So there I was. Striding through squads of filthy Xenos, Warhammer in one hand and a blaster in the other butchering the emperor’s enemies in his name. standing gloriously in victory over their corpses when out of the corner of my eye I witnessed the end of my glory. As a shining ring adorned the ground and a blasphemous Wraith lord descended from the sky to ruin my campaign.
So it’s the last day of the open beta for the power house of the Warhammer 40K license, Dawn Of War. For those unfamiliar with the series DoW is a real time strategy game developed by industry heavyweights Relic entertainment. Since its birth in 2004 the series has gone from strength to strength with 4 expansions to the original game, followed by DoW2 in 2008 and its two expansions all receiving critical acclaim for their play and mechanics. The latest game in the series is a long overdue return for DoW with fans clamouring for a sequel for some years now.
To start with I have to state that the Beta did NOT include any material for the campaign portion of this game or the AI skirmish mode so notes on those features will follow in a review about the actual solo portion of the game. In terms of the multiplayer the game has seen some pretty substantial changes to the way the game is played. Gone are the squad based combat mechanics that fans of DoW 2 may be used to and in its place a grand return to the army building of the first game and its expansions. The games focus now is not on close tactical play between squad types but more on a slightly less tactical approach supplemented with large armies (space marines had a 250 army cap for men and vehicles which is pretty expansive straight off the bat). now just mashing out an army is not going to win you a battle. You need to be smart in the units you choose and how you field them, as I found out the hard way that using nothing but tanks and devastators is a sure-fire way to get your ass handed to you in the fastest way possible. To go with the new multiplayer battle focus the wizards at relic have also totally overhauled the way that battles are now fought. Gone are the days of brute force deathmatch battles and in its place a new objective based mode has arisen to shine gloriously. The breakdown is like this. You can play 1v1, 2v2, or 3v3 and in each mode you and your allies are faced with a simple task. Eliminate the enemies’ objective to advance and win the game. There are three objectives for which you must destroy the ordered objective before the next is able to take damage. The objectives are laid out as a shield generator, a turret and a power core and must be destroyed in that order. Objectives each have their own unique mechanics too. For example, the shield generator can provide heavy cover to units stationed at it reinforcing its defence, the turret has a powerful line attack that can kill several weak squads and the power core can hide itself briefly to avoid taking further damage. Once all these objectives have been eliminated then your side has won the battle and may claim victory in your races name.
On the flip side of the new versus mechanics the developers at relic have been a little bit more reserved with the armies you get to play with straight away. The game at release will only ship with THREE races… now to long standing fans of the series this is a bit of a gut punch as in the majority of previous instalments the games have had a rather large selection of races to play around with. By the time the original game had gotten to Soulstorms expansion the game had around 9 races. DoW 2 shipped with fewer races not using the Tau this time but did have several races to play around with at base release. More races came with the chaos rising and retribution expansions. But back on topic, the game has gone back to basics with the armies you can command and you are limited to the mighty forces of the human emperium the Adeptus Astartes which are the Space Marines to the uninitiated led by long time series favourite Gabvriel Angelos of the blood ravens (more chapters are available, approx. twenty I believe and custom armies too). To combat the Emperuim of man come the forces of the Eldar, a mystical race of ancient warriors and scholars who once ruled the galaxy but are now a fleeting force. Finally, to throw some action and chaos into the mix come the mighty Ork Boyz led by yet another series veteran Warlord Gorgutz (at this stage this guy is basically invincible because he’s escaped every plot death they give him to come back for more). The armies on offer despite being few in number are supplemented well. Each army has several units and structures to play with although again these are slimmed down in comparison to other games. In terms of structures the game doesn’t give a lot to lay with in comparison to the days of DoW 1 with the space marines getting around five buildings as compared to the 10+ from the old days. Each structure also has fewer options for units compared to previous instalments too. I have to admit I didn’t play a lot with the orcs as I don’t really like their playstyle all that much but they have seen some improvements since recent games. They still have that reliance on WAAAGGHHHH and population size but overall they are easier to use and can be quite a tactical army to play with. The Eldar as always are pretty stealth heavy with a large portion of their structures and forces possessing the ability to cloak and strike. I used to be really into the guerrilla tactics of the eldar but slowly found myself more into the armour reliant forces of the imperial guard with their “Baneblade or bust” battle style. Each army plays its own way and has its own strengths and weaknesses.
To give the game its edge and in my opnion to compensate for the dumbed down base building and more limited unit options the game has kept a core mechanic form the DoW 2 squad format. Yes a return of heavy duty elite units is here for the large scale battles. Each side is granted a choice of three of five specialised elite units all with their own unique abilities and combat styles. You may have seen that the pre order for the game is giving skins to the most powerful of these elites the Titans, alongside specialised squads and commanders such as Gabriel Angelos for the space marines or Warlord Gorguts for da Ork Boys you can also deploy hulking great war machines to melt your enemies into paste in a hail of bullets. The elites are not easy to come by though and are only able to be deployed once you have the sufficient amount of elite resource. Elite resource is acquired over time as you play a match so nobody can call in the big guns early on to ruin the good times. Each elite has its own cost with the titans costing the max 10 points while Angelos only costs around 4 points. These units are drastic game changers which when used correctly can turn the tide of a battle in your favour! Now as well as being pretty badass as a standard each elite has an upgrade system that grants both cosmetic and performance based improvements to them. Each elite gains access to better bonuses and improved elite doctrines as they rank up. Elite doctrines are unit specific perks that can be used when deploying that particular elite. Unlike army doctrines they can only be applied once the unit is fielded. So to add to the list of new mechanics being trialled by relic here we have army doctrines. As stated before elites have doctrines that can boost certain units or abilities while they are fielded. Well army doctrines have a similar effect only they focus on buffing the players force as a whole and are deployable as soon as the game has started. These allow the player to enhance their unique play style meaning that there are now several different ways for you to play a chosen race and still achieve victory. Some army doctrines are granted at the start of your experience but the higher up the ranks ladder you go the better the doctrines will be granting you a potential new style or enhancement to your existing style to grab that ever important win on the field of battle.
now to the looks department of the beta, Dow games have always strived to push themselves graphically with DoW 2 looking amazing at release with incredible detail and effects and the new game does not disappoint. What I’m seeing from the beta is a massive overhaul to the games looks, animations and lighting. Starting with the most important aspect. Textures. Textures look great in the game with them being smooth and easy on the eye, I do have to say that the scale of the small details in units has been removed but its replaced by a much cleaner look and I like it. Maps follow a similar route and look less cluttered but the detail is visible right from the off set. What I have to admit is the biggest improvement for me in the series and a wonder job by relic is the particle effects. When you get knee deep into a huge fight its no longer that huge blur of colour that previous games had. Bullets and discharges are all clearly visible and in great detail giving battles are more realistic look and feel. Overall the games look is very much in line with the expectations I had for it.
Ok so the beta wasn’t flawless either and I do have some issues with it I feel I need to voice. For starters and I noticed this pretty early on. The draw in and out distance for the game has been reduced from previous titles. With units being smaller than previous games it’s harder to get a good close look at them in matches. There wasn’t a lot of map variety in the beta which is a shame as the series has always had a strong variety in its maps (hoping this is just a beta thing and more maps are available at release). The simplified upgrading system for unit’s kind of is a bug for me. No longer able to target upgrades in to certain aspects and instead only having attack and defence as a vaguely titled upgrade, also the unit pop system not being split into units and vehicles like it used to be makes it harder for me to manage my forces in building without a bit of math attached. Obviously one gripe for me is not having at least a taste of the Campaign available in the beta. For a game that has had such strong campaigns and for as beta that is trying to sell me and others this game I can’t help but feel that a taste of all of it is what would sell it more for me.
In the end I had a LOT of fun in the Beta for DoW 3, it was a real blast and despite some of the issues I’ve stated I am confident that the game at release will be a sure fire purchase for me. The return of army building, the new objective based multiplayer. The promise of a strong, lengthy and driven campaign all tick the boxes I needed to hear from Relic. The fact it’s a relic Warhammer game too makes me all the more excited. Now that the beta is going to end today though I’m not entirely sure what it is I’m meant to do until release. There is a whole in my life now that I didn’t think I’d have. My overall opinion from the beta is that this game is one to get if you’re an RTS fan and a must buy if you’re a Warhammer fan. If you’re neither of those then it may not be for you but I’d suggest trying it as it may surprise you!