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Warhammer 40,000: Dawn of War - Soulstorm Member Review for the PC

3scapism By:
GENRE Real-Time Strategy 
DEVELOPER Relic / Iron Lore 
M Contains Blood and Gore, Violence

What do these ratings mean?

Regular fans of the Dawn of War franchise may remember Gabriel Angelos, the all-around badass Space Marine Force Commander. Once again, we have a game that Gabriel is not present in. Instead, we get what is basically a Commander of the Week, one who appears to have something wrong with either his mic, his voice or his brain. His name is Frenchy McBloodRaven, and (For me) he serves as an example of the sort of quality one can expect from the rest of this game.

Those of you who have played Dark Crusade may remember the "Motorcross Splatterdeath Event" narrator. He's here once again, putting so much emphasis into every single word that it's impossible to take him seriously. Just like last time, actually, but without the mitigating benefit of novelty. And now for the rest of the review.

If you've played any game with a metamap, it's probably going to have been a Total War game. These games were and are excellent, and the metamap is an essential part of the game. Personally, I never fight a battle myself. I resort to wave upon wave of troops and just spam the Auto-Resolve button. It seems to work, especially when crushing the Scottish in Medieval 2.

The metamap has cropped up time and time again in the lifetime of gaming. The first game with a metamap that I remember playing was Syndicate for the PC, although the world map in that game was only ever used as a level select and made no pretences to being anything more. Then came the Total War franchise, and strategy-lovers gamers across the world collectively came in their pants at the thought.

By contrast, the metamap in Empire Earth 3 was ugly as sin and annoying to boot. Then came Dawn of War: Dark Crusade. It was a much simpler map than the Total War players were used to, but it was always about armies pounding the living **** out of each other and not about diplomacy in the slightest, so that was okay. Seven armies on one planet was pushing it a bit, although you generally started far enough away from each other that you weren't staring at an enemy base after the first turn of movement.

The computer cheated, but that was to be expected. Going up against the unpredictably stupid and stupidly unpredictable possibilities and tactics that human players with very little time on their hands would create and abuse given half the chance was always going to be difficult, so Relic did the next best thing: They broke the game to allow the AI the advantage in sheer numbers that it needed in order to prove as much of a challenge as it could to the player.

And we loved it (Or at least, I did). I loved pushing my way across territory after territory, then being forced to defend my hard-won land. Logically, when I did so, my previously-erected buildings and defences were already in place. This was to be expected (And hoped for), and all was good. I played Dark Crusade for a long time, but never got around to finishing it (As with almost all the games I play).

Then came Soulstorm. Seven races on a single planet was a bit of a push, but nine races in a solar system? I could see that working better. What I wasn't counting on was the fact that said solar system was smaller than the average Chinaman's ****. Interplanetary travel was restricted to a network of "Ancient Gates", and Iron Lore saw fit to place unlimited travel through these Gates in the hands of one of the available races. It fit with the fluff, sure, but they also saw fit to make sure that anybody who wanted to assault their stronghold had to take a specific path. In other words, they had to cut a path through a planet held by one single faction.

In the meantime, over on one of the other planets, three armies started mere inches away from one another, meaning that whatever direction you chose to move in if you were either of those three, you were almost inevitably staring down the barrel of somebody's gun after the first turn. The other two planets had two races each, which was more acceptable.

However, since each planet is only about six territories large, and any direction similar in any way to the direction the local enemy stronghold lies in takes you right into their face. The whole campaign felt cramped and underwhelming right from the start, but the worst was yet to come. No sooner had I taken a territory than I had the dubious honour of defending it. I felt confident while the map was loading, safe in the knowledge that my Listening Posts and turrets would at least buy me a *little* time.

I was shocked to discover that EVERYTHING bar my HQ was gone. I thought it was a bug, but research on the Relic News forums revealed the truth: Somebody had decided that making players fight what was essentially the same skirmish battle every time was a good thing. Only after losing hideously to early-game unit spam did I discover that I could garrison buildings as well as units. This is a feature that has split some of the Dawn of War community. Some believe it to be a good feature, designed to dissuade players from filling each map up with our stuff after crippling the enemy bases, just to make sure we couldn't lose any other battles held there.

Others, like myself, believe it to be a first-grade cockslap. The argument that battles in the DC campaign took too long because people were spamming turrets and Listening Posts is null and void. Why? Because any time we may have spent building up our defences in DC is more than offset by the extra time each defence takes in Soulstorm now. Apparently Frenchy McBloodRaven and his counterparts must destroy every building in a region other than the bare minimum of deployable **** after every battle.

The explanation I encountered the most? Apparently, it means that defences are no longer boring. If memory serves, defences in DC weren't anywhere near boring, simply because you could Auto-Resolve to skip them if you wanted and you had the option of spamming turrets if you wanted to. You didn't need to, but you always had the option to.

I voiced my opinion on the Relic News forum, and received quite a bit of flak for "not playing the game how it was meant to be played". I wasn't aware that grinding the same God damn skirmish maps every turn with not even a semblance of progress was meant to be fun in any way whatsoever, not after the second defence of that same territory in that turn. Instead we get what is essentially a mod masquerading as a game, one less gaming company in the world, and the recent revelation that the reason Relic contracted this crap out was that they had better things to work on.

I think that says something about the quality of a game, doesn't it? When the company ultimately responsible for a game decides to have some other company do the work for them because they've got a better project in the works, that's liable to send my internal alarm going haywire. The Auto-Resolve's knackered, half the racial abilities are hit-and-miss and some don't even work properly, at least two races can't be played in multiplayer on pain of being accused of cheating due to various game-breaking bugs, the AI blatantly cheats on numerous occasions (Honour Guard especially), and half the community seemed to descend on me in a fit of rabid, murderous hatred for even *daring* to want persistent bases (And let's not go into what happened when I said that I didn't despise turtling).

Welcome to Dawn of War: Fake Difficulty, where The Computer is a Cheating Bastard. The entire thing was designed so that we'd play the campaign for longer by placing an artificial extension on the play time. Unfortunately, Iron Lore failed to understand that most people with any brain cells have no interest in playing the same God damn skirmish battle over and over again on the same map with no progress made on our part between battles (I guess they brought their Titan Quest notes with them).

I will say one thing, though: Soulstorm's campaign certainly helped me get back into Dark Crusade's. I might actually finish it this time, which is a great thing as if I were to play the Soulstorm campaign, I'd be fighting up to eight defences a turn, and limited to the same tiny collection of base buildings from the Garrison each time.

At least Relic are working on patches for the game, though. First up is a hotfix and next is a 'real' patch. Hopefully between now and then, this game will actually become one that's worth my attention. I'll still be calling for a "Keep Bases" checkbox somewhere in the Options menu, though...

The Problems That I Have Seen So Far

1) Even if the player wins an Auto-Resolve, the Strength value of that territory will drop to 1 regardless (That means all that Planetary Req you spent on troops and buildings is wasted).

2) The Sisters of Battle can get infinite Power during a match by abusing a specific building upgrade.

The Necron unit the Deciever can spawn an Illusionary Monolith that does not do damage but DOES knock enemy units away. This Monolith can be loaded with a unit of Flayed Ones before it despawns in order to transform it into a REAL Monolith, which gives them one extra Monolith. I have seen reports of seven or eight on the field at the same time.

4) The Tau's special Campaign ability, the Ar'ka Cannon, is bugged to hell. It either does nothing or damages the units/buildings of the player who uses it. Other Campaign abilities are woefully underpowered (Orks) or broken in comparison (Space Marines, Sisters of Battle).

5) Quite a lot of shitty voices. From Frenchy McBloodRaven's voice as a whole to the Dark Eldar as a whole ("There is mischief to be done!" is not a quote worthy of a species that survives by torture and stealing souls. It's a quote worthy of a Dennis the Menace episode that the censors decided to make an example of)...

Overall: Buy Dark Crusade. Seriously, when I first played this game I thought it was a mod; That's never good.


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