With a prominent series such as Dawn of War and all of its expansions, it seems that any addition is gold plated and successful. How can you go wrong with a game set in the Warhammer 40K universe? Having added almost all pertinent races from the universe to the computer game (minus the Tyranids, but supposedly the engine cannot support the massive rendering power of the hordes of bugs), the newest expansion entitled Soulstorm brings the Sisters of Battle and the Dark Eldar to our desktops (or laptops for certain people).

Not only are two new races added, but Soulstorm also brings a new meta-campaign to the fold. Instead of the battles taking place on a single planet, the new campaign allows the player to wage battles over moons and planets, with all of the races gaining a special power that assists them before, during, or after battle. The rest of the expansion is more of the same Dawn of War you have grown accustomed to, plus a couple of creative “shortcuts” that were added.

Test Machine: Q6600, 5 gigs of RAM, Vista Ultimate 64bit, 8800GTX

If you have played any of the previous Dawn of War games, you have seen what the graphics engine is capable of. It is now an almost 4 year old engine, so the graphics are definitely a tad bit lackluster compared to Company of Heroes. The characters that were added to the game do look like their tabletop counterparts and playing this game definitely will make your army look better if you don’t know how to paint (I am pointing at myself while typing this). Due to the game being another stand-alone expansion, texture pack or something of this sort would have definitely helped in the visual department.

Not only are the graphics subpar compared to today’s offerings, but it seems that outsourcing the game away from Relic caused some splash damage to the animations also. The “fatality” animations appear to have disappeared or are very lackluster compared to what was present n the last two games. Dark Crusade had the characters lobbing off heads, throwing soldiers through the air…it was bloody ballet with a crap-ton of different races. It seems that the new races are there in person but are missing their soul. I don’t know of a better way to put it.

Overall, the graphics do fit the bill but add nothing new to Dawn of War. Now we can only wait for the sequel to see what Relic will do engine-wise. From the early leaks of information, it seems to push heavily towards squad-based, no resource-management combat versus base-building and micro-managing some sort of resource. Only time will tell how this game will evolve though.

The score for Soulstorm recycles most of the old music, but if something isn’t broken, don’t fix it in my opinion. Other than that, the score is the usual gothic fare that creates the illusion of being right in the battle. The ricocheting bullets, the sound of an ork head being crushed are side by side with the battle music. Even though nothing really new has been added, the sound and music in the game definitely helps to enjoy the game.

One small pet peeve of mine is when units repeat a voiceover OVER and OVER or the recording is annoying enough to make your roommates question your sanity. I understand that some of the Chaos characters are a tad bit out of their mind, but the same sniveling voice over and over on one of the most selected unit can be a bit grating on the mind.

The controls for Soulstorm have not changed from any of its predecessors. The ability to set units into overwatch to automatically reinforce them, the ability to create groups of squads, and hot keys are still present in this iteration of the game. It looks as if Iron Lore took a formula and just kept it the way it is. You don’t want to fix something that isn’t broken. There are still plenty of pathfinding issues that rear their ugly heads. The flying units are the worst culprits of said act. Hopefully Dawn of War 2 will have real air support!

The big question on everyone’s mind is what was added in this new expansion. I am here to assure you, that even though it might sound like I am bashing the game on its shortcomings in these last few paragraphs, the good news is that the gameplay remains the same. The player still has to capture requisition points and build power plants to fuel their war machine. Both of the new races have one extra resource that needs to be managed: The Sisters of Battle have faith and the Dark Eldar have Souls. More on those resources later.

The campaign has received a face lift, with each race receiving a special power from forward bases to planetary cannons. These give each of the races a little more character and add some more strategic value as players will have to recall what special each race has when attacking and defending. The actual meta-map also received an overhaul. Instead of just conducting warfare on a single planet, now the fighting spills over onto moons and planets of the Kaurava system. The player still selects which territory to attack, but now there are a lot more variables to consider. Once a victory is pried from the dead fingers of the opposition, bases now magically disappear. To reinforce a sector, the player has to spend points to construct buildings or units in a sector after its conquest.

The whole selling point for the expansion wasn’t only the updated meta-map, but also the two new races (I miss my Tyranids!). The first are the Dark Eldar. Think bad to the bone, masochistic, and sadistic Eldar and you have a picture of what they look like. Think “Chaos” Eldar (Don’t hurt me if you are a true die-hard Games Workshop fanatic) The first of the new resources is used exclusively by the Dark Eldar: Souls. Everytime a unit perishes on the battlefield, souls are left behind to be gathered by units with the ability. Those souls are then saved up for special abilities ranging corrosive clouds to putting the fear of the Dark Eldar into the enemies souls and causing them to break. The Dark Eldar specialize in hit and run tactics and most of their units are agile and mobile. The cool thing about their construction queue is that buildings are warped into existence, so a constructor does not have to remain around till completion of the building and can go on collecting souls. Overall, the Dark Eldar are a blast due to their sneaky nature.

The Sisters of Battle can pretty much be described as “nuns in with guns (and in space)”. The Sisters of Battle wear the armor that is very similar to the Space Marine armor but they do not have the genetic modification performed on their bodies. Due to their quest to purify the universe of everything unpure, flamers seem to be one of the most common weapons in their arsenal. Not only that, but the Sisters of Battle faith to bolster their already impressive arsenal of abilities. The more Sisters of Battle are on the field the higher the faith rating goes. Faith is used to power other special abilities that can turn the tide of the battle rather quickly. The Sisters of Battle were, in my opinion, more of rehash of the Space Marines due to their similarities. Other than that, they are a solid addition to the Dawn of War Universe.

The supposed “air” units made their debut in this expansion. Every race receives an air unit (Imperials get a thunderbolt, Orks get the fighta-bomma, etc…) but they are air units only in name. Sadly they are bound to the lay of the land and cannot fly over hills. This sort of makes the them glorified hovercrafts.

Multiplayer hasn’t changed much but remains as the item that gives the game longevity. Logging on and jumping into a battle with one of your favorite (Ugh, I miss my Tyranids) races out of the Warhammer 40K universe is just a great feeling. The battle that ensues afterwards just adds to the high. Sadly, multiplayer seemingly caused a lot of issues that are present in the game. When Dawn of War first came out, every race was different and unique. Now it feels as if every race is becoming more homogenous after every patch.

In my opinion, $30 dollars for the two new races is a tad bit expensive. At the $20 or $25 dollar price point, this game would have been a definite sell for me, but as it stands, the game is not polished enough (look at Dark Crusade for a good example of a high level of polish) to charge full admission. Other than that, if you like nuns with guns and masochistic elves, you will definitely find a liking to this game.

On a positive note, you DO NOT need the other expansions to play this one, but you will only be allowed to experience the campaign included with Soulstorm and in multiplayer, only the Dark Eldar and the Sisters of Battle will be playable.