Warhammer 40,000: Dawn of War III Preview
I’ve always had a complicated relationship with Real-Time Strategy games. While I’m a huge fan of the genre, going back to the days of Command and Conquer, Total Annihilation, and even KKND, I’ve never been particularly great at them. The nuances of rock-paper-scissors warfare are often lost on me, and while I get far enough to appreciate them, mastery of those systems tends to elude me.
That was until I played the first Dawn of War. Relic’s objective-based battles made much more sense to me than the build-order focused wars of attrition you find in games like Starcraft, and though micro-managing squads is a lot of work, it made my units feel more personal than the standard fodder for enemy fire.
“DoWIII offers a lot of flexibility in its gameplay, and sometimes the flow of battle can shift in unexpected ways.”
It’s been nearly 10 years since Relic’s last entry in the franchise, and based on my brief time with Dawn of War III’s closed beta, the core gameplay has regressed in some ways – there’s a renewed focus on base building, and environmental cover has been eschewed in favour of capturing defensible positions – with only a few alterations made to the award-winning formula. That said, these changes could have far-reaching implications for the future of Dawn of War’s multiplayer.
The beta had only multiplayer on offer, and only one playable mode: Power Core. Relic’s gone on record as saying that MOBA’s have had an influence on DoWIII’s design, and it shows here. Your “hero” characters – which in this game are called Elites – lead squads to destroy an enemy base’s power core by first destroying nearby turrets, then shield generators, and finally the core itself. The maps aren’t all that large, even in a 3v3 game, and the resource nodes – which your squads must capture and upgrade in order to generate more resources for unit and base building – are plotted in ways that are similar to “lanes” you would find in something like DOTA2.
However, DoWIII offers a lot of flexibility in its gameplay, and sometimes the flow of battle can shift in unexpected ways. This is in no small part thanks to the two other major changes to Relic’s recipe: Elites and Doctrines.
At the start of a match, DoWIII allows you to pick three Elites from a group of six per race, each with unique abilities that provide a variety of play styles. Some of these Elites have similar abilities regardless of the race you choose, like the Space Marine Elite Gabriel Angelos and Ork Elite Gorgutz ‘Ead’unter, which have nearly identical melee abilities. Others, like the Eldar’s Wraithlord, focus on ranged attacks and huge buffs to lower units. Each race also has one Elite that is essentially a giant super weapon intended for end-game battles.
“Even with the small sampling this beta provided, it is obvious that Warhammer 40,000: Dawn of War III could be something really special.”
Once your elites are selected, you can then choose their individual Doctrines, buffs that take effect when an Elite is deployed. This mechanic keeps Elites distinct from each other, and can often completely shift the tide of a battle in unexpected ways. Gabriel Angelos’ first doctrine, Drop, heals all the units around his drop point. Other Doctrines offer cross-elite synergies, like Eldar Farseer Macha’s Last Chance doctrine, which heals fallen Elites, or Angelos’ Slam Barrier, which augments a Dreadnaught’s Slam ability.
Even in this limited beta, the variety of Elites and Doctrines means there are a lot of different playstyles at your disposal. Some match settings even allow you to see the Elites/Doctrines your opponents selected, giving you the chance to select pairings that will counter their own. But what I learned most from my time with them is that they are units designed to be used as sparingly, and deliberately, as possible. Unleash Gabriel as early as possible, for instance, and his Drop doctrine is completely useless. But when I waited until the most optimal moments – such as when my dwindling squads were forced to defend my Power Core with my base, turrets, and shield generators destroyed– his Doctrine gave my squads enough oomph to not only fend off an enemy attack, but survive long enough to recoup my loses and eventually destroy my opponent.
Even with the small sampling this beta provided, it is obvious that Warhammer 40,000: Dawn of War III could be something really special. While it might seem like the same old DoW, I suspect that the different potential combinations of Elites and Doctrines at hand, combined with this slimmed down, focused multiplayer mode, will provide die-hard fans with a ton of replay value.