A very popular, though now hilariously reviled, series once said “War never changes”. The tactics may differ. The figures and causes we rally behind ebb and flow through various tides in history. But the sensation of battle, the bloody fury that accompanies the gradually whittling tactics, is absolute. The Warhammer 40K series has captured this feeling brilliantly. A universe that spans two decades of lore, it’s fascinating to see the twisted shapes that war has taken. Relic Entertainment’s Warhammer 40K: Dawn of War franchise has done a great job of bringing these violent tides to life. The first Dawn of War was a game that focused on base-building, unit management and counter-play with a great campaign attached. Dawn of War 2 upped the ante further by focusing primarily on hero units, upgrades, small squad tactics and the same awesome story-telling. Now, like some amazing secret sauce, Warhammer 40K: Dawn of War 3 has consolidated both of these gameplay formulas together with – you guessed it – great story-telling.
"These aren’t just heroes with varying special abilities that lead to diverse play-styles, complementing their armies in interesting ways. These are genuine characters backed by a strong script and stellar voice work."
Even for those who aren’t deeply familiar with the lore, the set-up for Warhammer 40K: Dawn of War 3 is bad-ass. It begins with House Varlock, the Space Marines’ contingent set up on the planet Cyprus Ultima, under attack from the Orks. For some reason, the Imperium stays orbiting the planet, refusing to send aid. Such rules don’t apply to Gabriel Angelos and his Blood Ravens who immediately land on Cyprus and engage the Orks. The introduction provides an overview of Angelos’ abilities, unit production, managing different objectives and so on. Though it’s imminently straightforward, it also showcases the compelling moments that inhabit Dawn of War 3. The first time you see Angelos, standing before an Ork barrage and sweeping them away with one slam of his hammer, you’ll instantly fall in love.
Angelos isn’t the only Elite in Dawn of War 3 though. Instead of choosing one faction in the campaign, you actually take control of each of the three at varying points. The first mission is all about Angelos and his Blood Ravens repelling the Orks. In the next mission, Gorgutz, himself under the command of the boss Gitstompa, is working with a pack of Orks to counter-attack the humans and effectively build a super-weapon. For reasons unknown, the Eldar intervene and it suddenly becomes a battle against Banshees and Vypers.
These aren’t just heroes with varying special abilities that lead to diverse play-styles, complementing their armies in interesting ways. These are genuine characters backed by a strong script and stellar voice work. Macha could come off as arrogant and stubborn but there’s a soft motherly side that’s genuinely worried for the cause. Gorgutz may be angry and vicious but he’s also cunning in an unpredictable way. As for the story-telling, though the mission briefings are fairly static, especially some of the cut scenes which are presented as animated 2D artwork, they do a great job of advancing the plot. The in-game conversations during missions are also great thanks again to the voice-acting and characterization.
How exactly does Dawn of War 3 play though? As noted above, it’s an amalgamation of the systems seen in Dawn of War 1 and 2. You’ll be leading an Elite into battle but also establishing bases and garnering resources. Resource points exist to be captured – and contested over – to keep your bases running. Cover points which can provide fortified positions for your ranged units can also be taken and captured. As the campaign rolls on, you’ll receive different objectives like rescuing an adviser, assaulting different towers on a map (while also contending with reinforcements targeting your home base), guarding super-weapons, engaging in boss fights and so on.
"That’s one of the other great aspects of Dawn of War 3 though. It can be a mix of tactical play as you capture cover points and resources while assigning squads of ranged and melee infantry that can cut down enemies."
Each of your units possesses special abilities like the Assault Marines’ Jump-jets and can be used to either change positioning or inflict massive damage on a foe. Each faction has their own share of unique units as well, from heavy ranged units with Gatling guns and anti-armour weaponry to builders that can teleport across the map and provide support. These factions are further expanded with support buildings like the Eldar’s Webway Gates that can help them teleport across the map or the Orks’ Waaargh!! Tower that can rally the troops for pushes. Units can be upgraded to unlock new abilities, gain more health and attack damage or just use more powerful weapons.
However, your hero is the centerpiece of all this combat. Angelos’ specialty is crowd-control, smashing units away and creating space. Macha attacks from a distance, throwing her spear and conjuring spells before summoning it back to her. Gorgutz can spin his over-sized claw like a wrecking ball, shielding units from turret fire, while also grappling to out of the way spots.
Overtime, you’ll have access to other Elites like Solaria who commandeers a towering Imperial Knight. She’s one of the new Super Units with a high damage output and range, capable of obliterating tons of smaller enemies at once. Of course, she’s not an instant win button – Solaria and other powerful Elites need Elite Points to be called in. These are resources which generate overtime or can be garnered by capturing specific points. And while a normal Elite may cost less, a Super Unit is a much heavier investment. However, they’re very useful when it comes to turning the tide of battle. Don’t rely on them too much though since they can be countered – Solaria, for instance, can be swarmed by anti-armour weaponry and doesn’t have much mobility for escaping when her health is low.
That’s one of the other great aspects of Dawn of War 3 though. It can be a mix of tactical play as you capture cover points and resources while assigning squads of ranged and melee infantry to support you and cut down enemies. You can focus solely on your Elite, who gains experience and other abilities with each successful mission, tearing through the opposition. This elegant mix of line unit management and MOBA-like focus on heroes can be hard to handle at times, especially when the game throws three different Elites to manage at one point.
"This is Relic Entertainment showcasing once again why it does Warhammer 40K and real-time strategy games so well."
It never becomes overwhelming thanks to the simple yet intuitive mechanics which are very well demonstrated in the tutorials. Furthermore, there are Doctrines that can further mix up your play-style, affecting the status of units given the right conditions. For instance, when playing with Angelos, a drop pod can heal any units nearby it. Macha’s Doctrine allow other Elites to enter stasis and regain health if they’re close to dying. Elites gain new Doctrines as they level up, leading to more variety. As such, there are also Army Doctrines that can be equipped before heading into multiplayer for varying effects like Space Marine Scouts receiving bonus damage on their initial attacks.
And while I have no doubt that a meta will eventually emerge in multiplayer, this style of gameplay leads to some very engaging matches. Despite the presence of only one game mode, it’s a push to capture resources, counter enemy units, flank their basis and ultimately deploy Elites that can turn the tide. The Doctrines, combined with the unique abilities of each faction, makes for a rip-roaring good time in multiplayer. However, since I only played against AI, I can’t say much about the net-code and stability of servers at this time. A note on the AI: Whether it’s the campaign or in skirmish, they fight hard enough on Normal to present a challenge without being overwhelmingly cheap. That’s a tough balance to achieve in any game but Dawn of War 3 makes it so easy.
There are the odd quibbles I have with Warhammer 40K: Dawn of War 3, such as how the path-finding of units can sometimes cause problems. Also, the style of gameplay may not be nearly as revolutionary as its predecessors. These are minor, almost non-existent complaints for me and totally subjective if you’re someone else. Dawn of War 3 delivers stunning visuals at all turns with remarkable performance, with distinctly animated units, awesome special effects (watching an Elite go to town never, ever gets old) and great environmental design. The two styles of gameplay mesh together so seamlessly and provide so many opportunities for combat that I wouldn’t mind replaying the campaign again to apply what I’ve learned to earlier missions.
Needless to say, this isn’t a resurgence for the franchise. This is Relic Entertainment showcasing once again why it does Warhammer 40K and real-time strategy games so well. Every single aspect is honed to near perfection in an inviting package that will appeal to hardcore fans and new players alike. For the Emperor, forever more.
This game was reviewed on PC.
Compelling story with great voice-acting. Strong production values all throughout with excellent visuals and performance. Gameplay is a great mix of previous two games while still presenting new challenges. Blend of hero abilities and unit management feels comfortable and fun. Competitive but fair AI. Interesting objectives and well-paced campaign.
Some minor pathfinding issues at times. May not be "revolutionary" enough for some.