Hands on – Warhammer 40,000: Dawn of War III multiplayer preview
Being dropped in the deep end is meant to have two possible results – you sink, or you swim. However, it turns out there is a third possibility – being overrun by large numbers of Orks, Eldar or Space Marines… GamesFiends recently found themselves very much in the deep end at a multiplayer preview of Warhammer 40,000: Dawn of War III.
It’s a series where getting the multiplayer right is important – “multiplayer… kept the previous games running for years and years,” we were told at the event. The first Dawn of War title was released in 2004 and still has a following, thanks to numerous expansions adding to multiplayer options; likewise, the second Dawn of War was released in 2009, and despite taking the multiplayer in a different direction (out went the base building, replaced with squad management) it also has enough of a following that content has continued being released right until last year.
The multiplayer in Dawn of War III feels like a hybrid of DoW1 and 2, with perhaps a bias towards the base building of the first game. Once again, you will be creating small squads and leading them onto the battlefield to capture points and generate resources, ideally with a strategy in mind. Success tends to be thanks to things like making use of cover for combat advantages, while maintaining health and morale keeps your teams functional… and ideally while building and upgrading your base to unlock better units to bring onto the field.
Indeed, the base building side of things will feel very comfortable with some DoW1 experience behind you, as many of the buildings follow similar designs and concepts to the buildings of those factions from before. Some functions have changed, of course, but that moment when you bring a builder forward to put a listening post on a captured resource node will bring a lot of memories back.
However, where there were previously just requisition points and power to generate, there is now a third resource in the form of elite points, albeit extremely slow to build up. This is where a flavour of DoW2 comes through again, allowing you to bring powerful commanders in with your army. However you are now able to pick three hero units for your faction per battle, although these do not deploy at the start of the round. Instead they have to be purchased when you have generated enough points, with three points being an average for a weak hero and ten or more for a very powerful one (these being “the biggest units in the series so far,” according to our initial briefing).
It leads to a conundrum – as these points can take several minutes to generate, do you spend them on your cheapest hero as soon as you can, who will undoubtedly be able to bully the enemy’s basic units without much trouble? Or do you save them to get a heavy hitter a few minutes earlier, even though that’ll likely be nearer to the end of the round? Of course, while you’re making these decisions so is your enemy, and you may need to consider how to counter enemy heroes threatening your territory if you don’t have any heavy hitters deployed to respond.
The three factions shown at the event were the familiar core of the series – the theocratic, xenophobic human Space Marines; the war-hungry hordes of the Orks; and the technologically advanced but arrogant Eldar seeking to reclaim their dominance in the galaxy. They represent different playing styles to each other, as you might expect. Space Marines tend to be heavily armoured, able to take a beating while laying out damage, with lots of infantry options for both ranged and melee combat, and armoured vehicles in support. The Eldar are more focused towards hit-and-run tactics, with lighter armoured units but many able to cloak, as well as being able to build portals for getting new units straight onto the battlefield. Finally, the Orks are intended as a green tide, whose tendency to improvise with junk gives them opportunities for battlefield upgrades from destroyed enemy equipment – collecting piles of junk can give some of their infantry basic grenades, or vehicles a speed boost. This ties nicely with the general established lore and feel of the tabletop game, while adding details that the other cannot manage.
The multiplayer session focused on a specific game mode, with 2vs2 battles to push into enemy bases, destroying (in order) a shield generator, a defensive turret (previously immune while shielded) and finally a power core… all while trying to defend against the same happening to you. But going straight into the multiplayer does feel very much like jumping straight into the deep end.
There are a lot of elements all going in to setting up your army. As well as the three special commanders – all of whom have active skills to use in combat, and passive secondary effects – you can also choose three army doctrines, which can give special abilities to specific units or buildings. All good for setting up a particular playstyle, but sadly not something I was able to explore properly in a morning-long session.
The game is also very micro-management focused, much as the previous games have been. Each individual squad tends to be upgradable – not quite to the degree of DoW1, where multiple weapons could be assigned to a single team, but still focused enough that you could be producing several teams of Space Marines soldiers, giving some plasma weapons and others flame throwers, setting them to focus on ranged or melee combat, while producing buildings at your home base to research health and damage upgrades. And you may end up with dozens of units, each one waiting for individual attention, ready to be focused to fight armoured vehicles, or to demoralise infantry, or to sneak around the map… and these adjustments are being made while laying out a base, managing resources, attacking and defending against an enemy, paying attention to key skill cooldowns…
There is a lot to plan for. It’s easy to think that the single player campaign might double as a tutorial for multiplayer, explaining the nuances of various game mechanics and giving a feel for the best use of units. The level of management needed to keep your army at the top of their potential is something that will undoubtedly be easier to handle with a shallower learning curve – knowing what upgrades you want, and which buildings you need for them is something that will keep you one step closer to victory, and the time to learn this is not when a force of Eldar have just pressed through your vanguard and are starting to capture your resources from under your nose.
(Though having a sympathetic partner in the 2vs2 sessions, Marcello from gamegrin.com helped – we also managed to run some less intense 1vs1 sessions, having a gentleman’s agreement to hold off the fullscale violence until we’d both taken a look at what options the sides had available. These gave me the chance to learn some more important points of each faction, though the lesson “heroes driving big stompy armoured death machines will seriously mess up your team” was still the prominent one.)
Having so many things to cover can feel intimidating, but it also shows the potential for tweaking your own strategies even within a specific faction – the little twists offered by doctrines and the passive effect of deployed commanders could leave two players with the same army both trying to play a different advantage. And given the amount of additional content the previous two games have had (Steam currently has 26 items for the Dawn of War franchise, counting both full releases, expansion packs and smaller DLC content), it’s a fair bet that there will be further factions, and additions to the existing ones for even more options.
The full game will also have a skirmish mode to face off against the CPU, another way to get prepared for managing so many individual groups under fire. So, if I can offer one piece of advice before the game is released – please, don’t just jump in the deep end.
One other new piece of information is the release date; it has now been revealed that Warhammer 40,000: Dawn of War III is due for release on April 27th.