There is a strange beauty to be found in the blood, grit, and WAAAGH of the Warhammer 40k universe. Dawn of War has made its explosive return in the latest iteration of the strategy series. With a singleplayer campaign and multiplayer matches versus AI and other players, Dawn of War 3 is comfortingly familiar to fans of the series. After countless hours of battling it out in the original Dawn of War, and enjoying the Dawn of War 2 campaign immensely, here’s my Warhammer 40k: Dawn of War 3 review.
For the Emperor!
I chose to start with the singleplayer campaign. I’d heard it’s good at introducing players to the three armies: Space Marines, Orks, and Eldar. You start as Gabriel Angelos, Chapter Master of the Blood Ravens and all around hammer-wielding badass. Your objective: defend Varlock Keep from hordes of attacking Orks. At the beginning, you’ll control only Angelos. As the objective progresses you’ll gain control of squads of units such as scouts and tactical marines. Objectives pop up on your screen directing you towards the next step in your mission.
Is there anything more delightful, though, than walking up to a squad of enemies and swinging your massive hammer, knocking them into the air and immediately turning to smash another enemy in the face? I honestly don’t think there is. From the get go, Dawn of War 3 captures the gritty darkness of the Warhammer 40k universe.
After running through the first mission as the Space Marines, you’ll switch to Orks, then to Eldar. From here, you start to get the story from the three different armies, progressing through different stages to get a complete picture.
Starting the Campaign
As mentioned above, the campaign follows three protagonists, one for each of the three factions included in the game. We have Gabriel Angelos for the Space Marines, Gorgutz for the Orks, and Farseer Macha for the Eldar. The campaign alternates between the three factions to show different parts of the story and introduce us to core concepts of the game. Learning by doing.
The objectives are simple and short. Initially you’ll control just the Elite unit for the army you’re playing but will start to get squads of other units as you progress. You’ll eventually be able to summon units at buildings to bolster your army as you take on the primary objective of your mission. The second mission, for example, involves the Orks defending a “Big Gun” that they are trying to get back to their base. Countless Eldar will throw themselves against your defenses, and you’d best be prepared to get more Orks up to your defensive lines or you’ll soon be overwhelmed.
The campaign serves as a great introduction to the game. Each mission feels much like a Player vs AI skirmish with some additional story sprinkled in. While fun, it is worth noting that the storyline is very light. In fact, it mostly exists as a short cutscene at the beginning of each mission, with voiceover lines scattered throughout the objectives and a chat between your Elite and other important members of your faction at the end. The singleplayer campaign is a lot of running from Point A to Point B, occasionally getting attacked, then a larger objective at the end.
Venturing Into Multiplayer
After playing a chunk of the campaign, I decided to give multiplayer a shot. As a brief disclaimer, I love Dawn of War and I’m very fond of the Warhammer 40k universe. However, I am not a very good RTS player. That doesn’t mean I don’t enjoy them, I just tend to “turtle” (build up my defenses and stay in my base for an extended period of time only to get rushed by the enemy and die, usually…) So your mileage may vary in multiplayer, depending on your prior RTS experience. This is what I would imagine the average gamer would experience in Dawn of War 3.
I jumped straight into a 3v3 match, playing as Orks since they won me over with their excellent implementation in singleplayer. They felt fun to play, and I enjoyed their voiceovers, so I was sold. I was expecting to be overwhelmed. There certainly were things I didn’t know such as how players prefer to take on map objectives in multiplayer, but the campaign at least prepared me for the basics.
The combat felt epic, with a huge clash in the center of the map about 10 minutes into my first match. At first my team was pushed back, but after I managed to summon my biggest Elite unit we were able to stomp our way through the enemy army and even latch onto their Power Core and start smacking away at it. The objective is to destroy your enemy’s Power Core before they destroy yours. While we got a headstart, the enemy snuck in the back and their overwhelming forces took out our Power Core as we got theirs down to 25%. I felt on edge and in a good way. The battle was tense, and it really could’ve gone either way.
Walk Softly…and Carry a Big Gun
As players progress through the game, you can unlock additional Elite units. These are your heroes who command your units and are generally tougher than your squads in many ways. The first Elite you get to play as in singleplayer is Gabriel Angelos. Elite units start with various active abilities. These can include massive area effect hammer smashes like Angelos’ Retribution, and each ability can be used to gain advantage on the battlefield in various situations.
This is where the game stops feeling so much like a Dawn of War title and starts to feel weirdly like a MOBA. The Elites all have abilities that go on cooldown after you use them, and behave differently if you combo them with another move. This was strange for someone who has played both of the previous Dawn of War games, particularly because up until this point there were far more similarities to the first game which was more of a large-scale strategy. This, coupled with the multiplayer “destroy the enemy’s Power Core” mechanic makes the game feel very much like it’s trying to bridge the gap between RTS and MOBA.
I encountered a few problems with the Elites, such as Gorgutz’s Grapplin’ Klaw not latching onto terrain I direct it at and instead getting stuck on a nearby rock, causing me to jump on the spot and completely waste my cooldown. This is frustrating when you’re fighting against a relentless torrent of Eldar and just wanted to try and cover the ground more quickly, only to hop on the spot and not manage to do anything of use.
I Walk Again, a God Among Mere Mortals
My biggest complaint with Dawn of War 3, though, is that while there’s a great variety of units and it feels on the surface much like Dawn of War 1 which I loved greatly, the units seem…useless. That sounds harsh, but Elites really seem to be the main point of the game. It is incredibly rewarding watching Elites smash through squad after squad of your enemy’s units, but it makes you wonder what the point of your units really is. They mostly seem to run into combat only to either die completely or at least need reinforcing.
In the Warhammer 40k tabletop, Independent Characters (ICs) do play a massive role. Much like the Elites, they have special abilities and are significantly stronger than the normal units. However, Elites in Dawn of War 3 feel like they’re the heroes of the story, and there’s not really much room for anyone else. While ICs were incredibly important in the tabletop, your units still played a vital role, which it doesn’t feel Dawn of War 3 has captured well.
You’d think that this would prevent the game from feeling too micro-managed. That’s a pattern many RTS games fall into that can be off-putting for people who don’t enjoy micro-management. And yet somehow that manages to not be the case. Your units can’t be completely ignored, and you have to micro-manage their abilities. For example, upgrading a Tactical Marine squad with a Flamer in Dawn of War 1 automatically added Flamer damage to their autofire. In Dawn of War 3, the upgrade is more powerful but not automatic. It requires a conscious decision and action on the player’s part to use the Flamer. This can get a bit overwhelming when you have multiple squads with upgrades that need to be manually activated.
The combat is fun and definitely fits within the gritty, dark theme of Warhammer 40k which I appreciated. Your Elites feel powerful and it’s enjoyable to play as them. Who doesn’t want to feel like a hero? However, that said, I feel that Dawn of War 3 has lost some of the previous games’ charms. There’s a lack of focus that makes the game feel scattered.
Singleplayer is somewhat shallow. I found the Elites and their doctrines a little confusing at first. The micro-management of unit abilities was occasionally overwhelming. I am a casual RTS player, though, so someone who is much better at these types of games may find this enjoyable. I’m in it for the blood and rust and yelling, as someone who is a fan of Warhammer 40k and has big dreams of being great at RTS games. However, I think it’s important to note that even though there’s only one core game mode in multiplayer (basically destroy your enemy’s base), it’s spread across 3v3, 2v2, and 1v1. And honestly, I don’t think more than that is necessarily required. More maps would be great, though.
Because of this, I think the gameplay is pretty good overall. Multiplayer feels epic and enjoyable and certainly has a lot of potential. I’m interested in seeing where the game’s future leads.
In this case, Relic Entertainment has tried to innovate on Dawn of War but I think that was unnecessary. Dawn of War 1 was great high-level strategy. On the other hand, Dawn of War 2 was much more focused on individual squads and felt more like you were boots-on-the-ground. Both of these worked for different reasons and appealed to different facets of Warhammer 40k fandom. Dawn of War 3 feels like it doesn’t really focus on either, and tries too hard to implement MOBA-esque abilities and cooldowns.
It feels like Relic thought the old style of Dawn of War gameplay doesn’t have a place in today’s gaming landscape, so they tried to change it a little. Ultimately it doesn’t feel like it works as well as it could. And I absolutely think both of the previous games fit in modern gaming just fine. Thankfully, the multiplayer component has still managed to retain a level of epic battle that the first game had.
I was very worried that going into multiplayer I was going to meet people who were much better at RTS games than I was. Would they be frustrated with me being on their team? Despite that, my first and subsequent experiences in 3v3 with complete strangers have been very positive. My team was quiet but informative and direct about what they needed help with. When one teammate took a resource point, they were quick to request specific kinds of back-up. They were really polite and welcoming.
I’ve noticed much the same in other Warhammer 40k games and on the official forums. The community feels somewhat more mature, which is probably mostly down to the universe’s core audience. I felt welcome and like I was free to ask questions, even if my team wasn’t overly chatty. In the grim darkness of the far future, there is…no time for small talk, apparently!
I’ve given this one a higher rating because while the graphics aren’t particularly astounding, I don’t think they need to be over-the-top for an RTS game. Dawn of War 3’s graphics fit within the universe quite well. While they aren’t super shiny or intense, I feel like it works for the game’s aesthetic.
The sound, too, is good for the type of game. The music works with the theme and the sounds of combat ring out across the battlefield as you play. Some of the voice-acting is a bit off and can seem overly cheesy, but for the most part the voice-acting brought back feelings of nostalgia from the older games too. I consider this a big plus.
What pulls the rating up to a 7/10 rather than a slightly lower rating is the Orks. Their voiceovers, mannerisms, and demeanor are pretty much perfect at crafting a presence befitting the Boyz in 40k. I wouldn’t normally choose them, but I have certainly been swayed by their implementation in Dawn of War 3.
Value for Money 6/10
Dawn of War 3’s value for money is a bit tricky. The singleplayer campaign is long enough, so I don’t feel like that reduces its value in any way, however it does feel a little light on content. On top of that, the multiplayer – which is where the previous games often shone brightest – feels limited with three factions to choose from and only a spattering of maps. Some players are also concerned about the lack of varied game modes. While I disagree, it is something worth thinking about if you’re considering picking it up. I imagine Relic will release DLCs in the future to expand upon this, but depending on their cost the value for money could rapidly drop lower.
All in all, the $59.99 price tag is pretty steep if multiplayer is what you’re after. The singleplayer does not feel like it’s deep enough to carry the game on its own.
Overall, Dawn of War 3 is fun. As usual the multiplayer is where players will likely spend most of their time. I don’t think it completely lives up to the previous games in the series, as Dawn of War 1 did larger scale strategy better, and Dawn of War 2 had a much more thrilling campaign. However, it is definitely refreshing to get back into the 40k universe in a way that feels mostly familiar.
+ Represents the rough, bleak aesthetic of Warhammer 40k very well.
+ Multiplayer is fun, especially with friends.
+ Elites are a new and interesting mechanic that harken back to Independent Characters (ICs) from tabletop.
– Tries a bit too hard to include MOBA style mechanics such as abilities/cooldowns. It loses some of the strategy because of it.
– Singleplayer feels quite shallow despite its length, with snippets of story mixed amongst objective-driven skirmishes versus AI.
– Elite units do somewhat make standard units feel like cannon fodder. Elites feel like the way you turn the tide of battle while your units mostly get stomped on.