It's been quite a while since we had a Dawn of War game. Now Relic has presented the latest iteration of what is undoubtedly the best video game series set in Games Workshop's Warhammer 40,000 universe. Even as 40K itself is at the brink of unprecedented changes heralded by the Gathering Storm campaign books and the upcoming 8th Edition of the game, Dawn of War III also brings quite a change. Even if the game's story isn't impacted at all by what GW has planned for the lore side of the wider 40K franchise. On the contrary, we are again following the fates of Gabriel Angelos and the Blood Ravens as they battle familiar foes.
What has changed with DoW 3 is the gameplay. Where the first part in the series was pretty much a straight-up RTS that owed a lot to Warcraft III, DoW 2 shook up the formula by eschewing base building and inheriting much from Company of Heroes. Turning the game into something of an RTS/RPG hybrid. DoW 3 simultaneously moves back into the more classic RTS direction of DoW 1 (including base building being a central part of the game again) and also changes things pretty spectacularly by making hero units the centre of the game. As such, Dawn of War III kind of folds back onto itself by going Dota when the original game in the series was a bit of a Warcraft III clone. In that way, DoW 3 feels like very much the middle ground between the first and second games of the series – while at the same time setting the multiplayer up as Relic's big step into the one genre everyone wants to be in right now: MOBAs.
So far I've only played the single player mode and I am not sure yet if the new MOBA direction pays off there. On one hand, controlling the hero units feels great and a good fit for the 40K universe. On the other hand, they feel very overpowered and make the normal units seem useless a lot of the time. Some of these elite units are also absurdly out of scale. Gabriel Angelos is one of the worst offenders, looking like he's about twice as tall as a tactical marine. Artificer armour aside, surely Astartes don't work like Ork warbosses in that they grow bigger and bigger the longer they survive, not even chapter masters…
I must say the maps look fantastic, though. And there's a lot of variety. You fight on planets – mostly in pretty hellish conditions – on starforts in orbit and on weird, shifty warp-tainted planets. It's grand. And speaking of grand, the Orks are glorious too. Probably my favourite rendition of 40K Orks in a video game. Playing as them, scrounging up new units from scrap and using their Waaagh! mechanic is amazing. And the Eldar are fun, too. Even though I can't seem to get the hang of their play style. But that is nothing new. Same thing happened to me in any other DoW game and also actual tabletop 40K. In that regard, it's probably testament to how well their play style has been ported to this game.
While I love how all these races play, I'm also not sure that the way the campaign is implemented works. You play one mission as each race in turn (Blood Ravens, Orks, Eldar) and that might serve to tell the story as a whole but it fragments your experience in getting to grips with their different strengths and weaknesses. And thinking about it, it also fragments the actual story terribly. What might work as a narrative conceit in a novel doesn't really transfer well to missions of an RTS. Which is a bit of a shame, as so far the story seems to be quite good; if standard 40K fare. The cinematics are also excellent.
But I won't judge until I've played more of this. I'm having fun, I can say that much. And in the end, that is the most important thing.