While we're perfectly happy to see a refinement of what makes Dawn of War great, we don't like new features that just get in the way. We're talking about the turn-based campaign meta game that will be instantly familiar to fans of Dark Crusade. Built into Soulstorm's campaign, the meta-game focuses on requisition, taking control of some 31 territories across four planets and three moons, and fortifying strongholds as you bid to conquer the deep-lying Kaurava system. Soulstorm's story revolves around a warp storm which has attracted the attention of the game's nine races, who all want the Kaurava system, and the secret behind the warp storm, to themselves.
When you start the campaign your race already has a stronghold on one of the system's territories. During each turn you can move your forces to a nearby territory and attack (triggering a traditional, on the surface Dawn of War battle). Win the battle and you'll take over the territory and gain requisition points, to be spent on buying buildings and units that guarantee a force of some description will be immediately available should an enemy force attack you and draw you into ground combat. Each faction has a racial ability - the Dark Eldar for example can travel across the Kaurava system via Ancient Gates, while other races can only move to nearby territories. Conquer an enemy race by capturing the territory which houses their stronghold and you'll obliterate them completely and assimilate their racial powers.
The point to make about this campaign meta-game is that, while initially amusing, it quickly gets in the way of Dawn of War's traditional RTS combat. Indeed we found it became quite an annoyance pretty quickly. We suspect some gamers will love it and some will hate it, since it's effectively ended the cutscene-style single-player campaign story we loved from the original game. It may be an easy to understand and pretty cool bonus feature, but we reckon it's ended up being a hurdle through which fans are forced to jump if they want to get down to the nitty gritty RTS gameplay.
We're sure that Soulstorm will be of most interest to gamers who own Dawn of War and perhaps the previous two expansions already, but RTS fans of all kinds should be interested. Soulstorm is a stand alone expansion, meaning you'll be able to use all nine races in the single-player campaign and single-player skirmishes, but if you haven't got the original game installed on your PC, and the other expansions, you'll only have access to the Dark Eldar and the Sisters of Battle in multiplayer, which is where Dawn of War excels.
The graphics look a little dated - in the four years following Dawn of War's release much better-looking RTS games have been released, including Relic's own Company of Heroes - but the unit animations still have a cool factor missing from many of its rivals. And Soulstorm, like its predecessors, does a great job of providing an intense, war-torn, battlefield for you to play with. But the most important thing is that the game is great fun, and will surely touch the soul of every RTS geek who's ever dreamt of being a Space Marine.