Dawn of War 3 is a tricky game to describe. The original games still stand as testament to how well the 40K universe could work in games. Dawn of War 2 was a fresh tactical take on the same idea. Dawn of War 3 however is technically excellent. It just has a lot of choices I don’t like.
I love Dawn of War. I rescued my online handle, Corallis, from the terrible Tie-In novels. I’ve spent a lot of time playing through the campaigns and with friends online, as well as in skirmish mode against the AI. They mean a great deal to me, and I’m coming into this review from that position. So let that speak to where my review is coming from. Dawn of War 3 is a very good game. It just isn’t always the game I wanted to play.
Dawn of War 3 is a real time strategy game. The player takes on the role of the commander of an army in the Warhammer 40K Universe. They will control the sturdy yet adaptable Space Marines, the Brutish but Innovative Orks or the Powerful yet Few in number Eldar. Each of these factions has their own special mechanics for how they play overall. Generally the gameplay consists of building a base, sending units out to capture and defend resource points, and then developing an advanced army to destroy your opponents. The armies consist of Infantry, Mobile jump troops and vehicles.
In addition, Hero Units have been reworked from the other two games. Here they comprise three units that players have to attain specific resources to acquire. These units are typically incredibly powerful, with special abilities that the player will have to manage. Most of these abilities are very cool to use. They’re generally designed around Movement or Control on the battlefield. Examples include jumping to other places or raising a shield that blocks all damage, or just slowing enemies for a few seconds.
Using the heroes’ abilities feels great, and in particular, the Super heavy class heroes are a pleasure to play with. The Imperial Knight, Ork Stompa or Eldar Wraithknight are gigantic units, towering over the battlefield and using their abilities wipes hordes of smaller foes off the map.
As for the special gameplay style for each race:
Marines get a system where they can have units held back and deployed immediately via drop pod/thunderhawk to the battlefield, as well as a stat boosting area of effect Banner which can be deployed to turn the tide of battle.
Orks work best when they’re sprawling across the battlefield, building Waaagghh Towers to maintain dominance, upgrading their units on the battlefield by taking resources from defeated opponents and then triggering the Waaaggh to make every Ork fight a whole lot harder.
The Eldar are best used in planned engagements, with their passive battle focus ability letting them hit harder, but getting weaker the more time they spend in combat without recharging at friendly buildings. To allow for that, they can teleport buildings anywhere visible on the map, and can link buildings to teleport troops straight to the front lines.
Each feels distinct, and when used appropriately, each race feels like an accurate depiction of their background narrative.
In terms of that narrative, Dawn of War 3 has a single-player campaign that can best be described as ambitious, but overreaching. The campaign is split between the Space Marine, Ork and Elder factions. You play all three equally over the course of the story as they search for the mythical Spear of Khaine on and around the world of Cyprus Prime. The story is a continuation of the ongoing narrative of the Dawn of War series, with constant references to the previous games.
Highlights include biting take downs of the Kaurava campaign from Soulstorm (Unquestionably the worst title in the franchise) and the return of several plot threads from the rest of the series. Especially the dangling threads of the Elder Farseers Macha and Taldeer. Plus, always nice to see Relic’s Blood Ravens, especially with Gabriel Angelos at their head.
The story itself is not much to talk about, even by the standard of the 40K universe. There’s three factions and as the Eldar are involved, you can expect a lot of manipulation and scheming around all three. There are some interesting ideas on display. Certain missions, like the Ork Invasion of an Imperial Space Station, display a spark of creativity. That particular mission sees the normally numerous Orks forced to make do initially with only salvaged resources, whilst protecting their weak builder units in order to complete special objectives. It’s a fun twist on the usual Ork play style and encourages the players to think very tactically.
However, some missions are just miserable to play. The Eldar missions are by far the most story intensive, as a result of the aforementioned scheming. However, at least two of their missions involved stealth elements based around alarm units. These don’t really work on a mechanical level, forcing you to either break stealth, or play at an incredibly slow pace. In addition, as the Eldar are resource expensive and fragile, triggering an alarm and losing some units slows the pace even further by forcing the player to rebuild their forces. It’s tedious and annoying, leading to me sighing every time I saw an alarm feature appear in a mission.
Points should obviously be given for trying for variety, but there’s very little here that even comes close to the gameplay of the best parts of the rest of the series. There’s no missions like the Titan Cannon escort of Winter Assault or the strongholds of Dark Crusade. Barring the missions that annoyed me, I have no real memorable enagagements from the Dawn of War 3 Campaign.
As well as this, the campaign seems geared around getting the player ready for multi-player. Most missions have a selection of heroes to choose from. This determines the play style for the mission. At the end of the mission, those heroes will level up in rank. Each level will either give specific character/army special rules to use in multi-player, special icons for the player to display in multi-player or in game currency which can be used to unlock more elite hero units for the multi-player game.
On the one hand, this does allow all players to go into multi-player knowing how specific heroes work, and letting them find their favourites. On the other, having to earn in game currency to unlock units in a strategy game feels… strangely uncomfortable. I would like to be able to use terminators/Imperial Knights/Librarian units from the get go. It seems like the design is there to add to the play time of the game, with not much else justifying it beyond incentivising playing the campaign.
Visually the game looks delightful. Relic deeply care about the 40K universe, there’s no doubting that. Every single unit and environment looks like it was sculpted out of plastic and lovingly painted. There’s even some incredibly cool designs from the Forge World Studio that I was not expecting to see at all. They took the damned Shadow Spectres and made them cool.
Gameplay wise, there’s so much going on. Units require a great deal of management, using abilities and making sure they aren’t overwhelmed. Simultaneously, there’s an expectation that you are also controlling heroes and building units and bases at the same time, through careful positioning. It’s demanding. The overall effect is made worse by the fact that units are flimsy enough to die if left alone for 30 seconds.
Also there are Hazardous Environment Imperial Guard units in this game and I am not allowed to play with them, and so the game is cruel and unusual. There’s a version of them in Death Korp of Krieg style Imperial Knight household guard armour too and if it isn’t in development for the model range, I’d be pissed.
Let’s talk multiplayer in Dawn of War 3.
Even based on the campaign reward system, Dawn of War 3 has clearly been designed with the Multiplayer system in mind. A lot of effort has gone into the designs and concepts. The problem is that it’s a great game, that isn’t quite what I was looking for.
The multiplayer side of Dawn of War 3 is designed around a single game objective. The Devs have commented that they wanted something more focussed than the annihilate or capture objective victory conditions. The problems with those were that players could build massive bases that would take forever to destroy, resulting in slow games where the losing player couldn’t recover. Or half the map would be ignored as players just went straight for the critical objective points.
Both of those are valid criticisms. What has been replaced is a highly engineered game mode that’s designed to directly encourage conflict around specific points on the map, while also allowing for clever maneuvering and plays.
Players are required to complete three Objectives in a row to win:
1. They must Destroy one of two shield generators near the enemy starting base. These can be occupied by defensive units and defended like any other cover object.
2. Following the destruction of one shield, then the players must destroy one of two super turrets. This turret is able to emit a wave pulse in a 360 degree arc, which stuns enemies. In addition, it fires a narrow beam of energy that will quickly kill most units in a long line. This encourages players to think tactically and spread out their units. Stops people making a swarm of units and just right clicking the object.
3. When one of the turrets goes down, the final objective is the power core at the heart of the enemy base. This power core is very tough. The Players on the team under attack have the ability to spend some resources to make the entire structure invulnerable for a short while. This allows for clever counter attacks.
The maps themselves are divided into narrow lanes, with key areas of the map holding resource points. In addition, some areas are not easily reachable by ground based troops, and there are unit concealing patches of stealth to allow for recon and ambushes.
Some of this might be sounding familiar. Relic have liberally taken good design concepts from MOBA gameplay. And it really works. A MOBA is just a stripped down strategy game after all, so just adding large numbers of units back in makes for a visually interesting tactics game.
Both players must be willing to slowly build up their forces and probe their enemy’s defences, whilst holding their nerve for a counter assault. Matches are tense, and revolve around running skirmishes to deny your enemy resources. Hero units must be carefully managed in order to make sure their death doesn’t tip the balance against the player.
It’s a really well designed, challenging game mode. The added multiplayer abilities to provide three special army wide effects for the player’s chosen army allows for a level of customisation that can help make each player comfortable in playing their own way.
Base building, while much appreciated in returning, is weirdly not that fun. The general idea is that by building troop spawning buildings closer to the frontlines of the fighting, players can easily heal units or send new ones out. Except that the maps are so tightly designed that buildings are either destroyed immediately by enemy troops skirmishing near them, or they block up a whole lane. There are no defensive buildings like turrets or mines to create choke points. Those have been replaced with the cover boxes, which sit in optimal positions on lanes to encourage fighting.
I actually really like this design decision. It creates focal points for the map, and is a lot easier for a new player to understand than the four types of terrain modifiers in Dawn of War 1, or the destructible cover of DOW2. It encourages players to also keep a mixed force, as ranged units and vehicles can’t enter the cover, only damage it. There’s a need for Assault troops are needed to dislodge the mass of infantry shooting outward. The mechanic has a last stand quality that I really like.
Overall though, there’s only a few maps, which follow that MOBA formula of lanes to bases. There will always be two opposing sides, no three or four way brawls. While there are options for a skirmish mode for AI, It’s a very different game to the prior games. There’s very little in the way of letting the player build their own game, just the (again, well designed) multiplayer format Relic has built. It doesn’t capture my attention in the same way as DOW 1 or 2. There’s less variety in how games will play out within this very stringent framework.
Asa final note, there is Steam Workshop integration. Players are already designing maps and finding ways to recreate the original game maps in the new engine. The ability to make story based mission levels is also available. As such, this possibly could be where the game will find a longevity for some people. I don’t like relying on the community in order to make a game work for me though.
In the end, The Problem with Dawn of War 3 is not really anything to do with the game. The Game is a tightly polished strategy game with a competent if slightly irritating campaign and a well designed multiplayer system. There’s nothing overly wrong with it. I’d happily recommend it to someone looking for that experience. I’m really looking forward to watching the multiplayer be played in an E Sports setting, because it’s going to look incredible.
It’s me. I’m the problem. I This was never going to be Winter Assault or Dark Crusade. I hoped for a game that would just be a retread of the previous titles. That’s not how this works. And now i’m disappointed. Which feels unfair to the Dawn of War 3. It’s a very good game. It just isn’t what I was hoping for.