The base is back!
I played through, and loved, Dawn of War II, but that was as much because of the fully cooperative campaign play as the inherent micro-management focused systems the game was built around. Even while having fun guiding my badass heroes through the campaign with a friend, I couldn't quite shake the desire to plop down some buildings and build up a massive base of doom. While I couldn't get Associate Designer Carolina Mastretta to confirm nor deny whether the story mode in Dawn of War III would be playable cooperatively, she did tell me that a major focus of the design team was finding the sweet spot between more traditional base-building centered RTS and the micro-focused hero-centric gameplay of the previous game.
I loaded the Dawn of War III demo and began what Carolina later told me was one of the later Space Marine missions in the game and immediately noticed that the game had given me not one, but two, hero units, Gabriel Angelos and Imperial Knight Solaria. I initially assumed that they wanted the demo to be easy-mode for press, and I gathered up my force and left my base to stomp around the map towards the glowing mission objectives. I soon discovered that my heroes weren't quite as heroic as I'd been expecting them to be, and the troops that I'd started the mission with began falling, one by one, as I pushed further into the map away from my base.
My second wake-up call was when a force of Eldar troops showed up in my now entirely unguarded base and started laying waste to my buildings. I managed to recover, but only just, and I switched my focus to trying to build up a more balanced, sustainable force, especially since both of my hero units had mysteriously left the battlefield (read: I let them die like the nub I am), and their unit portraits now showed countdown timers.
I slowly started to focus on expanding my base, upgrading what troops I could, and expanding my resource production. I brought my hero units back once their timers ran down completely, and I got my hands on both an orbital cannon special ability and some Droppods, that would allow me to produce units and call them in tactically to any point on the battlefield within line of sight of my troops.
With my expectations adjusted, and my focus back on more traditional RTS tactics, I started playing smarter, and it felt really good. The hero units feel powerful, but only if you manage them properly, and the game will punish you if you overextend, as it should. The balance between micro and macro felt really well-done, and the base building and upgrade aspects felt just right. It's obvious through the gameplay that finding a balance has truly been the focus for Dawn of War III and not just something that they are paying lip service to. I manged to finish the demo level just as my allotted time ran out, and I met with Carolina to talk about what I'd just played and what the plans for the game are up until the planned release in 2017.
Overall, the theme of the game felt just right. The sound was good, especially the overacted voice work, which fit in perfectly with the grimdark Space Marines. The unit animations were all really smooth, and the Eldars that I was fighting against felt alien and different, teleporting units and relying on shields where I was reliant on heavy firepower and brute force. The game looks beautiful, and I didn't notice any framerate lag while I was playing.
Carolina told me that the story will bounce between the Humans, Eldar, and Orks, and the campaign will be fairly standard as far as progression. Each mission will offer a little bit more in the way of new units, buildings and abilities, and she stated that the goal of the single player campaign was to get players ready to face off in multiplayer. Skirmish battles against AI bots will be playable for players who want to practice or don't feel up to the challenge of other players, and players will have access to all of their chosen race's units, including the choice of heroes, when playing multiplayer.
The team at Sega plans to begin showing off more of the Eldar units in the coming weeks, and Carolina promised me that the look and feel of the Eldar will be true to the Warhammer 40K lore. She told me that the team has put in an incredible amount of time ensuring that each race plays differently and that each race will need to employ different tactics to be successful.
Screenshots provided by Sega.