Fans of Warhammer 40,000 (the table-top miniature game from Games Workshop) have been reasonably well represented on PC, with a number of titles appearing under different genres. From a concept that seems fit for a strategy game, step up Relic, and Warhammer 40,000: Dawn of War. Whilst most Warhammer games have been turn-based affairs, Dawn of War is firmly a real-time strategy title, and we have had a chance to play around with a demo, which gives you a tutorial level and a mission from the campaign.
Those used to the genre will find the basics elementary, but Dawn of War does introduce a few new ideas into the mix. Rather than controlling individual soldiers, you control squads, which vary between one to four men at the outset. You can also upgrade your squads with a number of different weapons and abilities, as well as being able to call for re-enforcements in the heat of the battle, who are beamed directly into the action. Troop morale also becomes a factor (which enables a superior force to be destroyed by a smaller attacking party), and you can attach leader units to a team that can, among other things, increase morale or reduce the enemies' morale.
Resource management is also streamlined, with only power and strategic points to look after. Strategic points supply the games' primary form of currency - requisition points - which are used to purchase units and structures. Control of the strategic points will ensure plenty of skirmishing action, as these can be won and lost many times over the course of a few minutes play, keeping the pace nice and fast, very much in a similar vein to Z-Steel Soldiers from The Bitmap Brothers a few years ago.
Talking of battles, both ranged and melee fighting takes place, and Relic have been wise to ensure that melee has its place, by upping the damage inflicted over ranged weapons. And you won't mind things getting up close and personal, as the graphics are pleasing on the eye and, with the option to zoom right into the thick of it, you will enjoy becoming a spectator as swords and axes clash and blood spills, or as a Dreadnought picks up an Ork, snaps his spine and casually tosses his limp body away. Battles are fast-paced and visceral, and with various squad abilities at your disposal you can defeat larger forces by using smart tactics, along with liberal use of grenades, psychic blasts and minefields.
The demo doesn't give too much away in terms of the story, other than showing that the Chaos Marines and the Ork's are up to no good, but it is fair to assume that it will have at least a twist or two, and will be fairly standard fantasy-fare.
With streamlined resource management and a slew of fresh ideas, hopes are high for Dawn of War. If the full game lives up to the initial impressions, then Relic will have another hit RTS on their CV.
Warhammer 40,000: Dawn of War is due for release on 24th September 2004 for PC.