It starts with a planetary blockade and the ork horde fighting the Imperial Knights. Yet the space marines stay in orbit, refusing to help the knights protect their homes and foundries. Except for the Blood Ravens, of course. Gabriel Angelos won’t stand by idly when called for help, even if it means upsetting an Inquisitor.
It has been over a decade since we saw Games Workshops miniatures come to life, power armour and dreadnoughts taking on alien menaces and cutting down daemons. The RTS series took a while to find its feet, with the two games going for two very different approaches to base building and unit management. The first game was all about building bases and controlling resource points to crank out bigger units with scarier weapons. The second game was all about the heroes and elite units, playing out more like an RPG than the conventional RTS. Upgrades and new armour and weapons helped your heroes take on bigger and badder threats. Warhammer 40,000: Dawn of War III manages to take elements from both of the previous games together and make them better than before. Base building is back, but it has a more streamlined approach. The tech tree is much shallower and you can establish a forward base pretty much anywhere for fresh troops or to reinforce damaged squads.
Warhammer 40,000: Dawn of War III manages to take elements from both of the previous games together and make them better than before.
While controlling your army, you will almost always have an elite unit of some kind. The game borrows a lot of parlance and strategy from the MOBA genre, referring to your heroes as nukers, assassins, tanks, crowd-control and the like and it is up to you to find the perfect three that work together. For singleplayer content you will often be limited in your options but in multiplayer the elite system takes on a whole new level of strategy, if you can work it out, that is (more on that later). The loadout system is rather clunky, with a lot of back and forth between various screens to equip the right power or use different cosmetic skins, or to buy and equip the three doctrines before battle. Doctrines are buffs for your army, normally just affecting a single unit type with a shield, or an improved attack. These doctrines are purchased with Skulls, a currency you earn from completing missions or levelling your elite units. The Skulls feel like something from a free-to-play game, again the MOBA influence showing itself, as your elite unit’s level isn’t exactly tied to the power of the unit, it just opens up more tactical options for you.
This is a game about micromanagement of units. Yes you are building a base and taking control of points, but the base building and tech tree is rather streamlined and a near complete lack of defensive buildings means you need to station small squadrons at key points, or keep several moving around. Many of your units have special abilities that can change the tide of battle, so using these is key to victory. Will you stun the ranged group that is chewing through your armoured units? Can you absorb or reflect their rounds? Or could a well placed melee charge or jetpack jump tangle them up so they are forced to stop shooting? Oh and a grenade is about to land where your best anti-armour squad is sitting.
Between making these choices, sending squads back to a production building to reinforce and upgrading your controlled resource points, there is more than enough to do to not worry about complicated tech trees. Fights will also happen out in the open more often, with the cover system getting reworked to strategic points with shields. While in the area the shield will protect your units from ranged attack but it has a healthbar. Should that health bar hit 0, that heavy cover is gone for the rest of the match. To stop players from just piling all their best ranged units into heavy cover, several melee units have the counter cover keyword, which allows them to charge in under the shield and tangle the squads up in melee combat. Or, if you have longer ranged units, you can sit and pummel the shields from just out of range, turning the cover into scrap before moving in to punish your foes for grouping up in a tight cluster.
A bloody campaign
Instead of having three campaigns to tell the story of the game, with you spending time learning how to play the race you are controlling and following their story, the game melds all three campaigns into one. While three separate campaigns can work, it often leads to a few dead levels where the game has to teach you specific racial differences and get the story re-established. Dawn of War 3 skips this by having each of the three factions you can play – Space Marines, Orks and Eldar – play a mission in succession. Each mission has a briefing and a debriefing, explaining why you are doing certain tasks and the result of your mission, as well as little bits of extra lore and dialogue. Then you are off to see what another faction is up to, their stories eventually interlocking as all three sides fight to reach and either use or destroy a powerful artifact that resides in the warp for thousands of years at a time.
If you thought a venerable dreadnought was big, you haven’t seen anything yet.
Each faction needs to be played to its strengths, with the Orks favouring numbers and upgrading with scrap found out on the battlefield, the Space Marines favouring clever squad balances to counter foes while Devastator Marines mop up. The Eldar have high damage, low health units and that need to be looked after. Keep their shields up and keep them mobile by teleporting webways close to the fight, then moving your buildings back once you launch new troops through the portals.
We are under attack!
Movement is really important, which makes me wonder what happened to the AI in this game. Your soldiers will shout at you that they are under attack and until you get used to looking at the bottom of your screen to see which unit is currently engaged in ranged or melee combat, rather than the mini-map we have been taught to use for decades now, your squad might be a sitting duck. If you are engaged by an enemy with superior range to you, your soldiers will sit and take the fire, waiting for the enemy to move closer for a proper firefight. In many other strategy games your soldiers will move to retaliate unless you give them the hold your ground command. It seems that your soldiers are always told to hold their ground though, so be careful that a group you placed to defend a resource point isn’t slowly being picked off because the enemy arrived with long range units.
Bigger and badder
If you thought a venerable dreadnought was big, you haven’t seen anything yet. Dawn of War III unleashes titan-class machines on the field, towering over the battlefield. These are the most expensive and fearsome units in the game, capable of mowing down small armies with no support. The Imperial Knight, pictured above, makes a dreadnought look like a plaything, with armoured troops scurrying out of this massive mech’s path.
So how do you pay for a machine that size? Well, you don’t build it yourself. The heroes, cost a third resource called elite points. You can only take three heroes into battle with you, so you might want some cheaper heroes to start attacking early, calling in the big guns if things go on for too long. Elite points can be earned from some resource points, normally ones in hard to defend locations. They are also earned over time and through bloodshed, meaning your aggressive push with a cheaper hero will pay off. Going for too many cheap heroes might finish the game early, but if things drag on, what will you do once their titan hero arrives on the battlefield, teleporting in with a flash of light and fanfare? There is only so much your WAAAGH tower can do against an Eldar walker with a sword the size of a building.
Gabriel Angelos comes up against an old foe that was for a time an ally through necessity and while he talks much of his brothers and their value, they do little to show any personality or character, instead relying on Angelos or the commander of the Imperial Knights, Solaria. The Eldar are full of mystery and enigma as always, but the characters around Farseer Macha at least play a role and have things to say. If you want character though, leave it to the Orks. Gorgutz and the rest of his crew are full of laffs, between hunting for stikks and flying around in kroozers, these Orks know things good and proper. WAAAGH towers, for example, regularly drop piles of scrap you can upgrade your units with, be it extra rokkits or a faster engine. They can also play music and a grot inside on a microphone will inspire your troops to do more damage to the enemy. There can even be lightshows, with some units firing off fireworks…. just because. Three factions might seem very light when considering the vast armies in the Warhammer 40,000 universe, but considering you need to learn every unit counter as quickly as possible, you will be glad you are only learning three factions and not more.