Warhammer 40,000: Dawn of War: Soulstorm (aka Revenge of the Colon) is the latest expansion for good ol’ Dawn of War to drop from THQ’s burdened bowels. Dawn of War was, at its own dawn, a truly refreshing game – it represented the first steps toward new ground for RTS games and set a number of trends that other RTS games have followed. More impressively, each expansion thus far has brought a lot more to the table, keeping a game with an aging engine fresh each time. So how does Soulstorm stack up? Pleasantly, it manages to wring every last drop of enjoyment out of the gasping wreck of good ol’ Dawn of War.
This doesn’t change the fact that DoW’s been so thoroughly used for four straight years that it’s starting to resemble a downtown lady. Indeed, in comparison to other more recent entries in the genre, Dawn of War’s aging looks are not noteworthy. It’s not that the game looks bad, but rather, it’s the sort of well-worn face the eye slides right past while looking for the younger models. The only advantage this brings is solid stability and dependability – Soulstorm appears bugless, and the engine’s been so well-optimized by now that it runs beautifully on a variety of machines, maintaining a steady framerate throughout the chaos of battle. Experience over youth, buckos.
Soulstorm brings with it two new races: the Sisters of Battle, a group of nuns with guns, and the Dark Eldar, a bunch of BDSM freaks careening the galaxy in search of a good time. Neither race actually brings a great deal to the race selection. Both can be described with complete accuracy in terms of other races - the Sisters of Battle are Imperial Guard with Space Marine weapons and armor, and the Dark Eldar are, well, the Eldar... only creepier.
Since both new races come with a unique set of special powers. This means Soul-powered special abilities, and In the case of the Sisters of Battle, faith-based initiatives. While the Sisters of Battle need the presence of leaders to call down their acts of faith, the Dark Eldar are given more flexibility, with the ability to use their abilities wherever their line of sight allows.
Each race also gets a new air unit which, for the most part, isn’t particularly effective. Mostly, they make cute little flanker units, but some maps limit the aircraft in really curious ways. The plasma-engine-powered future-plane can fly over mountains and drop bombs the size of SUVs, but it can’t fly over open water? I didn’t know super-heated plasma was dihydrogen monoxide-sensitive.
On the single-player side, the world domination map of Dark Crusade is back and bigger than ever. With nine races battling on over four planets and three moons, there’s a lot to see and do. Like Dark Crusade’s campaign, however, after the first time or two you beat it, the entire process becomes dull and predictable, and you’ll find yourself grinding through it just for the little victory speeches each time you conquer another race’s stronghold.
All things considered, the new additions to the game are nice but not incredible. Half-broken air units aren’t blowin’ my skirt up, gentlemen, and the two new factions play so much like the other factions that the ‘new’ gameplay isn’t particularly new. Tying mana (essentially) to the units’ abilities doesn’t feel particularly different than having a global cooldown, as most other races manage. So what does the game really bring to the table that hasn't been covered by previous expansions?
Maps. Lots and lots of new battlefields. And some very well-made ones at that. Unlike Dark Crusade’s awkward mix of incredible and awful maps, just about every new map in Soulstorm is well-balanced and enjoyable, and they promote some very different tactics and play-styles. And there’s plenty to choose from, including all the maps from the original and the previous expansions.
The music is much the same Jeremy Soule fare of previous games – bombastic, enjoyable, very clean, and appropriate-sounding. I would occasionally switch it off in favor of my own music, especially when playing the Tau – how can I play anything other than the Red Army Orchestra when I am fighting for the Greater Good?
As a total package, there are reasons to pick up Soulstorm. Fans of the previous expansions will find it worthwhile for the new maps tha thave breathed new life into the multiplayer. Single-player fans will have plenty of content to distract themselves. It’s a standalone game, too, so folks that haven’t bought into the series to date will have plenty to enjoy. Overall, it’s a worthy buy, but it’s not something that’s going to impress anyone.