Developer: Relic Entertainment
The seemingly eternal war is still claiming souls to feed its hunger, Humans, Eldar, and Orks keep on spilling blood in the name of The Emperor or to protect the future or just because someone has a nice looking shiny stick that a bigger Ork said he wanted. This is the universe where the third installment of the Dawn of War franchise takes place, the Warhammer 40K universe, and as you might expect, you’ll do your fair share of killing.
Dawn of War III pick up some years after the events of the critically acclaimed Dawn of War II, though exactly how connected they are is still unclear, THQ sold Relic to SEGA, and large portions of the core Dawn of War team are no longer there. In addition to that, the Blood Ravens Chapter Master, Gabriel Angelos, has a new voice that doesn’t sound impressive at all. The story kicks off around the planet Cyprus Ultima where an “Ork Waaagh!” or invasion is taking place, though it’s not an impressive 'Waaagh!'. Angelos defies the Inquisitor's order of holding a blockade and goes down to the planet to save the people under siege. Soon, the secret plans of all the in-game factions start floating up – the three factions are all camping Cyprus Ultima awaiting the planet Acheron pop out of nowhere. The planet, which only appears every 5,000 years has been somewhere in space untouched and unlooted. The hunger for loot has the story turn from a slugfest to a mad dash to find the best loot, which is the “pointy stikk” aka the Spear of Khaine. Sound pretty great, huh? Well…
What was this game called again?
It has to be said, this is neither a Dawn of War game nor a Relic game reminiscent of Company of Heroes, way too many features has been removed or watered down, it is, to use Warhammer terminology, heresy. Yes, indeed heresy. During the golden age of Relic, the amazing tactical strategy games mentioned above were released, that was before they were bought by SEGA. Dawn of War 1 (DoW) and Company of Heroes 1 (CoH) mixed meaningful base building with attention to detail and made up for a real-time strategy game that relied more on being tactical rather than relying on StarCraft rushes and overwhelming the enemy early on with cannon fodder troops. CoH 1 and DoW 2 added a fantastic cover system which included half, full, and building cover giving immense depth to the game, suddenly a big army could be shot to bits by a few cleverly placed units. DoW 2 also only gave players control over a smaller team of Space Marines, adding further tactical awareness to the campaign, a relationship to your soldiers, and RPG elements which really gave that Warhammer 40K feel of having humanity's best military units at hand, guys who could do things, regular people could not, things not even the enemies finest could, while also giving them a face and a personality.
DoW 3 removes it all in favor for a more MOBA-esque and twitchy esport style game, DoW 3 removes everything that made DoW 1 and 2 what it was. Instead of giving players endurable Space Marines that can take a beating and deliver one they get cannon fodder, same goes for vehicles and it’s just wrong when a tank gets destroyed as if it was a land speeder. The Eldar are just made for fast in and out strikes and are even squishier. The Orks feel just the same with terribly weak units. It also seems like everyone has forgotten how to hunker down behind a rock or behind a wall to get some cover and instead unanimously decided that standing in front of each other hoping that the other guy goes down before me was the best way of fighting. The only “cover” available is a few static points that need to be charged and sometimes the shield on the cover point defend the units inside from ranged attacks while sometimes not. Any melee unit can just rush the point killing the units inside in a blink of an eye, rendering the cover point completely useless. The maps have a claustrophobic feel to them combined with regular units being too small and the camera being too out-zoomed. This, of course, was made to encompass the weirdly huge “Elite” and “Hero” units who, truth be told, are simply MOBA heroes messing both with scale and with immersion. The hero units were in the old games, but never have they been this MOBAfied before, unlocking multiplayer levels and currency while players are trying to get immersed in the story, having the classic MOBA UI and powers, and also being at least a few meters taller than the rest, making your big beefy Space Marines who already are taller than any regular human look like ants.
Though it is not all bad
While the tone might have been a bit harsh to start with, Dawn of War III is not all bad and at times it actually even shines. The highlight of DoW III is hands down the campaign, especially since it allows players to play each of the three factions, first one mission as the Blood Ravens, then as the Eldar, then as the Orks, making for quite an interesting campaign since it shows the events from three different angles. It shows the Blood Ravens and how they keep on defying the Inquisitors to protect both the people of the Empire and the chapter itself, it shows the intrigue and power struggles of the Eldar, and it gives a lesson on the social hierarchy of the Orks and confirms yet again that it’s the strongest Ork who gets what he wants. The campaign is about 15 hours long, though it’s a bit of a rollercoaster in quality, at times it only feels like an advanced multiplayer tutorial, but when it shines, it shines brightly.
The graphics have been improved in DoW III, making the game aesthetically pleasing. Battles, buildings, objects on the map, they all look pretty good and bring the Warhammer 40K universe to life. Since Relic also decided to go heavy on the MOBA aspects of DoW III, the heroes and elite units also feel pretty thought out and the models are beautiful. Likewise, each and every unit can be zoomed in, painted, and tagged with your own insignia, Relic knew to put in a unit viewer to allow players to really take a look at and tinker with their soldiers.
Another highlight is the Ork voice acting which really is on point for each and every unit, they all have their own little things to say and it all sound pretty great. Likewise, the story cutscenes are also very well done with basically one painting or artwork piece telling a story while players get shown more and more as the narrator reveals it and goes deeper into the painting. It both looks well and immerses players. The strategy gameplay delivers at times since the difficulty settings are high to being with, forcing players to learn quickly. Though rolling around as a hoard in singleplayer often does the job, unfortunately, and the micromanaging gets a bit too much at times.
But most of it is not good
Sadly, as a fan of Warhammer 40K and Dawn of War, it’s hard to find more pros than cons in DoW III, especially considering the competition it has in its own franchise. Unit customization was better in DoW II and allowed for players to fully create their own insignias. The story was in previous games was utterly amazing while in DoW III it is just 'okay.' The whole multiplayer is just your average destroy point Shield Generator, Turret, and the mandatory Power Core. Afterward, you get a MOBA-like 'win' screen, which makes the prior-to-win gameplay all about pumping out units quickly to overwhelm the enemy so you can get to the power core first and win. Here players really see why the whole game has this MOBA atmosphere, the only difference is that in DoW players control the creeps as well. There isn’t even collateral damage anymore, order an orbital strike on your own guys, no one bats an eye. Do a massive AoE on them, no one cares. The campaign maps are small and made to prepare you for multiplayer, the openness is next to nonexistent. The multiplayer maps are few but are thought out. It almost seems like adding base building and regular units for players to control was an afterthought or like Relic was pressed for time to release the game.
As someone who had this as one of his most anticipated games this year, and counts Dawn of War II as one of his all-time favorites, I am sad to say that Dawn of War III doesn’t hold up. It’s not a DoW game or even a CoH-like game, which would also be a stretch for the franchise. DoW III is only a DoW game in name, unfortunately, and it’s not close to being what fans of the franchise wished for and not really what other gamers wanted either looking by the numbers of active players. Yes, for a newcomer it might be an interesting dark sci-fi strategy game that mixes RTS and MOBA to create this currently more popular twitchy and esporty RTS game and if that is for you then go for it. The strategy, at times, feels solid, the graphics are nice and have a lot of flare to them, the voice acting has been improved for most parts, but it is not Dawn of War at all. One gaming magazine even referred to DoW III as modded StarCraft II and I have to agree. The amazing cover system is all but gone, there are no characters to care about anymore (besides the cute Ork builder units), the hero and elite units just feels off reaffirms this weird MOBA offshoot feel and feel are unbalanced compared to the regular units in singleplayer, the maps are smaller, and while even the cutscenes are nice looking they feel empty and rushed, there is a lot missing in Dawn of War III, basically. Sure, some might enjoy Dawn of War III, there's no reason to hide that, it is – at times – a good strategy game, and the multiplayer is fun – if you enjoy MOBA games. But you know there is something wrong when Relic’s old Company of Heroes 1 currently almost has as many active players as Dawn of War III does, and old games like Medieval 2: Total War is only 1000 active players behind while good old Age of Empires II beats it by a mile.
Relic missed their goal, be it due to pressure to release the game on time or due to them wanting to broaden their player base by making their game appeal to more than simply strategy fans. Either way, they failed since this was neither what Dawn of War fans wanted or anything new to RTS gamers. As of now, there are better strategy games both for single player and multiplayer fans, such as Dawn of War II and StarCraft II. Fans of the franchise should wait for a good sale before getting this and in the meantime go and play DoW II again to get their RTS Warhammer 40K fix, regular strategy fans should go and do the same. Dawn of War III will not leave any lasting marks on the genre, or in Dawn of War fans' hearts, it will be yet another released and forgotten game who would have done better if not affiliated with its franchise. Dawn of War III missed its mark.