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Review by: Keith Durocher
Published: December 1, 2004
“Through man’s existence, from the start of time;
The fight for survival is our only crime.”
-Bolt Thrower, Eternal War
As epic as it is brutal, the flagship product of the UK’s Games Workshop has a global appeal that has drawn thousands upon thousands of hobbyists together over the years. For all fans of incredibly detailed, hand-painted figures and models, Warhammer 40,000 (and its nominally less popular little brother, Warhammer Fantasy) is the table-top strategy war game. Over the years, many attempts have been made to capture the exhilaration of the galaxy-spanning conflict of Warhammer 40K, rarely with any degree of success. The latest entry to the fray is Relic Entertainment’s Dawn of War, a fully 3D RTS that might finally be the one to get it right.
The full history and mythos behind Warhammer 40K is entirely beyond the scope of this review; it’s incredibly detailed and rich. Indeed, my interest in it is deeply rooted in the fantastic fiction behind the game itself, more so by far than painting the miniatures. To attempt to give a rough overview, we need to look at how far in the future Warhammer 40K (and Dawn of War) takes place. The name is a small clue: It is the 41st millennium and humanity has moved somewhat past the Milky Way. Mankind is ruled by the iron psionic fist of the Emperor, considered a living god and long since ensconced in a massive life-support tomb. The more things change, the more they stay the same; we are still an incredibly expansionist species and the Emperor is the backbone that supports the constant push to take in more and more worlds.
Of course, we aren’t alone, and other races might not be so pleased to be overrun by hairless primates. Thus the stage is set for the cosmos-spanning perpetual conflict that is Warhammer 40K and Dawn of War. Savage, pseudo-primitive orks fight everything they see (including each other) with instruments cobbled together via duct tape, spit, copper wire, and an almost defiant sense of impossibility. No one knows how the orkish MekBoyz manage to make anything work, but they do to the detriment of everyone they encounter. The ancient and mysterious Eldar race has an agenda that often doesn’t work in concert with humanity, and from time to time the Emperor’s elite have to test their mettle against advanced warp technologies that were ancient when mankind was still living in caves. Finally, the forces of Chaos are continuously spilling out from the Eye of Terror, plaguing the universe with scores of warped and twisted daemons, hate-fuelled Chaos Marines, and possessed machines.
For the sake of brevity, I won’t touch on the further factions that are part of the Warhammer 40K universe (Tyrannids, Dark Eldar, the four Chaos Gods, etc). Dawn of War gives you Space Marines, Chaos Marines, Orks, and Eldar to work with in your efforts to crush all opposition. The cornerstone of all strategy games is the different approaches to victory each race uses, and Dawn of War is no different. While the Space Marines and the Chaos Legions tend to have similarities due to the fact that Chaos Marines were once members of the Emperor’s forces, the comparisons end pretty much the moment you see their heavy anti-infantry mech units. (Dreadnaughts and Defilers are absolutely nothing alike.) The Orks and the Eldar are far more wildly disparate in how they annihilate foes, no mistaking them from the get-go.
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