During Strategy Week at Mouse N Joypad, I was asked to talk about my favorite strategy game. so today I am going to talk a little about my favourite and let you know why I rate it so highly.
Let’s take a journey back in time, to the early 2000’s, a time when Age of Empires still held much sway over the Real Time Strategy market. Imagine trading your sword, lance and musket for genetically enhanced super soldiers, huge war machines and legions of aliens. That is what we got in 2004 when Relic and THQ released Warhammer 40,000: Dawn of War. The first installment in the franchise enjoyed a warm reception from fans and critics alike. At the time, many reviews praised the game for the level of unit animation on offer.
Dawn of War holds a very special place in my heart. Barring a few expansions and add-ons for DoW 2, I have played all of the titles to date. There is just something satisfying about Deepstriking two squads of Terminators into an enemy base followed by wave after wave of Drop Pod, or charging an enemy army with a hoard of Greenskin killers.
The first title in the franchise was the only game to really have a campaign (until DoW 2 but that was a very different title) and it is one that still holds up today. Sure it is a little generic now and not too imaginative but the learning curve and the rate at which units are unlocked for use was, in my opinion, perfectly paced. The Multiplayer and Skirmish modes allowed gamers to play as The Space Marines, Orks, Eldar or Chaos factions. Each army was incredibly well balanced with none of them having the upper hand. It was a purely tactical experience, one that forced the player to be better, to learn how to combat enemy tactics and how to walk softly…. and carry a big gun.
In 2005, THQ released the first add-on for Dow, entitled: Winter Assault. This shipped with 2 new mini-campaigns and allowed us to play as the legions of the Imperial Guard. The following year (2006) saw the launch of Dawn of War: Dark Crusade, a game that many fans believe to be the pinnacle of the franchise. The structured campaign was removed and instead allowed players to conquer a world map, taking regions and defeating enemy HQs. I have to admit to sinking hundreds of hours into this game. The addition of Tau and Necron factions, as well as the ones noted above, gave no shortage of gameplay options. Where I feel Dark Crusade really stands out is the multiplayer mode. Maps ranging from two to eight players allowed for combat and warfare on a scale not often seen. I remember playing online with two if my best friends, battling against the hoard of heretics and Xenos, working out strategies and working as a team in order to best the five players opposing us. It is a singular experience, an experience that I have yet to find an equal to. I can still remember the race against time as five of my Chaos Defilers battered their way through an Ork base as the Ork army were systematically destroying my own. I have so many fond memories of Dark Crusade that I hold very dearly.
The series as it was known drew to a conclusion in 2008 with the release of Soul Storm, adding two more factions to the brawl: The Dark Elder and The Sisters of Battle. Soul Storm was similar in layout to Dark Crusade’s single player and multiplayer however the two new and diverse factions were enough to keep fans glued to their PC.
Dawn of War has never been a groundbreaking franchise, it has never taken any real risks or pushed the envelope in what we expect in strategy games but it has always been there. Constant in its solid reassurance with gameplay that still holds up today. The community that has been built around the game is a fantastic one, with hundreds of Mods available to download (my favourite is the Tyranid mod). I remember fighting a seemingly unstoppable Tyranid hoard as the melee weak Tau, pushed back to the heart of my own base; it was a close run thing. Inch by inch, I was able to push the ‘Nids back and eventually went on to save my ally and win the match. It was an exceptionally epic battle and had a grandeur of biblical scale. It hasn’t always gone my way, I have more defeats against my name than I care to admit, sometimes it was an honourable defeat as I was bested by the stronger player and sometimes I was mauled in a way that is illegal in 17 States. Even today, 11 years after the game first launched, I will load it up and descend into the gritty universe of 40K.
The franchise has moved past its base building heritage with DoW 2 and its associated add-ons but for me, the height of DoW’s power was Dark Crusade.
Dark Crusade holds a very special place in my heart. It is a game I spent hours and hours playing online with my very good friends Ryan Byers and Iain Cochrane. I have more war stories to tell of that game than almost any other, and each one now holds more significance today than they did then. Sadly Iain passed away earlier this year, and while I have many memories for comfort, battling the Heretic, the Xeno and the followers of the False-Emperor are ones that I will always look back on as some of the best gaming experiences of my life. I raised a toast to my lost friend, someone who I miss dearly, but to this day, as my Space Marines charge into battle, as my Imperial Guardsmen rush an enemy line or as my Greenskin horde break through the enemy position, I always remember playing this fantastic game with a fantastic guy.
So thank you Relic, thank you THQ and thank you Games Workshop, for the Dawn of War franchise has given me many memories of victory, defeat and of epic struggles that I have shared with those closest to me.
For The Emperor.
In memory of Iain Cochrane