I had a chance to get a hold of Relic’s upcoming Dawn of War III during their recent closed multiplayer-only beta, and I found myself torn. While there were changes and improvements I enjoyed, there were also some design decisions I found extremely questionable. Keeping in mind that this is technically a beta even if the game does release in a few weeks, I’m going to list a few of the pros and cons I came across in the handful of matches I got to play.
First the good stuff — I love that base building is back. The second Dawn of War removed most of that function from the game, making it feel more like an RPG/RTS hybrid than a pure RTS. While I never hated that choice, I missed the feeling of expansion and exploitation from the first game. It makes a welcome return here.
Also, the combat speed feels just right. I always thought the first two games were slow when compared to others of its ilk — the animation isn’t what I could call quick by any means, nor should it be considering that everything in the 40K universe typically has a ‘weight’ to it, but at least now it doesn’t feel like everything is moving through quicksand.
Finally, multiplayer armies can be tweaked by selecting from a pool of Elites and Doctrines.
Elites are powerful units or squads that overpower almost anything thrown at them, save other Elites. Different playstyles will favor some Elites over others, which should increase the variety of armies players will encounter online. Doctrines let players choose between increasing unit toughness, weapons damage, and other factors. In theory, this means even armies from the same faction should play at least slightly different from each other. In practice, only time will tell if there is a clear meta that favors one particular setup.
As for the bad… well, this game clearly wants to be a MOBA. The art style has been changed to a more vibrant and colorful palette of the kind found in League of Legends or Heroes of the Storm. It’s sacrilege to the grimdark 40K faithful. Further, the staggered objective maps, a focus on heroes over units, semi-open ‘lanes’ and nearly everything else in the beta is targeting that same audience. It feels like an obvious cash-grab meant to go after the lucrative competitive scene, and while I don’t outright hate it, it nags at my inner fanboy.
There were also a handful of technical issues I had to wade through — odd hang-ups and brief freezes during the menus were common. Also, getting a stable 60 FPS meant dialing back the settings lower than I normally would for an RTS. The matchmaking during this beta period seemed unusually empty. I’m not sure if this was due to tech issues, the times when I was online, or if the pool of beta players was just extremely limited, but getting into a match was a chore.
Am I still excited to play Dawn or War III? Yes. However, after this ‘beta’, my expectations have been scaled back when it comes to the multiplayer. The campaign still looks immensely enjoyable, but Relic’s tilt toward expanding the player-base with these changes has left me unimpressed.