Review: Warhammer 40,000: Dawn of War — Dark Crusade

A PC game review by Bobulous.

About Warhammer 40,000: Dawn of War — Dark Crusade

Warhammer 40,000: Dawn of War — Dark Crusade is an RTS game by Relic, set in the war-torn future of the Warhammer 40,000 universe created by Games Workshop. It is an expansion pack for the original releases, Warhammer 40,000: Dawn of War and Warhammer 40,000: Dawn of War — Winter Assault. Dark Crusade adds two new armies to offer you a choice of seven, and allows you to play a single player campaign with any of the seven armies: Space Marines, Eldar, Orks, Chaos, Imperial Guard, Tau Empire, Necrons.

You do not need to own either of the previous two games to play Dark Crusade, but without the other two games you'll only be permitted to play with Tau Empire or Necrons in online gameplay. (Single-player mode allows all seven armies to be used regardless.)

Playing Warhammer 40,000: Dawn of War — Dark Crusade

Dark Crusade is basically the same game engine as in the original Dawn of War. But it's a better game, in my opinion. Firstly, it adds two new armies, bringing the total to seven. Secondly, it replaces the linear progress of the first game with a campaign map that you have to conquer, in any order you choose to do so, collecting bonuses and wargear for conquering and defending provinces.

screenshot: The Ork warboss, shown close-up next to a choice of wargear.

This campaign mode works well. To start off with, each army has a couple of provinces on the campaign map, one of which contains a stronghold that it must not allow to fall to an enemy. Each army has a leader that can move around on the campaign map, attacking provinces located next to friendly provinces. Once you move your leader into an enemy province, you enter a real-time strategy battle for that province. Conquering and holding a province provides you with planetary requisition that you can use to buy troops to add to your leader's honor guard, or buy troops to defend your provinces. Each province also offers either special bonuses, or unlocks extra troops that you can add to your honor guard. Certain victory conditions also allow you to choose wargear for your leader, adding special equipment and weapons that make your leader a more formidable force on the battlefield.

On the battlefield, each army has a nicely varied mix of troop types, special skills, and strengths and weaknesses. For instance, Eldar are great at teleporting troops around the map, while the Imperial Guard doesn't have a single unit type that can teleport, jetpack or jump. Necron troops can sometimes return from the dead, a unique ability. The Tau Empire has powerful stealth troops that can jetpack over terrain to land in enemy territory silently, while the clumsy Orks are incapable of stealth. The Space Marines and Chaos Space Marines share a lot of features, but Chaos calls on daemons from the warp to aid them, while Space Marines call on long-range missile launchers.

screenshot: The battlefield is alight with gunfire and flame. Imperial Guard soldiers and vehicles concentrate fire on a Necron Wraith that is now alone amongst the scattered skeletons of fallen Necron units.

The varied troops are modelled and animated beautifully. At first you don't easily spot this, because the default view is an overview of your base. But the 3D engine lets you zoom and rotate the view to get a good look at your assorted troops. Each soldier is modelled to show their individual weapons and wargear, and animated to show them in combat. The Imperial Guard Basilisk, a long-range artillery gun, is animated to show the troops get a high-calibre shell out of the store, open the gun-door, load the shell, close the door, then cover their ears as the big gun fires. Dust is shaken up around vehicles when they fire big-barrelled canons. Footprints and vehicle tracks appear in the snow as units move across the battlefield. Ogryns pull faces and snarl as they await the enemy. Gunfire, explosions, and psyker powers cause flashes, smoke and colourful auras to appear. In short, the graphics are excellent.

The sound is also excellent. The voice acting adds a lot of background humour to the otherwise-serious proceedings, particularly the voices of the Orks. Battle and base-building are suitably accompanied by rich sound effects.

The only thing that lets the side down is the inconsistent difficulty. Even in easy difficulty mode, some battles seem impossible. The enemy will rush your base with everything they can, starting off with basic infantry, followed minutes later by heavy infantry, followed minutes later by heavy vehicles. Even if you survive long enough to secure the only entrances to your base, the sheer number of enemy units makes it pretty much impossible to escape your little corner of the map, and any escape would be quickly put down. The computer player doesn't seem to have a limit to its squad count, nor its vehicle count, and you really feel this if they send everything your way at once.

On the other hand, some battles (notably the scripted enemy strongholds) seem very tame. The enemy sends dribs and drabs of basic infantry your way, rarely sending anything heavier. The enemy still has a large number of troops and vehicles, it just keeps them to specific areas around the map. Which makes it much easier to conquer the battlefield, piece by piece.

Evaluate Warhammer 40,000: Dawn of War — Dark Crusade

Warhammer 40,000: Dawn of War — Dark Crusade is a lot of fun. The battle mode is graphically detailed, rich with sound, and full of varied action. The campaign mode new to Dark Crusade works well, offering incentives for conquering the map. And the two new armies, Tau Empire and Necrons, add a lot of new troops and special features to the mix.

Given that you don't need the original Dawn of War to play this game in single-player, Dark Crusade is excellent value for money.