The Space Marine has always filled a special spot in nearly every form of media. Big, grunty trigger pullers meant to fill an armored suit and yell about how they’re being flanked, and not much else. I’ve played previous Warhammer 40,000: Dawn of War games and I’ve never had much evidence to think this particular brand of Space Marine is any different. In Warhammer 40,000: Dawn of War III, it finally drove home how wrong I was in making my assumptions. I had my first glimpse of the real humanity of this franchise while playing this game, and while it was, of course, bombastic and fun, I wasn’t expecting to really think about the distillation of humanity at play.
First and foremost, this is a true RTS game. Fast-paced base building, resource collection, unit training real-time strategy with all the things you’d expect from a game of this particular genre. The story missions are all individually crafted to reveal the plot, and overlaid on this is the progression of “elite” units that can be used in your campaign or multiplayer missions. Multiplayer is still, definitely, very much an RTS game, though it’s taken some elements most often seen in the MOBA genre. Before you start to think Dawn of War III has gone crazy and delving into strange territory, this simply means there’s a set of defenses guarding your base that you didn’t have to build.
For those unfamiliar with the Dawn of War franchise, Dawn of War III is based around three competing factions in multiplayer or campaign arenas. You control them like in any other game of the genre, and while many comparisons could be brought up for Starcraft, there is significantly less focus on your resource collection and micromanaging of the troops you control. In each multiplayer game, there’s less of a chance of you being railroaded by an enormous ball of enemy troops being thrown at you by the enemy because each squad of your own troop makeup has abilities dedicated to, if you’re a good general, utterly mitigate the disastrous effects of a swarming army.
There’s almost no defensive focus in Dawn of War III. When you capture a resource node, which provides you with the “requisition” and “power” needed to purchase troops, upgrades, and buildings, you can place a listening post on them to help fend off an attack. At best, these buildings are simply there to provide a certain amount of anti-troop support to an army actually dedicated to defending the point from attack… or in most cases, simply hold off an attacking army long enough for you to appear in a burst of vengeful flames. A listening post is not so much a defensive building as a hunk of metal intended to prevent capture and absorb a few bullets, and this is the closest thing to a turtling strategy that is even possible in the multiplayer.
Many players of RTS games might find this a significant loss, as the original Dawn of War allowed for a certain amount of turtling that could be found in the strategies of a few factions. Unfortunately, as of the release of Dawn of War III, none of the three factions are particularly suited, both in-game and in the lore, for holding defensive lines. The structures you build are often just hardy enough to last until you arrive to rescue them or train new units designed to counter the force currently smacking your barracks with lascannons.
The three factions are the rough and tumble Imperium of Man, also known as Space Marines, who are being led by the charismatic and vengeful chapter master Gabriel Angelos. Angelos was previously the leader of the Blood Ravens in both the other Dawn of War games, with his fate unknown after the ending of the events of Dawn of War II. Now he’s returned, much improved with cybernetics, and wielding the Godsplitter thunder hammer. His presence on the battlefield is powerful and clear. In the midst of any conflict, his silhouette is easily recognizable, and the thunk of his hammer smashing into a group of Ork Nobz is utterly satisfying.
The second faction (likely the second most important one to the campaign itself) is the Eldar. Farseer Macha, another returning character from Dawn of War II, is leading the forces of space elves in the campaign (at least in part). She, of course, remembers the events of Dawn of War II and is working against Gabriel Angelos. As usual, allegiances and alliances shift repeatedly, with the Eldar both fighting and helping the Imperium of Man at times. But of course, in the far future, there is no diplomacy, only war.
The third faction is, of course, the Orks. For most of the campaign, these are being led by Gorgutz ‘ead ‘unter, a charismatic and brutally clever (or cleverly brutal?) giant of an Ork in direct pursuit of an ancient weapon of power. Having heard about a “pointy stikk” that could solidify his control over a larger mass of Orks than previously thought possible, the greedy git will fight teef and nail to get his kustom klaw on it. Honestly, playing the campaign, I often thought he might be the most intelligent character in the whole story, as his desires are simple and uncomplicated, but his means of achieving them are clever and manipulative.
The campaign begins with the Blood Ravens chapter of space marines in orbit over a small planet with a noble house on it. The noble house Varlock is being sieged by Orks, and the Orks are rapidly winning, much to Angelos’ despair. The Inquisitor who led Angelos to this region of space his obvious thoughts towards a much greater plan than any simple skirmish between men and Orks, and forbids Angelos to get involved. Angelos, in a show of defiant sympathy, airdrops into Varlock keep and beats back the invading xenos, fighting alongside an enormous bipedal tank of a woman called Solaria. She operates an enormous, technologically advanced mech called an Imperial Knight, and in a fascinating show of force unfolding before your eyes, she wipes out entire legions of Orks in the background of your own, smaller battles with Angelos across the walls of Varlock Keep.
Each mission allows you to play as a different faction, and after playing Space Marines, you might, for example, experience the other side of the battle as the Orks. In this way, the story is revealed through a series of unfolding plans where the true intentions of each faction slowly come to light. The characters you directly follow are often not in control of the plots of their superiors, and sometimes you might feel manipulated by the people in charge of your own faction just as much as you might feel manipulated by the tricky leaders of your enemies. Angelos is constantly clashing with Inquisitors, and Farseer Macha is worried her own leader of her craftworld is either going mad, corrupted, or simply too greedy for their race’s own good.
During the siege of Varlock Keep, the Ork leader meets a freshly arrived Gorgutz, who tricks him, betrays him, and gets him blown up in one fell swoop as they attempt to breach the walls of the keep together. Gorgutz takes command in one of the most fun campaign missions I’ve experienced, involving a giant gun that makes the enemy too sad to fight you by screaming insults. Each time you take control of the Ork hordes, you might not get as much of a story injection, and the plans are too simple to really bring you any kind of intrigue, but you’ll definitely enjoy them. I, for one, found myself looking forward to each mission where I got to play as Gorgutz, because something hilarious or ridiculously fun was going to happen.
The Eldar, meanwhile, watch and wait. The battle between Orks and Mankind are just a distraction you only get mildly involved in. It’s obvious there’s a greater point to being here, involved, in the first place. Very suddenly, it becomes clear, as a planet suddenly materializes from the Warp where it had been wandering, covered in horrors, for many thousands of years. The outside of it is covered in enormous mechanical gears and mystical locks protecting anyone from accessing it. But the Eldar know how to get in. On the planet Acheron’s true surface lies an artifact they require: The Spear of Khaine.
Once it’s revealed that the Inquistor knows all about this wandering planet, and Gorgutz arrived here and took over simply to gain possession of the Spear, it becomes a mad free for all, with all three factions diving onto the surface to fight for ultimate power. I won’t spoil the events that occur after this moment, but I will say that my enjoyment never ceased, and I was mildly surprised by where the campaigns actually started to lead. Each mission was a delight to experience, and the developers of Dawn of War III really focused on what makes each faction utterly unique.
Combat, itself, is a mix of the previous games with a few MOBA elements thrown in. In RTS games there have always been the element of “superweapons”. Either units or structures with the ability to wipe out armies or bases fairly easily. In Dawn of War III, they decided to make these superweapons into something more controlled, refined, and fun. Each faction can always create “line units”, the basic units that make up an army. These can be powerful in and of themselves, and a clash between them can be as complicated or simple as your individual play style. The Eldar, for example, rely on hit and run strategies, disappearing into thin air only to reappear on the cliffs overlooking your position in order to fire down on your vulnerable ranks. These line units can be further enhanced by the collection of a resource called “elite points”. These are gained just by existing in the game, or you could capture specialized resource points dedicated to them. Elite points unlock and summon the elite units you chose at the start of the game. For the Imperium of Mankind, this might be a Terminator group of dedicated heavy troops that can move and fire, albeit slowly, shooting heavy bolters, missiles, and tying up infantry into deadly melee combat. It could also be Solaria’s enormous, hulking mech suit, capable of wiping out huge groups of line units with heated bursts of the enormous twin-mounted flamers and heavy bolters that replace her arms. Each unit is a show of force in excess, often making you afraid to simply be involved in a fight with them. A good general will use them extraordinarily well, and if you’re a bad general, they can at least absorb a lot more bullets.
That isn’t to say these elite units are the focus of each game: they are powerful, excessively powerful, against most units. But even the enormous Imperial Knight falls rather easily to two squads of Eldar Shadow Spectres, floating anti-tank units that increase their damage the longer they stay on a target. If you decide to wade into an enemy camp with nothing but what you think is an invincible hero unit, you’ll lose it and have to spend those elite points all over again to get them back. The best use of these heroic units, by far, is to simply counter surprising attacks. Each faction is capable of producing surprises you cannot possibly pre-plan for, and your elite units aren’t so much dedicated damage dealers and army leaders as a large padding for your margin of error. If you fail to stop an enemy assault squad from dropping directly into your ranks and murdering a bunch of Shoota Boyz, you can counter them by revving up a giant spinning arm that wipes out soldiers at close range by dealing damage over time. If you’ve walked into an Eldar ambush, you can clear it by dropping in a kill-team of mine-laying elite snipers who can teleport directly into enemy ranks.
In this way, Dawn of War III stays solidly an RTS, even by adding in these elite units. The multiplayer maps have designated choke points that could be confused for lanes in a MOBA, but they are definitely more in the style of Starcraft access ramps, thin regions that allow the only way to access a base without the use of flying or teleporting into it. Multiplayer maps all have a power core in each player’s base. Your goal is to defend yours while destroying your enemy’s, but to do that, you must first wipe out an enemy turret, which makes the core invulnerable to damage. To destroy the turret, you must destroy a shield generator. This generator creates a small bubble of high cover that more often than not, contains a group of enemy troops that want to kill you. If you manage to wipe out these defenses, this is no guarantee of victory.
Unlike most multiplayer games on the market, Dawn of War III gives everyone the ability to come back from almost nothing. Of course, this is entirely reliant on your ability to command an army and adapt to your enemy. If you’ve been doing badly against a surprising and talented player throughout the game, the odds are low that you’ll suddenly find a winning strategy. There’s always that chance, though, which makes it exciting to play until the match is over, for all players involved. The chance that your enemy makes a mistake and overfocuses on elite units, allowing you to strategize and control more of the map, could lose him the entire match. Because the bases have defenses that make the goal invulnerable to attack, suddenly dropping marines into the middle of the enemy base and trying to win the match through cheap surprise won’t work until you’ve shown a modicum of strategy for your other attacks.
Battlefield control is difficult without any turtling ability to speak of, but the factions are each capable of moving units quickly through the map in ways that really show off how distinct each race is. Eldar can create rifts through their teleporting webways and base structures, pumping enemy troops into a fight by opening a portal in nearby stealth cover. Stealth cover allows for ambushes and scouting without allowing the enemy seeing you until they walk in the same spot as you. Filling stealth cover with a bunch of melee units can be a nasty surprise for curious players who must impulsively check every patch of tall grass they find.
The Orks are unique in that, instead of airdropping troops into battle or teleporting them across the map, the basic Gretchin builder units can actually build new tanks out of the scrap left behind from battles. If you wipe out a space marine Devastator tank, get a Gretchin in there and he can suddenly produce a huge piece of artillery. Or maybe he can build a WAAAGH!! tower in order to hype up nearby troop attack power. Or maybe he can build a small squadron of attack helicopters to swarm past chokepoints and wipe out reinforcing squads who thought they were safe. Each bit of scrap that falls on the battlefield can be turned into something new, or it can simply upgrade troops already in the fight. Basic melee Boyz will run up to scrap and practically nail Space Marine tank armor to their chests, increasing their health significantly. Shoota Boyz will scrap things to gain sticky bombs. Deffcopters will scrap piles in order to mount a huge saw to the front of their vehicle in order to buzzcut their way through swathes of enemy soft targets.
The Marines, meanwhile, feel startlingly powerful, capable of building a series of troops and loading them into drop pods. When you most need some reinforcements in the middle of battle, you can summon them, smashing into the ground and knocking back all enemies around it, while troops jump out firing into the middle of vulnerable flanks. Fighting your enemy in any battle can be intimidating and anxiety-inducing, as you sweat over a placement of gun-toting softies who are just begging to be airdropped on. Though maybe you’re ready and waiting for that sacrifice so you can blast the shield generator with your newly reinforced troops and not worry about more grunts falling from the sky like ripe, gun-filled peaches.
There are, on the other hand, moments that I miss from previous games. Cover has been reduced to a simple, strange mechanic revolving around specified areas with magic bubble shields. Capturing a shield makes you immune to artillery or long-range fire, and this can be wonderfully helpful in battle. But to see your Devastator squad hole up in between some alien walls and have them suddenly surrounded by a glowing green barrier seems like heresy. It would have been fairly simple, I think, to make it so each faction uses something other than pre-placed magic shield bubbles. At the same time, these shield bubbles can change in appearance to reflect Eldar, Ork, or Imperial aesthetics, so it’s possible the shield bubbles are simply more cinematic, obvious means of showing you how these squads are safe from harm.
Most units also have some secondary ability, allowing you to quickly change battlefield conditions. Eldar leaders can toss spears and form lines of stasis, or powerslide through enemies, knocking them into the air like well-armored, angry ragdolls, but when you have multiple units and elites on the battlefield, it can be difficult to select the unit you want with the ability you require. For example, if you have one unit on cooldown for a power, but they’re right next to another unit you need in a brawl with some axe-wielding Boyz, it could be extremely difficult to select the unit you actually want to select. Much of the time, the cursor simply tries to guess which object you want to click on when you’re selecting, and this can create some confusion as to what you want your armies to actually do. Rapidly responding to a new enemy tactic is often vital to survival, but difficult to achieve if you’re clicking the same spot over and over to just select that one Servitor you brought with you into the fight. There are ways around this, such as creating control groups you can access with a single button push, but these can be marred by the introduction of new troops via drop pods or battlefield construction. Selecting the specific unit you require from the line of all available units at the bottom of the screen is useless since they’re in order of being trained and it’s impossible to remember which unit was trained when if some of them are literally falling from the sky.
Playing the campaign and multiplayer gains you the “skulls” currency. By playing with your Elite units in each battle, you can level them, allowing you to change their appearance and abilities for your next match. Leveling grants you skulls used to unlock other elites, or maybe “Doctrines” you can select before battle. Doctrines dramatically change how your army plays. Players with a focus on melee Space Marines might choose the doctrine allowing your flamers to halt and stun enemy armor, or the doctrine that allows your dreadnoughts to come back to life when they take fatal damage in order to smash the surrounding troops into the earth. Eldar ranged players can take doctrines allowing them to blind enemies, or increase their ability to stealth for ambushes. There are a large variety of doctrines, and some of them can only be activated if a certain elite is a high enough level, or has been physically summoned to the battlefield.
For the most part, Dawn of War III ran excellently on my system, even in the middle of the biggest, bullet-slugging fights. There were moments where strange graphical glitches made it difficult to tell where an enemy actually was, but these were often quickly fixed. The menu system is actually where I saw the most slow-down. Loading the figures of your elites while attempting to choose them would be a painfully slow and arduous process, and I sometimes found myself avoiding dealing with custom painting my army just because I didn’t want to be doing it for 10 minutes, just waiting for them to appear. Loading times took forever, but when each mission or match started, it was smooth and without issue. Matchmaking wasn’t a painful experience, but it definitely wasn’t something I enjoyed, as the number of people playing appeared to drop dramatically, or it’s possible a patch rendered it harder to find good matches.
Barring these minor complaints, the strengths of this game far outweigh the weaknesses. While it’s incorporating these MOBA elements, for the first time I’ve felt like each faction was completely unique. Previous Dawn of War games have tried doing this by simply having asymmetrical faction design. Dawn of War III takes this a step further by giving each race intrinsic, fascinating, and game-changing strategies that make your Orks feel like Orks, and not simply a reskinned space marine. The key to winning with your faction is to be that faction. Think like an Eldar and kite the enemy, break up his tank columns, disappear into stealth and make the enemy paranoid. As a space marine, dive directly into battle and remember to follow through. Wipe out the xenos with fervor and dedication, and don’t deploy a troop to any spot you aren’t sure he can hold, and hold well. As an Ork… simply go forth and multiply, go forth and WAAAGH!!
The cutscenes for the story missions feel half finished. The opening cinematic is a beautiful display, and if you see it, you’ll understand what I mean by the cutscenes within the story. All of them have the exact same look: details, dark surroundings, misty appearances. But each scene is practically a series of screenshots from an actual, much better cinematic, with the actors moving around like paper cutouts. The details and environment are stunning, and the voice acting is phenomenal, but the story being revealed through what essentially feels like bonus concept art book feels rushed. Speaking of rushed, many of the story missions felt the same way. When you go from defending a keep full of Orks while seeing a huge mech blasting away at the enemy in these amazing, setpiece moments to a story mission consisting of simply “blow up the enemy”, it definitely punches you in the gut. Most missions are spectacular, having you move from one delightful moment of violence to the next, but this only makes the traditional missions where you simply hunt down and blow up a base into merely a chore.
Dawn of War III is a refreshing chapter both for the Warhammer 40,000 universe and the RTS genre in general. Incorporating elements of the MOBA genre was a step in the right direction in regards to making the game actually fun to play, and the elite unit system makes each match a true match in skill and strategy. Barring minor complaints, the campaign is solid, and best of all, fun. The multiplayer is varied and intense, making you think smart and act fast without overly relying on trying to make each individual unit do what you want. It removes much of the complaints I have about MOBA-style games, which is where making a bad mistake will lose you the entire match, and replaces it with the ability to drop a bunch of suicidal jet pack Orks into a fight just in case the enemy wasn’t blowing up enough for you.
If you’re a fan of the franchise, Dawn of War III is a must-have, incorporating all the best parts of the previous games and adding in a little something extra to the mix. The simpler system of play makes it quite easy to learn, but difficult to actually master. Right now, there are only the three factions in multiplayer, but if you’re a fan of Chaos or Imperials, you’ll see the hints throughout the game of assets for these two factions, and I’m certain the ability to add in even Tyranids and Tau (and definitely the Necrons) won’t be too difficult. If you’re set on playing one of the factions not in this game, and you’re set on getting into multiplayer primarily, you might wait, but to all others, this is a satisfying chapter in a new generation of Dawn of War.
Warhammer 40,000: Dawn of War III was reviewed on PC via Steam with a copy provided by the publisher.
A solid chapter in Dawn of War, the inclusion of minimal MOBA elements only serves to enrich multiplayer gameplay and deepen the strategy. Easy to learn, difficult to master, Dawn of War III is fun without sacrificing the tone of the game world, though maybe breaking a little of the lore. Barring some minor, strange aesthetic choices, this is a powerful foundation for the future of Dawn of War.
- Detailed Environments and Models
- Fun Campaign
- Elite Units Increase Depth and Lower Margin of Error
- Factions Feel More Unique
- Terminator Death Squads
- In-Universe Lore is Slightly Broken
- Only Three Factions
- Choosing Your Units in a Fight is Difficult at Best