A HYBRID OF ITS PREDECESSORS
Relic Entertainment has long been delivering solid real-time strategy games, with the most popular among them being the Company of Heroes series and Warhammer 40,000: Dawn of War. The franchise has been through a number of iterations, the first game focusing on large scale engagements and base building, and the second game focusing on micromanaging a small handful of units.
Dawn of War 3, currently in an open beta phase and due for full release on April 27, seems to competently bring back the much-requested base building system and larger armies from the original, and blends this with the ability-focused hero units of Dawn of War 2. The result is fast-paced multiplayer mayhem, with skirmishes for territory throughout the opening and middle phases of each match keeping you on your toes, escalating until the end with ever-increasing intensity and scale. But, there are certainly a few problems along the way.
THREE RACES, ONE WAR
A lot of fans were underwhelmed when it was announced that this latest installment would only feature three races from the Warhammer 40K universe: the Imperium’s Space Marines, the Craftworld Eldar, and the brutal green tide known as the Orks. Compared to the initial release of both predecessors, both of which had four races at launch and many more from their expansions, it is understandable that fans felt as if there would be a lack of diversity in the game.
Luckily, it would seem that Relic has managed to succeed here, bringing more than enough choice and depth to each race. All three factions have a solid array of line units and vehicles to choose from, though Dawn of War 1 certainly did have a larger number of them, on top of the “Elites” and “Doctrines.” But greater than this, it seems as though Relic has managed to achieve something they had failed in their previous attempts in the franchise: balance. For the first time, each race truly brings something different to the table, with each having their own strengths and weaknesses that balance well with one another. Perhaps having fewer races to balance and make interesting has helped here, allowing for interesting and engaging differences between each race without throwing the balance of power. Indeed, in the 15 or so hours I’ve played so far, it did not feel as if one race was significantly stronger than another.
The Space Marines are slow and well-armored, enjoying balanced ranged and melee power. They enjoy easy forward deployment and the use of their unique drop pods, which allow them to deliver units or even an automated turret to the front lines. They’re loud, punchy, and you’ll find yourself enjoying blasting your way into brawls, dropping units directly on top of the foe with drop pods and jump jetting your assault squads to scatter the enemy.
The Orks brim with personality and humour, churn out squads at a terrifying rate, and can salvage wreckage and scrap to upgrade themselves. They excel up close. They are a grim, brutal, green tide punctuated with comedic voice acting, and have some of the most interesting mechanics with their ‘WAAAAAAGH!’ abilities and the scrap-harvesting antics that keep the intensity high throughout each match.
The Eldar are graceful, fast, and can create a web of teleporters or even teleport buildings themselves to set up for hit-and-run strikes at blistering speed. They excel at at surprise assaults and punching through weaknesses in the enemy’s defences, all the while emanating a smug, condescending attitude toward the other races.
HEROES OF THE 41ST MILLENIUM
In the open beta, all three factions have five Elite units available, of which you must choose three (though in the full release Relic states that each race will have 9.) These units are ability focused powerhouses that can turn the tide of war if utilised properly. Included among these are small elite squads, powerful solitary Hero units, and the gargantuan, poster-child super units. Each of these have three special abilities that can be used to turn the tide of war in a multitude of ways.
The way these units are summoned is via a resource called “Elite points”, which are generated passively over time, and can be accelerated by holding and upgrading specific points on the map. When you accumulate enough of these points, you can spend them to unlock an Elite unit, with hero units generally being the cheapest and the super units being the most expensive, with elite squads varying in price between the two. These units will stay on the field until they die, at which point there is a long cooldown around 5-6 minutes long until they can be summoned again at no further cost.
In addition to your elite units, you also get a racial superweapon that costs several elite points to activate. These are targeted high damage bombardment weapons that can wreak havoc on enemies that do not escape.
The super units available in the beta are probably the most impressive and enjoyable aspect of my experience so far. The Space Marines are granted an Imperial Knight, a towering war machine armed to the teeth with twin gatling cannons and a devastating missile battery. The Eldar can field a Wraithknight, a graceful sword wielding giant that can pummel the hardest of targets into dust. Finally, the Orks have the Morkanaut, a behemoth ork walker that excels at protecting itself and its allies.
REAL-TIME STRATEGY WITH MOBA ELEMENTS
The open beta is exclusively a multiplayer test, and beyond the short tutorial, no single player options are available for testing. As such, all of my time with the game so far have been trying the limited options, which is one for each of the 1v1, 2v2 and 3v3 modes available.
Much of the criticism from fans of the franchise so far has come from the similarities between several of the game’s mechanics and features with that of MOBAs such as League of Legends and Heroes of the Storm. The multiplayer game mode shown off in the beta is one centred around “Power cores” in each of the 1v1, 2v2 or 3v3 modes, where there are the very typical MOBA-styled objectives of shield generators, turrets, and finally a power core which must be destroyed in sequence. In the 3v3 mode there are three “lanes,” each with its own shield generator and turret for each side.
In addition to these primary objectives, there are resource points that can be captured, upgraded and fought over. These allow you to increase your resource income such that you can purchase more upgrades, units and buildings, and even increase your elite point generation rate. All players on each team benefit equally from holding any one point, so cooperation is encouraged for the larger game modes. In the beginning and middle stages of each match, most skirmishes and engagements usually occur when one side attempts to take one of these points from the other team, allowing for advanced players to utilise the surprising depth of mechanics the game has to offer to gain the advantage, particularly with the micromanagement-intensive Elite units.
A WORD ON GRAPHICS AND AUDIO
Another source of controversy was the decision to focus more on clarity of what’s happening on-screen by way of altering the art style – Dawn of War 2 had a darker, grittier feel to its aesthetic, where this time around there is a much more vibrant colour palette. However, watching battles unfold clearly shows that there is just as much ‘grimdark’ grit on display as ever, with brilliant models and visual effects keeping the noisy environment readable. The music, ambient sounds and sound effects of the game are phenomenal, though fans of earlier games in the series will be disappointed to hear Gabriel Angelos, face of the franchise, has had his voice changed.
Relic has brought forward elements from the first two games in the series, taken lessons from popular MOBAs, and competently blended these together to make somewhat flawed but thrilling and engaging multiplayer gameplay. Fantastic audio and very solid visuals bring it all together to create a rather special experience, particularly amidst the sea of mediocre 40K games that have released in recent years.