I’ve always been drawn to strategy games, whether it’s chess or an RTS. I grew up with games like Command & Conquer, Total Annihilation, and StarCraft, but the last decade has not been kind to the genre. We’ve received stripped down RTS games, such as Supreme Commander 2, or squad-based pseudo strategy titles in the vein of Dawn of War 2.
The competitive eSports scene has almost completely drawn RTS players away into the MOBA scene, with the exception of StarCraft 2, and AAA publishers won’t touch the genre. That’s why getting my hands on Warhammer 40k: Dawn of War 3 felt so important.
Warhammer 40k: Dawn of War 3 is taking the series full circle with complete RTS mechanics and integration of the elite heroes we love so much. After playing part of the campaign, I’m confident that it will deliver what RTS fans have been missing for so long.
Big Armies, Bigger Heroes
Two of the most enjoyable things to do in an RTS is to build and control a massive army, and then lay complete waste to your opponent’s army with the help of some ridiculously overpowered heroes. The Dawn of War series has always managed to get this half right. In Dawn of War there was excellent base and army building mechanics but hero units were rather lackluster. Then Dawn of War 2 took away base building and was basically all about heroes.
From what I’ve seen of Dawn of War 3, the two are merged together perfectly. It seems like Relic has taken a page out of Blizzard’s playbook and that’s a great thing. In the StarCraft 2 campaign, players are responsible for simultaneously controlling a powerful hero, or two, while expanding their base and army. Dawn of War 3 will be operating the same way in that respect but with more customization.
Before each mission begins, players will be allowed to select their elite unit loadout. For the demonstration, I was pre-assigned Gabriel Angelos, Imperial Knight Solaria and a Terminator squad. During the campaign, these elite units can be called into battle and will respawn after a certain amount of time; there didn’t appear to be any terrible ‘you lose the mission if this character dies’ mechanics. Furthermore, standard units (from the lowly scout to the mighty Dreadnought) can also be called down via drop pod or produced from their respective building.
Unlike the RTS games of old, the hero units truly feel heroic. In Dawn of War 3 you’re not getting an upgraded scout with an extra 100 hit points and 10 additional damage. Instead, you get Gabriel Angelos with his God-Splitter to rain down holy righteousness on the enemies of the Emperor, and it feels good. In addition to having a solid amount of hit points and great damage, his main abilities include a multi-charge leap and an AoE knockback that also creates a shield.
If Angelos wasn’t scary enough, Imperial Knight Solaria is a walking nightmare. Her deadly mech is not only insanely tough but it’s also good against both infantry and hardened targets. With Gatling Barrage, Solaria sweeps the battlefield in a 90-degree arc turning all enemy infantry into red mist. Got a bunker that needs blowing up? No problem for her Ironstorm missiles that can be stacked up to six times on a single target.
On a positive note, the heroes aren’t completely invincible either. I got overzealous with the Blood Raven chapter leader more than once and a well-balanced group of standard Eldar units managed to send him respawning. There’s a very important balance to strike when involving such powerful units. They need to feel impactful, but they also shouldn’t be able to win all on their own.
The Return of Base Building
One of my favorite things to do in an RTS is study maps and find the most strategic places to build my base. On the other hand, I also really dislike managing hordes of gathering units and babysitting them all game. Thankfully, at least for those who share that sentiment, Dawn of War 3 is going back to its roots with its base building and resource management system.
In addition to calling down reinforcements in the middle of combat, players will also have full control over base construction and unit production. In order to increase your army size, resource nodes are scattered around the map that can be claimed and will produce the resource of your choice. Resource nodes will need to be defended and can be fortified with defensive structures. This forces a sort of back-and-forth struggle for resource control across the entire map instead of having a handful of concentrated mineral hubs located inside bases.
Although only the Space Marines and Eldar were shown off in the mission, each of the three races will also have access to a super unit. These include the Imperial Knight, Wraithknight and Gorkanaut. There will likely be an ultimate ability for each race as well, such as the Space Marines’ Orbital Bombardment; players can control the orbital laser as it grows in size and destructive power but slows as enemies are consumed. During my preview, I had a chance to test out the Orbital Bombardment ability, and it feels very rewarding to use.
After only getting 30 minutes to play a single mission of the Dawn of War 3 campaign, I want more. If you enjoyed the previous games in the series then this is a no-brainer. If you’re someone who appreciates the RTS games of old but enjoys gorgeous visuals and updated mechanics, Dawn of War 3 is looking to deliver on that as well.
One of the aspects that will play a major factor, however is the multiplayer, which hasn’t been revealed as of yet. Dawn of War 2 definitely fell short on that front, but Relic has stated that multiplayer will be a major part of the upcoming game. We’ll have to see how things like balance and elite unit usage work before making a final judgment call, but if it plays anything like the rest of the campaign I’m not too worried. With any luck, Dawn of War 3 will prove that the RTS genre is still alive.Related: Dawn of War 3, PAX West 2016, Preview, Relic Entertainment, RTS, Warhammer 40k