Wednesday, 1 October 2014

Warhammer 40,000 - Dawn of War

Wrapping up my retrospective, I find my way back to the original Dawn of War, a base-building RTS that is now ten years old.

I heard somebody say burn, baby burn!
The original Dawn of War was built around a campaign which introduced the Blood Ravens Chapter of the Space Marines. Across a series of missions, the player guided the Blood Ravens against Orks, Eldar and Chaos Marines, ultimately setting off the chain of events which would lead to the climax of DoWII.

The meat of the game, however, lies in the skirmish and multiplayer modes, which allowed single player, co-op or competitive scenarios to be played out, with or without AI opponents. With a good selection of maps and customisation options, DoW provided a lot of replay value outside the main campaign, even before the add ons arrived.

There were four available factions in the base game - Space Marines, Eldar, Orks and Chaos Marines - and a lively spread of abilities between them. The Marines (both types) were hard wearing and hard hitting, while the Orks were numerous as anything and the Eldar had a lot of tech upgrades and special abilities, and vicious weaponry to make up for a fairly low toughness. Multiplayer missions could be annihilation-based or take-and-hold. In either case the correct balance of rapid expansion and base consolidation was critical.

Winter Assault added a new campaign, focused on the new playable faction, the Imperial Guard, whose thing was basically tanks. They had one basic unit, blokes with lasguns, but a lot of armour options.
Like Risk, but for funner!

Dark Crusade changed the tempo of the series with the addition of a turn-based campaign mode, in which the player's faction competes with others for territory by fighting mission battles. In addition, the faction commander could now earn persistent wargear upgrades instead of having upgrade options in-mission. Elite Honour Guard units would begin attack missions at the Commander's side, while Garrison units and buildings could be established to make it harder for enemies to retake territory from you.

Again, the add-on increased the number of available factions by adding the mecha-undead Necrons and the holier-than-thou Tau to the mix.

Soulstorm built on the base of Dark Crusade, with a new campaign map stretching over three planets and a moon, and brought the number of playable factions to nine with the puritanical Sisters of Battle and the decadent Dark Eldar. Each of these factions had a unique resource; in addition to Requisition and Power, the Sisters could gather Faith to power their special abilities, while the Dark Eldar collected souls to the same end.

The strength of the game was the combination of the rich 40K setting and an ending that allowed there to be a massive number of things shooting other things at once while retaining a high level of resolution. In particular a large Ork vs. Imperial Guard battle could run to a couple of hundred models a side without slowing down on the basic recommended system, and the major stronghold missions could begin with upwards of a hundred enemy being tracked.

The single-player campaigns in the original game and Winter Assault were not the greatest, but the skirmish mode made up for that, and the non-linear campaigns in Dark Crusade and Soulstorm had much more replay value, as each of the seven or nine factions called for a different approach. At the top end there is a degree of rush tactics, but the balance of abilities means that you can never just point and run; your strongest mob will be butchered on a base run if you don't box a little clever. On the other hand, it's not overly complicated, never leaving the player wallowing in a sea of options.

These then are the three 40K games I've played (I should get Space Hulk sometime, I really should). Of the three, Dawn of War is probably the most replayable, although for multiplayer the Last Stand mode in DoWII - three heroes stand in an arena and fight off wave after wave of enemies - takes the prize. It's so very simple, and yet I reckon not one person has ever played it without clearly understanding at some stage that there is an easy way to win it and if only those other two idiots got that you would rule the world, damint!