Warhammer 40,000: Dawn of War III Review: We Expected Too Much and Got Too Little
*editor note: This review is very near and dear to my heart, as it is the last one that Fiaura will do while on our staff. Don’t worry were not firing her or anything, shes moving on up in the world, and shifting to concentrate on managing our stream team! Fiaura has been an amazing resource to our editorial team, and I know we will all miss her dearly*
Dawn of War III, something we have been waiting for, for nearly 7 years. A game we all thought would never see the light of day. Well it’s on my computer now. Having played it, I can say for sure, and I think I speak for both my self and my readers, we’re all a bit disappointed. There are quite a few reasons why but let’s get started with the game shall we.
The First and biggest flaws that you will notice is the options menu. There is no Windowed Mode; at ALL! You cannot expect to stream this sort of game and see your chat or manage your stream at the same time. Since there is no option for windowed, you simply have to play it in the pseudo full screen all the time. This gets worse, a Real Time Strategy Game without the ability to reset your hotkeys. You heard that right, you cannot view nor change your hotkeys. That seems like a pretty big omission since I know every single one of us has different settings for Starcraft and League of Legends. However, even these massive omissions dont kill a game we waited 7 years for right out of the gate, so lets get on with it.
The graphics are only a slight upgrade compared to the previous Dawn of War games. They work for the game, but compared to technology today they seem a bit mediocre. I expected them to look better, and to be honest, some 40K games that came out in the last year, while they were not very good, had better graphics. I was frankly hoping for something like Warhammer 40K Sanctus Reach, where the units look like a tabletop model I can pick up and hold in my hand. What I got was just Dawn of War II with slightly better anti-aliasing. Be prepared to accept then that the graphics and user interface are not top knotch.
Game modes wise, we have the campaign and a single multiplayer mode with more set to be released in the future. I have to stop here and really look at this development choice. 1 Multiplayer Mode and a Campaign? I hope the Campaign is amazingly good then. Turns out, the Campaign isn’t amazingly good. The story is very Warhammer 40K friendly and very Blood Ravens friendly. This is relic the campaign story is going to be about spot on. The gameplay of the campaign feels rigid, less like the map and design we saw in all 3 of the Dawn of War II stand alone games. It is more just a straight play through where you switch to different factions as you go. You are never really able to adjust to one faction’s play style before switching. Also constantly being hand held to go through the campaign is annoying. The level design of the campaign is a mixed bag as well. Space Marines constantly seem to be put into a position that is easy to defend and hold while the enemy launches pathetically anemic attacks against you every few minutes. Meanwhile you run around and complete the objectives picking off small forces with your ever growing space marine force till you hit the pop cap.
Eldar missions appear to be focused on EXTREME micromanagement. I would expect this play style from the Eldar, but this goes further in that units that require setup now act more like mobile turrets instead of carefully positioned fire lines. The Eldar Missions just feel off compared to Space Marine or Orks. They always seem to have to rely on various special abilities. The game only teaches you about those special abilities as they come up. Meanwhile Orks and Space Marines can ignore most of the suggested actions and just blast their way through. I got to the end of the Campaign and felt like I’d played a bad version of the Winter Assault Campaign. That or I had just played an extended tutorial for multiplayer.
Now the Multiplayer has a single play mode that you can do as 1v1 2v2 and 3v3. Seems pretty standard you would have destroy your opponent but guess what, you don’t. The design is exactly like a League of Legends match. You have a core to protect that if it’s destroyed you lose. You have turrets that defend lanes and generations that power the turrets down if they are destroyed.
That is right Relic finally found a way to artificially prevent rushes and early game victories. Units like Striking Scorpions or Deathwatch Squads that are really good early game are not going to be very useful in your deck later game when it’s time to defend your core or assault the enemy one. Relic has promised several other multiplayer modes however, as of press time this is all you get. Assuming they do keep to their promise they will be adding a base deathmatch, a last stand for your elites, a king of the hill, a capture the point, and a capture the flag. This is obviously not what we got, instead we are treated to playing Dawn of War with League of Legends. Which not only did no one ask for, but honestly just doesn’t feel good at all.
Multiplayer is one of the cores that keeps a real time strategy alive. Here the idea of unlocking doctrines is meant to keep it alive but with one catch. You only gain experience towards your current faction’s doctrine and must purchase stuff with skulls for both the faction you are playing and for the other factions. This is how you build your doctrine and your elite unit deck.
Now when the Elite Unit deck is built and established, it works. But it only works so well and when you switch factions you are putting yourself at a disadvantage because your doctrine won’t be as well developed as the primary faction you have been playing. While the elites do earn XP and skulls for the Campaign they only do so once for each difficulty. Replaying the campaign again won’t give you more XP or skulls currency.
I do like the variety of strategies and unit abilities here. However I am worried that the constant grind will burn players out especially if the abilities aren’t worth it. Most of what you earn also isn’t new abilities or doctrines, but rather just more skulls to unlock more things for their level ups. The whole level system in this case seems a bit broken and for a game that is going to be focused on Multiplayer, 1 Multiplayer mode at release just doesn’t cut it.
Now let’s get into the factions and how they work. We have 3. Wait…3? Even the original Dawn of War we had 4 with pieces of 2 others built into the game already. Do they play differently? yes? The Space Marines are all about the deep striking and being able to deliver a hammer blow to the rear. They are a slower build up race in this case with decent starting units; those starting units are just a bit more expensive and not really there to launch the devastating assault with. They feel very similar to how you would expect Space Marines from Dawn of War 1 to feel.
As for unit types, elites give DOW3 a balance of Dawn of War 1 and 2 feeling. I feel they could have been done better or shouldn’t have been done at all. While the Elites add something, it feels like a cheap way to please both Dawn of War 1 and Dawn of War 2 audiences when in fact I don’t feel like it will please anyone. Some of their Elite Abilities are just insanely powerful and alter the battlefield completely. This gives the micromanagement of Dawn of War 2 but now you have to Macro-Manage all your soldiers and this just turns it into a mess with the pre-set can’t change hotkey system since you require 3 hands to do things. 1 To move your mouse, 1 to use abilities and 1 to use the arrow keys to move the camera. These controls led me to feel like, I cannot control Dawn of War 3 because I lack a 3rd hand and therefore often times the battle feels like I’m only so much in command.
Orks, well they are Orks. Their Waagh mechanic and scrap harvesting mechanic makes sense for Orks. They are the spam army of spam armies and the campaign teaches you this very early on with an Ork mission that is extremely Long, Tedious, and you only have 2 units to do it with. AT least they give you 1 melee and 1 ranged infantry. Whoever designed that level by the way, I do not like you. That is by far the longest most enduring Slog I’ve ever been through and I do not wish to repeat it.
Ork units are often simply high damage lower HP units that out put a lot but can easily be cut down quickly. They rely on sheer numbers to overwhelm and to be honest like the Space Marines are a well designed faction. I can officially say that they did Orks right. Their Waagh mechanic makes sense and allows for the advancement of the tech tree through fighting. The Orks as usual seem to put the Dawn of War into Dawn of War.
On to the final race included int he game, The Eldar. The Eldar are awful. Their two core mechanics of Battle Focus (Basically a recharging Shield) and Overheating weapons means they are a true hit and run faction. Any prolonged fighting, any heavy push, and you will lose by attrition. Your units are all expensive. Way too expense to just send out to die. Your ranged units all Overheat, and have periods where they are not firing. This means if you want to take advantage of their really high damage output you have to go in, fight till you overheat and then get out. Staying in an engagement almost always results in your army’s destruction. While this is lore friendly to the Eldar, I cannot say it’s very well balanced. In 1v1 you should expect to lose, always. In 2v2 your ally has to do much of the heavy lifting while you deliver the surgical strikes and sudden high burst damage. In 3v3 the Eldar make great support for the other 2 players on their team but if you all go Eldar…well, there is gonna be that moment where all of you need to withdraw and none of you can cover the other without extreme coordination. Just to spell this out for you, the Eldar are not a winning faction in general due to the limitation of no-key binding changing and their inability to be the hammer in a push; they must always be the Anvil; an Anvil made of glass.
I had high hopes for Dawn of War III, I really did. I expected after 7 years to see a more Dawn of War II or at least a Dark Crusade style of Story driven campaign. I will be honest the campaigns and last stand mode were what kept me coming back to Dawn of War II. The Multiplayer kept me playing Dawn of War 1, especially with the Ultimate Apocalypse mod. Dawn of War III has neither of these things. If you wanted a good campaign and story; you aren’t getting it in the 17 missions provided here. If you were expecting the extremely good multiplayer of either previous game prepare to be disappointed. A lack of Modes and lack of maps is going to truly kill that experience for you long term and you won’t really come back to it. The factions are balanced if it’s Orks versus Marines but Eldar just don’t seem to be very good. They seem to have no place in the game beyond being the annoying faction that keeps blowing up one of your defense turrets until you go in and smash them with an unending hammer. They just do not have the sustain to make them piratical in multiplayer.
Overall for 60$ we get a mediocre experience that tried to satisfy too many people. They wanted to make the Dawn of War 1 and Dawn of War 2 crowds happy and what we have makes no one happy. If you are going to make a strategy game and try to make it appeal to everyone you are going to fail. I really truly believe this would be a much better experience if they had just gone and made their own game from scratch. Dawn of War III is an incomplete game with a 35$ experience for a 60$ price tag. If Relic releases free DLC and Multiplayer game modes to make up for this then we can talk about it being a Good experience. Will the game ever be a great or amazing experience as it’s two predecessors? No. As it stand, Warhammer 40,000 Dawn of War 3 will never achieve that level of its previous incarnations. Unless Relic are willing to go the Dawn of War 1 and 2 Expansion route and re-engineer the entire game using the base they have built to create something truly amazing. We know you are capable of it Relic, let’s see you do it.
In the end though, we as the fans are as much at fault as the developer. We expected so very much, we expected this to satisfy us all. People who liked Dawn of War 1 wanted base building, and army building. People who loved Dawn of War 2 wanted grab your troops and go style warfare, without bases but with objectives. We all wanted a grand campaign that was like we saw in Soulstorm or Dawn of War Retribution. What we got was the best the Relic team could do to satisfy us all, and instead it satisfies none of us. We as gamers need to learn, that deciding what we want and building the hype influences the developers. The developers need to learn, their games are always for a select audience. Develop for 1 audience, not the 4 core audiences we expect to see in a room full of Dawn of War fans. Let’s just hope Relic takes what we have and makes it wonderful like the previous two games.