The way I see it, there are two types of people who are going to be looking to play Warhammer 40,000: Dawn of War 3 Review. The first is looking for a return to the original Dawn of War, what with its more traditional approach to strategy, with base building and upgrades and the like. The second is looking for more of Dawn of War 2, with its tight tactical combat, cover system, and RPG-style progression in the campaign. Well, the former are probably going to be happier than the latter, but it might be for reasons that make everyone sad.
Surely, Relic had to know they were going to alienate part of their audience regardless of their approach, so I do appreciate that they’ve been completely unapologetic in their attempts to legitimize Dawn of War as a lasting RTS. Perhaps legitimize is unfair, but it’s also not far off. Don’t get me wrong, I really like the tactical cover system in the DoW2 campaign, as it suits the pseudo tactical-RPG gameplay quite well. But let’s be honest here, the head-to-head multiplayer was bunk. And if it weren’t for the highly addictive “Last Stand” mode that dropped with the Retribution expansion, I’d say the DoW2’s multiplayer was completely forgettable. Also, “Last Stand” isn’t a thing in Warhammer 40,000: Dawn of War 3 (yay alienation!), and unfortunately, due to the game stepping away from the cover and tactics system, as well as how the new Elite units work, I can’t see it being easily reinstated via a simple DLC, either.
That being said, Retribution’s “Last Stand” still holds up today if you want to go back and play it, and Warhammer 40,000: Dawn of War 3 feels like a much more reliable experience than the previous instalments. The old cover system was cool in an intimate experience sort of way, but we’ve all had games in Company of Heroes where one unit shrugs off an impossible amount of damage because of it, or where Thule’s Dreadnought in Chaos Rising proves him immortal through sheer RNG and reasons, so, frankly, I’m okay with stepping away from that, even if it means losing a lot of the joy to be had in the campaign.
Where Warhammer 40,000: Dawn of War 3 really makes good, though, is through the combination of Elite slots and Doctrines. Each player has three Elite slots, and six Doctrines, three of which are specific to the chosen elites, and three that are independent of them. Doctrines fundamentally change how certain units function, and players can radically change the playstyle of an army just by changing one or two. For instance, players can slot in a doctrine that negates their need to deploy while the Terminator Elite squad is on the field, or drop in the Squiq Spotta perk to allow your Big Trakk to provide overwatch artillery. There’s still a bit of unlocking to do (via Skulls earned for multiplayer and campaign participation) to gain access to all of these, but at least it all comes pouring in rather quickly, and the three Elites that each of the factions have unlocked are pretty awesome to begin with. Most importantly, though, because Elite Points are earned at a trickle during the match, there’s a real strategy to deploying your Elites at the right time and deciding whether it’s best to drop a 3pt Farseer for some support and early push, or save up for that 9pt Wraithknight Titan. And because you’ll never know just how your enemy has customized their Doctrines to suit their particular playstyle, there’s a very real emphasis on adaptability over homogenous armies. I definitely like what they’re selling here.
So far, the only major flaw I’ve seen in the overall balance is that the Space Marine Orbital Bombardment ability (a 4pt calldown that is available regardless of Elite and Doctrine loadout) is broken overpowered. Aside from being a giant freaking space laser that’s supported by rocket blasts, it physically picks up and disables units caught in it. That’s all fine and well if it were only effective in trashing zerg-style formations, but it sucks up Titans too, and will actually destroy the Eldar Wraithknight (a 9pt Elite) from full. It’s a late-game doomsday weapon, but it’s the clear outlier between the three factions and could definitely use some tuning. Really, though, any multiplayer game is expected to need some post-launch love, and that’s the only thing I’ve seen in my time with the game that can’t be defended against, so colour me impressed.
And speaking of colour, I haven’t mentioned the “Army Painter” feature. Because of course, it’s there. And it’s not like there’s any shortage of official Clans and Chapters to begin with. There are 27 unique, official Marine chapters alone, each with their proper colour schemes and insignia. And all of the colours in the picker are listed by their official GW names, so the only thing stopping you from recreating your favourite is the lack of import feature for insignia, which is a bit of a shame, really, because my Lamenters need their checkered heart to signify the abuse they’re about to suffer.
What surprises me most of all, though is that Warhammer 40,000: Dawn of War 3 feels like a complete experience. For a game that’s passed over the Imp Guard, Chaos Marines, Necrons, Tau, Dark Eldar, and Tyranid, I don’t find it to be lacking in any way. And while I feel the ‘Nids and Tau would fit very well into the balance the game has already struck, the three-way clash between Space Marines, Eldar, and Orks is a great balance of Tactics, Technology, and Dakka respectively. And even though the campaign sheds its RPG-style approach, it’s still a suitable continuation of the tale of the Blood Ravens as led by Chapter Master Gabriel Angelos.
Really, then, what Relic have done here is taken a step away from security, but in doing so, they’ve also kept just ahead of expectation and mediocrity. Warhammer 40,000: Dawn of War 3 is certainly not the perfect RTS, and it will certainly disappoint at least some returning players, but it’s an excellent RTS in its own right, and one that I think is deserving of a chance. I’m confident that whatever it has lost by departing from the Tactics approach of the previous instalment will be more than made up for by the robustness it replaces it with. Surely, the Inquisitor’s eye will be ever scrutinizing of this one, but I think the franchise has been spared the order of Exterminatus for now.