FORMERLY THE PRESERVE of feverish enthusiasts huddled around tables comparing leadfigure painting techniques, the brutal futuristic world of Warhammer 40K was brought to the masses by 2004's excellent Dawn Of War.
Its combination of fast-paced action, beautifully detailed units and brutal animated violence turned thousands of us who'd never even seen the inside of a Games Workshop into instant fans. And while this standalone expansion contains yet more of the tried and tested formula, it contains so many new features that it feels more akin to a proper sequel.
The action is set on the planet of Kronos, a seemingly popular destination which seven distinct races are battling to control. Each race starts from their own stronghold, shown on a new campaign map which details every territory on the planet. Once you've decided which territory to attack next, things transfer over to the more familiar real-time view. It's hardly a unique system but it works well enough, and serves to remind you that you're part of a much bigger conflict.
Key to Dark Crusade are the two new races: the Tau and the Necrons, both of which are excellently implemented and balanced. The Tau are composed of a variety of ranged robotic warriors complemented by several melee races - an incredibly powerful combination, provided you're an astute commander who can keep your forces in order. On the other hand, the Necrons are slightly easier to pick up and play, and are Dark Crusade's real highlight. Their sinister-looking units and ability to resurrect themselves provide endless opportunities for surprise on the battlefield.
PLAY IT AGAIN
There are other additions too, including upgradeable commanders and new units for each race, but above all it's the same fast and frantic action we came to love in Dawn Of War. There's tons of replay value too, thanks to all seven races being playable, as well as the excellent multiplayer.
In terms of difficulty, it's hardcore warfare from the word go, and while veterans of the series will relish the opportunity to try out their race-specific tactics, newcomers to the series may find things a bit of a struggle.
For the sake of balance, if I had to moan about something, I'd point out that the maps are still a bit bland. But by god, holy war's never been so much fun.
A righteous war
- Gorgeous animation
- Well-balanced new races
- Great campaign map
- Frantic action
- Maps are still disappointingly bland
- Tough for newcomers