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Warhammer 40K Dawn of War: Dark Crusade Review

By Brian Beck, 11/7/2006

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The Warhammer 40K universe is insanely popular among table-top gamers. Massive armies clashing on terrain that takes forever to put together with nothing more than a ton of dice rolls determining their fate are a mainstay of the universe. Making a transition over to the world of computer gaming wouldn’t be easy but, with the release of Warhammer 40K: Dawn of War, Relic did a damn solid job of bring not only the combat but the flavor of the 40K world to a whole different type of gamer (and, in the process, pull some tabletop gamers over to PC gaming).

Since then, Relic has brought out an expansion pack, Winter Assault. The Imperial Guard, a popular tabletop race, was added to the game and more missions were also added. Multiplayer got more difficult as a new race was introduced that people had to play differently against. The expansion was solid but the single player content was seriously lacking. However, just recently, Relic has released another expansion for the game, adding the Tau (long-range guys that are wusses when it comes to melee) and the Necrons (they just don’t die) to the fold and bring a unique take on the single player game.

The newest expansion, Dark Crusade, doesn’t have much in the way of a traditional story-based campaign. Sure, each race has an introductory cinematic and a bit of story when they are eliminated from the world, but that’s about it. The fun part of the campaign comes in with the upgradable hero and world-map idea. See, there are a ton of regions on the map controlled by one of seven different races. Some of these regions will give you special abilities – the most powerful being the ability to attack anywhere on the map and the ability to attack twice a turn.

Regions that are controlled by an enemy will vary in power with 1 being the weakest and 13 being the highest I saw during my campaign. The one-power regions are ridiculously easy to take control of – the enemy won’t throw much of anything at you (unless the hero is in a nearby area and then you’ll have to deal with said hero too) and it’ll be a relatively easy match. However, the 13 difficulty maps are a doozy. These are typically enemy strongholds with multiple elite units, a strong hero and other stuff that’ll make your romp through the world very not fun. Until you blow all of the enemies to bits, of course, then you’ll have loads of fun.

However, this campaign isn’t perfect. See, if your territory is attacked, there is the option to auto-resolve the fight. It’ll take (theoretically) the difficulty value of your area and do some sort of behind the scenes math to determine the battle’s winner. My major problem with this is that you’ll have enemies consistently walk over a 10-difficulty area that you’ve reinforced while a 1-difficulty area will consistently repel attacks. It really doesn’t seem to have any rhyme or reason to the way things are done and reinforcing a territory will seem like a waste.

Also, the enemy heroes don’t seem to be overly intelligent. They will aimlessly attack other areas with no purpose – they’ll attack the Space Orks one turn, the Eldar the next and then the Necrons. All the while, their territory is being eaten away at by a persistent opponent. While I’m sure it wouldn’t have been easy to code this, I’d have liked to have seen some different strategies from computer opponents – some would turtle in and really reinforce territories while others would just straight out blitz towards your headquarters to knock you out. If those were indeed there, I didn’t notice it.

Generally, though, the game really shines when you are in the actual battle. Instead of having to go and mine a la Warcraft/Starcraft, you’ll build generators (for power) and capture a variety of points on the map (critical locations, relics and strategic points) to increase your requisition resource. These battles can be ruthless, too – Many times, the computer really handed me my ass on a silver platter and won the fight in no more than a minute or two. If you can repel that first attack (one that typically comes in ridiculously fast), though, you’ll stand a decent chance. The computer is still pretty fast on even the easiest of difficulties – you’ll be forced to learn to play the game and play it well.

Winning these battles doesn’t just give you new territories, either. You’ll often get some sort of previously mentioned power or a new group of units for your honor guard when you win the fight. These honor guard units will prove to be incredibly valuable as you progress in the game as they will start the fight already built – they’ll help to fend off that early computer attack. The best part of the battles, though, is that you’ll get to upgrade your hero after. For me, I really enjoyed playing through the Ork campaign – the hero’s upgrades are just hilarious if you read their flavor text. See, orks are all about having fun, noisy weapons, be they effective or not so effective. If it makes a lot of noise or is big, Orks will love it. So, naturally, the Ork hero upgrades are all about looking more fearsome or having big weapons. Other racial upgrades feel right and are taken straight from the tabletop game. Essentially, the flavor here will draw non-computer gamers into the mix and may just motivate the computer types to try the tabletop game.

The multiplayer game is where you’ll have most of your fun, though. See, the nice thing about Dark Crusade is that it works independently of the previous two parts of the franchise. You can pick up the expansion and play as the Tau or Necrons in multiplayer if you want. Or, you can put in your CD Keys from the other games and play as the races that were featured there. Anyways, multiplayer can be incredibly difficult at times, especially if you’re playing as an advanced race like the Tau. They have to use hit-and-run tactics to have any real chance of winning which is very true to their tabletop style of play. Necrons will just pound away at you – sure, they may be slow but they’ll eventually just overwhelm you. The other races all got new units, too, but they don’t make or break any previous gameplans that I know of. They’re still pretty fun to have, though, and add more tabletop flavor to the series.

Dark Crusade, in the end, makes a worthy addition to the Dawn of War franchise. The gameplay is the same with a couple of new races mixed in and the single player campaign is fun (though a bit iffy AI wise). However, that doesn’t keep the game from being a fun single player experience overall. The multiplayer is where you’ll spend most of your time playing, anyways – and that’s still a blast. I’d highly recommend this to any tabletop 40K fan or fan of the previous games in the series. And if you’re looking to see what the Dawn of War series is all about, pick this one up – it’ll be pretty cheap and gives you a good idea of if you’ll like the rest of the series or not.

Overall: 89%



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