"Two more races, a rehashed Dark Crusade campaign, and new units that fill already occupied niches. The overall experience is...less than stellar, feeling less like a labour of love and devotion to a fanbase and more like one more attempt to squeeze money out of a product before the sequel is released."
Dawn of War: Soulstorm is the third stand-alone expansion to the much-loved RTS Dawn of War, set in the epic and equally-loved Warhammer 40,000 universe, a “space-opera” setting with lots of fantastic alien races and loads of interstellar conflict. It's a great setting for a strategy title, which is probably why DoW did so well.
But there's really not much I can say about Soulstorm that hasn't already been said about Dawn of War, or Winter Assault, or Dark Crusade. To be fair, there's only so much you can do with an RTS expansion. Sure, Soulstorm has new map tilesets, new playable factions and new units for existing ones, a whole new campaign mode, and lots of gameplay tweaks and balances – but I could use that sentence to describe any of the previous titles, and that's probably why my reaction to the release was a half-hearted “Great, another expansion.”
It feels old-hat. But let's talk about it anyway.
A quick run-down for those unfamiliar with Dawn of War: Unlike any other RTS I can think of, resources are amassed not by pointing peons at mineral deposits, but by capturing “strategic points” using infantry. Each of these points generates a small amount of Requisition periodically, which is in turn used to call down more infantry or infrastructure from your faction's orbiting starships (or equivalent). This encourages much more aggressive gameplay than might normally be seen in an RTS, as the only way to get more resources is to sally out of your starting base and fight for them. Bigger, badder units like tanks, aircraft, Dreadnoughts, and the like require a second resource, Power, which is generated from aptly-named Power Generators built by your workers.
The roster of factions so far include; The Imperial Guard, mankind's first line of defense; the Space Marines, human super-soldiers enhanced by cybernetics and genetic engineering; the Chaos Marines, Space Marines long-ago corrupted by the terrifying inhabitants of Warp space; the Craftworld Eldar, remnants of a vast and ancient empire; the Orks (or Orkz), big green killin' machines barely intelligent enough to open a door; the Tau, a young race with a startling affinity for advanced technology; and the Necrons, the robotic warriors of a long-dead civilization still carrying out their ancient orders.
Joining these seven races are; the Dark Eldar, soul-sucking counterparts to their Craftworld brethren; and the Sisters of Battle, an extremely fanatical religious sect of the Imperium of Man. To Relic's credit, each and every one of these races plays differently and uses different tactics and mechanics, and are very well balanced against one another. Quite the accomplishment, as most RTS titles struggle with more than three factions. Those who charge ahead end up with races that play pretty much the same as all the rest, but not so in Dawn of War. That having been said, there's such a thing as “too much diversity”, and with now nine playable races on the table Soulstorm starts to look a little like overkill, particularly since the best way to balance each race was to limit their selection of units to a few archetypes. This is offset somewhat by limited unit and hero customization, things like swapping a Space Marine squad's bolters for flamers, upgrading a Necron Tomb Spyder to be more effective against heavy armor at the cost of light, and lots of mutually exclusive wargear for the Tau commander, but lack of army diversity still gives an overall “meh”.
So there are two new races we can choose from. Forgive me, Relic, for not leaping for joy, as I was quite content with the Space Marines. I can understand wanting to appease all the fans of the franchise, but isn't that what community modders are for? And where the **** are the Tyranids? Every time you release an expansion you set the Tyranid modding team back by months!
Ahem...where was I?
The other new shiny thing is the brand-spankin-new single-player campaign which...bears a striking resemblance to Dark Crusade's single-player mode. Oh, excuse me; instead of Dark Crusade's conquest of a whole planet, we are now charged with conquering a whole star system. Yay. For some reason, the four planets of the Kaurava system holds only slightly more conquerable territory than the planet Kronus of the last game. You'd think there would be, I don't know, maybe four times as much.
And then there's the new air units, one for each faction. Frankly...they aren't that great. They're nothing more than fast-attack vehicles that ignore terrain, which are totally unneeded since most fast-attack vehicles can “jump” over short distances regardless of obstacles anyway.
So to recap: Two more races, a rehashed Dark Crusade campaign, and new units that fill already occupied niches. The overall experience is...less than stellar, feeling less like a labour of love and devotion to a fanbase and more like one more attempt to squeeze money out of a product before the sequel is released – and I'd really, really like to think I'm wrong about that, but Soulstorm's release and DoW2's announcement are just too close for me to think otherwise.
But I'm still a Warhammer 40K fan, and I'll take any opportunity to cleanse heretics and aliens with bolter fire, and to its credit Soulstorm is still as much fun as any other Dawn of War title. It's just...nothing new.
Freelance review by Will Roy (April 14, 2008)
Will is grumpy, sarcastic and Canadian. He occasionally crawls out of his igloo to cover sci-fi and strategy games. Has a love-hate relationship with cats. And the colour purple.
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