Warhammer 40,000: Dawn of War III full review

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It's been a little over eight years since Dawn of War II orbital dropped onto our computers, chainsword in hand, and for a while it looked like that might have been it for developer Relic's real-time strategy (RTS) take on the infamous Warhammer 40,000 universe.

It was a welcome surprise, then, when Dawn of War III was announced in May 2016, and almost a year later, here it is. Relic has promised that the game combines the best elements of both the original Dawn of War and its radically different sequel, but is this the Dawn of Waaagh, or just a small skirmish? Find out in our Dawn of War III review.

Dawn of War 3: Release date, platforms, and pricing

The third Dawn of War game came out worldwide on 27 April 2017, just a year after being announced. As of launch, it's only available to play on Windows, and there are no announced plans for console or Mac versions of the game.

That at least simplifies things if you want to buy the game. The first port of call for most players will be Steam, which is selling the game for £39.99/$59.99, though Amazon UK also has a Limited Edition physical version of the game that includes a soundtrack and lenticular art card for £48.68.

If you're quick, you might still be able to get the game's Collector's Edition, available from the official store for £99.99/$129.99. That includes the game, the Masters of War pack, a lenticular art card, soundtrack, premium disc case, three cloth faction banners, and a replica of the 'Godsplitter Daemon Hammer', just in case you ever need one of those.

Dawn of War 3: Minimum and recommended specs

Here's what you'll need inside your PC to run Dawn of War III:

Minimum war

64-bit Windows 7
3GHz i3 or equivalent (i5 required for 3v3 multiplayer)
4GB RAM
1GB nVidia GeForce 460 or AMD 6950 or equivalent DirectX 11 video card

Recommended WAAAGH!

64-bit Windows 10
3GHz i5 or equivalent
8GB RAM
2GB nVidia GeForce 770 or AMD 7970 or equivalent DirectX 11 video card

Dawn of War 3: Gameplay

There aren't many major game franchises that have seen as big a reinvention between games as Dawn of War, so you'd be forgiven for not knowing what to expect here. While the first game was a relatively typical RTS title, with base-building, resource-gathering, and huge armies, the second game was more of an RTS/RPG hybrid, removing bases and adding new focus on named squad leaders, equippable gear, and a levelling up system for units.

While Dawn of War II was largely well-received, and earned plenty of praise for innovating in a pretty staid genre, for some it simply strayed too far from the established RTS formula. The smaller-scale skirmishes and focus on individual units amped up the action but in turn stripped back the strategy. 

In that sense alone, Dawn of War III strikes a welcome middle-ground. Base-building and resource acquisition is back, and for the most part familiar from the first game, but the sequel's roleplaying elements are represented in the new Elite units, which come with unique special abilities, and can be levelled up and altered as you use them in both the single-player and multiplayer modes.

When you drop onto a map, you'll usually start off with a Stronghold, the core of your base. That lets you create basic squads of soldiers and builder units, which you use to expand your base with barracks, and facilities for upgrades, heavy infantry, and vehicles. 

Base mechanics are similar across the three playable factions (Space Marines, Orks, and Eldar) but have a few notable differences. Eldar can also build Webway gates across the map, which offer nearby units buffs, and can teleport their entire base around as their strategy shifts. Orks in turn get access to Waaagh! towers, which increase your army's tech level and produce scrap, a resource Ork troops can use to upgrade their weaponry.

Dawn of War III strikes a nice midpoint here - bases are important to your success, but with only a handful of buildings to worry about the focus is firmly where it should be: in the middle of the fight.

Army units are split into infantry and vehicles, and success requires making the most of their varied strengths and weaknesses - whether that be anti-vehicle weaponry, melee attacks, stealth skills, or something else. Again, there's variation across the three factions: Space Marines tend to pack the punchiest firepower, Orks rely on strength of numbers, and the Eldar boast speed but demand finesse and micromanagement from the player. 

Each faction can also build Listening Posts, the closest the game gets to defence turrets, which are constructed on Resource Points - capturable locations on the map that boost the rate at which you collect the game's three resources: Requisition, Power, and Elite Points. 

The first two of these will be familiar enough to Dawn of War veterans, and are what you spend to construct buildings, deploy troops, and upgrade your forces. Infantry tend to cost more Requisition, while vehicles and heavy troops are more likely to consume Power, and you'll need to acquire both to keep your army in shape.

This is one small source of frustration in the game - at times, resource acquisition is painfully slow, dragging the whole game to a halt, while the balance of Requisition and Power points seems bizarrely skewed on some maps, leaving you with disproportionate amounts of one unit and not enough of the other. 

Elite Points are new to the third game. They accumulate slowly through normal play, but can be accelerated through rare Elite Resource Points. They're what you have to spend to deploy your Elites: named, powerful characters that can turn the tide of battle, as well as call in super abilities like Orbital Strikes and Eldritch Storms.

Before each match you can pick up to three Elites from each faction's pool of seven or so to have access to. They include powerful generals, squads of elite soldiers, and titanic walkers, with varied abilities and Elite Point costs. You might be able to deploy the Eldar's Farseer Macha within the first few minutes of a round, but the towering Wraithlord could take most of a match to save up for.

As you use each Elite, it gains experience points, unlocking new skins and Doctrines, passive effects that can give your troops buffs or new abilites. Levelling also earns Skulls, the in-game currency you can use to unlock additional Elite and Doctrines so you can customise your loadout.

The Elites are where Dawn of War III really comes into its own. Their powerful abilities are not only capable of turning the tide of battle, but serve as a great reminder to players to treat armies as a collection of individual units with distinct strengths and weaknesses, rather than just hit Ctrl+A and send everything in en masse.

That works because while the game encourages bigger armies than the second in the series, you'll still generally have fewer troops on the field than in the likes of Command & Conquer or Total War, making unit management a welcome element of strategy, rather than an impossible challenge.

It's also absolutely essential to success. Even beyond the Elites, many regular units have active abilities (mapped to Q, W, and E in a nod to the MOBA), and if you don't learn to make the most of them you won't make it far in the campaign, let alone online. That emphasis on active skills makes Dawn of War III an RTS without autopilot, demanding your attention and discouraging brute force shortcuts to victory.

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.

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