Looking at our big list of games we're planning to preview over the next few weeks, which is of course absolutely exhaustive and not at all limited to whatever we remembered off the tops of our heads, there really aren't a lot of RTSes on it. In fact, there're only two, and we've written about one already. Um.
It's not, for once, because we're meatheaded cretins. It's because there isn't that much to get excited about at the moment, tiny-tank wise. Which is odd, as we've just come from an extraordinarily good couple of years for RTS - Company of Heroes (x2), Supreme Commander (x2), World in Conflict, Command & Conquer 3, Medieval II... Let's hope there's a load of explodey goodies due to be revealed in the coming months.
One to look forward to that isn't on our list (largely because, let's be honest, we know pretty much exactly what it's gonna be like), is the third expansion for Dawn of War. So I'll talk a little about it here instead.
The demo's just hit, containing two levels, both of which feature one of Soulstorm's two new races, The Dark Eldar. No sign of second newbies the Sisters of Battle here, which is just as well, cos Kieron'd berate me for not thinking up any good Sisters of Mercy gags.
Having spent a couple of hours with the demo, I can safely say that anyone complaining Dawn of War is too old to warrant another expansion is a big silly dumb-dumb poohead. It's hardly a cutting-edge engine, but it's still more than capable of making a great-looking game. The art style, and especially the violence, is exaggerated enough that mucky textures and coarse lighting really don't matter.
The Dark Eldar scrub up pretty well, all steampunk-meets-torture-porn, though they're not distinctive enough in play style to placate those of us whining that there aren't any Tyranids. They're a giggle, but there's no sense of their doing anything markedly different. This is Dawn of War as Dawn of War does.
The exception is the titular Soul stuff, which sees 'em harvesting the spirits of the fallen to fuel mega-powers. This'll be interesting when knee-deep in multiplay, as there are two different ways to do it. Either you send your builder units (and, Dark Eldar being a little bit S&M, these wail "no! not the whip again!" and suchlike when selected. Sometimes, I really tire of RTS unit barks. Can't they just grunt or something instead?) over to a scene of recent carnage to collect up the conveniently bright pink souls. Or you upgrade your Slave Quarters - the population cap buildings - with torture chambers, which automatically spawn souls for the builders to harvest. Clearly this is much more convenient than having your puny builders out in the field, but if you do choose that upgrade, it disables the Slave Quarters' other possible upgrade, a morale-busting defensive turret-thing. The Dark Eldar really don't have much in the way of defense structures otherwise, so basically you're weighing up convenience over safety.
The Soul powers themselves don't really seem quite devastating enough to warrant such a hoo-hah, though the top level one, a big pink clould o'doom you can temporarily steer around the battlefield, is wonderfully silly - you're attacking Space Marines with a 1950s special effect.
Unusually, the entire Dark Eldar tech tree is in the demo, but the half-wit difficulty setting the Space Marines you're battling are stuck with in this case means there isn't a lot of scope to really put the new race through its paces. I like it though - I'll certainly play Soulstorm, no matter that it's heavily traditional. Though the ropey cutscenes will prompt much frustrated hammering on the Escape key, if this demo's anything to go by.
On, and there's a flying unit in there too. There haven't been fliers in DoW as yet, and to be honest 'hoverers' would be a better description, based on this.
Here demo here. It weighs in at 1.2 gigabytes, which is frankly obscene for a four-year-old RTS.