The long-awaited sequel by Relic, Dawn of War III, launched last week after a big beta test the preceding weekend. I had signed up to try it out, given my love of both Warhammer 40k, and the RTS genre.
For those not familiar, Dawn of War is a slightly different style of RTS. Instead of micromanaging workers or villagers to gather resources, players are granted resources through the seizure of different vital checkpoints which slowly accumulate said resources. The idea is that players are incentivized to use their military units to control territory.
The first Dawn of War took many hours of my time away, especially after it added nearly all the big 40k factions through several expansions. It followed a pretty straightforward formula of having some builder units construct your base, and then you used military units to take the resource points.
Dawn of War II was a little different. The game borrows from the Company of Heroes style, and eschews base building and micromanaged villagers entirely in favor of military units. Though the game did have an expansion, it was missing the full range of armies its predecessor had.
So where does Dawn of War III fall?
Environment and Competition
RTS’s are in a bit of a strange place — they have to compete with MOBA’s and their free to play model. In addition, people are increasingly defecting from need for technical micro and macro required in RTS’s for the friendlier and quicker MOBA.
The Dawn of War series has tried to bridge the gap somewhat with its “simplified” playstyle. DoW III favors the base building of its original, with builder units alongside the military units. Resources are once again pulled from requisition points, emphasizing tactical military unit movements.
Not only does DoW have to compete with MOBA’s, but Blizzard has recently announced the remaster of Starcraft: Brood War, the RTS of RTS’s. It will be interesting to see if Dawn of War can be different enough, accessible enough, and adequately leverage the Warhammer license to bring new players in.
Getting into the Game
The first thing I was met with was to log-in with a Relic account. I really do not like having all these separate accounts when they feel unnecessary. Perhaps this was just a beta test requirement, but I’ve already logged in through Steam, why do I need a unique profile?
The available races are Space Marines, Orks, and Eldar. For those not familiar, these are your typical sci-fi fare – human super warriors (Marines), space orcs, and advanced elf aliens (Eldar). There are many more Warhammer 40k races, and hopefully they are added at a later date, as having the full spectrum was a big draw in the original game.
One thing I really enjoyed in the previous games was the customization. The army painter is back in 3, which allows the player to pick the unique color schemes for their various factions, including the iconic craftworld or marine chapter colors.
As an added feature, there is now an RPG-esque system for the hero units that carry over from game to game. The player chooses their hero units (which are deployed separately in-game) and also chooses their “build.” I didn’t get enough time to really dive deep into this system, but it showed promise in personalizing each faction to the player.
Playing the Game
So after all that chatter about the structure and how the game is presented, how does it actually play?
While the beta had limited access to the full range of options, there is a campaign for single player, as well as multiplayer matches. The old Dawn of War games had an interesting map-based campaign that was a little bit Starcraft with a little bit of Total War. The beta didn’t allow access to what this game would include.
For the actual games, things are very similar to the past titles. Build a base, build units, replenish the units, and take resource points. There are two resources, and the units escalate in power throughout the tech tree.
Notably, units must be replenished within the range of your base buildings. I assume this is to reduce the possibility of early rushes that many players do not enjoy in RTS’s.
Resource points are then “upgraded” with turrets and the like to help defend against enemy units. Cover is as important as ever with different fortifications or open areas that can create tactical advantages.
One big change is the move towards, and in relation to my original point, MOBA-ization of the game. In multiplayer games, the objective is to break through the enemy’s shields, then turrets, then their core. Once you have beaten through those barriers, you win.
This feels a lot like the MOBA model where you fight towards your opponents big objective after taking out the mobs and turret in the different lanes. Again, I think Relic is sensitive towards MOBA’s stealing away the market share of RTS’s and also trying to prevent early rushes.
I’m not sure if this will work too well. I seek out RTS’s to be different from MOBA’s, which do not draw me in the same way. I like the total strategy required in RTS’s, and if I wanted a MOBA I’d go play Dota 2. However, I respect the experimentation to be a little different, I just don’t think its all that appealing in its current form.
What it Needs
I noticed the game lacked a certain polish, a certain crispness, to the whole experience. Granted this was a beta, but it was several days before the full release. The in-game graphics just weren’t all that compelling (although I do love the full cut scenes). The controls felt a bit clunky and the key bindings cannot be changed.
Also, I hope the game adds more factions. I cannot emphasize enough the importance of nearly all the big factions in Warhammer games. I believe including the basics like Space Marines and Orks is greatly enhanced when you have the unique races of Necrons, Tau, and Dark Eldar. Faction variety is increasingly a strongpoint for Total War: Warhammer, for example.
Further, the game will need to have some interesting and varied maps. This was an area that lead to waxes and wanes in the fun of many Starcraft 2 metagames. When you have fun, balanced maps, it can make up for faction imbalance and allow comebacks or new strategies to emerge.
I’m glad that the Dawn of War franchise has not been forgotten, but I remain cautious of what we will get in the third iteration. Without the initial faction or map variety, interest could quickly evaporate. Losing that initial goodwill can be a death knell given the competition between a new Starcraft and the rise of MOBA’s in general.
Have you tried out Dawn of War III? Do you still play RTS’s? Comment below!