Warhammer 40,000: Dawn of War - Dark Crusade Review
By Shawn Oaks |
Relic's newest expansion called Dark Crusade for the Warhammer 40,000: Dawn of War franchise is a great experiment in persistent army mechanics. Given the teaser at the end of Dark Crusade showing several planets at war and a bold Relic 2007 tag, it's clear that this first attempt at persistence across a battlefield (they've been using persistent armies since their debut with Homeworld in 1999) is setting up something larger. This experiment comes off more polished than other persistent war RTSs that have been released but still manages to fall into some of the traps of the burgeoning sub-genre. Even so, this expansion adds a lot of content for those already familiar with Dawn of War and grants players that haven't ever experienced the franchise a terrific entry point since this is a stand-alone expansion that doesn't require the original game or the first expansion, Winter Assault, to play. At 30 US dollars, there's a good deal of gameplay for first time players and plenty of added fun for veterans.
Dark Crusade's most striking addition is undoubtedly the new single-player campaign. The fiction brings seven factions to the world of Kronus to slug it out in a cataclysmic melee for control of the planet. Rather than following character driven story as the original game and Winter Assault expansion did, Dark Crusade's fiction is presented as a history lesson. The "lessons" are voiced from the vantage point of whatever faction the player is using to conquer the world. The future history of the fiction was a terrific idea. Hopefully they'll expand on that idea in future iterations of the franchise.
The play style of the campaign uses persistence across armies, bases, heroes, and territories. Each enemy faction begins the war in possession of a home territory and a couple of others. From there all factions take turns (beginning with the player faction) attacking enemy territory in the hopes of securing a bigger foothold on the planet. Attacks can only be made with a hero unit on the world map into adjacent territories except if in control of a space port advantage that allows attacks anywhere on the map.
Heroes are persistently powerful units on the tactical map as well. As the game progresses and certain criteria are met (defend 5 times, conquer 15 territories, etc.) heroes will be awarded wargear which adds better attacks, health, regeneration, teleportation, cloaking, sight, and so on. By the end of the campaign as all the wargear is awarded heroes have turned into one unit wrecking crews. Not only are heroes powerful on their own, but they'll also be able to take an Honor Guard with them into battle through use of the planetary requisition points (the strategic version of the prevalent real-time resource). These honor guard units are more powerful versions of the normal units found in the faction. Coming into battle with 12 of these units running alongside a powerful hero can fight off some strong initial attacks (especially when attacking an enemy stronghold) or push quickly into enemy territory to crush an opponent when attacking. The hero and honor guard persistence is a rewarding system that can make a player feel powerful and accomplished but can make some missions towards the end of the campaign incredibly easy when they should become harder.
Each of the territories come with a number of planetary requisition points and either an honor guard or special ability (like being able to attack twice or set down buildings before attacking). It makes choosing which territory to attack more interesting since their shape and size is relatively unimportant to strategy. More than anything, it makes some territories more important to hold after conquering them. Any held territory can be reinforced with some units using some of the planetary requisition points gathered each turn. It means that territories aren't left completely defenseless once your main hero army moves into enemy territory. In fact, any conquered territories will retain any buildings that were created when battled over the first time. This can grant a huge advantage to players trying to defend their territories from invasion. With a base already built and the territory already reinforced with units, the push to drive out enemies and destroy their base can commence immediately.