Dawn of War 3 is a best-of mashup of Warhammer 40k

Among the many things that might wake you up in the morning – coffee, cigarettes, aggressive thrash metal – nothing really comes close to being chased by a towering Space Marine Titan, spewing out fire and bullets in a wanton display of horrifying aggression as pitiful Orks scatter and flee. Dawn of War 3’s [official site] invigorating multiplayer is like a shot of adrenaline, blood-pumping, loud and messy.

Based on my time with it, there’s a great deal going on in Relic’s latest foray into the grimdark universe of Warhammer 40K. It’s not entirely unlike attempting to play the previous two Dawn of Wars at the same time, a mashup of each game’s best bits, but with more stuff drawn from both the tabletop games and even other genres.

“We looked at first-person shooters, RPGs, MOBAs and started picking out the things that are distinctive to these game genres and figuring out why they are interesting,” producer Matt Kernachan tells me. “And what did the fans like about the armies from Dawn of War? What did they like about the gameplay from Dawn of War 2? What did we like… what did we think was great or not really enjoy?”

So there’s a collision of ideas. You get your big, Dawn of War-style armies, but they’re now accompanied by hero units, Elites, that are more evocative of Dawn of War 2 and MOBAs, complete with the sort of micro-management wrinkles you might expect. You’ve also got base-building shenanigans and setting up defensive lines, but there’s still this focus on mobility and trying to manage a whole bunch of capture points spread out across the map.

Even before you dive into a battle, there are a few major choices that need to be made. First off, there’s your faction choice, of course, where you’ll pick between the Space Marines, Eldar or Orks. That first decision is going to define how you play, at least for that match. If you’re assaulting a base as Space Marines, for example, you might pummel the area with Whirlwind tanks before jumping in with troops strapped to jetpacks while drop pods fall from the sky, depositing reinforcements. With the Eldar, however, you might want to go for a sneakier strategy, plonking down Webway Portals so your entire army can traverse the map in the blink of an eye, getting right up to the enemy base in a single step.

There’s flexibility within each faction, though. One Ork player, for instance, might favour brute force, turning their Boyz and Nobz into an unstoppable green tide through the power of the Waaagh! Another might prefer subtlety, using shamanistic magic to teleport brutish warriors to key locations. A lot of these strategies are going to be determined by another key decision you make at the start: what Elites are you going to use? These special units come in all manner of shapes and sizes, blessed with a list of special powers that define their roles. You’ve got your tanky heavy-hitters, your nimble DPSers and even some tricky, situational support characters.

“We wanted them to be larger than life,” explains Kernachan. “We wanted them to have names, not like faceless troops, and as soon as they come on the field you’re like ‘Shit, things are going to get real now.’ But we also didn’t want them to feel invulnerable or invincible – they’re something to rally around with their own unique mechanics.”

Elites are considerably more elaborate than regular squads and demand a lot more attention. Farseer Macha, for instance, employs her ‘Singing Spear’ in a bunch of interesting ways that only really shine when you’re micro-managing her. First, she can toss it at enemies, doing direct damage, then she can activate it, generating an AoE pulse that applies a handy debuff. Finally, she can reposition herself and call the spear back to her, damaging any enemies it passes through again. In single-player, these can be devastating abilities, but when playing with a chum, they can create openings or synergise with the abilities of other Elites.

The final pre-battle consideration is what type of battle doctrines, a holdover from Company of Heroes 2, you’ll bring in with you. Some of them are army-wide buffs, while others change the abilities of specific units, and they’re also part of Dawn of War 3’s progression system.

“Each of the Elites has their own doctrines, and there are global army doctrines too,” notes Kernachan. “The Elites get a presence doctrine that provides a bonus just from them being on the field, and there are separate command doctrines as well. With the progression system, you’ll start with the presence doctrine and then after a few levels you’ll gain the ability to use their command doctrine. Further through the tree, you’ll be able to use that Elite doctrine as a global army doctrine, so you don’t even need to deploy that Elite anymore to take advantage of the bonuses.”

It’s a lot to take in… and we haven’t even started the match yet.

For a long time now, Relic’s favoured objective-based battles with an emphasis on capturing victory points, and in Dawn of War 3 the spirit of this system remains, but it’s inside something new. At opposite ends of the map lie two power cores, one for each player or team. They’re essentially the giant mechanical heart of the war machine, and they’re what you’re fighting over. The primary goal of a battle is to protect your core while smashing your enemy’s to bits.

It doesn’t matter how many fights you win, how many resource-generating points you’ve captured or how big your base is – if you leave your core undefended, you’ve had it. They can’t be attacked straight away, however. The cores are protected by incredibly powerful turrets, for one, and a pair of massive shield generators as well. All of them need to be destroyed before hitting that final target. Taking out a power core isn’t something that’s really feasible in one assault when there are all these defences, so it becomes this massive undertaking that spans the entire game.

“We started looking at these sort of gated targets on the battlefield,” says Kernachan. “We wanted to get away from just destroying your enemy’s base or hunting around on the map to find that last victory or resource point. We were influenced from a bunch of places. MOBAs had the towers which are interesting, but we didn’t want to make a MOBA, we wanted to make an RTS. So we came up with this power core system.”

While the power core gets top billing, capturing and holding strategic points dotted around the map remains key to victory. Units can be crammed into capturable shielded areas that replace Dawn of War 2’s cover system, forcing enemies to engage in some melee combat if they want to get past, while other capture points generate the resources you’ll need for the construction of buildings and the recruitment of new troops. There’s one further complication in the form of yet another resource: Elite points.

Each Elite has a cost associated with it and can only be summoned when you’ve generated enough points. If you want to drop the aforementioned Space Marine Titan, Solaria, into a fight, you’ll need to save up, maybe even forgoing the cheaper Elites, leaving you vulnerable during the early stages of a match.

The acquisition of this currency is a major goal for each battle. See, while they generate over time, there are special capture points that increase the rate considerably, but there aren’t many of them. Some maps only have one, equidistant between the opposing bases, creating an area that’s constantly being fought over.

It’s a clever addition to a system Relic’s been using for years and will hopefully solve one of its problems. The concept behind capture points is that they give players more things to fight over, but they can also create a sort of stalemate, where each team or player locks down the ones on their side of the map and then just hangs back until they have a full army, culminating in a single, climactic battle. That doesn’t seem nearly as viable in Dawn of War 3. When a single top tier Elite can be a complete game-changer, you absolutely have to fight over these areas so you can field your most impressive units.

“It gives you a place to focus on that isn’t necessarily on the enemy, and something else to strive towards,” Kernachan tells me. “It gives you a chance for respite as well. When you’re getting overwhelmed by the enemy, you’ve got a bit of time to build back up while they’re trying to capture your resources or take out your power core, your shield generator or your turret.”

I never quite felt like I had it in the bag, during my multiplayer bouts. There was always a sense that something could change, that victory might slip through my fingers. Or, when I was losing, that there was still some hope that I could win. Summoning a particularly beefy unit or firing one of the deadly superweapons – each faction gets one – like a devastating orbital laser can completely transform a battle. You can lose the bulk of your army in a single moment if you’re not careful, but everything has a major weakness or a unit that can counter it. Admittedly, it can be hard to keep your cool and figure out what you need to do when a giant death ray is disintegrating your expensive horde of Orks, but ‘It’s not over until it’s over’ seems very true here.

“We’ve used that kind of pacing all the way through the game, from your first squad of Boyz coming out and meeting my first squad of Tactical Marines,” Kernachan confirms. “Now every multiplayer game feels like a back and forth, whereas often in Dawn of War, and sometimes in Dawn of War 2, you lose the first encounter and it can be really difficult to come back. We didn’t want that.”

It feels like Relic are doing something new. When Dawn of War 3 does seem familiar, it’s in the same way that a lion and a chimera seem similar. Systems have been tweaked and contorted and reimagined so that there are myriad surprises, even for someone who is an old hand when it comes to RTSs. There are so many moving parts that it can be a little intimidating, however. Even the maps have these twists, like long grass or smoke-filled areas that render units invisible, or interactive objects that lower bridges and open up new paths. Diving into the multiplayer as I did, it can be as confusing and cluttered as it is thrilling and complex.

Dawn of War 3 is due for release on April 27th.


  1. Premium User Badge

    Drib says:

    Wait, they removed the cover system? Booo.

    Anyway, sounds interesting at least. I’m really not fond of hero units and micromanagement, but hell. If I can have a bunch of silly-accented orks running about and krumpin stuff, then I might as well.

    I loved DoW1 and parts of DoW2, so sounds good anyway.

    • Danarchist says:

      I am too old and slow to be good at micro management, but dawn of war can have my babies. I will try it and get screamed at by my friends for misusing a missile salvo or something. Can’t wait.

      • Aetylus says:

        As a fellow old-and-slower, I sure hope they have active pause in single player. DoW2 is no good to me since they removed it.

        • Danarchist says:

          I need pause to play anything these days. The thought of getting a solid 30 minutes un-interupted makes me giggle. Proof that the more crap you own the less time you have to enjoy it. When I had a futon, a computer chair, and a computer on milk crates I had all kinds of time.

    • subedii says:

      The thing with the directional cover system in DoW2 is that a lot of the time it barely functioned and failed far too often, particularly when it came to horde races like Tyranids.

      I mean people complain about micromanaging stuff, but the cover implementation, whilst nice in theory, was finicky to say the least when it was transferred over from CoH to Dow2.

      Squads would frequently have models “exposed” from cover, either because of lack of immediate spaces or because those models weren’t intelligent enough to do it right. Other times, models and squad units would auto-track to cover in the direction to the oncoming fire (basically wrong side of the wall), or basically mess up your positioning by auto-seeking cover when you wanted them to stay put. But without cover auto-seek, the models would never properly get into cover in the first place.

      Mechanically, the current implementation looks to be more like an evolution of DoW1’s system.

      • fuggles says:

        No, it’s a massive devolution from Dow 1, which had negative, light and heavy cover. This appears to have an arbitrary bubble which I understand from a simplicity stand point, but to many is a big backwards step.

        • Asurmen says:

          They’re still right. It’s a variant on DoW1 rather than DoW2.

          • fuggles says:

            Of a sort, evolution suggests a positive progressive change whereas this is clearly an artificial gameplay concession.

          • Asurmen says:

            Heavy, light and negative are also artificial concessions. For example, standing in a creator shouldn’t provide any cover. It doesn’t by default in the board game, and yet somehow proves heavy cover in DoW1. Water shouldn’t mean you start taking additional damage, but is an artificial concession for tactics.

          • fuggles says:

            You can’t genuinely think they are artificial in the same way, surely?

            DoW1 is grounded in TT to an extent – Crater, you can hide in it so heavy cover. Water, tends to be open, slow and leaves you vulnerable and exposed. Light cover, forests and foliage which may stop some, but not all fire. You get a nice marker to show who is doing what and it looks clear and this is where it’s subjective, but it makes sense to me mechanically – there is an allusion to real world logic.

            Trouble bubble – magic blob that appears from nowhere with no lore or explanation beyond someone left it there. Granted, this fits squarely with DoW3’s clarity over lore thing they have going on as it’s now very binary – you are in cover, so not taking ranged fire HINT – this is where melee units need to be put – but golly, is that the best they could find?

            I get that it makes melee units useful in a gameplay style where they are really not, but it’s mechanically ugly. I’d rather DoW2’s buildings, which at least made mechanical sense than a magic dome which all three armies happen to have.

          • Asurmen says:

            Yes they absolutely are artificial.

            Standing in a creator doesn’t automatically provide cover in TT, and yet it somehow does in DoW1. Water somehow causes you to take more damage as well as slowing you, and yet it doesn’t do the former and the latter isn’t automatic in the TT. They’re artificial. DoW2 system wasn’t artificial as it was line of sight based but was flawed in how it functioned.

            Magical bubble? Void shields exist within the lore. All issues solved.

  2. Bfox says:

    Is this a Starcraft 2 mod or seperate game?

    • Premium User Badge

      Drib says:

      40k is always copying StarCraft, it’s criminal I tell you.

      • subedii says:

        You jest, but there are people who genuinely and consistently make that argument.

        • GeminiathXL says:

          There are people that argue the earth is flat and the moonlanding never happened. So yeah.

          • Viral Frog says:

            Are you trying to insinuate that the earth ISN’T flat? Blasphemous.


  3. heliotropecrowe says:

    Until Eugen get the 40k license I’m going to be sorely disappointed.

    No other contemporary RTS developers seem to have any conception of scale. And until someone who does has a crack at the license DoW:Ultimate Apocalypse will remain the best attempt at doing it justice.

    What one farseer does with he spear shouldn’t really matter, no matter how healthy the rebuffs are. Not when I can drop a regiment of Basilisk fire on her head from across the map.

    Titans should annihilate columns of tanks (and yes that means more than three tanks) of used properly and should be on a properly huge scale.

    But no. We’ll get a pissy unit count with piddling little underpowered things called titans.

    • subedii says:

      Whilst I can understand the sentiment in a way, I feel like what you’re asking for is emphatically never what the Dawn of War franchise has ever been or even attempted to be, even with stuff like the DoW1 UA mod.

      Eugen system games are really more high level management of those conflictsm where DoW hews closer to its RTS roots.

      • heliotropecrowe says:

        You’re not wrong although UA does begin to approach what I’d like with the right settings.

        Unfortunately every Dawn of War seems to move further towards a smaller and smaller scale.

        The Sliterine games seemed like they might scratch the itch but they seem to have lifted the Panzer General engine which never knew of I was fish or fowl with respect to scale.

        The dream 40k game for me would either be in the Eugen model or something based on a modified modernised Emperor of the Fading Suns engine. That would be something else, lead a proper crusade.

        • subedii says:

          Unfortunately every Dawn of War seems to move further towards a smaller and smaller scale.

          You say that, but this game appears to be specifically ramping up the scale massively from DoW2, and reducing the amount of micromanagement units like Commanders had.

          I mean in DoW2, it was your choice between 3 commanders per side, and the wargear choices (like MOBA items almost) over the course of a match would MASSIVELY impact how they, and their whole team, played.

    • Fraser Brown says:

      Obviously a fast-paced RTS isn’t going to be exactly like the tabletop game. That said, Titans are still devastatingly powerful. They can wipe out an entire army if your opponent is unprepared.

    • Askis says:

      Well, Mr. Brown called it a Titan here, but Solaria is just an Imperial Knight.
      They’re basically the Titan’s baby brothers.

      • NetharSpinos says:

        Indeed! Many thanks for pointing out the correction. If true titans were to appear in DoW 3, there really wouldn’t be any point in fielding…well, anything really. Apart from other titans.

        • Premium User Badge

          Drib says:

          Look at you forgetting that one ork warbiker once rode through the cockpit glass of a titan alone and killed the entire crew. Canon, no less.

          You don’t need sense when you’ve got Orks.

          • Premium User Badge

            Earl-Grey says:

            Didn’t Eisenhorn take down a titan?
            Hey, it seems I have an excuse to google WH40K fluff while at work!
            -not that I need one.

          • NetharSpinos says:

            I seem to recall a Warhound Titan being taken down by swarms of either gaunts or genestealers jamming themselves into its leg joints until it fell over. Who needs conventional tactics when you have infinite numbers?

    • Asurmen says:

      40K has always been focussed on smaller scale tactical engagements.

      You’re thinking of the old Epic system.

  4. morvael says:

    In the grim brightness of the far future, there are only pastel colors.

    I’ll skip this grimbright edition of 40k.

    • Asurmen says:

      Spoken like someone who doesn’t know how ridiculously bright and silly 40K is and always has been.

    • unitled says:

      Yeah, 40k, that franchise that was always known for it’s muted tones and grim colour scheme…

      link to 3.bp.blogspot.com

      • subedii says:

        Yeah, I saw my fair share of neon pink and reflective shiny green armies in DoW2 as is. To say nothing of some of the environments.

        I feel like this is a standard “insult” thrown at games these days in the misguided belief that you’re mocking the devs for pandering to the unclean masses. Or something.

        I mean it’s the same crap that was thrown at Diablo 3. And DoW2 for that matter. I mean DoW2 had bright desert maps, bright icy tundra maps, and lush jungle maps alongside the heavy industrial settings and rusty battle barges.

        All of even that aside, most of the footage I’ve seen from all this multiplayer stuff today (not to mention all the screenshots above) look pretty heavily industrial and grimdark.

        It’s like people don’t even care what they actual reality is that they’re trying to trash, they just want to be angry at the game.

        • morvael says:

          To me it boils down to weapons VFX. They are mostly pastel colors (“The colors of this family are usually described as “soothing”, “soft”, “near neutral”, “milky”, “washed out”, “desaturated”, and lacking strong chromatic content.”) and glow effects everywhere. As Warhammer fan for 22 years, I find this image incompatible with what’s in my head.

    • Bitterman says:

      The screenshots look pretty grimdark to me. They most definitely pivoted on the art style after the feedback from the very first gameplay was released.

  5. Chiron says:

    Amusing because I don’t like Elites and managing the Big Damn Heroes.

  6. WaRxXxPiG says:

    Ya know, I’m not going to sit here and spew vitriol at this. That will accomplish nothing. But. I absolutely hate everything that Relic has done to this franchise. They removed everything that made the series unique while painting it with a disgustingly cartoony aesthetic… I’ll while only having one MOBAesque game mode at launch…. le sigh. It may very well turn out to be a fun game but this isn’t Dawn of War.

  7. jacko says:

    Played the beta. Was not impressed. Between company of heroes and steel division Normandy I struggle to find anything interesting with Dow 3. Too bad though, enjoyed the older games.