The eveil Necron are one of the two new races available in Dark Crusade.
Over the last few years, we've had the pleasure to review several of the Warhammer 40,000: Dawn of War titles, both the game that started the successful franchise, as well as the game's first expansion pack, Winter Assault. We liked both titles, to say the least (some form of the game has remained more or less permanently installed on this reviewer's hard drive since the day the game was released – quite a feat for a years-old title). Just before Christmas, developer Relic and publisher THQ released the game's second expansion pack, titled Dark Crusade, and we bring you this report.
Ho ho… hi ho… it's off to slay we go…
Dark Crusade introduces two new races to the Dawn of War universe, the Tau, a highly advanced and technological alien race, and the Necron, a species of zombie-like robots. The introduction of these two new groups brings the total number of in-game playable races to seven. Interestingly, the developer has built Dark Crusade to be playable as a stand-alone title – in single-player Skirmish or Campaign mode, all seven races are available. Players will only need to purchase the original Dawn of War or the Winter Assault add-on if they wish to use the additional races (Space Marines, Orcs, Chaos, Eldar and Imperial Guard) in multiplayer.
Unlike earlier DOW titles, where the single-player Campaign was more-or-less a pre-set series of missions, the storyline in Dark Crusade focuses on the battle for Kronus, a world besieged by all seven races. Players choose a race and embark on a game of territorial conquest which players of the classic game Risk will likely find familiar.
Players battle to conquer and hold terrirories. Defeat all enemy commanders to win control of Kronus.
As territories are subjugated, the player gains access to army enhancements, such as larger squad formations, special elite units or wargear. Wargear consists of special upgrades for your army commander. These upgrades transform your already formidable commander into a veritable walking tank, and should be sought out as a priority.
As powerful as your army commander is, wait till you see him after adding in some wargear. Ph3ar my shield and gun dronez!
Each army has a headquarters zone. If the HQ zone falls to enemy attack, the entire race is removed from the game. Players conquer enemy territory (or defend their own zones that come under fire) on a bid to amass new wargear and army upgrades. Each conquered territory gives some sort of bonus, for example: increased supply points or special elite units. This territorial control "maxi-game" is very satisfying, adding a layer of large-scale tactical maneuvering to Dawn of War's already superb squad-level battle and resource-management engine.
Despite being several years old, the game's graphics engine still looks fabulous (although, as in earlier titles, to access the engine's high-rez graphics requires a change to the game's core .INI files – we'd think that the devs would have simply enabled this as a default by now). The Dawn of War series has always had some of the most interesting art design we've ever seen in a RTS title, and Dark Crusade carries on the tradition well.
The Tau rely heavily on advanced technology to wage war. Looks like they're huge anime fans, as well…
Value-wise, Dark Crusade is tough to beat. The game has very strong replay value, both through the ability to play the Campaign as each of the seven races, and also through the Skirmish mode, which allows players to fight in arenas containing 2-8 armies. Players can fight free-for-all style against all enemies, or set up whatever teams they desire.
Even better, Dawn of War still manages to attract large groups of MODders, who add in everything from new Skirmish maps, to prettier, customized model skins, to complete campaign additions and overhauls. Games like Dark Crusade remind me why I love to play games on the PC – there's literally nothing like Dawn of War available on any console system, both in quality and quantity. A player could literally Skirmish on a new map every day for months and still not see them all.
Yeah… this enemy base is toast…
So, if you're a fan of the strategy genre, and have somehow managed to avoid playing the Dawn of War franchise up until now, do yourself a huge favor and pick up a copy of Dark Crusade today – we think you'll be happy you did. If you find yourself in the position of Grand High Warlord for every race in the Campaign and Skirmish modes, try your luck against other human players online – we practically guarantee that you'll find more than enough challenges out there to fill up a month of Sundays.
For the Greater Good… Attack!
Have a favorite custom army from the miniatures game? You can very easily recreate their color scheme in the army painter and even add in their unit insignia with a little extra effort.
Game Play – 10 The new Campaign setting gives Dark Crusade just the right epic feel. The game's core game play engine remains as it has always been – smooth, tight and addictive. Mastering a new race is a process of forethought, skill and timing, and presents just the right mix of challenge and reward for novice and master-level players alike. Expect many a late night as you play "just one more map".
Graphics – 9 Graphically, Dark Crusade is a treat. You might be tempted (as we were) to record your Skirmish battles and play them back in slow-motion, just to savor the graceful model animations and spectacular weapons effects that you missed while playing the actual game. In order to take full advantage of the engine's high-rez textures, however, players must still make changes to the game's core .INI files. We understood why Relic made this choice when Dawn of War was first released (the game brought our test system to its knees three years ago with all the graphics goodies enabled), but with modern video cards and processors, even a low-end gaming rig can handle everything the game can throw at it and still look fantastic. Hopefully, Relic will make high-rez textures available as a simple menu item in a patch – if so, this score would have been a "10".
Sound – 9 Voices, weapons effects, explosions, vehicle sounds… Everything you hear adds to the game's immersion. With the exception of a few notable attack commands (we really got sick of the Imperial Guard Commander's "Witness your dooooooom!" scream and actually began to avoid playing with or against this race purely for this reason) all sound FX are very well executed and never annoying.
Value – 10 Dark Crusade, to put it simply, is the reason to play games on the PC. With its wealth of game play options, the ability to be matched online against hundreds of other human players, and coupled with the title's extensive catalog of 100% free, user-made modifications and add-ons, players can easily spend weeks or months plumbing the depths of what Dark Crusade and the rest of the Dawn of War franchise has to offer.
Curve – 9 RTS fans will love Dark Crusade's accessibility and playability – there's literally a race that goes perfectly with every playing style. Even though this reviewer has played every title in the Dawn of War catalog, Dark Crusade still manages the trick of pulling me back into its world of epic conflict and frenetic combat… with a vengeance.