Take aim, fire!
Games Workshop are not always known to produce lasting PC game or Console titles, to be honest their last few games have been more miss than hit, but you have to give them credit for trying (again and again).
But since they partnered up with Relic on their latest Warhammer 40K venture I've been keeping my beady eyes on Dawn of War. The game had the potential for being one of the biggest hits for both companies and breathing new life into the RTS genre. Relic known for their pioneering games such as Homeworld and Impossible Creatures have always raised the bar time and time again for other developers.
So is Dawn of War a bright light in a dismal shady drought of decent RTS titles?
The singleplayer game puts you in command of various Space Marine units, soldiers of a powerful empire in the far future. Your enemies are numerous and your tasks many, the most important of all being, eradicate the heathen heretics where ever you find them. Be they Orks, Renegade Chaos Marines, Eldar or anything else that gets in your way.
Thus begins a twisted tale, but in my usual vein, I'm not going to spoil it.
Meat and Bones: Gameplay
Dawn of War could be likened to games such as Starcraft aesthetically, but what we have to remember is that Warhammer: 40K came first, with the arrival of a RPG/Wargame book known as Rogue Trader, that in turn must have inspired many gritty hard-tech sci-fi games when gaming finally took off.
Dawn of War must however have taken a nod in the direction of Starcraft in that the games play similar, but this reviewer prefers Dawn for its many improvements over the classic RTS mould.
Dawn forces you to play an aggressive game utilising tactics that are not always suitable in other RTS games. You cannot simply sit at your base and hope to win against a superior AI or human player as the game often revolves around capturing strategic locations and resource locations. These provide a bonus to your Requisition points, which in turn allows you to build more units.
Certain gametypes force you to become even more aggressive since you can win, or lose the game if your opponent(s) capture more strategic locations than you and hold them for a certain length of time.
The singleplayer game story puts you in command of the Blood Ravens, an elite and secretive order of Space Marines that are fighting to save the planet: Tartarus. Thankfully there is a good tutorial that teaches you the basics of the game.
The game plays the same in singleplayer as it does in multiplayer and is instantly familiar to anyone that has touched a single RTS before. You begin with either, no set units and buildings but the ability to create a forward base or HQ. Or a smattering of forces/buildings. You must then strive to collect resource points from the various locations by holding onto strategic points and resource locations, these can be used to build new buildings - research new technology and of course make new units.
Power is another resource that must be monitored carefully, you can only build a certain number of power generators and although you can upgrade those with research, they are finite.
There is also a finite Unit-Cap that covers both types of units, infantry and vehicles, you can increase this by research (Or building certain structures in MP when you play as another faction).
New to the battle comes the ability to upgrade your squads mid-combat, this is done by simply clicking on the right icon and that's that. You can add a squad leader, new members and upgradew their weapons (As long as you have researched the right equipment).
You can also choose a type to place on Overwatch, when you right click the icon it will flash, your squad can automatically be replenished or weapons re-added mid-combat, leaving you to concentrate on something else.
You must also keep a close eye on the Morale of your squad, once they break and succumb to certain fear effects, they will become less effective as a fighting force and may even run for the hills.
Cover also plays an important part in Dawn, so you can nip your troops into a nearby crater and enjoy the bonus that this type of terrain gives to you.
It's little innovations such as these that add a layer of new tactics to the game, forcing you to choose between squads to reinforce or heavy weapons to add the extra kick of firepower.
It's a simple tool that allows you to customise the look of your MP team, you can change several of the models base colours and so forth (Think similar to Homeworld 2). You can also add a custom banner and logo to your units, which will show up on their armour and on any vehicles or banners.
Ere ladz, it's all shiny and free dee
Dawn of War is a graphical tour-de-force that pleases on so many levels it's hard to think where to begin. You can enable a full 3d camera that allows you to view the intense action from any angle, gone is the traditional top-down and isometric, limited camera view.
The whole game is simply stunning in the graphics department and delivers good quality images with no frame-rate loss, on our test machine which is a 1.8 GHZ Athlon (750MB RAM) and a 128 MB GFX card, with everything racked up full.
The game's pyrotechnics are vibrant, full of colour and life, for when an explosion goes off you feel like it's not a damp squib, but something far more powerful and much more deadly. All of the various factions have different weapon types and special powers/abilities - some of these have to be seen to be believed.
From the dynamic lighting to the shadows and special effects, Dawn is so pleasing to the eye it should be criminal for Relic to possess so much talent.
Oi, I'm lookin good ya scrutter!
Relic have taken a great deal of time and trouble to make sure the models for the game are just as good as the actual engine that powers it. I am a HUGE 40K fan and I have to admit that I can report my 40K-ness has been satisfied with the look of these models. From the fear-inspiring Avatar of Khaine to the Battle-hardened Terminator squadrons, the developers have hit the nail on the head as far as I am concerned.
Each individual faction has a unique look to their units/vehicles/building and positively oozes atmosphere from every polygon.
I's a movin like dey do!
With excellent graphics and top-notch modelling come some quirky and superlative animations. Everything in Dawn smacks of polish and professionalism, these developers know what they're doing and they have added so many layers of animation to the units and vehicles. They have various idle animations, but it's when the combat starts and the units get into hand to hand that things really start to look good.
Each faction has a different hand-to-hand style and they will perform bone-crunching finishing moves when the last of a squad member is about to die, the whole battle animation flows into a cinematic style even though the action and the battles are in real time - you think you're watching a well choreographed cut-scene.
Each faction also builds differently and this is superbly animated as well.
If I hit em, dey do fly!
Add to all of the above a pretty swish physics system that causes bodies to fly backwards and high into the air, from artillery and other strikes and you're onto a sure-fire bona fide winner that appeals to all of the senses and portrays 41st Millennium combat as visceral and dynamic.
I's got a ringin in my earz!
Sonics: Weapon sounds, spot and impact sounds are terrific as are the various grunts and cries of pain from the various units. Vehicles have an ominous thunder-like rumble to them and the whole battlefield comes alive with the thrills of combat.
Voice acting: It suits the game, some of the Chaos voices can get on your nerves but as a whole, they fit with the nature of that particular faction. My favourite faction has to be the Space Marines with their various one-liners: Heresy grows from idleness and so forth.
Music: Harmonious, dark and Gothic in places - Dawn's music is the icing on the cake of the rest of the game, wrapping the whole package up nicely and forming a compliment to the chattering gunfire and bloody confrontation.
We'z klever Orks, we iz!
The game's AI requires a few tweaks now and then but mostly does what it needs to do, various behaviours can be set and the AI will adhere to these, with very few brain dead moments - on harder levels of difficulty they will use various tactics and test defences, if you have a strong position they'll send harder and tougher units against you in that location.
Likewise if you have a weak spot in your defence then the AI will do its best to exploit that.
The AI will also try its best to support you if you're playing a skirmish game with allies on your side, but you have to watch out since it's often very good at capturing artifacts (These allow you to build your most powerful units) and other locations, and they won't leave you one spare either.
Playin wid otherz!
Dawn comes with a nice selection of MP maps where you can play against or with other people, AI or a mix. There are various game modes and you will have a lot of fun experimenting with what game style you prefer best. At the end of a MP engagement you can save the replay to view it later on, here you're able to speed up time, slow it down and view the game from any of the factions involved.
Good for after clan-match battles to check out exactly how the clans played their game.
Wrappin it upp!
Dawn features some very nice innovations and slick implementation, outstanding graphics and vibrant gameplay combine with aesthetically pleasing map design and a good solid gameplay engine to produce one of the best core RTS titles since Starcraft and Command and Conquer.