Warhammer 40,000: Dawn of War – Dark Crusade & Soulstorm

The last two expansions to Warhammer 40,000: Dawn of War, Dawn of War – Dark Crusade and Dawn of War – Soulstorm, are best looked at as a separate bundle from the main game as both bring new life and dramatic changes.  Both games are standalone expansions developed by Iron Lore Entertainment and supported by the original Dawn of War developer Relic Entertainment.  Each expansion adds two new races (Necrons and Tau in Dark Crusade and the Dark Eldar and Sisters of Battle in Soulstorm) and feature new non-linear campaigns loosely connected to the narratives of the previous game and expansion.
Each race’s tech tree is reworked to more heavily emphasize thematic strategies and limit the number of top tier units.  The new races , except in part for the Sisters of Battle, also feature new mechanics for base building, population, and special resources opening up a number of new tactical options and styles for players to explore.  The Necrons, for example, train all their units from a single structure and only use one of the two resource types; the other resource type is subverted into expanding the Necron’s population cap.  Existing races received minor changes and a new unit with each expansion.  The air units, added in Soulstorm, provide a new but limited level of tactical flexibility, particularly to those races who’s air units utilize high explosives.
Alongside new races, both expansions feature a complete overhaul in campaign style and content.  Instead of the story driven, race-limiting missions of the previous Dawn of War titles, Dark Crusade and Soulstorm utilize non-linear, world map campaigns.  Each race is fully playable with its own narrative and small set of in-game cutscenes.  Dark Crusade’s campaign takes place on the fictional world of Kronus and much of the planet’s landmass is used as the world map and divided into regions of varying size.  Soulstorm expands this concept by broadening the campaign map into the four planets, each divided into a few large territories, and three moons of the fictional Kaurava system.  Players choose a race and lead that race to conquer the campaign map by taking their faction’s hero-led army and moving it into hostile regions.
There is no overarching plot and story elements are based off of each individual race’s motivations and long term goals.  Most of the battles take place in skirmish style against AI forces with varying levels of strength and skill based on the campaign’s difficulty level and the strength of individual regions.  Each conquered regions unlocks an honor guard unit that accompanies the player’s army throughout the campaign and is available at the start of each mission (as opposed to regularly trained units which do not carry over between missions).  Some regions instead offer special bonuses to the player’s faction or army on the campaign map.  Hostile races are eventually eliminated when the player attacks their headquarters region in highly entertaining scripted missions with intense battles and multi-tier objectives.  Once all headquarters have been captured the campaign ends with a final in-game cutscene and narrative that describes the long term effects of the player’s conquest on the galaxy.
The single player campaigns place these expansions head and shoulders above their predecessors.  Individual skirmish style missions can get repetitive as races are eliminated and the AI looses strategic assets, but the overall conquest aspect combined with the scripted finale missions make these campaigns a singularly enjoyable experience that few if any RTS titles have been able to match.  Players can utilize the full range of combat options for each race across a wide variety of maps and even on lower difficulty settings the scripted missions are still quite challenging, very satisfying, and even comically entertaining as the races’ leaders banter with each other over the course of the battle.  The option to replay these campaigns with every race extends the lifespan of the single player element immensely.
The AI’s performance in skirmish and multiplayer modes remains effectively the same as in previous Dawn of War titles.  It falters somewhat in Soulstorm as it struggles to effectively use the latest units; but remains competent enough to provide a challenge for any level of gamer.  The AI was also somewhat cured of its tendency for predictable build patterns and, depending on difficulty level, now makes effective use of higher tier units.
Multiplayer remains strong with Dark Crusade and Soulstorm as it was in previous titles.  The new races are very well balanced (although a patch is required for Soulstorm to fully iron out some exploits in the game mechanics), and a host of new multiplayer maps are available supporting anywhere from 2 to 8 players in a number of layouts for team play and free for all.  Multiplayer connections remain stable when faced with lag.  A sixty second timeout is granted to lagging connections and de-synchronization is virtually unheard of.  However battles in Dark Crusade and Soulstorm are quite large, and can actually be even larger than Dawn of War and Winter Assault due to the change-up of unit build limits, and low tier connections will struggle to keep up during pitched battles.
Dark Crusade is a must for any gamer that enjoyed Dawn of War and Winter Assault.  Its new and innovative campaign provides a full and satisfying experience and the new races offer some play styles not yet seen in the Dawn of War series.  Soulstorm’s contributions are less dramatic in the face of Dark Crusade’s rapid advances; this is in part due to the dissolution of Soulstorm’s primary developer, Iron Lore, prior to its release.  Soulstorm’s campaign changes its scale but not necessarily its size and the scripted missions are toned down and lacking in immersive flavor.  The new races do offer more diversity for gaming options, particularly in multiplayer formats, but struggle to find their place among the older races.  However Soulstorm is still a fine expansion and its content only adds to the overall Dawn of War experience.
Dawn of War was already a fine title and these expansions make it truly great.  Their story, gameplay, and re-playability are top of the line and can be enjoyed in many ways by gamers of every level.  Fans of the Warhammer 40,000 universe who were not fully satisfied with the original Dawn of War and Winter Assault should certainly give Dawn of War another chance with these new expansions as more races, expanded flavor, and a deeper portrayal of the universe’s fiction bring the grim future of the 41st millennium to life.