Yikes! The more we see of fantasy RTS Warhammer 40,000: Dawn Of War, the more we're impressed by its incessant gory battles packed with hundreds of incredibly detailed, hilariously animated units gouging chunks out of each other.
After our preview in issue 142, Impossible Creatures developer Relic dropped by to show us the latest code of its new Games Workshop-inspired 3D strategy romp in action, including some never-seen-before units, vehicles and war machines from each of the four main races of Space Marines, Orks, Chaos Marines and Eldar Warriors.
Dawn Of War is entirely a frontline, battlefield experience - you won't have any tiresome empire-building as you're basically creating a field base that will let you throw your military units into a massive battle raging just a few dozen metres away. A single-player campaign, set on the planet of Tartarus from the point of view of the Blood Raven chapter of Space Marines, is available, plus a fully tooled-up multiplayer mode where up to eight players can compete as any of the four species.
Gameplay is essentially squad-based, so if you click on any unit, you'll grab a whole group of infantry or vehicles and instantly see their health and morale stats - which can be broken if you take sufficiently heavy losses, reducing your team's effectiveness in battle. However, you can improve your troops' firepower by simply clicking on the task bar, allowing you, for example, to quickly upgrade from a Space Marine's standard Bolter rifles to more lethal Flamers, Heavy Bolters and Plasma Rifles in the middle of a firefight.
This is where tactics are really important - squads with lighter weapons can run and fire, whereas those with big guns have to move and set up before firing, which can take a crucial couple of seconds. If you're decimated, you can always reinforce your squads with extra units that instantly spawn on the battlefield, keeping the action thick, fast and very bloody - especially when you employ your Force Commander or equivalent units, which have special powers such as the ability to call in orbital bombardments from space.
Bigger Is Better
As for the vehicles, we witnessed some lethal metal beasts, including Whirlwind and Predator tanks from the Space Marines, Grav tanks armed with mini-nuke-firing weapons from the Eldar, and a terrifying spider-like Chaos Defiler from the evil Chaos Marines.
You'll also have access to hulking rusty delights such as Space Marine Dreadnoughts armed with half-a-dozen meaty weapons, Eldar Wraith Lords - basically huge walking robots - and the home-made Ork Big Mech.
Best of all, Relic confirmed that each species will now have the equivalent of the Titans from Age Of Mythology, such as the Blood Thirster, a frightening axe-wielding mega-demon summoned by the Chaos Marines' Chaos Lord. Yep, Warhammer 40,000: Dawn Of War could turn out to be so good, you may have to pack up your tabletop figures and let them gather dust in the loft forever.