Warhammer, the source for everything that is Dawn of War, started out life as collectable miniatures used to play a tabletop strategy game. The only thing that ever really set Warhammer apart from the glut of Halo clix and Hero clix games was that they came with an elaborate story that tied together and explained everything. With a strong story in tow, and dozens of novels to date, it was only a matter of time before a gaming franchise leapt out to take control. Soulstorm, the most recent addition to Dawn of War, is surprisingly one of the better real time strategy games in recent memory.
Interestingly enough the back story involved in the game is possibly the least touched upon feature, instead taking a back seat to the amazingly deep gameplay. The game takes place on three planets and orbiting moons as all separate nine factions war against each other to dominate the solar system. Each planet is divided up to several areas which have a numerical value displaying the difficulty of that area due to reinforcements and facilities that are already in place. This half of the game plays identically to Risk. The other half of the game doesn’t.
The part of Risk that involves rolling dice to see which side comes out victorious has been done away with and instead replaced with a real time strategy game. This basically means that even a poorly equipped army can go up against the most power sections of the map without fail if they are commanded by a player that has mastered the nuanced mechanics. While this is entirely possible, the game is designed around the fact that it is also highly unlikely. During the entire Risk portion of the game, points are handed out based on the number of areas held. Every area held can be reinforced with facilities and troops so if ever attacked, the player has some kind of base ready to defend that area. These points can also be used to bring more troops or factories into an area that the gamer is attacking.
All of this, though, takes backseat to the main RTS gameplay. Instead of forcing the player to continually mine gold or other forms of resources, the game hands out credits depending on supply points that are held. The more supply points held, the more credits are giving. The supply points themselves never run dry so a player can continue to receive credit as long as that point remains controlled. This makes for interesting gameplay as the importance of balancing units’ weakness with other units’ strength starts to become increasingly important as the only limiter to the game caps on the number of troops. While this seems like it would cause stalemates between two evenly matched players, it instead forces an emphasis on the tactics used as one failed push to capture an enemy’s supply point can be the turning point in the game.
Only one major downfall ever really becomes part of the game, and that is the later end of the tech trees. When a player manages to fully develop a base, the last two units that can be made are so drastically over powered that a single one can tear through a descent sized group of enemies with little effort. If these last units are built before the opposing character can construct a set, then the match is as good as over.
Graphically, Soulstorm is pleasing. While it may bring nothing amazing or cutting edge to the table, it manages to constantly display what is going on during a battle without any amount of slow down due to troop size (this was on my PC, a slightly dated gaming rig that was running the game on full settings). The real feat is how close the camera can zoom in on any one unit, showing a great amount of detail. Sadly this is never really useful in the game as that is the worst angle to command an army from.
Audibly, the game presents a rather well thought out blend of well designed dialog from the troops being commanded to the energizing music that courses through the entirety of the game. Much of the “plot” that is presented in the game is spoken, normally during cut scenes. While the plot itself proves to be bare minimum at best, the voice acting of the people delivering it is rather good.
It should be noted that this expansion, while able to be played entirely by itself, is only one of four parts to the entire Dawn of War series. Soulstorm contains an expanded single player campaign that includes all of the races from the previous three games, but it does not include any of the multiplayer content from those games. Soulstorm can only be played online with the two new races that are included in the game, although the rather large single player game can be played without the purchase of any of the other games.
Soulstorm does many things differently than many of the other RTS games that have been released in the last ten years, and it does all of them amazingly well. While the main downfall might be a slight over powering of some of the later units, and requiring the purchase of three other games to play all races online, the entire game feels very polished and amazingly well thought out. Fans of the tabletop board game or RTS’s in general should rush out to pick this up, but those new to the genre may want to think hard about just how long they are willing to sink into a game that expects all players to learn its innermost depths.