Monday, October 23, 2006

RTS Review: Warhammer 40k Dawn of War: Dark Crusade

Hot off the heels of THQ's RTS smash "Company of Heroes" comes this nerdgasm. If you know anybody who even remotely likes Warhammer, 40k, Blizzard RTSes, Company of Heroes, or just the RTS genre in general, get them this game. The best way I can describe it is summed up like this:

This is what Starcraft was trying to be. WH40K:DoW:DC expands on Company of Heroes' engine and gameplay style, set in a gritty bloody future like Starcraft, with a dash of Warcraft 3's "hero" system for army generals, and incorporates a non-linear campaign mode to give even the single-player mode almost unlimited control and replayability. Throw in the fact that there are seven different factions to possibly play, and all in all, it comes down to you not leaving the house for a while after you get this game.

And even though it's an "expansion," it stands alone just fine. If you don't have the original Dawn of War, nor even the expansion previous to this one, you can still play Dark Crusade without missing out on a single thing.

Let's get into some specifics.


The gameplay dynamic is one that fans of Company of Heroes will find familiar and yet have enough that is new to be interesting. Those who have only experienced Blizzard or Command and Conquer fare in their RTS'ing are in for a refreshing experience. While most of the commands are intuitive (left click to select, right click to perform obvious actions, etc), the paradigm is squad based: rather than having to mass select all the individual grunts, you may have two or three units, each comprising maybe a dozen or so soldiers, a squad leader, and perhaps some upgraded weaponry. As individuals in a squad are killed, you have a "reinforce" command on each unit. Basically, rather than having to click on a barracks and say "make more troops," you only have to produce a unit from the barracks, then add members to the unit by clicking on the unit in question and clicking reinforce. The unit will then "build" its new soldiers in the familiar way, costing resources and filling a progress bar over time. Other improvements to the squad are purchased in the same fashion, such as a "sergeant" to improve the squad's stats or specialized weaponry upgrades. Unlike Company of Heroes, the troops' AI doesn't have it scrambling for cover the instant fighting starts, which is good in some ways and bad in others. Really, the concept of "cover" in Warhammer is dramatically simpler than in CoH. Another difference is that squads can reinforce/upgrade in the field, without having to return to base. Also, there is a cap on how much infantry and how many vehicles you can support at once, which is largely determined by how many of the buildings that produce these units you have in your base... but even at the maximum, you'd be hard pressed to have more than 15 or so units, give or take 5 or so depending on the cost of the various units you choose to produce. All in all, it makes for a very balanced strategic game.


Like its cousin, Company of Heroes, 40k's graphics are superb yet scalable. If you play on an old clunker, the game is perfectly playable and enjoyable with most of the fancy bells and whistles turned off... but if your rig is so powerful it practically needs dual exhaust, you can crank the graphics up and be wowed by the level of detail and intricacy. Add in the iconic artwork from the Warhammer world, and you've got an all-around crowd pleaser.


While most of the sound effects and music are what has come to be standard these days, there were a few things worth mentioning. The music is nice and atmospheric, though nothing fancy or involved. The voice acting is good, but often the unit voices become extremely repetitive. I only played it for about an hour before I could practically recite "Long have I wished to serve under you, sir" perfectly in time with the growling trooper, complete with
thick Liverpudlian accent. This is really the only shortcoming I've found thus far, and it is by far a minor one.

In Summary

When it rains, it pours. We've been awash in very decent games recently, and this is another. In fact, it's not decent, it's excellent. Even if you've been burned out from hours and hours of Company of Heroes or any other RTS, this is definitely one you want in your collection. Even if you've never played the Warhammer tabletop game in your life. Especially if you have. Excellent strategy. Challenging AI. Forgiving consequences for failiure in the single player game (you just fall back and either try again next round or attack somewhere else). Vibrant graphics and artistry. Novel controls. All in all, it's a definite keeper. I give it four chainguns and a plasma rifle. Rating: A+.

1 comment:

Gas Bandit said...

I've heard form other sources that the multiplayer version only lets you select the 2 new races (Tau and Necron) if you don't have any of the previous iterations of the game. But you can get the Warhammer 40k Gold Edition for fairly cheap, and then you can go multiplayer with all 7 factions.