Winter Assault is the add-on pack for Relic and THQ?s RTS masterpiece Warhammer 40,000: Dawn of War. Winter Assault adds onto the already impressive game play offered by Dawn of War through an all-new single player campaign as well as the introduction of new buildable units and a complete new race, the Imperial Guard.
We?ve had our eye on the game since we first saw it at 2005?s E3 (for more details, see our E3 preview). Having played the game for more hours than is probably wise or healthy (tearing myself away for long enough to write this review was a challenge, in fact), we can tell you that the long wait for Winter Assault has been well worth every lingering, painful moment.
One of the frequent grouses players offered regarding Dawn of War was that the only way to play offline with any race save the Space Marines was to run a Skirmish match, as the single player campaign in that title was exclusive to that race. Developer Relic seems to have taken that criticism to heart, and has crafted a deep, complex single-player offering in Winter Assault, featuring not one but four different races in a parallel storyline. Indeed, the single player campaign is split into two parts, one telling the tale from the perspective of the forces of Order (the Imperial Guard and the alien Eldar) and the other from the perspective of Chaos (the Chaos Marines and the Orks). Missions generally allow for the player to run through the scenario in discreet chunks, with each section dedicated to one race or the other. It?s a nice touch that allows the player to see what effect their actions are having on their ally and helps create an epic feel.
Later, the same campaign is experienced from the other side of the battlefield, further deepening the already stellar storyline. As someone that was a bit miffed at the lack of single-player options for the Eldar or Chaos in the original game, the new campaign was a very welcome addition.
The new race, the Imperial Guard, is quite powerful and is a blast to play. Made up of legions of fragile, human warriors, the Guard relies on advanced technology and a wide variety of vehicles to even the odds against their more superhuman foes. Guard players can build armored bunkers connected by underground tunnels, which allows them to move their troops about the battlefield swiftly and in safety where needed. Guardsmen?s powerful, massed Lasgun fire can and does cut down more powerful units from the safety of these structures, and is a key strategy for victory. The Guard?s vehicles, particularly the awe-inspiring Baneblade (a mammoth tank bristling with guns of all sizes) and the Basilisk artillery piece (a unit that can rain down indirect fire from a great distance- perfect for shelling enemy bases back to the stone age), are their crowing glory and play well to any strategy, whether the player favors a more ?rush? type tactic or a more careful, ?turtle? type build up the tech tree.
Players can, at any time, choose to play one-off ?skirmish? matches against a variety of PC-controlled opponents, or even online versus actual human players. Game options are many and varied, and remain unchanged from the original title, offering up a wide variety of victory conditions on a wealth of different maps.
As with Dawn of War, the game?s true strength lies in its ability to be modified and added to through the volunteer efforts of an energetic and talented player community. Relic released a SDK for Winter Assault, comprising all of the elements and scripting objects used in the game for use by the MOD community, and as of this writing their forums are already filled with a variety of free additions. It is not at all uncommon for me to have half a dozen new maps to try out each and every night, on top of the numerous AI enhancements, graphic overhauls, new unit and other tweaks and changes. As the community grows more skilled in using the toolkit, the library will only grow.
Game Play- 9 Winter Assault builds on top of the already solid game play of the original Dawn of War and, through the addition of its multi-race single-player campaign and the addition of the powerful Imperial Guard, successfully cranks it up a few more notches. The game does seem to suffer from a few balance issues (the power of the Guard is still being tweaked thanks to community feedback- they really are almost too powerful when used in certain ways), but patches are already addressing the issue, and only fairly competitive online players should notice the subtle tweaks- we mere mortals can (and will) have a bucketload of fun right out of the box.
Graphics- 9 Winter Assault looks fantastic, and with high-rez graphics enabled (still via a config file addition, unfortunately for some mysterious reason- see here for details) is one of the most visually intriguing RTS titles currently on the market. Given the depth of the Warhammer 40,000 source material, nothing less than a virtuoso visual experience would suffice, and happily, Relic really delivers in this area.
Sound- 8 Winter Assault suffers from a bit of the same voice overacting as we saw in the original Dawn of War, but this is a trifling complaint when factored against the game?s skillful use of epic, orchestral music and realistic sound effects.
Value- 8 At the time of this writing, Winter Assault can be purchased for as little as $25 from online retailers like Amazon.com, and should easily add many hours of play to the already solid Dawn of War. Furthermore, the addition of the Imperial Guard and the recent release of the SDK means that the game?s replay value should remain quite high, and that new user-made add-ons should be offered for months to come.
Curve- 9 Relic and THQ once more offer up a sublime strategy game, graced with top-notch graphics, an exciting and epic storyline and a tons of character. Fans of the Warhammer 40,000 universe, RTS games, or both, are advised to run, not walk, to your local retailer and procure a copy.