When Warhammer 40,000: Dawn of War came out just under four years ago it didn't revolutionise the RTS genre, but it did offer a compelling, solid, fun and, for its time, spectacular strategy experience. However, it did feel slightly lacking in the playable race department, offering only the Space Marines, Orcs, Eldar and Chaos Marines for future fantasy fans to sink their fangs into. Three expansions and nine races later we've finally got our hands on the Dark Eldar and the Sisters of Battle in what's promised to be the final Dawn of War expansion ever. Having pumped hours into the two new races, stayed up late into the night busting open the ultimately unnecessary single-player campaign meta-game and stared bleary-eyed at the game's new air units, we can confirm that Soulstorm is bloody brilliant and a fitting finale for the RTS franchise. Phew.
First off the two new races. The Dark Eldar are evil incarnate, kind of like the Eldar gone very, very bad. They concentrate on pain, torture and terrible acts of depraved violence. And they love it. And I love them for it. The Dark Eldar, while not the most popular of races among fans, are an intriguing lot. They've got a creepy, crazed feel that should offer the more unstable of Warhammer 40k fans an alternative to the similarly bad but more soulless Chaos Marines.
On the battlefield the Dark Eldar are best used with run and gun tactics - their high mobility but low durability makes them perfect for quick-fire attacks and even quicker retreats. Because of this the Dark Eldar are a very strong tier one race, but get less useful the longer a skirmish goes on. Their super-powerful Dais of Destruction is more of a spectacular luxury than a useful unit. Better to rush your opponent and try to finish them off before they pump out the Terminators.
The Dark Eldar's hook is the harvesting of souls from corpses strewn about the battlefield. Soul Essence is a spectral resource used to power their sickest and most powerful abilities, some of which affect the entire battlefield. For example, you've got the Screams of the Damned ability, which reduces the morale of all enemies, to the all encompassing Soulstorm attack itself. These special abilities are accessed from a bar above the main toolbar at the bottom of the screen, and consume souls from the Dark Eldar's Soul Essence attack, meaning you'll have to make sure you harvest as many souls as possible from the corpses of your defeated foes.
The other new playable race, the Sisters of Battle, are an all-female Space Marine/Imperial Guard hybrid who have taken their devotion to the God-Emperor a tad too far. They have an all white angelic look, with halos and Organ tanks (yes, I said organ tanks). They're good all-rounders, durable, mobile, and powerful, but they don't excel in either area. Like the Dark Eldar, the Sisters of Battle won't top many Warhammer 40k fans' favourite race list, but they're worth a few hours of play, if only to hear some of the fabulous lines of dialogue their units have been blessed with.
Unique to the Sisters is their Faith, built up by adding Holy Icons to Listening Posts. In the game Faith acts as a sort of supplementary tier, granting Act of Faith special abilities and access to the Sisters' most powerful units, but in the Dawn of War lore it is the "metaphysical measure of their devotion to the Emperor". Sounds like a dodgy cult to us.
Nothing from the Dark Eldar or the Sisters of Battle, changes the way hardened Dawn of War veterans will play the game. The fundamentally fun take and hold resource based gameplay is as important for both the new races as it is for the Space Marines, Orcs and everyone else. In a way this sums up everything you need to know about Soulstorm - it's more of the same.
Each race has been given air units, a first for the series. These work in almost exactly the same way as ground units except they can travel over all types of terrain. Most are mobile and best used in quick strike attacks. One of Soulstorm's biggest draws for fans will be messing about with their favourite race's new air unit. Unfortunately you can't control their height, which is a bit of a shame, but we understand that this could potentially have caused problems on the battlefield.