Warhammer 40000: Dawn Of War III PC Review

On its own, Dawn Of War III is a good strategy game that, while lacking in certain areas, can provide epic battles. As a continuation of the series, however, it’s easily overshadowed by past iterations as it fails to find enough strengths of its own.

By Woozie, Posted 07 May 2017

It’s not news to anybody that videogames set in the Warhammer 40000 universe tend to be very hit and miss in terms of quality. Just looking at what I played last year, we got the great Battlefleet Gothic: Armada, on one side, with Eternal Crusade and Space Hulk: Deathwing , on the other. Relic’s Dawn of War series has always held the standard of quality high, being the most prolific use of the license. With THQ’s bankruptcy and the studio moving under SEGA’s publishing umbrella, we’re finally given the third entry in the series, unless we’re counting expansions.  With its promise of base building and powerful, Elite units in mind, let’s delve in and see how well Dawn Of War III holds up.

Dawn Of War III’s campaign spans 17 missions which will have you going through all three factions, the Orks, Eldar and Space Marines. While this does give players a taste of everything they can use in multiplayer, as someone who’s never enjoyed (read been very good at) playing as the Eldar, it can become a little frustrating. It isn’t the largest issue, though. I still remember the final stand at the end of vanilla Dawn Of War 2’s campaign, where the Blood Ravens were ready to hold off the Tyranids for as long as they could, knowing that death would be a certainty. The same goes for every other expansion (yes, even Soulstorm. You can’t forget the annoying Sisters of Battle stronghold mission, can you?). Dawn of War III has nothing of the sort. Yes, the build-up is decent and it does show expected strain on the armies involved in the conflict. However, Relic’s refusal to branch out and focus on other factions (which might be justified either by the popularity of these factions or by other, perhaps legal, concerns) alongside telling a story that’s basically been told before, with weak supporting characters doesn’t do much. I don’t doubt someone making contact with the universe for the first time through Dawn of War III will find the story to be at least decent. For those of us who’ve been through the fires of previous titles in the series, it comes off as unsatisfactory.

Warhammer 40000: Dawn Of War III, Screenshot, Review, PC

Then there’s the missions, which do play their part in teaching players about different units. This happens in most strategy games and, compared to something like Starcraft II, Dawn Of War III does give access to all its units quicker. The problem is that most missions just come off either as bland or as frustrating, never giving appropriate scenarios to shine the light on how the various units can be useful. Having little in the means of base defenses also becomes a nuisance. Turrets are not present in the same capacity as before. Instead, you’re relying on listening posts and WAAGH Towers (the latter, only if you’re green and orky). These are enough to hold back one, maybe two basic squads, but facing more spells doom for the structures. This means that you constantly have to spread your army, or make sure to leave a number of units back at the base. With friendly units having the tendency of not firing back when fired upon, this becomes problematic. I’ve had countless occasions when my units were happily eating lasers from enemies well within their line of sight without moving an inch.

The simplified cover system can be justified by the focus on the higher number of units. Be that as it may, most cover points come forth as useless and unimaginative. Being capturable areas that spawn a shield, this shield can only be penetrated by melee units. This also suffers a bit from the ability pathfinding issues that happen when high ground comes into play. Certain dashes or jumps fail to get the characters where they need to be. As an example, Gorgutz’s jump attack will not penetrate the cover barrier, but walking through it will. At times, Howling Banshees couldn’t dash up slopes that weren’t that high. Regardless, with cover being so easily negated by the use of melee units, it’s difficult to give it much importance. Going down simplification lane, firing arcs are gone. Heavy bolter squads simply require a few seconds for deployment and they’ll shoot whatever’s in their range, regardless of direction. There are also no suppression or retreat mechanics. If the former can also be justified by being difficult to implement with a higher number of units, the latter’s absence is felt, especially when required to spread your troops over two fronts. There’s a baffling lack of camera rotation and option of rebinding keys. The camera angle is also quite low, making navigation a chore at times. It also doesn’t help when large armies clash as fights can quickly devolve into a giant blob of units, making micromanagement a real pain. Sync kills are also gone, as is Wargear. This is compensated by the higher variety of hero, or Elite, units.

Warhammer 40000: Dawn Of War III, Screenshot, Review, PC

The Elite units were a large focus in the marketing campaign and I do have to give them props here. The trailers, just like the cinematics in between missions are very nicely done. In-game they do translate into these powerful units that serve different roles. Naturally, I wasn’t fond of all of them, but using Solaria to carpet an area in rockets, or Jain Zar to swiftly dash around and dispatch entire squads with my throwing weapon felt really awesome. Basic infantry may fall easily to these elite units, however, recklessly charging in, even with your superheavy Elite will leave you looking at the rather long respawn timers. The largest complaint I have in regards to the Elites comes from a place I did not expect. In making the Elites feel like heavy hitters, regular Space Marine squads feel more akin to their Starcraft II counterparts. This even extends to Dreadnoughts and stuff like Deff Dreads. In the game’s meta, a tactical marine squad is a basic unit, sure. However, keeping in mind the way they’re portrayed in the lore and even in past titles, seeing these units lack any sense of weight or punch is very disappointing.

The three races come with their own mechanics and units that feel, and need to be handled, differently. Orks can upgrade their units and build discounted ones using scrap. Scrap is obtained either from WAAGH towers, or from destroyed units and structures. Upgrading units is generally something you want to do when being mean ‘n’ green, as it often gives them new abilities. Shoota Boys, for example, get a grenade they can throw. Elite units also benefit from the scrap upgrade mechanic in different ways. Weirdboy Zapnoggin gains a scrap shield, while Meganobz gain rockets. Moving over to the Eldar side, they’re as nimble as ever, but also fragile. Even their largest tank unit, the Fire Prism is a skimmer that can traverse any type of terrain. Eldar make use of Battle Focus, basically a shield which protects their HP. This makes it so that they do favor hit and run or distance tactics. The Howling Banshees, which quickly became my favorite Eldar unit, have the ability to do a devastating dash which can easily cut foes to pieces. Again, recklessness is not favored, as you need to keep track of where you end up after said dash. Get too close to too many enemies, and the Banshee’s howl, will echo desperation.  Apart from the Battle Focus, the Eldar can relocate their structures and use Webways to stealth, reinforce and quickly move units on the battlefield. The Space Marines can make use of drop pods to drop reinforcements on their enemies’ heads as well as a Battle Standard, which buffs them. The Battle Standard needs to be protected, as it can be captured by foes. To top things off, Roks, Eldritch Storms and Orbital Bombardments are also present, acting as AoE attacks that are truly devastating, when used correctly.

Warhammer 40000: Dawn Of War III, Screenshot, PC, Review

It’s easy to see that we’re dealing with distinct factions that need to be approached differently. You can’t treat your more expensive Tactical Marines as you would a squad of Shoota Boyz or Eldar Rangers. Considering the fact that most units have an active ability, and adding Elite Units to the mix, (some of these having three active abilities, all useful in different situations), we get to talk about micromanagement. I’ll get this out straight away: I’m an average RTS player at best, which probably had more losses during his “carreer” than wins. Now, there’s a very large amount of micromanagement in the game. In order to use a unit to the best of its abilities you have to keep track of a lot of things: enemy placement, the composition of your army, the ideal order in which to use abilities when dealing with an enemy. When I set on my first multiplayer matches, even after finishing the campaign, I felt overwhelmed. This is in no way helped by the low camera angle and the lack of rotation, although the latter has a smaller role to play in this.

Since doing away with Wargear, Dawn Of War III borrows Doctrines from its World War II cousin, Company Of Heroes. These are abilities which affect certain unit types. Now, naturally, this is a system that requires a longer time spent with the game and a good understanding of the meta to fully grasp. As far as I saw, it’s a way to make it so that you’re “specializing” your army, in a sense. Because the majority of doctrines affect one type of unit, you’ll naturally be more inclined to use more of those units to make use of their bonuses. Now, in 3v3 matches, getting a team with high amounts of synergy can grant you a good advantage. At the same time, you cannot see your opponents’ doctrines. This can lead to getting into a match where one opponent picked a counter to what you picked. As an example, I played a 3v3 as Orks, getting Doctrines that enhanced my Deff Dreads and Killa Kans (basically walking piles of scrap metal that kill them other gitz). One of the Eldar opponents picked Shadow Spectre doctrines. Shadow Spectres are long range skimmer units that channel a beam, dealing more damage the longer they channel. Thus, whenever I ran my Ork army into his, I was at a disadvantage, as the Specters could easily keep their distance while effectively harassing my slow walkers. Certainly, this also comes down to communicating between allies in 3v3, but you won’t always have someone to hold your back. The intention behind these doctrines may also be to get players to focus on different army builds, thus adding a nuance of variety. It’s also worth mentioning that doctrines need to be unlocked using Skulls, a currency you get for leveling up Elites and finishing matches. Elites have just about the same requirement. This makes it so that playing those three Elites you really enjoy instead of leveling the other ones (also including races you may not enjoy as much) is not efficient when it comes to unlocks.

Warhammer 40000: Dawn Of War III, Screenshot, PC, Review

Dawn Of War III’s multiplayer comes with one single mode and yes, it’s that one surrounding power cores. Basically, you have to destroy a shield generator and a turret) before being able to wipe out the enemy’s power core. The mode also adds Escalation Phases which change the rate at which resources are gathered, how many resources are refunded upon a unit’s death and the health of these vital buildings. Capture points are spread across the map, and are required to be controlled for requisition and power. Elite units require their own resource, which is generally assigned only to specific points, often further away from bases. This is where it’s assumed most skirmishes will happen, as getting a Superheavy Elite first can do quite a bit of damage to the opponent. There are certainly MOBA elements to be found in the Elite units having specific roles and the ultimate goal of the mode. A certain level of symmetry in point placement and attack paths is required in order to give players equal shots. The mode plays out quite well, requiring one to spread their attention in more than one place. Focusing on just one spot can allow the enemy to get a generator down through a sneak attack. That being said, the escalation phases and turret make sure that matches take some time before being able to be finished. In my experience, matches never lasted less than 30 minutes.

Having just one mode at launch is bad enough and the fact that the eight maps are only playable in specific modes, doesn’t help the game. 2v2 has only two maps, with 1v1 and 3v3 having three maps each. When you couple that with the fact that there are just three factions, instead of the usual four, there is a chance people will get fatigued quicker than expected. In this respect, Dawn Of War III follows an ongoing trend: that on relying too much on post-launch content. The offering is simply thin, especially when coupled with the rather disappointing campaign. Nobody expects hundreds of maps on launch. However, we can all agree that there could at least have been another mode or two. Visually, the game does alright, showcasing some stunning contrasts in certain environments. There are a couple of UI contrivances, when it comes to selecting or unlocking doctrines. The unit icons at the bottom also feature backgrounds that are a bit too similar, making picking that one unit you need somewhat difficult. The game does support the Steam Workshop, so community made maps and mods are sure to come.

Warhammer 40000: Dawn Of War III, Screenshot, PC, Review

Dawn Of War III is in tune with the rest of the series in at least one respect: that of redefining itself. It’s very much different from both the first and the second title, on the whole. That’s because it treads the middle ground between them. In doing so, however, the strengths of the past games are either missing, or simply diluted. The outcry around Dawn Of War III being a MOBA has no basis in reality. It most certainly has MOBA elements, but undoubtedly plays like an RTS that throws enough variables at you to keep you on your toes all the time, especially in multiplayer. There is also, undeniably, enjoyment to be found in the mode. It doesn’t come right away, but given patience, you can find yourself fighting quite a few epic battles. Still, with the campaign as it is, and just one multiplayer mode at launch, recommending it at full price is very difficult. On its own, Dawn Of War III is a good strategy game that, while lacking in certain areas, can provide entertainment, especially to those patient enough to look for certain subtleties. As a continuation of the series, however, it’s easily overshadowed by past iterations as it fails to find enough strengths of its own.

Bogdan Robert, NoobFeed
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General Information

Platform(s): PC
Publisher(s): SEGA
Developer(s): Relic Entertainment
Genres: Strategy
Themes: Tactical
Release Date: 2017-04-27

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