Warhammer 40,000: Dawn of War

4_1Warhammer 40,000: Dawn of War’s visuals aim to please. Using a proprietary engine amped up considerably from its Impossible Creatures teething state, the graphics literally suck you in by featuring not only the dynamic lighting and intricacy of detail you’d expect from a product designed to make gamers forget WarCraft ever existed, but individualized combat and death animations that reveal a Peter Jackson-esque flair for painting in the corners and rendering complicated battle tableaux vibrant and organic.

Before getting there, Warhammer 40,000: Dawn of War treats you to a wicked intro movie; it’s so good, in fact, that you wish it was longer. The same can be said about the game itself: What’s there is very, very good, but there simply isn’t enough of it. You get an 11-mission campaign, 20 multiplayer/skirmish maps, and that’s it. Even with its lack of content, Dawn of War is an adrenaline rush of a game that captures the spirit of the Warhammer 40K universe better than any other adaptation.

Developer Relic Entertainment takes the standard real-time strategy model and infuses it with Warhammer flavor from top to bottom. Playing the game is like watching a tabletop battle spring to life, thanks in large part to the shockingly beautiful and gory graphics. This is a brutal game: its free-form camera gives you up-close views as hulking Imperial Dreadnoughts snatch up Orks and break their backs, bodies fly as mammoth Ork Squiggoths trample through enemy lines, and Assault Marines gut enemy Chaos Marines with chainswords. For a Warhammer fan, it’s fascinating to see these things in action, but even if you have never played the miniatures version, it’s easy to appreciate how amazing everything looks.

The game’s four races – Space Marines, Orks, Chaos, and Eldar — are unique in terms of retinue and in the strategy required to use them effectively. For example, the Eldar are adept at using hit-and-run tactics and employ several hovering light tanks, whereas the Orks favor sheer numbers and all-out assault. Each race has its strengths and weaknesses and figuring out what those are is critical to your success.

5_1Dawn of War is fairly traditional in how it plays, but it effectively uses specific gameplay mechanics to lower the level of micromanagement. There are no “peasantsâ€; builder units construct buildings and defenses, such as turret guns and land mines. They also construct generators, which harness power, one of the game’s two resources. The other resource is called requisition, which is gathered mainly by capturing strategic points on the map. This is not only a brilliant way to design resource gathering, but it also puts a premium on attacking rather than playing sitting back and building a defensive camp.

In order to win, you need to control a specific percentage of strategic points, critical points, and relic points on the map, and only infantry can capture them. This forces you to keep the grunt troops around, rather than just going for the expensive tank and boss units.

The biggest complaint about the gameplay is that it’s a bit too hands-on at times. It requires input for nearly everything, making it more Total Annihilation than Kohan. For example, morale is modeled, but squads do not automatically flee once it goes in the tank; you have to manually withdraw them yourself, which is problematic when you have 15 infantry squads, a Predator tank, and two Dreadnoughts fighting at the same time on different sections of the map. It gets a bit hectic to say the least, especially in the last few campaign missions.

The campaign, while professionally done with great voice acting and interesting cut scenes, is way too short. You play the Space Marines and wind your way though 11 missions that end up pitting you at one time or another against every race in the game. Dawn of War comes up just a hair short only because of a lack of variety. With such a brief single-player campaign, the fact that you only get 20 maps of varying size, no map editor, and no random map generator becomes more of a sticking point in the long run, denting an otherwise excellent gaming experience.

System Requirements: Pentium III 1 Ghz, 256 MB RAM, 32 MB Video, WinXP

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