Relic Entertainment relies on basic math. In Dawn of War 3's case, one plus two equals three. The third iteration of this grim and dark real-time strategy title grabs elements from the first and second game to bring us the most spectacular Warhammer 40K title yet.
The surprisingly sunny London played host to a multiplayer-focused event for the game in late February. Rows of computers were waiting for us to dive straight in at the deep end with little time for preparation for what was to come. We also had a quick chat with the game's designer, Caro Mastretta.
Relic's long-awaited strategy title comes with three races at launch, with several hero options to boot. Space marines, Orks and Eldar (think space elves) each come with their own campaign, but that was laid to the side for this event. Instead, the journalists and writers were pitted against each other in 1 vs. 1, 2 vs. 2 and 3 vs. 3 scenarios. The lack of any sort of tutorial, however, turned the first match into a race of getting to grips with the mechanics.
The majority of our playtime was spent with the 2 vs. 2 mode, playing on a relatively compact map. Both teams start at the opposite ends with plenty of objectives to capture in the middle. Some "flags" produce energy or requisition points to summon or upgrade units, others dole out small amounts of "hero points" used for conjuring up your most powerful warriors. Your initial selection matters a lot here. After you've selected your race, you pick three hero units with variable skills and cost. Cheap ones can be summoned early on and if killed, return to the fray relatively quickly. Doom-bringers like Imperial Knight or Gorkanaut take a lot of points and are best used at the end-game push towards the enemy base.
To discourage cheesy rush tactics, the base is protected by a tiered emplacement system. To hit the power core, you must destroy a massive turret. To damage the turret, you must demolish its generator. These are also placed away from your base and thus create natural war zones and pockets of continuous battle. It's a curious system and offers up many strategies from a strong late push to continuous harassment. During the first and second match we divided our forces so that one of us was always on defence and the other on offence. It's interesting to see how the strategies evolve when the masses get their hands on the multiplayer. This mini-objective based game mode might offer a clear way to victory for some, while others might prefer more immediate tactical options.
The game is definitely more micro than macro heavy. Several units have activated abilities such as stun grenades, missile barrages or rocket pack jumps. Resource production relies on capturing resource points and defending them with your units rather than strong emplacements such as turrets, mine fields or bunkers. Your attention is almost always required in a couple of places at once, so quick thinking and reflexes can make up for the lack of firepower. Match length is aimed at around 30 minutes, so there's very little production ramp-up from one tier to the next. Resources are always limited, so at least during our multiplayer session multiple barrack equivalents seemed a moot idea.
Space Marines seemed like the easiest team to get in grips with. Their roster is balanced and the somewhat expensive troops can take a punch in the face with ease. The drop pod mechanic allows them to drop pretty much anything from orbit directly into the thick of battle. If you've graduated from Dawn of War 1 or 2, these marines will feel very familiar.