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Which holiday game will you play the most?

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Game Profile
Relic Entertainment
GENRE: Strategy
PLAYERS:   1-8
September 20, 2004
Warhammer 40,000: Space Marine

Warhammer 40,000: Space Marine

Warhammer 40,000: Space Marine

Warhammer 40,000: Dawn of War II – Chaos Rising

Warhammer 40,000: Dawn of War II

More in this Series
 Written by Kyle Williams  on September 13, 2005

Review: A perfect heir to the tabletop regime.

Watching a beloved franchise move between mediums is always difficult. Sometimes it is the awkward transition from movie to videogame. Other times it is the even more awkward transition from videogame to movie. However, every once in a while a franchise weathers the change well, some might argue better off because of the move. The Warhammer 40,000 universe, deftly crafted by the folks at Games Workshop, has attempted the move to videogames before, meeting with varying levels of success. However, it is truly Warhammer 40,000: Dawn of War that has made video game players aware of the tabletop brand.

Warhammer 40,000: Dawn of War is a real-time-strategy title that recreates the epic tabletop battles of the Warhammer 40k universe, almost perfectly, on your PC. Epic is truly the best word to describe some of these battles as Space Marines and Imperial Guard do their best to hold off the war hungry Orks, the mysterious Eldar, and destroy the twisted forces of Chaos. Dawn of War does an excellent job of staying true to the source material, both in story and gameplay. Specifically, the gameplay for DoW has shifted the focus from individual troops to squads of soldiers. This instantly turns the size of the battle to the proverbial "eleven." Morale of these squads also plays a role in how combat plays out with "broken" squads becoming significantly less effective until they can regroup.

Just as special characters also play a large role in the tabletop game, they make a significant impact on your Dawn of War army. Force Commanders, Librarians, Sergeants, and Apothecaries can all be attached to your Space Marine squads to imbue them with additional powers and improved combat skills. Access to these characters, as well as certain types of buildings, research topics, and vehicles is granted through a construction tree that will be instantly recognizable to anyone that has ever played a RTS game. That is one of the great things about Dawn of War, it is, at once, both familiar and new.

As the heir apparent to the StarCraft legacy, Dawn of War had some large shoes to fill. Fortunately, it didn't try to replicate the StarCraft experience step for step. The shift to squad-based combat and completely redesigned resource management system have taught us all that there is no room in this world for a lone soldier or gathering crystals, gas, and trees on the battlefield. These adjustments fit the Warhammer 40k game model extremely well and keep the focus on the action, where it belongs.

The 3D graphics engine behind Dawn of War's action does a great job of making the epic combat of the 40k universe a personal affair while (mostly) maintaining the global view that you need to keep track of your forces. Zooming your camera all of the way into the action allows you to see every detail of what is going on in the middle of combat. The animations are tailored fabulously to the characters at hand and are extremely satisfying for those of us that have spent countless hours playing the tabletop game. There is nothing quite as satisfying as watching your Dreadnought grab an Eldar soldier, lift him into the air, and rend his body into a bloody pulp. Okay, maybe watching your Whirlwind's missile battery send Orks flying across the battlefield can match it. Whatever your preference, the combat is visceral when you get up close and personal. It is just a shame that the camera can't back out just a little bit farther as the somewhat limited field of view makes it a little bit tricky to keep an eye on a large force. Because of this, using rally points and the quick assignment keys become mandatory in managing your troops.

Multiplayer is standard fare in real-time-strategy games and Warhammer 40,000: Dawn of War dishes up a pretty satisfying variety of maps and races with which you can wage war. Each of the game's four main races, Space Marine, Ork, Eldar, and Chaos are playable in multiplayer and while the matches can degrade to a battle of numbers, the inclusion of strategic points definitely mixes things up a bit. There is also a very strong fan community that supports Dawn of War with mods and maps, ensuring that you will never have a shortage of content with which to play.

How does Dawn of War stack up to the original tabletop game? Some of the Warhammer 40k nuts out there might disagree with the RTS adaptation of the turn based game. They also might complain that not every vehicle or troop made the jump to the PC. Of course, these are the same type of people that will complain when a Star Trek character uses the incorrect grammatical form of the Klingon word for, "war." What I am getting at is that these kind of objections to DoW are nitpicky and don't take into account that this is truly a great real-time-strategy game.

Bottom Line
There is no question why so many gaming enthusiasts voted Warhammer 40,000: Dawn of War the top real-time-strategy game of last year and today, on the eve of the releases of the Game-of-the-Year edition and first expansion pack, the game is still one of the best RTS titles in existence. A few minor camera flaws are easily overshadowed by the visceral combat experience that Dawn of War offers. If you haven't played it already, you have no good reason not to pick up the Game of the Year Edition when it hits shelves later this month.

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