By - Dan Boaden
Hot on the heels of the critically acclaimed real-time strategy game Company of Heroes
comes the second expansion for the Dawn of War series, Warhammer 40,000: Dark Crusade
. Once again, developer Relic has not disappointed.
Dark Crusade introduces two brand new and innovative factions taken from the board game universe, raising the total number of playable races across all three games to 7. There are new units for each of the returning factions along with an abundance of skirmish maps. Accompanying this, a brand new Risk-esque single player mode has been added to tickle the taste buds of the Dawn of War veterans but also provide something slightly unique and exciting to lure in the rookies.
Dawn of War is truly a great series, but does Dark Crusade really have the balls to stand up to its predecessors? Read on to find out.
Dark Crusade is set on the bizarre planet Kronus, a mysterious place that has lured all seven opposing factions to set up camp, rather coincidentally, at the same time. Although seeming to be a very peculiar concept, Relic does an exceptionally good job in putting each faction’s lore into context. This prospect will undoubtedly lead to some of the most brutal and impressive battles that any previous Dawn of War game has produced.
When entering the single player mode, you are presented with a choice of seven courageous and egotistical commanders who will marshal their faction to victory. Being something of a Dawn of War veteran, I decided to try out both of the two new races that have been implemented into Dark Crusade, the Tau and the Necrons. More about them later.
After a brief opening sequence in which you discover your faction's reason for coming to the planet Kronus, you are plunged into a table top screen showing sectors of land highlighted by their faction’s colour. Each faction holds 3 lots of land with a Stronghold.
The campaign mode is a turn based system. In one turn, you can either move into a friendly province or attack an adjacent enemy province. However, to make things more interesting, each province that you conquer will provide you with some sort of unique tactical benefit. This will usually be in the form of adding a specialised unit for your Commander’s Honour Guard that will be ready for action as soon as you start your next attack. To get the unit into play, you need to deploy it with cash from your requisition fund, which is topped up as you control provinces. Essentially you need to conquer in order to grow in order to conquer more.
In addition, some provinces bestow you with unique abilities - for example, a space port that lets you travel anywhere on the map instead of only being able to move to attack adjacent provinces. There are a few others, but I won’t spoil all the fun for you.
The only criticism I can make about the campaign is that after a short while things can become quite repetitive. Even with these little extras added to try and give some diversity to the game, it won’t take long before it begins to feel like you are just playing skirmish after skirmish, especially if you keep getting attacked. Relic appears to have foreseen this problem by giving you the option to auto-resolve battles when you get attacked. Heed this warning though: it can be risky to auto-resolve as the in-game engines calculates the outcome by how many buildings and units you have in comparison to the attacker. There is always the chance that you will lose a province that you could have won if you had fought it yourself.
Additionally, since the starting areas are fixed and aren’t randomised for each campaign, the game can lose some of its replay value. It also means that some factions have an advantage, as they are closest to the hidden items. My last criticism is that I think they could have developed the Stronghold battles a little more, since these are the most fun part of Dark Crusade campaign. I would have really liked to have seen two factions attacking one Stronghold or a three to four way war waged.
I found that the Risk-esque platform the campaign uses provides a much needed breath of fresh air to the previous linear campaign modes of the past games. I discovered myself meticulously planning every step to annihilate the Orcs as soon as possible, cheering in glory as I smashed down every one of their Strongholds. Only then could I go to sleep, safe in the knowledge that I have saved Kronus from what I like to call ‘the future chavs’, illiterate and annoying.