Don't Worry, Dawn Of War 3 Is Fine

If you're in the market for as close as you can get to a oldschool RTS in 2017, you'll be pleased to know that Dawn of War 3 delivers.

Fans have been fairly fraught over the last few months, and with good reason. There was always going to be a schism amongst the community: the original Dawn Of War revolved around base-building, cover and several other tried and tested RTS tropes. DoW 2's multiplayer was structurally similar, but the campaign was completely overhauled to become more of an aRPG, where the player controlled a small squad of units and upgraded them with loot after every mission.

It was two games in one. Three, if you include the wave-based Horde mode. And the campaign was eminently replayable because you could play through the whole thing with a friend in co-op.

There hasn't been much like it since.

The opening mission is reminiscent of Dawn of War 2, with Gabriel Angelos repelling an Ork attack on a sandy planet

So when Relic announced that resource management and basebuilding were back for the Dawn of War 3 campaign, it caused instant concern. It meant walking away from some of the things that made DoW 2 great, although it also meant the campaign could properly explore all of the game's factions, rather than being a 20-hour love in with the Space Marines.

And off the bat, that's what you're presented with. The campaign switches sides every mission, although each mission carries on from the battles preceding it. It's largely coherent and takes place in a timeline after the original games. Angelos is sporting a fairly healthy scar and only one functioning eye these days, while Farseer Macha and the ranger Ronahn return for the Eldar.

DoW 3 doesn't have any persistent RPG elements or loot that carries over from one mission to another, but there is a persistent progression system that operates across the campaign and multiplayer.

There's two core parts: your Elite units, which gain experience as they kill units in singleplayer and multiplayer games. The XP unlocks new doctrines that can be equipped, which often provides a specific buff to a single unit or class of units once they're on the battlefield. The Wraithlord's starting ability, for instance, lets you teleport all Wraithguards and Wraithblades (Eldar's equivalent of mechs, more or less) to its position. But once it reaches level three, you can equip a different ability that lets you relocate Webway gates without having to research tier 2 tech.

You only gain progression for Elite units as they kill units on the battlefield. That's fun in principle, although it also means you'll have to grind a lot. By the end of the campaign, I'd levelled the main heroes of the three factions (Space Marines, Orks and Eldar for reference) to level 3, just enough to unlock a faction benefit.

But it's not just Elites you have to unlock either - every race has a bunch of bonuses to their buildings, vehicles and infantry that can be unlocked as well:

There's a lot. Each of the doctrines cost 50 skulls (the in-game currency) to unlock, provided you've also levelled the requisite Elite enough. A lot of the doctrines are fairly minor affairs, but some of them are utterly critical.

One of the Eldar's better vehicles, for instance, can get a temporary shield. You need it, because by the time artillery and stronger walkers are available, there's already enough anti-armour weaponry on the battlefield. Vehicles can't retreat with the same efficiency as infantry, so you need to keep them alive - and if your flashy Eldar tank gets burnt to a crisp within a couple of seconds, you've just binned a major investment for bugger all reward.

It's frustrating how much grind Relic seems happy to promote in their RTS. But it also offers a window into the different playstyles and options available to players - and having doctrines that can be swapped out with each match could also be a handy tool for balancing the game in the longer term.

I'm sure those units will be fine.

But that's a small annoyance that will affect people who want to go deep into the multiplayer. If you're just looking for an RTS campaign to enjoy, and an oldschool RTS campaign at that, DoW 3 fits the bill.

Each mission, on average, took me about half an hour to 45 minutes to an hour to complete. Things ramp up after the six or seventh mission: by that point you've had a couple of rounds with every faction, learned the rudimentary basics, and are ready for some sterner challenges.

The core challenge throughout the missions, regardless of faction, is making sure your resource points and production facilities are protected while having enough firepower to clear out the map. The AI is never super aggressive about assaulting your base, but it does enjoy the odd counter-punch, and the individual power of each unit is enough that it forces you to be fairly patient about how you proceed.

DoW 3 isn't a great game if you're looking for a quick blast of RTS action. This is a game you sit down and enjoy for one, two, three hours at a stretch. It's a little reminiscent of Supreme Commander or WarCraft even, where missions will give you a handful of units or a small scripted sequence in the beginning before the map expands, gives you a base to control, and asks you to clear the map.

The campaign is fully voice acted, and in between missions there is even side plot lines between the characters revealing more of the backstory between the Eldar, Orks and Space Marines. It's surprisingly well done, and even the writing for the Orks drew the odd laugh or two. The side chats are similar to what was introduced in Chaos Rising, the standalone expansion for DoW 2, but they're a little more fleshed out this time around. If you're impatient, however, you can skip through the whole lot, and there's a transcript available for those who prefer to read.

Switching between the different factions helps keep things interesting, but the best move Relic made was to blend scripted sequences and traditional build and conquer elements into each of the missions. Scripted missions are often the worst parts of any RTS campaign - they're often needlessly padded and you feel like you're being arbitrarily hamstrung.

But DoW 3 keeps those frustrations to a minimum, save for one Eldar mission that forces you to sneak through a base disabling alarms and activating bridge terminals. But while the Eldar has the campaign's worst mission by a country mile, they also play host to an absolute cracker.

The animations are nice, although the overall aesthetic isn't as grim as fans are used to

It's a simple task at first: you need to make your escape, but a trio of structures around the map block your exit. So you work around the map, freeing allies as you go, clearing bases out of the path.

But after taking out the second base, the mission changes to a base defence where you're smashed with wave upon wave of Wraithblades, Eldar tanks, charging banshees and snipers galore. Even on Normal, it's a tough fight - and it's precisely the kind of mission oldschool RTS fans will love.

Another thing that becomes increasingly clear is just how much micro is required to maximise the value of your units. Almost every unit, from the lowly Ork builders (Gretchen) to the Elite commanders, has an active ability that can influence a battle. Most abilities are AOE-based, although some units will do damage in a line, while others are skill-shot based.

Each ability has a delay of its own before it activates, and if you're not careful squads will naturally bunch up. With the removal of cover, which was a staple from the first two DoW games, it gives the game a bit of a WarCraft 3 feeling.

You never earn resources fast enough that you have to ignore battles in favour of production. Most of the time, you'll be pulling units in and out of the firing line, activating abilities, re-positioning your army, sending decoys to harass resource points, and just generally trying to avoid being crippled by some of the larger Elite units.

The top tier Elite units, ones that can't be called into battle until after 20 or so minutes, are where the MOBA influence is perhaps the strongest. They scythe through squads the way a hero in Dota 2 cleaves through creeps. Late game battles often become an exercise in getting your units out of the way, although it leads to some interesting tactical decisions.

You need a good amount of space to be able to fight effectively, in other words. But say you're pinned back on a map. Are you better off holding back and spending resources on long-range artillery instead, drawing the enemy into a chokepoint? Taking that option might mean giving up a valuable resource point that generates Elite points, however, which means your enemy might have a window where they can access vastly better Elite units - depending on what you equipped before going into battle.

The Orks kept asking if it was hammer time

The introduction of the scrap mechanic for Orks is a great addition as well, not just thematically but for higher skilled players. Any building or mechanised unit will leave scrap on the field when it explodes; Ork Waagh towers and Elite units can call down scrap periodically as well. All Ork units can be upgraded by collecting the scrap, and gretchen can build advanced units out of the scrap for a discount (although they come into the battlefield with about 80% health).

You can't automatically collect scrap, though, and some of the Ork squads are vastly inferior without upgrades. It basically adds a level of micromanagement that is akin to creep spread in StarCraft 2: lower tier players won't lose because they ignored scrap entirely, but it can make the world of difference for those with the speed and concentration to constantly scurry around the map.

Given that strategy games over the last five years have stripped away layers of micromanagement and arduous mechanics, it's nice for a developer to wind the clock back a little bit. Multiplayer matches have that oldschool feeling to them as well, partially because Relic opted to borrow elements from MOBAs that deliberately slow the game down.

Multiplayer matches have a series of points on the map that effectively limit how much you can punish a player in the early stages of a game. To kill an opponent's base, you have to first take out a shield generator (which not all units can pierce with their abilities). Next target is one of two massive turrets, each of which has an AOE stun that players can choose to activate; it's a little akin to the invulnerability in Dota 2, except DoW 3's panic button has the downside of wiping the floor with squads at the same time. After that you can take out the enemy's Power Core.

It's often too difficult to take down the turret, and sometimes the shield generator, without the help of at least one Elite unit. Lower tier Elite units won't withstand the turret's damage for long either, so it can lead to situations where you're effectively waiting to build up your forces before finishing off a match.

The logic behind it all has some sense: it stops players from getting steamrolled if they make a decision early on, and it opens up the possibility for exciting base trades. But you don't get rewarded early on for clever strategic plays as much as it feels like you should, and it almost guarantees that matches will never end before the 10 minute mark.

Cheese, it seems, isn't on Relic's menu.

Some small gripes that Relic needs to fix: there's no support for rebinding keys at this stage, which seems a supreme oversight for a developer with as long a history in PC development as them. There's also no hotkeys for camera locations, which helps immensely in managing multiple areas. The hotkey for workers only selects the next worker, rather than selecting the next idle worker, and it doesn't snap the camera to their location.

The mini-map can also blend into the action a little too well; it stands out just fine in larger multiplayer matches when its filled with lots of colourful icons, but in singleplayer and 1v1 I found myself occasionally looking around the screen. (Moving the mini-map to the bottom left helped, although it's partially a habit I developed from Brood War and StarCraft 2. Still, more contrast or a stronger outline around the mini-map would be good.)

I'm not pretending that Dawn of War 3 will be the next big esport, or that the campaign will be as fondly remembered as the co-op experience from DoW 2 and Chaos Rising. But having replayed the original games recently, it's a vast step up from the level design in the original DoW singleplayer, and the multiplayer doesn't feel like a half-baked hybrid between a MOBA and an RTS.

It's a proper RTS, even though there are plenty of changes from the original games that fans will take issue with. But change can be hard, especially for a genre that has almost been pushed to the brink by MOBAs and an industry desperate to accommodate shorter attention spans. Dawn of War 3 won't solve those issues, but it's good fun nonetheless.

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Comments

    hmm interesting article, I'm largely sceptical how coherent the campaign can be if you keep flipping between the 3 factions so I guess I'll wait and see but it's good to see base building back in

    As a long-time 40k fan (Space Crusade, 2nd edition etc) and a long-time DoW fan I'm GLAD they're going back to base building. DoW2 did nothing for me (aside from the 3vE hero mode).

      Last Stand in Retribution was fantastic, I got a lot of time out of that. Heaps of fun.

        i enjoyed last stand as well, though only once the Tau Commander was added.
        Xv22 Battlesuit Ready!

      Same. I just couldn't get into DOW 2. I tried several times. And I don't mind RTSs. I loved StarCraft 2s campaign.

      I'm with you man, I loved the original. Wasn't a fan of the second game. The Campaign was good but IMO the multiplayer and general gameplay (which was the best thing about the original, and great for lan parties!!) wasn't anything to get hyped over. I'm too glad that they're going back to there roots with the new game. Am keen to check it out.

      Same here, loved the first game but when they essential changed genre's with the 2nd I couldn't get into it.

      I never felt like base building had anything to do with Warhammer. I'm a way bigger fan of the second. I've always said I can get DoW anywhere, it's a good RTS, but I can only get DoW II from DoW II.

        Have you tried company of heroes? the second one in particular is pretty much identical to DoW2 (multiplayer at least, never played the CoH campaigns)

    Always felt DoW2 got a bad rap. I love DoW1 and DoW2 for different reasons - vanilla DoW2 gets a bit repetitive, but Chaos Rising and Retribution really nailed the formula. Hoping DoW1 and DoW2 strike some form of happy medium. I played the alpha at PAX last year, and while I only got roughly 20 minutes or so with it, I was impressed with what I played.

    My only reservation is the fact it only seems to include Space Marines, Orks and Eldar. Going to assume more races will be coming as DLC, which I hope they do - just not too expensive. I can't see how I'll manage without my treasured Chaos Space Marines.

    SKULLS FOR THE SKULL THRONE

      DoW 2's multiplayer was definitely a step backwards. The removal of base building wasn't inherently a bad thing, but the issue is they didn't replace the strategic depth that base building offers with anything, so the gameplay felt incredibly shallow compared to the original. There was also the fact that the focus was mostly on smaller skirmishes instead of bigger battles and you had that magic "X" button to run away if things got too hairy.

      When talking about the multiplayer, DoW 2 had the depth of a bowl of cereal compared to DoW 1. They focused more on 3v3 rather than 1v1 which was the most popular mode of the original.

      When DoW 3 was first announced I really hoped they would make a return to the root gameplay of the original game. What we are getting is yet another deviation from the formula and I have no idea why Relic continue to feel the incessant need to alter something that worked so well in the original game. While base building is back (to an extent), now it has MOBA elements and other stuff we as fans never asked for. I'm really not sure how I should be feeling about that.

      I haven't actually played it myself yet, so I'll reserve judgement until I do, but from what I've seen in videos so far - at least as far as the multiplayer is concerned - my impressions have been mixed.

        I'm remaining open minded. I quite liked DoW2, but I'm aware I'm a minority. Excited for DoW3 regardless.

          DoW2 is the best. Heck to base building. Gimme that micro for my squads. The perfect retreats the rush of killing that unit before it could retreat. The unit placement. Destroying an opponents perfect cover.

          Then imperial guard came and fucked the balance with that sentinel

            You can micro your squads AND have base building, with mechanics like cover, accuracy and squad customisation along with it. That's how DoW 1 worked.

              I didn't play DoW1 multi much but I never felt like I had to and squad micro was attack move right click reinforce.

              DoW2 is one of my most played games. I can't see the claims that DoW 1 is better. I'm blind to it. I like DoW1 but DoW2 is amazing.

              But hey both games have better sounding Spess Marines then 3. Gabriel What have they done to your voice T^T

                Yeah you didn't play DoW 1 multiplayer much or you wouldn't being saying micro was simply attack move + reinforce :) Units can switch between melee and ranged combat and if your ranged units got tied up in close combat then they were next to useless, so you constantly needed to keep your ranged units out of CC with melee units and needed to constantly keep your melee units chasing the ranged units. And that was just the basics.

            I played and adored the ever loving shit out of DOW1. DOW II was a big step back in terms of remaining an RTS. Compared to DOW 1, macro control of the map was scaled back, in favor of attempting to give us better micro management, but in my opinion, this fell flat on its face. It's also the game that finally made me give in on buying boxed copies of games just to avoid having steam on my system. Steam was fully integrated DRM, and I already had enough of SecuROM by that stage

    I'm concerned about the grind aspect. If it's anything like Company of Heroes 2, it's going to take quite a while before you can equip your units with the better doctrines or abilities.

    I'm definitely getting a strong CoH 2 vibe out of DoW 3 from what I've seen so far so it should be pretty good. I've heard that infantry don't have a standard retreat ability which seems baffling but I'll see how it works in play.

    all i want is another Dark Crusade with Nids, Dark Eldar and any other factions that i missed

    You had me at W3. Actually, I DOW3 was all I needed. Since I cannot afford the real 40K hobby anymore, this series is the best option I have.

    "So when Relic announced that resource management and basebuilding were back for the Dawn of War 3 campaign, it caused instant concern. It meant walking away from some of the things that made DoW 2 great"

    You mean made it terrible. It was supposed to make it great but you still effectively had build orders in when it was practical to make unit and there was a whole lot less depth. I stopped playing the game outside the single player campaign because of how bland and boring it was.

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