Warhammer 40,000: Dawn of War Review (PC)

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About 15 years ago I stumbled into a Games Workshop (Bristol I think), and was amazed at the little models that were displayed all over the place. I was then grabbed to ‘help out’ on a game being played on a huge table top and spent the next few hours happily moving my troops all over the place and getting wiped out by some Orks. I wandered out of the shop somewhat poorer and clutching a good selection of Space Marines, paints/brushes and other assorted paraphernalia. The next 3 weeks were spent painting up my “chapter” – the Felinus (all using big cat themes) and halfheartedly playing the game – but I realised it was the painting that interested me more than playing so the rules etc were chucked into a corner & are probably still there now – my collection of miniature grew steadily tho as did my painting skills. I kept aware of the Warhammer scene by buying the White Dwarf magazines & it was there I caught the first scent of W40K:Dawn of War – wow – at last a better way of playing the game, and when I realised Relic were involved I could rest assured that this would be a quality production.

So as soon as I nabbed a copy, it was loaded and as I watched the intro, I realised that a great deal of thought appeared to have gone into it – it surpassed all my hopes and delivered a cut scene that could have been dragged out of my imagination & coded up – the sounds, colours & effects were everything I had visualised over the past few years, but as we all know many a game has a fantastic intro & then just delivers the same old same old!

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As in most of the genre, DoW consists of a single player campaign, skirmish mode & the ubiquitous online mode, in addition there is an Army Painter section for 40K nuts to attempt to paint their skirmish or o/l troops in their own colours – more of this later. In single player mode, you take command of a squad of Blood Raven space marines and are given instruction via a series of cutscenes that allow the whole story to slowly develop. These scenes create a great atmosphere that helps you fall even further into the 40K world whilst also building up your expectations for the coming scenario.

To achieve anything you must, as always, collect resources to allow production of additional forces & research. In DoW, these come in 2 flavours – Requisition & Power (ok, the Orks have their own form of Requisition, Ork Resource) – Requisition is gathered via taking & holding Strategic points (or by building settlements & Waaagh banners if Ork) while power is obtained via power and thermo-plasma generators. TBH, these are both only really important in Skirmish mode and can to a large extent be ignored in the majority of the Campaign scenarios. Each race have their own builder units used to construct the required buildings & defences – Servitors for the Marines, Gretchin for Orks, Eldar have the Bonesinger whilst Chaos Marines (Boo Hiss) use Heretics. A lot of the buildings have prerequisite dependencies & can be used to research advancements. I personally love the way that the generators & defence turrets arrive with a satisfying thump from the orbiting dropships – just another example of attention to detail.

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Troops are organised into squads, which can then be bolstered by the addition of heavy weaponry and stronger characters like Sergeants, Librarians, & Force Commanders. These units behave as any 40K vet would expect, they pepper the enemy with long-range weapon fire & then take great delight in steaming in with hand to hand weapons to extract the maximum carnage possible. Just watch a Dreadnought wading into a group of Boyz with blood splattering & bodies flying everywhere and listen to the screams of the mortally wounded – sheer poetry in motion. As the squads take damage, you can rebuild them in situ to try & stop them being wiped out, although this is not often as successful as you would like – a little bit of reinforcement often helps out here to relieve the pressure. Each race have unit caps to stop ‘rushing’ and these need to be researched to achieve the maximum limits – heavier units use up more of the cap so you should always be able to strike a good balance in obtaining your ‘perfect’ strike force.

Mobile Armour comes in many flavours and can make a huge difference to any game. Most of the vehicles associated with 40K are available and I can only hope that in future releases others vehicles will be developed. For me, the Marines Dreadnoughts look, sound & behave just as I always imagined they would – from the initial “I Have Awoken” to the slow ponderous movement and then frenetic action that seems to happen in slow motion. Ork Wartraks speed around doing untold damage to just about anything, Eldar Grav Platforms hum satisfyingly as they hover around dispensing long range death and Chaos Defilers look like giant scorpions but are so much deadlier. In general, the vehicles appear to be well balanced, although the Marines Landraiders are almost unstoppable if paired up – even more so if loaded with a squad of Marines & Terminators. I have always been a lover of Terminators and, although infantry, they are easier to stick in the heavy armour class due to their sheer staying power – add the ability to teleport short distances to compensate for their slow speed and you have a very versatile unit.

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Graphics and soundwise DoW is a treat. The sound of warfare is excellent with the incessant chatter of the boltguns and good explosive sounds; character voices are apt but can become a bit monotonous after a while. Chaos sound downright evil but the Eldar just don’t seem to gell – I’ve no idea what they should sound like but something is missing. The sound of the WAAAGH is great tho – all greenskins will love it. Battle and explosion effects are fantastic – bodies soar through the air and blood is cast everywhere, Lasguns hit with an effect that damn nearly lets you feel the heat and damaged vehicles & defences crackle as electricity shorts out and realistic smoke issues from damaged areas. The overall effect being to just add to the already somewhat brooding atmosphere.

The only real criticism of the game is that the campaign is very much on rails – there may be more than one way to do it but you are not exactly encouraged to seek it out. Skirmish mode is much like any other – you can set it anyway you like to get the best out of the game. The difficulty levels vary from easy to absolutely impossible – in fact from ‘hard’ upwards you have one hell of a fight on your hands. The great aspect of the skirmish is the ability to use your own designed chapters via the army painter. Whilst you cannot really ‘go to town’ and come up with something akin to what you can actually paint, you do have the full set of Citadel colours to use in creating your troops – as well as the correct colour schemes for various factions of each of the races (Ra Ra the Space Wolves – Fenris r00lz)

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To summarise, I like this game – a lot. There HAS to be a sequel and hopefully more bolt ons that will allow us to take on the Tyranids – now that would be something. Relic & THQ have done a fantastic job converting the original for the PC and it would not surprise me to see an increase in the amount of tabletop players visiting Games Workshops as a result.