Dawn of War – An Overview and Other Thoughts

Similarities? I don't see any.

Dawn of War, Dawn of War, Dawn of War. We get it wayward, you like Dawn of War. Get over it, already! Post about a real game, like StarCraft 2. Why should we care about this other, lesser game? Why do you keep harping on it when, let’s face it, we already have the paragon RTS experience to try and master, and to enjoy spending dozens of hours a week watching, just to keep up?

I’ll do my best to answer: here’s my case for Dawn of War 2.

The Background and the Art.

Dawn of War 2 is a Real-Time Strategy game set in the Warhammer 40,000 universe. Warhammer 40,000 is itself a tabletop tactics game developed by Games Wokrshop. It’s played with dice, plastic rulers, and painted models, that players assemble and paint themselves. It’s a fairly popular genre, despite armies being expensive to assemble, and Warhammer 40,000 is one of the most popular games of the genre, perhaps the most popular.

Here’s some more info on WH40K (as it’s called).

The Warhammer universe is dark and violent. In fact, one of the common taglines around the franchise is the statement “In the future, there is only war.” Without getting too terribly side-tracked or overly complicated, the universe is made up of 12 (or so) races, fighting an endless battle of varying allegiences, purposes, and methods across a bleak and ruined galaxy.

Here’s a quick overview of some of the races (sorry to diehard fans for any inaccuracies)

  • The Space Marines, the elite soldiers of the human Empire. They are cloned from the God Emporer of humanity himself, genetically modified super soldiers who live for hundreds or thousands of years, fanatically loyal, religiously fervent, and armed with Power armor, they will kill literally anyone who stands in the way of their holy mission.
  • The Orks, a race who have a love of fighting like no other. They live to fight: It is literally primary love. They are a fungoid race, latent psychics (called Psykers in WH40K parlance) who can bend the laws of physics through the power of their belief.
  • The Tyranid. StarCraft players, this is the basis for the Zerg race. They are an insectoid plague, sweeping in from outside the Galaxy. They are driven by 1 or more hive minds, their only purpose to kill all that stands in their way, to devour worlds. They “process” all biological material they encounter, to engineer warrior-weapons in order to overcome those that would resist them, to process more material, ad infinitum.
  • The Eldar, the last scions of a dying race. The StarCraft Protoss have some basis here. The eldar are powerful psychics, plying the aether in their Craftworld starships, forseeing grim futures, and attempting to use wiles, trickery, and powerful technologies to divert it, if they can.

I think you get the point. There is no story in this grim universe but one where war, suffering, decay and pain is featured. Which, let’s face it, is pretty cool. There are some birght spots, like how Ork craft can move faster simply by being painted red, or the Tau race who are the sole purveyors of progress and “good” (though even this is open to interpretation).

All in all, the universe is absolutely perfect for RTS and RTT games, as attested by the comparative success of Dawn of War 1 and 2 (at least, until StarCraft was released). The squad-based combat, unit upgrades, terrain and garrisoning, are all mechanics that really add tactical depth to a gameplay experience.

But I’ll get to that in a second. I’m still talking about setting.

Uh, yeah. This is in-game.

Warhammer has an art style that has developed over the past 20 or so years. As you can see, it translates VERY well into video games. The level of detail in the models on the tabletop game has inspired one of the most visually appealing and detailed RTS games ever created. The individual unit models in this game are almost as detailed and active as characters in some shooters. The units are also customizable: no simple “red and blue” color palettes, here: commanders are able to color their forces with up to 4 different colors, chosen from a palette of official Games Workshop paint colors: primary, secondary, and 2 accents.

Also, more recently, Relic (the game’s developer) has been releasing cosmetic DLC for the game that allows users to have a stylistically unique army based upon one of the unique sub-factions in their race’s lore.

All of this makes for a visually stunning game.

The Gameplay

I could write another 500 or more words about the gameplay, but I think letting you all watch it might be a little more effective:

As a follow up to that video, here are some gameplay highlights:

  • the gameplay is objective-based in competitive play, but destroying the opponent’s “base” is a play option.
  • Similar to many other RTS games, units are segregated into ‘tiers’ which in this game are accessed via an unlock in the main base structure. Units of higer tiers are often dramatically more cost-efficient than units of lower tiers
  • This game features a hard-counter system where vechicles are almost impossible to kill without AV weapons, and dedicated melee squads can be used to deadly effect on unarmored squads.
  • This game features cover mechanics, and a dedicated “retreat” button that can be used as a last resort to save squads, at the cost of a momentary loss of control over the squad as it runs back to base.
  • Most unit upgrades are accessed from the unit itself, and can ofter change the purpose of the unit being upgraded.
  • Hero units will be familiar to anyone who has played WH40K or WarCraft 3

In Conclusion

Here’s my TLDR:

  • The game is gorgeous, based upon the well-developed Games Workshop models, with excellent animations, rich textures, and stunning lighting effects
  • The essentially macro-less, objective-based multiplayer is engaging and gets you right into the action from minute 1. Also, you have a decent chance of coming back if you don’t make a royally bad mistake.
  • Team games are fun and more or less intuitive
  • There is a small, but dedicated casting community that includes quality commentators like Shaleseycasts and RedRupee
  • This game is a refreshing change of pace for RTS gamers, and makes a great compliment for StarCraft 2
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