We take a last look at all three factions, and a first look at multiplayer.
Warhammer 40K: Dawn of War 3 is hitting Steam on April 27, and we’ve now had a chance to go hands on with all three of the starting playable races in both the campaign, and multiplayer modes. Let’s take a look at the heroes, units, and abilities that make each faction feel exciting to play before diving into my detailed multiplayer impressions, starting with my current favorites, the Orkz.
If you want to get straight to the multiplayer deets, along with our very first round of multiplayer footage, head straight down to the multiplayer section below.
As I mentioned in my first hands-on piece about them, the Boyz really thrive as a mobile army that can make the most out of simply getting out there, and getting into fights, thanks to their use of scrap. Scrap is a special resource that’s unique to them, and it drops off of destroyed mechanical units, both friend and foe. With it, they can either grant unique upgrades to specific squads, or they can empower the special abilities of their formidable, unorthodox hero units, like Goregutz ‘ead’unter who can go from deflecting incoming fire by swinging his mighty power klaw around to healing and buffing nearby allies with a rallying fireworks display.
If hardware is more your thing, you can use scrap piles to build vehicles in the field and on the cheap. In need of some armor-busting ordinance in a hurry? Throw together some Killa Kanz, who can pepper enemies with rocket fire. Personally, I leaned heavily on War Trukks. These lightly armored troop carriers can double as a mobile reinforcement point, and can catapult some Boyz or Nobz across long distances, stunning enemy units where they land. Nothing beats Beauty, da Morkanaught though. More on that hulking super unit below in the multiplayer section.
The Eldar can’t match the Orkz in terms of raw power or numbers, but they make up for it with speed, tactical flexibility, and the most dynamic, high-casualty producing heroes in the game. Their leader, Farseer Macha, can project deadly warp energy from herself or from her singing spear, knocking entire squads off their feet on command. By hurling her singing spear to a remote location, she can place enemies along a line into stasis to keep them out of battle until the rest of your army is ready to deal with them. Wraithlords and Wraithknights bully standard units with their size and area-of-effect damage abilities, ruthlessly punishing opponents who like to ball up large numbers of inexpensive units.
The Eldar sport the most dynamic, high-casualty producing heroes in the game.
But the real threat is the legendary Phoenix Lord of the Howling Banshees, Jain Zar, who slices and dices entire squads with a simple toss of her Triskele, which deals grievous damage both on its way to a target, and on the return trip. If you want to get even fancier, her dash ability can be used to either get out of bad situations quickly, or to vault off of her Triskele mid-flight, causing her to leap a huge distance through the air before landing explosively in a shower of psychic energy. She’s squishier and more micro-intensive than the other factions’ heroes, but used properly, she can be absolutely devastating.
As impressive as their death-dealing heroes are though, the Eldar’s greatest asset might be their buildings. Inexpensive webway gates provide a fleet-of-foot speed bonus to units in a wide area, and they can be upgraded to teleport squads directly to another building of your choice. Heck, once you’re high enough on the tech tree, you can actually teleport the buildings themselves to wherever you want, allowing Eldar players to reposition their entire base on a whim.
The Space Marines
Finally, there’s the faction you know: Gabriel Angelos and his chapter of Space Marines, the Blood Ravens. These guys aren’t fancy, but they’re flexible. Assault marines can use jump jets to initiate against enemies from long range. Mechanized beasts like Assault Terminators and Dreadnoughts are boiled-leather tough, outlasting any enemies they can’t smash with their storm hammers or power fists. Solaria the Imperial Knight dwarfs them all though, erasing entire armies in a hail of missiles and gatling fire.
For all their brute force though, they can be highly adaptable too. Pre-loading drop-pods allows you to call in reinforcements on the fly, crushing enemy squads as they thunder down to the battlefield. And the Tactical Marines that make up the army’s backbone can be outfitted with either plasma or flame-based weapons out in the field, allowing you to tailor them to the situation at hand.
Dawn of War 3 constantly skirts the line between the large-scale, traditional RTS roots of DoW 1, and the tighter, more directed focus of DoW 2 and Relic’s other RTS franchise, Company of Heroes. Its multiplayer mode is no exception, sporting unique new systems designed to direct the ebb and flow of matches while still accommodating big unit counts, and base building elements. You can check out the video below for a very first glimpse into just how crazy the multiplayer battles can get.
Winning a match has nothing to do with wiping out your opponent’s buildings and units; it’s all about taking taking down the enemy power core, which sits at the center of their starting area. But rushing it is generally totally futile, thanks to a pair (or more on bigger maps) of heavy turrets that can shred all but a massive, powerful fighting force. What’s more, these turrets can be protected by energy shields, which are projected by a separate structure when you man them with an infantry unit. To have a solid shot at the power core, you generally need to take out a shield generator, then gather a nice-sized force to assault the corresponding turret before making a final push towards the core.
There are a few things I like about this new structure right off the bat. First off, it preserves the early game pacing of DoW 2 and Company of Heroes, in that you generally can’t lose to a gimmicky early base rush. Even without the protection of a shield generator, those turrets shred – I can’t see how any number of tier 1 units could even get near one of them. Instead, the early game is centered around grabbing resource points and defending your shield generators while attacking your opponent’s. Unlike say, a match of StarCraft 2, you generally aren’t going to lose because you failed to scout a gimmicky opening from your opponent, which generally leads to stable matches of at least moderate length more often than not.
You generally aren’t going to lose because you failed to scout some gimmicky opening rush from your opponent.
This structure also allows for some interesting mind games. Since each generator and turret generally guards its own route to the main base, there’s a layer of psychology that shifts every time a structure goes down. If I lose the generator for the turret guarding the eastern entrance to my base, I might then decide to keep a standing force prepared to repel an attack from that side. But that might leave me out of position to stop an attack on the generator protecting the turret on the opposite end. This makes splitting your forces up to control a wider swathe of the map feel preferable to simple death-balling.
The other interesting element is the idea of distinct phases based on the match clock. During phase one, the early minutes, a large percentage of resources spent are refunded to you when you lose a unit. As time passes and you reach phases two and three, this refund dwindles away and your objective structures become beefier and more powerful. One upside of this is that losing early skirmishes isn’t as much of a death sentence is it can be in other RTS games, where if you get behind in resources or supply early, you can find yourself one step behind for an entire match before inevitably losing.
The phase system also broke me of the instinct to save up resources in order to afford tech structures as early as possible. In DoW 2, getting access to tier 2 units before your opponent was a big deal, so over-committing early resources for tier 1 units was a definite concern. So far in Dawn of War 3, I feel like I have more freedom to build large armies early and throw them into a fight without delaying my tech progress too badly, which is certainly nice. Maybe with extended play these somewhat aggressive attempts to control match pacing will prove to have down sides, but during the handful of matches I played, it felt really good.
Dawn of War 3 seems to provide more flexibility, more potential synergy, and just flat out more interesting decisions to make.
Multiplayer structure aside, the build I played had new elite units to choose from, and for the first time, access to Dawn of War 3’s version of combat doctrines, a staple of Relic’s RTS games. I wasn’t a huge fan of the simplified way in which Company of Heroes 2 handled this, but initially, Dawn of War 3 seems to provide more flexibility, more potential synergy, and just flat out more interesting decisions to make.
I played all of my matches as the Orkz, who continue to surprise me with fun possibilities to discover. After having seen an early glimpse of her, I finally got to set Beauty, Da Morkanaut loose on the field of battle against live opponents, and she did not disappoint. Each of the three elite units you choose at the start of a match has their own passive doctrine that becomes active once you summon them. Beauty’s gives Gretchins the ability to charge enemy units and stun them, which is particularly useful considering she can periodically spawn four full squads of them from her chest cavity every so often. All Gretchins on the field have their repair ability buffed too, making it easier for them to keep allied armor – including Beauty – in tip-top shape. Used in tandem with her Kustom Forcefield ability, which can keep her and her allies safe from harm for a time, I was able to tank an unbelievable amount of damage with her.
Another new elite I played with was Mad Dread, a named Deff Dread with a slew of passive abilities that make him uniquely suited to all-or-nothing surprise attacks. His melee attacks all deal cleave damage in a wide arc in front of him, and if he runs across any scrap, it’ll actually heal him. If he does go down though, he flies into a last gasp frenzy and gains a temporary shield. If he can deal enough damage before the shield runs out, he’ll actually heal back up to continue to terrorize enemy squads. His only active ability allows him to burrow underground and come up at a designated point, damaging and knocking down all enemies in the vicinity – a great way to quickly deal the damage necessary to sustain his life once he frenzies.
Each elite starts with its own passive Doctrine, but as you play more matches with them and level them up, you can unlock further doctrine options for them as well. I didn’t have access to these in the build I played, but between these unlockable, elite-specific doctrines, plus the ability to choose three more from a pool of faction-specific ones, there are a lot of possibilities. And there are still quite a few more elites we haven’t seen yet to boot, so we’ll really be swimming in options.
At the very least Doctrines allow you to get some special functionality out of the units you plan to use most.
None of the Doctrines were of the boring “increase unit X’s damage by 5%” variety either; each one added an interesting passive ability of some kind. One allowed my Deffkoptas to latch onto and slow enemy vehicles, while another gave any Shoota Boyz squad with a Stikk Bomb upgrade a passive trait that allowed them to stun enemies with their basic attack every few shots. It’s not quite like getting access to entirely new units or off-map support like in Company of Heroes, but at the very least it allows you to get some special functionality out of the units you plan to use most.
At this point, with a little less than two months to go until its release date, I’m finally out of questions about the kind of strategy game Dawn of War 3 will be. Initially, I was concerned about the middle-ground approach of splitting the difference between Dawn of War 1 and 2; but I’m not any more. Now it’s all down to balance, map design, and technical performance. Let’s hope Relic can nail all three and deliver another RTS we can play and love for years to come.
Vincent Ingenito is IGN’s foremost fighting game nerd. Follow him on Twitter and help him sort out his Street Fighter 5 character crisis.