Dawn of War 3: Single-player campaign
As with the last two games, Dawn of War III features a lengthy single-player campaign to show off the three factions and get you ready for multiplayer brawling - all while telling a decent enough story set within the Warhammer 40,000 universe.
The biggest innovation is that across the duration of the campaign you'll play as each of the three factions, switching each mission so that you get the chance to see the story from every angle.
That might mean that in one mission you play as the Space Marines while they defend an Imperial outpost from Ork attackers, while in the next mission you take over the greenskin leadership to execute their counterattack. Rather than showing you the same events from different angles, each mission progresses the story while it shifts the player's perspective.
The basic plot is that the three factions are warring over the planet Cyprus in anticipation of the prophesied return of the 'Wandering World' Acheron, which will bring with it the legendary Eldar relic the Spear of Khaine.
The story works through only internal conflict within each faction, while throwing in some familiar personal conflicts by drawing on the same core characters as the original entry in the series. Plot is for the most part delivered through pre- and post-mission briefings with text, voiceover, and a few illustrations though, so don't expect glossy cinematics throughout.
Diving between the three factions proves a great way to encourage players to learn the ropes of each group (ideal for fighting as - or against - them all), but also saves us from endless stodgy Space Marine dialogue, letting the writers mix things up a bit as they go. Unsurprisingly, the Ork sections have a tendency to be the most fun, but there are no real disappointments.
The campaign missions are heavily scripted affairs by RTS standards, doing their best to meld plot and gameplay - it doesn't generally just dump you on a battlefield and tell you to fight. Instead, you'll typically be working through a series of diverse, story-based objectives, often with the chance to pick up reinforcements and take out strategic targets along the way.
If there's a downside, it's that the campaign can sometimes hold the players hand a little too much. A common tactic is to arbitrarily limit the available map in the early stages of a mission, slowly opening it up as the plot progresses. At times this feels overly restrictive, but also denies the player the chance to plan a long-term strategy, because the game purposefully limits you to only the most immediate goal.
One word of warning too - most missions take around an hour, and there are no checkpoints along the way - so save, and save often, if you want to avoid starting from scratch when you get overrun.
Still, it's a lot of fun letting the campaign play out, and the missions feature enough extra wrinkles (alarms that need to be stopped before reinforcements can be called, or weapons that you have to send your builder units to sabotage) to keep things nicely varied and serve as the ideal preparation for getting online and up against other players.
Dawn of War 3: Multiplayer
First up, the bad news: at launch, Dawn of War III has just one online multiplayer. Then the good news: you can play it as 1v1, 2v2, or 3v3 to mix things up a bit. Finally, the great news: it's really, really, really good.
Unsurprisingly, the base mechanics for multiplayer remain unchanged. Each player picks one of the three factions, selects three Elites, three Elite Doctrines, and three Army Doctrines, and heads into the fray.
Everyone starts with a Stronghold and a builder unit, and from there must assemble an army, build a base, and secure Resource Points to make sure they can afford to do those first two. If you're playing either 2v2 or 3v3 then Resource Points are shared between teammates, so you don't need to worry about internal squabbles over the power supply.
What makes the multiplayer stand out is that your goal is much bigger than simply crushing your enemies. Instead, you have to destroy a special base structure called a Power Core. Except to get to it, you'll have to get past at least one of two giant laser-shooting, shockwave-emitting Turrets. And if you want to have any hope of damaging them, you've got to take out the Shield Generators defending the base.
It's a great structure for the game, which reduces the risk that a single giant offensive can turn the tide of the whole battle - it'll likely take multiple waves of troops to get through all three stages, and that leaves ample time for damaging counter-attacks to turn the tide.
To help keep things moving, the multiplayer game also features four Escalation Phases, increasing every ten minutes, which boost resource gains and the health counts of the objective structures as the game goes on, encouraging bigger armies and grander battles.
Outside combat itself, the other major multiplayer feature is the Army Painter. As any tabletop Warhammer fan knows, the real joy of the game is always building and customising your army, and thankfully Dawn of War III retains that spirit.
Not only does the game come with dozens of different colour scheme from each faction - drawn carefully from Warhammer 40,000 lore - but the Army Painter means you can recreate any missing favourites, or put together your own custom colours and really make your army your own.