Warhammer 40,000: Dawn of War III Review

As a genre, real time strategy games seem a bit frozen in time. Or, put more charitably, there is a winning formula from which developers seem loathe to stray, only rarely folding in new mechanics. This is certainly true of Warhammer 40K: Dawn of War III, which picks up where the series left off way back in 2009 with the excellent Dawn of War II. THQ has dissolved, and the world has moved on, but fans of the series will have no trouble jumping back into the fray. Despite the appearance of a new-fangled mechanic or two, Dawn of War III is solidly classic in design. 

Whether they are only in town for multiplayer matches -- in truth, the raison d'etre for the genre -- or shy away entirely from online competition, players will find a robust amount of content in Dawn of War III, beginning with a single player campaign that stretches well over fifteen hours. The story is one of -- hold on to something -- planetary competition and conquest between three warring factions. The Warhammer universe and lore are so dense and complex with characters, events, flashbacks, flash forwards, spinoffs and side content that I will defer to others to pinpoint Dawn of War III's exact location in the ever-evolving brand. No matter. The story is self contained and the factions are entertaining no matter one's knowledge of the franchise.

Suffice it to say that the three playable factions duke it out with typical, rock-paper-scissors strengths and weaknesses, and all three factions are alternatively highlighted in the campaign's seventeen chapters. There are Space Marines, the well-balanced human faction that combines power with the ability to call-in battlefield reinforcements and traverse dramatic changes in elevation. The Orks are the brutish race that overwhelm with numbers and strength over finesse, and the Eldar use stealth, imaginative weaponry and psychic powers. As in all well-made RTS games, all three factions are viable in combat and a dedicated player will probably gravitate towards a specific one.

Although well acted and as story-like as can be managed, the faux-portentous campaign has a hard time disguising itself as anything but an extended tutorial and training ground for multiplayer. Even so,  Dawn of War III assumes its players will be conversant in the basics of RTS games and moves quickly on from there. This is a game of subtle tactics and strategy, with Elites (hero units) making a huge difference at key moments in battles. Like their counterparts in MOBAs, Elites are unlocked/recruited throughout the campaign; three may be summoned into battle to enhance the player's faction with special abilities, buffs, and weapons. Picking the right Elites are critical and take time to master. Both elevation and cover are important factors on the battlefield as well. 

Since the current hotness-MOBA genre evolved from RTS games, it is probably unsurprising that Dawn of War III's multiplayer mode feels like a hybrid between the two. While there are, of course, different sized skirmishes from 1v1 to 3v3, all battles follow a vaguely similar progression of capturing resource points (there is no resource collection or manufacturing in the traditional RTS style), destroying defenses, and finally reaching the enemy's Power Core. While there isn't much variety in multiplayer game objectives, getting to the victory screen offers nearly endless opportunities for dedicated and skilled players to demonstrate their chops and creativity in battle.

It's also not surprising that in 2017, a game like Dawn of War III looks and sounds fantastic, with an excellent score, well-executed voice acting, and an immense amount of colorful detail in unit animations, battlefield effects, and dark, alien-world environmental design. The only criticism is one that seems to plague a lot of visually dense games, where the eye can be overwhelmed by information and not always able to clearly distinguish units in the midst of the chaos. 

In the eight years since Dawn of War II, the RTS genre has evolved to include MOBA-like elements, but someone returning to the RTS fold will have no problem getting up to speed. The stalwart staple of three balanced factions has been enriched with Elite hero units, and the multiplayer mode clearly shows the influence of DOTA and its brethren. Dawn of War III's campaign is substantial -- if not always entirely entertaining -- and once mastered, its three factions offer extended fun in skirmishes with the game's capable AI or online against human competitors. While there is no longer a steady stream of RTS games, fans will be more than satisfied by Dawn of War III's fundamentally classic approach.