Warhammer 40K Dawn of War has been a strong real time strategy title for more than two years now, and Relic keeps on making improvements to the game. The latest release, known as Dark Crusade, brings a revamped campaign system to the table, as well as two new races to play. Lets look under the hood and see how this expansion adds to the original game. Before I start, here are the system specs of my review PC:

  • Athlon 3000XP
  • 2 gigbytes of Corsair Value Select RAM
  • ASUS A8N-SLI Premium Motherboard
  • Nvidia Geforce 7900GT video card
  • AC97 Sound
  • Logitech MX1000 mouse

This title continues to wow me when I see serious firefights kick in, and heroes face off against other heroes. Dark Crusade continues on the trend to animate everything on the field, down to a single man (or machine…as you like it.) Once you get a few squads on the field and a commander, things start looking like a standard tabletop game of Warhammer 40K, and for good reason. Units run into melee combat together, establish firing lines and gather around resource points to cap them. The newer graphics options allowing for persistant bodies and decals (which were added in a patch several months ago, and included in the base version of Dark Crusade) allow you to have a battlefield that has the bodies of your enemies piling up around your bolter turrets, and the craters from artillery fire don’t fade out. Overall, it runs very well on my primary PC system, and with the settings reduced, runs well on my laptop as well.

The sound has been pretty consistant throughout the various game. Each race has its own orchestral theme that plays during battle, ebbing and flowing with the combat. It continues in a somewhat muted tone during the menus and campaign screens. I can’t say that I hate the music, but it only works really well at the start of battle. Once things get going, there is no way you are going to hear it with all the action occurring. I found myself muting the music and playing something in my winamp instead.

I was a little disappointed that several races seem to have had their voicework redone. It is only a slight change, as if they had to re-record it. The Space Marine Commander has a slightly different tone than I remember, and the Chaos Sorcerer’s tone has changed. All the voice blurbs for the in-game action is still top notch and adds to the game greatly. Hearing the Space Marine Sargent announce ‘Let the grenades fly!’ really makes the atmosphere complete.

Controls are largely unchanged since the original iteration of Dawn of War, providing RTS standard options for players to use, and includes the reinforcement pallete as well. Unlike other recent RTS games, this option to reinforce and equip your squad really changes how the game is played. A series of menus is used on the Campaign map to control the position of your army, adjust reinforcements, and purchase wargear. I was a little frustrated at times as it was not always clear which menus could be used at any given time. After about half an hour of play, I got used to know which items were active, but I felt the display of the menus was a little cluttered and hindered campaign play.

Well..the most pronounced change in Dark Crusade is the campaign mode. Rather than provide a series of missions for you to play through, you pick an army to support (from the seven available) and then attempt to wrest control of the surface Kronus from the remaining six armies. Your commander is placed on a map of about eighteen zones, one which contains your stronghold. Controlling some provinces provide special bonuses, such as the ability to attack anywhere (the space port), or the ability to attack twice in one turn. Attacking and defending in non-stronghold/non-special territories is the same as your standard skirmish play. Special zones or strongholds play out like scripted missions. Attacking the Chaos stronghold requires you to avoid the ‘blood pulse’ while preventing the summoning of a greater daemon. Other stronghold/special zones have their own challenges to defeat which are sufficient to bring the campaign up from just skirmish play. It is also nice to outfit your commander with Wargear. This gear ranges from being stealth detecting equipment to various equipment to upgrade the damage dealing capacity of your hero.The campaign is robust enough to be replayable, like an in-depth skirmish.

This ‘expansion’ adds two new races to the mix, the Tau and the Necron. The Tau are a race of beings that believe in the ‘Greater Good’ and make attempts to enforce it through a combination of ‘anime-style’ powersuits and various member races they have subjugated. The Necron are a race of ancient sentient war machines who fight for the C’tan. Both races have a mix of ranged combat troops, assault troops, and special abilities. The Necron play very differently than other races in Dark Crusade. The Necron only require power to build troops, but the more resource points they control, the faster their units are produced (if I recall…six resource points with obelisks on them give them a 100% build bonus.) This makes them slow to begin with. Add on top of that, they don’t have vehicles in the same way that other races do. This makes them function differently in play style and requires some practice before being capable with them online.

I earlier marked ‘expansion’ in quotes for a good reason. This game does not require you to have the originals to play, at all. The only reason you have to have Dawn of War or Winter Assault installed would be to unlock Space Marines, Ork, Chaos, Eldar, and Imperial Guard for multiplayer play. They are all available to play in skirmish and campaign mode. The downside to this is that you have to have the full previous content installed, plus the four gigabytes of Dark Crusade for multiplayer…even though Dark Crusade already has the necessary assets. That makes the game a bit inefficient in the disk space department.

Much like the golden standard that Starcraft set, multiplayer is a large draw for this title. Dark Crusade doesn’t disappoint at all. We experienced some initial difficulty in connecting for multiplayer due to some firewall issues, but finally were able to get it to work. Once connected, we then found out that everyone had to have Dark Crusade to play together. This part threw us a little bit and required that two of my friends rush out and pick it up. Once those issues were past, we were able to sit down and play co-op matches against the AI without issue. Battles in Dark Crusade can be quick and brutal, or huge affairs with whole armies built up…and multiplayer works well for this. With some changes to the tech/unit trees, the armies are fairly balanced against each other and provide sufficent challenges.

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