Every gamer has a favorite game series. Diablo, Bioshock, Battlefield… all great, for different reasons. But sometimes those series disappoint us. Dragon Age 2 managed to nearly ruin our enthusiasm for an otherwise brilliant world, which was thankfully renewed years later by Dragon Age: Inquisition. The ending of Mass Effect 3 nearly caused a riot, as did multiple in-game features, and we’re still not sure if the franchise will fully recover from that.
The original Warhammer 40,000: Dawn of War, specifically the Dark Crusade stand-alone expansion, is one of my favorite games of all-time. It came out in 2004, and 14 years later, I still occasionally reinstall it, because it’s just that good. For the uninitiated, Dawn of War is an RTS based in the WH40K universe, with human zealots fighting various aliens (and often other humans). You can build bases, reinforce squads, make those squads take cover in pits and behind walls, and deploy heroes to bolster your army.
Then DoW II came along. It would be wrong to say it was bad – a lot of people genuinely loved it, but they were by and large a different group from fans of the first game, because it was just a different sort of game. You didn’t get whole armies, you couldn’t build bases, and the campaign shared nothing in common with its predecessor.
Now that there were two fan-bases, Relic, the developer, decided they were going to appeal to both of them with the third installment in the series, Dawn of War III. It would include the best aspects of DoW and DoW II and be a better all-around game than either of them.
Spoiler alert: it isn’t.
Let’s start with the title screen. The menu is a ribbon along the top, and it just feels… strange. You can’t help but get the feeling that they decided to focus on style over substance.
Then there’s the tutorial. It’s broken up into three separate parts, which make no sense at all, and leaves a bunch of stuff out. The first part teaches you how to move, create units, attack, and even scroll the camera (thank you for patronizing me, game). So, nothing particularly frustrating, but not to worry – the narrator fixes that. He’s pushy, repeats himself after five seconds if you don’t immediately do what he says, and has an odd cadence to his voice that makes it sound like English was only explained to him just before recording.
It doesn’t get any better in the campaign. The voice acting here is a bit better, but it sounds like they used actors from failed soap opera auditions. The graphics are decent, but that doesn’t matter too much, because it’s a top-down RTS, not Skyrim. And what they make up for in graphics, they lose with the cartoony, dysfunctional map. It looks completely out of place in a AAA title, and instead of the classic rectangle of a traditional RTS map, this map reveals itself as you explore, meaning you have no idea how large it will end up being, nor where you are in relation to the edges of the map.
Selecting a squad highlights the units, which is so bulky and low-quality you can’t even see the unit, itself anymore. Speaking of units, the “unit queue” system is needlessly confusing – every unit/squad in your army is displayed in a line at the bottom of your screen, including ones you don’t have selected or care about at the moment, as well as units that are still being built. It encourages mixing up your unit types, as well as accidentally sending builder units into battle. There’s just no reason for it.
The whole game just has a lack of polish, a sense that it was released before it was ready. The truth is, I don’t know if it would ever be ready. Relic clearly tried too hard with things no one cared about, while ignoring the things players wanted.
Take the “skull” currency, for example. Relic was very proud of the system they built requiring players to earn skulls through gameplay, then spend them unlocking Elites and Doctrines. What are Elites and Doctrines, you ask? That’s a very good question, and one that isn’t adequately answered in the tutorials. The first time you boot up the game, though, you’ll receive a pop-up notifying you that skulls have been removed from the game, and all unlocks have been made immediately available. Oh, but the tips regarding skulls are still there, so you can read all about them on the loading screens.
For some reason, despite the excitement generated by the announcement that the gameplay in Dawn of War III would be a return to the original Dawn of War, Relic decided to mess with the recipe as much as possible. Yes, they brought back bases and reinforcements, but they somehow managed to make it not feel like the original at all. The additional RPG elements mix with the old RTS like oil and water. Why change the hero system? It was so well-balanced over a decade ago, and all you’ve done is complicate things in the guise of “improvement.”
As a writer, it hurts to say this, but one thing Dawn of War games need is less story. Don’t get me wrong – I love a well-written story. But aside from an over-plot, a reason for all the fighting, story isn’t necessary for DoW. It just gets in the way, really. This can be seen very clearly in Dawn of War III, where cheap, comic-book style cut scenes with awkward voice-overs are interspersed among the campaign missions, and only serve as a distraction while lowering the overall quality of the game. The first Dawn of War had nothing more than a bit of characterization for each faction’s leader and a vague excuse for the giant war being fought, and it worked so well… I just can’t figure out why Relic can’t figure it out.
If you’re curious about whether or not these are just the opinions of one man, consider the fact that in recent months, the 14-year-old original Dawn of War (and its expansions) have had an average of twice as many active players at any given time as Dawn of War III, which came out less than a year ago. Relic recently announced it wouldn’t be coming out with any further major content for DoW III. Makes sense, considering most of their efforts up to that point had been put towards removing features from the game.
Dawn of War III is so unpopular that when you uninstall it, a survey appears asking you a bunch of questions why. The one thing I’ll give Relic in all of this is that they seem to have put more thought into the “why did you think our game is awful” survey than they did into the actual game. Which tells you all you need to know, really.
But hey, at least they’re trying.
Originally released in the same price bracket as other big-league games, Dawn of War III now down to a mere $40, but you’d be mad to pay that much, because it’s consistently on sale for rock-bottom prices. The truth is, you’d be mad to even buy it on sale. And if someone buys it for you, you have every right to just be mad.
It’s a woeful game, and there is really no reason to bother trying it out – except maybe to install it, uninstall it, then take the survey to tell Relic that all you want is a sharper, modern version of the original game. Consider it a public service.
Have you been unfortunate enough to play Dawn of War III? Give us your thoughts in the comments!