Ultimately, it's the visuals rather than the strategy that will endear Warhammer to the interactive generation, and it isn't stretching things to proclaim Dawn Of War one of the best-looking strategy games we've ever played. High detail models of Space Marines, Chaos Demons, Ork Killa Kans and Eldar Farseers stride around in all their high-polygon finery. Every unit looks spot-on, but it's the animation that really cherries the cake. Take the lumbering Dreadnoughts for example, which will pick up an enemy troop, impale and either slice the body in two, or whisk it until it's drained of blood and throw the corpse aside.
Many strategy games offer the option to zoom in on the action, with little or no benefit. Here the camera is an essential aid in appreciating the carnage Relic has choreographed. In one memorable encounter, a unit of Space Marines was being cut to pieces by Eldar Banshees (close-combat specialists) and as the last Marine fell to his knees, his victor lowered her sword, pulled out a Shuriken Pistol and submitted the last rites. It was a wonderfully dramatic moment and just one of many in a battle that can easily be missed as the camera zooms across the map.
Without wanting to appear shallow, Dawn Of War is initially a game that's far more impressive to look at than it is to play. The scripted AI in the single-player modes doesn't hold much of a challenge on the regular difficulty setting, while the unchanging mission objectives let down the variety of foes and units on offer. Perhaps if aspects like elevation, changing weather conditions or buildings you could occupy had been incorporated, it might have added another layer of strategy to the game.
That said, what Dawn Of War does it does very well: it's fast, simple and glorious to look at, with an aesthetic to the gameplay that follows in the grand tradition of C&C, Warcraft and StarCraft. Were you a fan of those games it's difficult to envisage you being disappointed, certainly if you intend to play the game online. If, however, you prefer a more considered approach to tactics and strategy and a single-player campaign that will take more than a couple of days to exhaust, then perhaps it would be best to try something else. Dawn Of War is distinct and individual, it looks amazing, but it's no Total War.
Fast, furious and gorgeous to behold
- Super-gory animation and stylish visuals
- Varied and balanced units
- Excellent multiplayer game
- Good voices and dialogue
- The single-player campaign can get repetitive
- Unimaginative AI
- A bit old skool