Monday, 11 August 2008

Dawn of War: Dark Crusade Review

It's really quite surprising that Jack Thompson, ultra-zealous anti-games activist and verbal punchbag to gamers everywhere, has never exploited Dawn of War for his futile "games are evil" rantings. Dawn of War is built on a foundation of blood, bodiless limbs and burnt-out shells of bonecrushing machinery: it simply embodies mindless brutality. The box doesn't even attempt to cloak the fatuous bastion of savagery within, proudly declaring "On the frontlines, there is but one commandment: Thou Shalt Kill".

Read those three words and you're pretty much clued into everything that Dawn of War has to offer: death, death, death and more death, with a side order of base building to deliver a "calm before the storm" sort of uneasiness. The second (And first stand-alone) expansion pack brings two more sides to the fray, the Tau Empire and Necrons, bringing the total to seven. Like the previous races, each is massively unique, and have their own playing style. The Tau, for example, are practically unbeatable in a firefight, with hugely superior firepower and range to the other sides, but are incredibly weak and frail in melee combat. The Necrons do not use requisition, only power, and start off quite weak and slow, but later in the game can easily become the game's strongest race, crushing all foes - and the ability to instantly bring dead units back to life mid-battle comes in pretty handy, it has to be said.

The feature that makes Dark Crusade what it is though, is the new-fangled campaign mode. When I say new-fangled, what I really mean is new-fangled to such uneducated simpletons as I that have not played masterpieces such as Rise of Nations. Woe betide me. However, it is indeed a fascinating mode of play. Rather than a linear series of missions like the first two Dawn of War games, there is a more open-ended map mode, in which you choose who and where you wish to fight. Each of the seven races are present on the campaign map, and there are no alliances (Not even between the Space Marines and the Imperial Guard, but the reason behind this is clever, if slightly petty).

The campaign map works a bit like Risk: invade a region, then you go into the RTS mode of the game, and fight the garrison in the province. Weaker enemy regions will have only perhaps one base and some infantry units, whereas stronger regions will have a lot of the map covered, and have troops swarming all over you in no time. That said, it's still a bit easier than past campaigns in the Dawn of War series, and there are no scenarios, annihilation is instead the order of the day. Dark Crusades story follows the fight for Kronus, a world of the eastern fringe of the Imperium which is... blah blah blah armies arrive etc.

An intriguing facet of the campaign is wargear, which allows you to upgrade your commander unit if you do well enough in battle. Whether said wargear is simply dropped off by Space-Postman Pat, or whether the gear is found in the bargain bin in an abandoned ork-run branch of Asda is never quite explained, but the implausibility of it all can easily be overlooked. The gear has two features: giving the character more health or attack power, and looking really, really cool. The requirements for them also give you targets to aim for, much like achievements on the Xbox 360.

Once you've finished the campaign, skirmish mode allows infinite replayability (Killing aliens never gets old), unless you're a braver person than me and don't mind being shamed by the faceless strangers of the internet, then there's multiplayer. Multiplayer works in the same way as skirmish mode, except when you lose, you get laughed at, which presumably is what ESRB mean by "Game Experience May Change During Online Play". It can give you some memorable battles though, so you should definitely give multiplayer a go.

Despite the necrons being slightly overpowered, (but I shan't get too moany over that) if you're a Warhammer 40,000 fan, or a person who experiences orgasmic euphoria at the sight of blood, Dark Crusade, along with the previous Dawn of War games, is a must buy (I also recommend psychiatric treatment if you are part of the latter group). So go forth, children of the Emperor, and uhh... kill people... yeah alright, I'll leave the quips to the real writers in future.

Score: 8.5/10

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