Warhammer, huh! What is it good for?
Its been four years since Dawn Of War brought the joys of Warhammer 40,000 to the RTS scene. Four years in which weve seen two expansions and a refinement of the take-and-hold gameplay mechanic in Relics sumptuously drawn WWII opus, Company Of Heroes.
With all that in mind its somewhat underwhelming to see Soulstorm, the third and final DOW expansion, arrive on our PCs using the same game engine that debuted in 2004. Luckily, though, the game has held up better than youd expect. The graphics are showing their age but units are detailed and full of character regardless and with the number of combatants routinely fielded in the games larger conflicts, its refreshing not to hear your graphics card wheezing under the strain.
Gameplay-wise, Soultorm retains the style adopted by Dark Crusade, abandoning the first instalments story-led campaign in favour of a strategic, skirmish-led experience. That the map now spans a solar system rather than a single planet is incidental and veterans of the previous instalment will find the interface all too familiar. The major changes come in the form of two new races: the sadistic Dark Eldar and the fanatical Sisters of Battle. Both of whom are a welcome addition to the series, adding a deeper sense of the 40k mythology and providing some fresh blood for multiplayer games.
The Dark Eldar are a formidable early game race, whose initial melee units can carve their way through equivalent scouts with gleeful ease, while the Sisters in their blazing white armour and holy adornments have infantry whose heavy flamers can make even the mighty Space Marines run in terror. Both new additions feel overpowered compared to the existing armies but balance issues are certain to be top of the change list in the first patch.
Another enhancement is the inclusion of flying units for all races. More a gimmick than a selling point, though, these feel like an afterthought, adding little to the strategic mix and being too fragile to tip the scales in a heated firefight.
For die hard fans of the franchise, Soulstorm is a must-have addition, if only to add the new races to your multiplayer arsenal. As a standalone purchase, though, the games limited single player mode can quickly become tedious, with only the excellent stronghold maps providing a glimpse of DOW at its best. That said, the strength of the 40k license and the richness of its universe are more than enough to guarantee a high level of enjoyment throughout and with the first three instalments available as a bargain budget pack, the combined quartet will keep us happily occupied until Dawn Of War 2 arrives.