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Game Over Online ~ Warhammer 40,000: Dawn of War (c) THQ

Warhammer 40,000: Dawn of War (c) THQ

Published: Friday, September 10th, 2004 at 05:18 PM
Written By: Lawrence Wong

With Warhammer 40,000: Dawn of War, Relic Entertainment is taking one of the most flexible role-playing franchises and turning it into something they do best: a real-time strategy game. Everyone who has had some exposure to Warhammer will probably have a different idea about it. There was a Warhammer strategy game with swords and orcs. But this one is about the same orcs and humans except all sides have been equipped with advanced weapons like lasers, explosives and guns. In terms of the setting, it's one of the most unique franchises out there and the subject of many games before.

You can say that Warhammer, unlike the AD&D franchise or the Battletech world, never really got off the ground in the gaming world. There were turn-based games before (Final Liberation). There were some pretty good PC real-time strategy games (Dark Omen), but none involving the Space Marines. There was the inimitable Space Hulk action game. But there hasn't been much else. So in spite of all those previous titles, Relic is treading a bit of new ground here.

The most approachable of the four races featured in Dawn of War will be the human Space Marines. Warhammer has always molded the humans into a Romanesque authoritarian government where there are plenty of references to religion (soldiers fight in 'chapters'). There are also the Orks, made famous now by the Tolkien trilogy in movies, but these ones will wield much deadlier weapons on the battlefield. There is the force of Chaos, the anti-thesis of the Space Marine, and also an alien race called the Eldar.

Relic has decided to base the entire single player campaign around the Space Marines. The missions will be long and subdivided into different segments. Changing objectives will reveal parts of the story during gameplay. It will be interesting to see how this design decision plays out. It certainly is a departure from the Blizzard-style campaign, which typically features a continuous story but told at specific junctures from different species.

In multiplayer, there will be competitive and co-operative game modes. Relic is promising to add as much built-in functionality as they can to provide services for tournament play. You can customize squad colors and different insignia. There's also an observation mode, which is important to tournaments. For multiplayer, all races are selectable and you'll have full access to the units and technology trees.

My time was spent mainly playing with the Space Marines. Space Marines are generally well-armed units. But they lack numbers. So often, you will find yourself fighting off Orks who prefer to swarm with numbers. An astute and successful commander will have to know which units to use and when to be efficient and have enough units to finish the game. This certainly isn't one of those games where you select everyone you have and point them to attack some general vicinity hoping the enemy will be wiped out by the time you get another coffee.

Speaking of games, when real-time strategy titles were first created, half of the strategy was devoted to resource gathering and setting up the logistics of the domestic. In many ways, it was a nice gimmick. Instead of letting players focus on the battle, your focus is a little distracted and the inevitable 'tank rushes' don't come so quickly if you have to spend half an hour harvesting or gathering resources. Dawn of War leaves this gimmick behind. Like the recent Ground Control II, it incorporates the capture and hold concept typically found in wargames. Holding key points will allow you to requisition troops, weapons and vehicles. The better you do in battle, the more points you hold, the more resources you get.

Dawn of War also adds depth to the concept of a unit. Soldiers and vehicles aren't just cannon fodder to be sent into the fray. You can do some micromanaging of them by equipping them with specialty weapons: anti-personnel, anti-vehicle, etc. This flexibility allows you to tailor units to your battle strategy. A unit, moreover, can be influenced by a commander. These commanders have different traits that can boost the offensive or defensive capabilities of the unit. Combined together, these features will let you wield a customized army on the battlefield. It goes one step further than previous real time strategy games where a generic upgraded increased the statistics of all the units. Now you can choose when and what to upgrade.

Of course, Relic is no stranger to real-time strategy games. Warhammer is a storied franchise but heck, Relic even invented their own with the release of Homeworld. I also liked their Impossible Creatures from before, which featured crossbreeding of units to gain different traits. You can see some shades of that here in Dawn of War.

In terms of graphics, Dawn of War is no slouch. One of the things I like most about Relic games that are based on the ground: you never have to worry about adjusting the camera. The graphics engine features vehicle physics, dynamic lighting and the maps come in a variety of different terrains. A competent engine allows you to use physical properties like elevation to gain an advantage on your foes. It also doesn't hurt that Dawn of War looks pretty sharp. Warhammer fans should be pleased with the authentic look and feel of the game.

Dawn of War will emerge on the horizon on September 20th.

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