaunted Blood Raven Marines into what he releases to be an elaborate ruse being played out by Chaos Marines. Chaos Marines used to be good guys but 10,000 years ago they betrayed the Emperor, fought in a rebellion led by a guy named Horus and retreated into a region of space known as the Eye of Terror. Read up on it, it’s cool. As the campaign progress the cryptic and arrogant Eldar reveal themselves as Gabriel closes in on his Chaos quarry in the name of the Emperor. I could tell you more but it would spoil what truly is a good story. If you don’t believe me, think about how amazing Homeworld’s story was and recall that Relic wrote and designed that game too.

Once the single player campaign is conquered you ca move onto multiplayer games. There are battles for up to eight players and the armies are balanced fairly well. You can find yourself in impossible battles where the Ultramarines, who zealously adhere to the Emperor’s every word as gospel, may fight alongside World Eater Chaos Marines, but that’s a minor gripe. If anything it makes for an interesting force to fight against. I the list of Codex Chapters or Chaos Marine Legions do not appeal to you then you can use the Army Painter function to create your own look with imported bitmap banners and any color. I prefer my vaunted Grey Knights to take into battle over all else. You can also create your own Eldar Craftworld Army or Ork Warband.

What excites me the most about Dawn of War is the fact that this game is the perfect basis for expansion, both in the gamer’s community and on the developer’s side. I imagine there will be expansion discs to add more armies and campaigns to the original game. While Dawn of War encompassed a major part of the 40K universe, there is so much more. We haven’t even seen Tyranid swarms or the young and heady Tau strike forces touch down. Personally I look forward to seeing Necron armies rise from their great slumber to wreck shop on the Imperium of Man. Then there are the Sisters of Battle and the Ordo Malleus and the Ordo Hereticus. You begin to see that the possibilities for expansion to this franchise are endless. Using Dawn of War as a seed, Relic and Games Workshop Interactive have unleashed a nigh unlimited franchise for the gaming public.

For those of you who simply love RTS games and aren’t into Warhammer at all, fear not. At its core Dawn of War is simply a great game. The streamlined gameplay stressing combined arms tactics over brute force should and will appeal to any RTS gamer who is looking for something new. The only discernable weakness I can say about Dawn of War is the unit pathfinding can be annoying at times, but that is a challenge that every RTS game faces and in the light of what Dawn of War does right, pathfinding is a small problem. All and all, at the end of the day Relic has unleashed a game worthy of its origin and based on Dawn of War’s critical and commercial success already there is much, much more of this game to come which is simply awesome.

Score : 9.5/10

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