October 19, 2006

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Warhammer 40,000: Dawn of War Dark Crusade (PC)
Relic, 2006

Undead robots and the intergalactic UN join the war-torn future with Relicís impressive expansion pack Warhammer 40k:DoW ó Dark Crusade. Pew, pew, pew! Lasers!

Relic managed to blow strategy gamers away last month with their WW2 real time strategy Company of Heroes, a title so good that it knocks a half-grade off Dark Crusade simply because DC came after. Which is a shame because Dark Crusade does a wonderful job expanding the strong Dawn of War franchise.

In addition to some new units for the existing five DoW armies we get two new factions to slaughter with: The shooty laser Tau Empire and the plodding resilient Necron. Tau armies focus on high maneuverablity and withering ranged assaults powered by indirect fire and the coordinated rifle fire of their varied infantry squads. The Necrons present the first departure from army structure in the series in that they only use one resource, power, to generate their units. Consequently Necron armies are slow to build but devestating if left to grow. The Necron stir the pot of Dawn of Warís normally lightning-fast gameplay (which is firmly focused on aggressive expansion and squad level strategy) in that their snowballing playstyle forces opponents to attempt risky early rushes in hopes of crippling the Necron war machine. Both factions are well balanced and fit snugly into the rock-paper-scissors-bomb-plier-napalm dynamic of the series.

I confess, Dawn of War impressed me right out of the box but it wasnít until Dark Crusade that Iíve really grown to enjoy the series. Not simply because I am a bit of a turtler in strategy games but also because the new single-player campaign evolves the solo experience so much. With a new world map the player chooses the battlefield and attempts to seize or defend it in the regular game mode. Controlling different territories awards bonuses to each side like the ability to attack non-adjacent areas. Through the campaign your warlord gains experience and access to upgrades and an honor guard that travels with you to each battle. The persistence of these characters, the ground work that prior battles lay when revisiting old battlefields and the unique attributes of each territory really add to the feeling of reward and accomplishment.

What really makes Dark Crusade a treat is the standalone nature of it. For $30 you get access to all seven armies of the Dawn of War series in skirmish and campaign modes but only the Tau and Necron in online multiplayer games. As an addition to the franchise long time fans will find Dark Crusade irresistable. For new players this is a great way to enter an extremly well designed universe for a great price. A

ó Glenn Given