When you think of the quintessential RTS, a few names come to mind; Starcraft, Age of Empires, and Dawn of War. The first two titles in the Dawn of War series brought parts of the classic Warhammer 40K tabletop series to PC gamers for the first time while including great mechanics and a stellar story to boot. Was the eight-year waiting period from Dawn of War II to Dawn of War III worth it?
Well, the short answer is “yes”. Where Dawn of War II focused more on unit tactics and battle mechanics, Dawn of War III shifts the focus back to base-building and larger-scale armies. Its a welcome return after the last entry however it makes for some incredibly complex micro-managing bonded with a ruleset you’re seemingly expected to just know rather than have told you.
Dawn of War III has two main offerings within the game. First, the single-player campaign which takes you through several missions based on three 40K factions (The Eldar, Humans, and Orcs) which clash over an ancient relic and a mysterious world. The campaign has you playing as all three sides, yet never really lets you take full control of any of them. The game acts as a long tutorial for each team’s various strengths and weaknesses.
Multiplayer, the other side of this Warhammer inspired coin, would be a mostly traditional RTS fare if not for a little MOBA inspiration thrown in. This is done with Elite characters. Elites are powerful individual units who become central figures in the campaign. They are often the difference between you winning or losing in both single and multiplayer and they’re packed with cooldown-enabled special abilities.
In a rare twist, I found myself preferring the games multiplayer to the single player. In most RTS games, I usually stay as far away from the online mode without an extra player beside me if possible. However, In Dawn of War III, I just couldn’t get into the campaign as much as I wanted to. This is mostly due to, I think, the story missions jumping around too much to really hold your interest in the characters you’re playing as. The other issue is that the maps you’re playing on offer little in the way of strategy. They force you down long corridors and basically act as gateway content to the multiplayer. It’s a shame, really.
The 2D cutscenes are, as always, very well done. Both music and voice acting combine to make what little shreds of story you get an absolute delight. The games story doesn’t really hold much interest for those who haven’t read (or at least studied up on) the Warhammer novels, but the game does offer some of the best voice acting I’ve heard in quite some time.
Don’t get me wrong, this is a fun game when the dust settles. There’s action, adventure, and genuine humor in some of the animations and it’s a welcoming sight to see. The entire game strikes this never before seen balance between something you’d find on the Warhammer 40K novel cover with its ornate art style while also looking playful like the miniatures you can purchase for the tabletop game. The best moments of DoW III are walking an Elite up to a crowd of bad guys and wailing on them in a way most other RTS’ would never dare to try. This was made even more fun by the special cooldown abilities that these Elites have which can see you taking on enemies in fun new ways. It’s a shame that you can’t do that more often, though. In between those cooldown abilities, you’re left in control of an army full of weakling units and they just…aren’t fun. The complex strategies required for each unit is enough to make some heads spin, surely. Especially since all units have a special ability just like the Elites and it’s a pain in the ass to keep track of all of them.
It’s just a shame that the campaign doesn’t live up to the previous entries in the series. It’s a shame that the whole thing feels cobbled around this idea of Elites being the be-all end-all when you boil things down to their most basic principle. It is almost impossible to win some situations without them, and while that challenge might be fun for some players, it can just as easily frustrate others and alienate them from wanting to play more of the game