Warhammer 40K: Dawn of War

Tom, politely, first asked me to write a gaming review a while back and I told him then I wasn’t interested. A short time later, he asked again, a little more pleading, and I said no, again. He didn’t ask a third time and me being contrary, decided to write it. It turned out to be harder than I thought and I nearly didn’t bother.1

I’m happy to tell everyone what I think about tv shows, movies, books, and stuff in general but I’ve been reluctant to write about video games. There’s a couple reasons for this. I find a video game a more personal experience than a book or a film. Everyone sees the same film but the interactivity in a video game makes things different in my opinion. There’s more factors involved and these can vary one’s opinion widly. Also, I feel more attached to games than other forms of media. I dislike critically looking at a game because that might force me to see its flaws.

Having said that, as long as I don’t have to weigh the game out of a hundred, I’m happy to tell you what I think. Although if I were to be keeping score, this game would receive bonus points just for being a Warhammer 40k game. All the 40k games so far have been crap to ordinary, so to see a decent game set in the 40k universe is a relief. It’s not a big call to say this is the best 40k computer game yet. Being able to control large mobs of orks as they hack up space marines is delicious. Watching a space marine dreadnought wade through my orks and crush my Big Mek is scary. Much like the Lord of the Rings movies, familiar characters being brought to life as I imagined them is enough for me to give it a thumbs up. Not having played the 3rd and 4th editions of the tabletop game, I can’t tell whether the game is faithful to the tabletop version. From what I’ve read, the developers didn’t aim for a strict conversion anyway, though they did adapt many of the 40k rules, including morale for troops and units having to stay in squads.

Without the 40k setting though, I probably wouldn’t have played the game. The game itself is a great game, but time is short and there are many games to play. I’m glad I played it though. The graphics, despite some glitches, are very good and the camera is able to zoom around right in to ground level to see the killing moves close up. Not that there’s time to appreciate the detailed animations: there’s a lot going on and all the troops need your attention. Resources, in a Ground Control 2 style, are collected by holding special points on the map. I didn’t like this initially but now I see that it makes the game much more offensive and the aggressive player usually wins. This prevents people camping in their bases, something I found to be a problem in Starcraft.

The single player campaign only uses one race disappointingly and features a radical plotline in which the main character is betrayed by his best friend. The AI is very poor. The AI is made more difficult by giving it a resource advantage and tougher units, not with better strategies so isn’t much of a challenge. The challenge and real fun is playing multiplayer. Although the rulebook and tutorial lack detail on controlling the other races, people online are willing to help and explain. Once you’ve got your race figured out, the fun begins. 1 v 1 and 2 v 2 games are very competitive. The games with more than four players are less cut throat and more relaxed as people tend to build up a full sized army before attacking.

The flaws, if I were forced to look at them,2 would be the balance between the races. While the game is complex and each unit has its own strengths and weaknesses, some of the abilities and units are unbalanced. Most of the problems were fixed up with the 1.1 patch but some remain. Only including four races is disappointing too, but there are mod tools available so there should be more races eventually.

Finally, the best bit of the game: The start up video by Blur Studios. It’s an impressive piece of animation. It’d make a great movie or series. For those who haven’t seen it, it is available on their website.

Relic, true to their usual form, has made a great game, using the existing setting of 40k well. I love seeing all the units come to life. If you have a computer that can run DoW,3 it’s definitely worth a look.

  1. It’s more fun playing the game than reviewing it.
  2. Which I’m not. I choose to look at them of my own accord.
  3. Any non-Apple computer should do.
5 comments posted — most recent by Tom on 06/01/05