The world of Warhammer 40,000 is dark and dystopic with a compelling atmosphere and an incredible amount of detail poured into every character of each race and event that takes place. Unfortunately, Dawn of War 3 channels none of that into its design, gameplay or characters.
Dawn of War and its expansions stuck to more traditional RTS standards but still retained some of the quirkier aspects of the Warhammer 40,000 universe while Dawn of War II, channeled the more immediate action oriented aspects of the same, doing away with base building, and introducing a more RPG like gameplay structure with an additional squad dynamic and destructible cover system. It was expected that the third game would be something that would blend the best parts of both its predecessors
However, what we are met with is utter disappointment as Dawn of War III looks and plays like a cheap clone of just about any other science-fiction RTS in the market. None of things that made the first two games stand on their own feet return and the little features that do return are done with so little flair or commitment that they feel incredibly out of place and end up falling flat on their faces. The game has three playable races, the Space Marines of the Blood Raven Chapter, the Eldar and the Orks.
All three main commanders for the races, Chapter Master Gabriel Angelos of the Blood Ravens, Farseer Macha of the Eldar and Warlord Gorgutz ‘Ead ‘Unter of the Orks are all returning characters either from the first game or its expansions. However, their voice acting is so bland and their individual stories are so poorly done that they might as well be replaced with generic units and we might not know the difference at all. The campaign and the story are another huge let down, being centered on the search for a catastrophic weapon called the Spear of Khaine, and unlike the first two games which had stories with pacing as well as enough branching narratives to consider a second playthrough, the campaign is a largely linear affair devoid of replayability.
However, players will be forced to play the campaign over and over again just to grind the in-game currency, “Skulls” that are used to unlock the Elite units – which are arguably the only playable units with a relatively stronger Warhammer 40,000 identity to them. However, these Elites are locked to three per team and only one unit of each of the three can be active at a time. The fact that these units dont have such a big impact in battle comes second to the fact that most of the time you’ll see players sticking to one Elite while using the smaller, more easily available units to overwhelm opponents by sheer numbers.
Skulls can also be used to purchase Doctrines which when equipped to an elite or to your profile can provide special boosts to your units. A total of six doctrines can be active at time divided as three each between the elites and the player profile. A majority of the playtime will be spent grinding out these skulls via campaign missions or leveling up your unlocked Elites to get more skulls.
The game is also very barebones as far as RTS mechanics go. Different types of base buildings can be built, which deploy different units and other buildings can also be built which can be used to research upgrades for the troops. The resources needed for deploying and upgrading – requisition and power – are generated by capturing and holding certain strategically valuable points on the map. Additional structures such as power generators or listening posts can be built on these points to generate more resources and to defend them. The cover system makes a very awkward return and literally serves no purpose other than just being there as a reminder of what Dawn of War II did better.
However, the Orks have different mechanics associated with their tech tree. Ork technology and upgrades can be unlocked only after building a unique building called the “WAAAAGH! Banner” which will unlock more upgrades with each one built, up to a total of five. These banners also gather scrap, a resource unique to the Orks which can be used to further upgrade their troops. The Eldar operate with the standard two resources but their upgrades cost more power than requisition. Perhaps, the biggest and the most anticipated addition to the roster of Dawn of War III are the large-scale walker units – Imperial Knights for the Space Marines, Wraithknights for the Eldar, and Nauts for the Orks. However, even the excitement of these larger than life units are taken away because of them being relegated to elite status yet remaining sorely underpowered, which doesn’t justify their special status. The Eldar’s play style, however, is largely unchanged from the previous games. Their units are equipped with recharging shields and their structures and units are also capable of teleportation, making them arguably the best race among the three available at the moment.
The campaign maps are small, self-contained and fairly linear with nothing of note to mention and devoid of memorable moments to take away. There are no destructive environments and the interaction between units and environments are kept to a bare minimum, giving more attention to how boring combat can become. The multiplayer maps aren’t any better, with them following a strictly linear and cramped formation consisting of lanes with shield generator nodes and turrets to defend. The victory condition is to destroy the opponent’s Power Core while defending your own and the alternative conditions are entirely absent for some reason.
The maps take a MOBA like approach and results in long winded battles of attrition; sticking to the strategy of rushing the enemies with overwhelming force over carefully planned strategic strikes. Even the unique strengths of each race are ignored in favor of this swarming tactic making games even more banal than they normally are. The enemy AI is nothing to write home about either and is just the run of the mill basic RTS rush bots.
The technical aspects of the game fare no better. The units and their animations look odd and out of place within the environment. The unit actions feel extremely clunky and nonresponsive in a lot of places. The UI is dated and is really sluggish alongside the camera pan speed, and the zoom is just so constrained that a clear view of the whole battlefield is nigh impossible. The game also lacks basic optimization with PCs with specifications which were well within the recommended ones flat-lined at around 20FPS on the lowest settings. Considering the game was a PC exclusive at this time, this point is one of the most disappointing things about the game.
Dawn of War III had a lot of expectations to live up to from both fans of RTS games and the fans of Warhammer 40,000. It is perfectly understandable if the game doesn’t deliver on the substantial hype with which it was heaped with. However, Warhammer 40,000: Dawn of War III opts to shirk off its responsibilities to both sets of fans and instead comfortably settles into the generic sci-fi RTS quota, losing its unique identity and place in an already dying genre. Dawn of War and Dawn of War II were games that had a nuanced player base comprising of both RTS fans and Warhammer 40,000 fans, veteran and newcomers alike but Dawn of War III will leave every one of them disappointed. If you’re looking for a quality RTS with depth, this is definitely not that game.
Set in the lore rich dystopian sci-fi Warhammer 40,000 universe
Large-scale walker unit designs are awe-inspiring and stand out on the battlefield
Doctrines offer some fun gameplay strategies
Fun to play as the Eldar
Settles into the cliché sci-fi RTS territory instead of mining the setting’s rich lore
Cover system is awkward and nowhere as useful as advertised
Units lack individuality and most are severely underpowered
Grinding for skulls kills most of the excitement of playing
Campaign level-design and voice acting are subpar and boring
Poorly optimized and unpolished
MOBA-inspired multiplayer with one single win condition
Multiplayer maps are strategically impaired, favor swarm tactics over everything else and lack variety
- Relic Entertainment