WH40k: DoW – Winter Assault
Warhammer 40.000: Dawn of War, it remains a mouthfull to say but we don’t mind. This RTS from a year ago could impress many gamers, me included. Beautiful animations, astonishing graphics and the nice squad gameplay brought a refreshment to the genre. Dawn of War (DoW) also contained a coolness factor that we only knew from Starcraft (Ironic? Let’s say that Blizzard got inspired by the Warhammer universe for the creation of their races). Fans screamed for an expansion and due to the huge success, THQ put the light on green to get Relic back to work. Winter Assault is the quite dull name of this add-on, but you won’t bother with that once you start looking at the new features: there’s a 5th race (Imperial Guard) and the already existing ones all got a new unit. A new storyline and multiplayer/skirmish maps finish it off. Time to go a little more into detail.
Winter Assault starts with a couple of false notes. Every PC is different and strange things often happen but here it was a bit too much. After the fixing of the original DoW through the accompanying patch already took 15 minutes (the installation of the add-on itself was only 5 minutes) I found out that apparantly there was no need for a new intro according to the people at THQ/Relic. Back to looking at the old one (which – it has to be said – remains very cool). No surprise effect or a gripping introduction at the start sadly enough.
Ok, the menu itself does look new and atmospheric, the Imperial Guard general looks tough and breaths in and out quite aggressive.
On to that new campaign! I want to start with the new race as soon as possible so I choose the Order-side (the good guys with the Imperial Guard and the Eldar). The Imperial Guard attack Lorn V, the fun starts. Or not? After about 2 minutes the engine gets a stroke and the game goes at the pace of a snail. A constant slow-motion effect seems, even for a spectacular RTS as Dawn of War, not really to be meant on purpose so time to check out the Relic-forums.
After looking around a bit we find that since the 1.30 patch, Dawn of War doesn’t run well on ATI Catalyst drivers higher than v5.6. The solution 4 months after finding this problem? Delete new drivers and reinstall v5.6. Oh well, a couple of times rebooting and hoping that your other installed games don’t need newer drivers, right? Anyway, after a small hour of messing around we can finally start decently. Back to the mission. The Imperial Guard attack the snow planet Lorn V and you have a couple of squads available to get rid of the first line of defense. Meanwhile a scripted event starts where two AI-controlled worker units (called Enginseers, and no, the “s” isn’t a typo from my part) start building your HQ… right guys?
No, once they get to the construction of the building itself they stop. Something went wrong in the script and I can’t control them nor give them the order to proceed. Finishing that first building however is a main goal so I can forget the mission despite the fact that I’ve cleaned up half the map already with my squads and, although I say it myself, was quite well on my way to victory.
I breathe slowly to let the frustration flow away and decide to start with the Disorder side (Chaos Marines and Orkz). This time without any problems. The new campaigns are structured in a special way. There’s two sides, Order and Disorder, that both contain an alliance of two races (respectively Eldar with Imperial Guard, and Chaos with Orkz)
During the first three missions of each campaign you regularly get forced to switch sides (also during the mission). This can be perceived as weird by some, but the changing sides doesn’t ruin things at all.
Those who know Total Annihilation: Kingdoms know what they can expect. In the 4th mission of each story you’ll have to choose a rac to start the final mission. During the different storylines it gets made clear multiple times that there can be only one winner in this game. In other words, according to Warhammer 40.000 habit, no race will really like another, so if you want to see all different endings you’ll also have to replay the same maps (with some adjusted objectives though)
How about the Space Marines then, you ask? They have no campaign but are allies with the Imperial Guards so that at the end of the IG-storyline you can play with a couple of Space Marines squads. By the way, they already had their campaign during the original game so you should feel too sad about that.
In short, Relic has done quite a job. The simple campaign from the original game has been long forgotten by everyone so they decided to set up a completely new one.
Lorn V is the place to be for all races, not because they like making snowmen but because there’s a Titan stationed, a truly gigantic robot. That such a Titan under your control makes it easy to take over a couple of planets of course explains why everyone loves it so much. Although the setup of the story is again quite simple, the overall quality of this singleplayer part is quite a lot higher than that of Dawn of War.
The in-game animations also improved and each mission also contains a ton of objectives (some optional). In other words: you’ll always have something to do. Something a script lets you down or some enemy super units can’t shoot in the final mission, while they clearly can in that of another race’s end mision. Not entirely perfect at all so to say.
The difficulty level again disappoints: even on “Insane” I never had the feeling the enemy is smart. It often seems that enemy groups have been dropped here and there and they just get sent to you at predetermined times. A real “base to base battle” only occurs at the end and you won’t be impressed much.
The choice of the Imperial Guard may seem a disappointing “surprise” for many. In the DoW-campaign you after all control a couple of their units already and then they made a very weak impression.
Do they now speak to the imagination? YES! The Guardsman are weaklings, but give them a strong leader, arm them with grenades of plasma rifles, and send them in a big frontline towards enemy infantry and you won’t believe your eyes. Add Karskin squads to aleviate the heavy footfolks and maybe some Ogryns to give some assistance in close combat and you get one huge infantry-killing army.
Each of these sorts squads get quite some advantages of a leader, and then I don’t mean the sergeant you can add automatically but the Priest the Comissar or the Psyker. These units you need to create seperately in your HQ, and add them to your squads yourself like you would with a hero in other races. Next to a decent moral bonus they all offer their own specials.
The hero of the Imperial Guard is the General. Strangely enough you can’t add him to a squad but he can build a squad of Priests, Comissars and Psykers around him and they should do some real damage in close combat. In reality a full General squad does have a bit too little power if you see what the other races can do in man-to-man combat. He does have another thing that can make him useful and that’s the Strafing Run: a short bombardment of IG plains that creates a devastating effect that you can compare with the equally named special of the Space Marine commander (who lets his bombs come from out of space)
The building looks standard but contain a couple of unique possibilities. You can use about your entire base as bunker. Your infantry units also have more firepower when inside the buildings. So let nobody complain that they get rushed to death as IG, just have all your units get inside and the enemy will no doubt run into a wall of death. When you see that a building filled with squads won’t be there for long anymore, you can have your units for a short timespan go to another building through invisible underground tunnels. Sounds cool, no?
But it’s not all good for the IG; their biggest setback is that they have to wait long before they can produce decent vehicles. Their infantry units are, Ogryns not counted, not at all effective against mobile units. You can produce Sentinels, mechs that can uncap enemy requisition points and which are mainly intended to be a vehicle killer with their fat laser beam, but due to its low protection they die quite quickly.
The super unit of the Imperial Guard is the heaviest tank in the game: the Baneblade. This is so big that you better not put your buildings too close to each other as otherwise it can’t pass through! The impact of this “animal” can compete with that of the Land Raider, Squiggoth, Avatar and Bloodburster. Only, just like the Land Raider Tank, it can do little against close-combat specialists.
The new units for the existing races are less imaginary. The Space Marines have the most fun addition: the Chaplain here.
incredibly strong in close combat and with a healing aura for surrounding squads (he can’t be added to one himself though).
Graphically the engine remained quite the same. The 1.4 patch did implement some extras like the amusing option to not let bodies disappear but still there’s the clipping problems. The unit animations and detail do keep impressing. They’ve even added some animations but those hardly stand out. Another small sin is that the terrain could use some more variation. Again a snow theme (we already saw one in DoW) is boring and monotone. Also the bad pathfinding is something Winter Assault enherited from Dawn of War. Once the terrain gets thinner it’s astonishing to see how hard squads and vehicles struggle to get through and that while it looks like there’s plenty of room available to pass.
The sound effects do their job but the voices for certain Imperial Guard units are really great! You might find they’re “over the top”, but what isn’t in Warhammer 40k? If you don’t like it, go play a “realistic” RTS!
Although it’s very unlikely that things in reality will be like this in the year 40.000 but everything sounds like it will. The music is done by Inon Zur who has created a memorable soundtrack which is even better than the one from the original. More epic at least, especially in the IG-campaign where you’ll more than once get a warm feeling inside.
The addition of a new race always has great value although this isn’t the first RTS-expansion that has done this (something THQ tends to shout out from rooftops, remember Yuri’s Revenge, TAK: The Iron Plaque,…). The Imperial Guard are a lot better than expected. The additions to the existing races clearly have less impact. In the end, the overall setup doesn’t differ that much with the original game and although the campaign is a lot better than that in the original, the emphasis is clearly on the skirmish maps and multiplayer. Some things like the Ati-bug are extremely sloppy but there’s nothing you can’t “fix” by going to the Relic forums. If you already have Dawn of War and had good fun with it, you’re obliged to get Winter Assault though. For all the others: it’s not too late to surrender to the Spirits of the Dark Gods! You will no doubt also get taken over by the rich Warhammer 40.000 universe!