Warhammer 40K: Dawn of War Review

War dawns in the Warhammer universe.

Review by Rob Edmondson
Published 8th February 2005

Warhammer 40K: Dawn of War

  • Developer: Relic
  • Publisher: THQ
  • Release Date: 8th February 2004

Just recently there has been a deluge of strategy titles released for the PC in what’s been an excellent gaming Christmas. Three however have stood out from the rest. Two of these, Rome Total War and Battle for Middle Earth were earmarked as potential classics from near the day they were announced and their success was not unexpected. The third however; Warhammer 40k: Dawn of War, coming from a long running series based on the popular Games Workshop tabletop game, was not so well heralded, given that the previous few incarnations had been average at best, and as such came as somewhat of a pleasant surprise.

Games Workshop have been knocking out tabletop strategy games for some time now, the most successful of these being set in the Warhammer universe. Warhammer 40k takes place in the 41st century and plays out a vicious struggle for the survival of humanity. In Dawn of War you take up this fight in an 11 mission bone-splintering campaign. There are three other races that do not have a campaign of their own – no doubt leaving scope for the inevitable expansion packs – but are represented in an excellent skirmish mode bringing a total of four different armies to control.

Dawn of War is an attempt by Relic, the developers, to try to successfully bring Warhammer 40k to real time whilst attempting to please its tabletop enthusiasts in the process. The result is largely a success, as the mixture of the normal real time strategy formulae with many of the tabletop games elements provides an interesting, and in some places, unique experience.

Dawn of War begins with the foundation blocks of many of today’s strategy games (i.e. build a base, build an army, attack the enemy, etc…). How it differs though is through its excellent combat. It is becoming increasingly common for strategy games nowadays to allow the user to build squads instead of individual units and DoW is no exception. However, rather than simply leaving it there DoW allows you to modify these squads to suit the current situation with a selection of upgrades.

Firstly you have the ability in most cases to add a sergeant to your squad. As well as increasing your squad size by one he has the ability to steady your troop’s morale, which is one of the games highlighting features. Morale is represented for your squads by a blue bar under its health bar and can be affected by various conditions. For instance, if your squad is trapped under heavy fire from a stronger group and are taking casualties quickly their morale will start to drop. While the fall in morale won’t actually cause your troops to disobey orders their combat prowess will be reduced making them easier targets for the enemy. Therefore it is essential to keep your men secure adding an extra dimension to the gameplay.

In a more unusual feature you can also recruit new men to the squadron at any time. This is a strange idea considering you can be in the middle of a firefight with your supply lines cut off and still replenish your forces adding an element of unrealism to proceedings. This could have been better implemented if the added requirement of having to return your squad to base, or at least a removing them from combat before bringing in reinforcements was included, as it would be more believable.

A more intuitive addition is the option of changing the weapons of your squad members. This works very well with different weapons working better in different situations and making you really think before sending your men into battle. In an example, you may be up against a lot of enemy vehicles in which case it would be wise to upgrade a couple of your soldiers normal guns to missile launchers, or, in an infantry heavy map, a flame thrower is a good idea.

Together with the various infantry squads you can also build many vehicles. These cannot be modified as much as the ground troops though which is a shame as the ability to add gun placements to your vehicles would have been a welcome inclusion.

Resources are collected by capturing strategic points and buildings can only be placed near them. This works well as it always gives you an objective to progress further. It can be a little tempting though to simply build many defensive towers making it nigh on impossible for the enemy to it.

Visually DoW is average and it has nothing to make it really stand out from the crowd such as destructible environments and weather effects. Some scenery can be used as cover, disappointingly though this is usually craters or lush grass rather than the buildings and turrets you’d expect in the ruined cities the action often takes place in. The firefights are certainly spectacular to watch with bullets flying round the battlefield and bullet cases shooting out of the guns. The units all move convincingly as well with marines charging into battle and massive machines of war lumbering through infantry groups.

The audio in DoW is acceptable with units often helping you along by informing you when morale is low and when they are taking a beating. The music is average though and you won’t remember it for long after playing.

Especially included for the Warhammer enthusiast is a paint mode enabling you to colour your units to match your tabletop armies. While obviously not affecting proceedings a great deal this is a novel addition and gives players a sense of familiarity with the game.

As good as it is, DoW isn’t completely free of bugs and the most glaring of these are AI related. Often some of your men will stand around in a fight when soldiers nearby are involved in the action. In some cases half of the members of a squad may be fighting while the remainder aren’t. This can be tremendously frustrating as the only way to get the whole squad involved is to move them closer to the enemy and this takes up precious time. Also units can sometimes get stuck near scenery. Both of these problems seem related to the rigidness of the squad structure and are problems you’d hope would be eliminated in a future patch.

DoW is definitely a top quality game and will appeal to all fans of the Games Workshop universe and no doubt make new ones on the way. However it is hard not to feel slightly disappointed as the blueprint is even better than the game and it isn’t hard imagining areas where the game may have been improved further. A few more campaigns would have been nice to but hopefully this will be remedied in an expansion.

Review Score: 8/10

Please note, this review was scored using our old system. For more information please see our review policy.

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