Warhammer 40,000 has a rich and storied history. Its enduring popularity as a tabletop game has led to a diverse array of videogame spinoffs, ranging from strategy titles to shooters and even a chess clone. Head and shoulders above the rest, however, stands the Dawn Of War series, which not only marks a high point for the license but among the best examples of realtime strategy full stop. Dawn of War III is the latest instalment and combines RTS mechanics with MOBA-inspired elements, to create a rounded and immersive strategy game set in the grim darkness of the distant future.
The core game is familiar, though nuanced — comfortable in the ways RTS stalwarts have come to expect and managing to combine the base-building territory grabs of the franchise's first title with the hero-centric RPG elements of Dawn Of War II. You're tasked with building up your home base, gathering resources, erecting structures, and upgrading units — jockeying to do so more quickly than your enemies. Players can take up the roles of Eldar, Orks, or the inimitable Space Marines, each having their own distinct flavour and playstile.
Orks are the most appropriate for skirmishes and quickly dealing with any threat — much like the Zerg of StarCraft. You can quickly upgrade them during live matches and send them out in wave-based offensives, as they're made to mobilize. Their strength lies in numbers, so they're perfect for when you want to overwhelm opponents. In stark contrast are the Eldar, which are far less numerous but stronger and mobile, relying on webway portals to zip around the map. The Space Marines offer the most robust set of options, with innate strength, powerful technology, and a flexibility that allows them to be versatile in any situation.
Refreshingly, familiar strategies and tactics won't always wash in Dawn of War III. You'll have to mix things up dramatically if you want to be successful. For instance, rushing the enemy won't always work when additional enemies come forward after your shield generator has been taken out. Do you bolster your defences? Or churn out more offensive units?
There are also special 'Elites' that can be enlisted for each race, bringing back the personalised hero characters that headlined the second game. Each has its own set of abilities — or 'Doctrines' that can help turn the tide of battle in your favor, such as utilising barriers, providing additional healing in the midst of a skirmish, or special buffs to boost damage.
Summoning Elites isn't something you can do at the drop of a hat, however, and require the amassing of Elite points to put them in play. You'll earn these as you fight, but they don't accumulate quickly enough to let you swarm the field with them. Elites aren't created equal, either, with lesser heroes requiring fewer points while significant force-multipliers take serious investment.
The mixture of skills unique to Elite units and the varying abilities of each race form an integral part of the game's strategy system. Careful management of distinct units, including Elites, make for engaging matches whether you're playing through the main game mode or cranking out wins in online multiplayer. The tight, balanced gameplay is extremely satisfying, especially when you're forced to alter old, reliable tactics in order to advance.
The blend of inventive combat, interesting units, and franchise polish brought to the game as a whole makes for an intriguing strategy title and another solid instalment in the Dawn Of War series. Dawn Of War III offers an excellent RTS experience that combines the best elements of both previous entries, making it an easy recommendation regardless of whether you can tell a Space Wolf from a Blood Raven or not.