Hammering Away At A Classic
You don’t have to fix it if it ain’t broke, and although the Warhammer 40,000 franchise may be past its prime, there’s nothing wrong with trying to improve on a classic. While it may not bring back the fickle fans that have been-there-done-that, this latest expansion pack breathes new life into the series, essentially giving it reason to live and reason for you to play it again.
Originating as a tabletop strategy game in 1987, the Warhammer 40,000: Dawn of War franchise first appeared as a computer game some four years ago. With a fantasy/science fiction theme, it’s a real time strategy game that features several races, each with their respective armies and individual units, fighting it out for ultimate supremacy. The Dawn of War series of expansion packs has previously brought the total of playable races to seven. Dawn of War – Soulstorm increases that number to nine with the addition of two new races, the Dark Eldar and the Sisters of Battle. Aside from the obvious new additions, at first glance there doesn’t seem like a lot was brought to the party. But like a traditional blues song, the beauty is in the details.
Dawn of War – Soulstorm is still running off the old Warhammer 40,000 engine. That’s to be expected. But upon closer examination, developers Relic appear to be doing more than just suckling the teat of this apparent cash cow. The new races offer more strategic options when put into the fracas with the veteran races. The attributes for each of the new races seem subtle in terms of overall balance, but they have abilities that we’ve all wished for while playing as other races. In the effort to be fair and balanced, which this game prides itself upon, for every powerful attribute, there is an exploitable weakness.
As with all Dawn of War games, the focus is for domination of a particular map. Whether you are playing the single-player campaign or the online multiplayer mode, it’s essential that you not only defend your position, but attempt to secure new points on the map. The micromanagement has been streamlined, although some races require more attention to it than others. Whatever the case, it’s essential to secure resources in order to progress, and if you don’t go out and conquer new territories, you will eventually run out of resources simply defending yourself. The game forces you into action. If you don’t go looking for the enemy, it won’t be long until they come looking for you.
With Soulstorm, each race will receive a new flying unit. They are similar to other special airborne units that were introduced earlier, but these units can fly higher, faster, and longer. They can cover vast territory quickly, which can give them the upper hand with a surprise attack on an unsuspecting enemy. They can be easily shot down and are not easy to control, so I would not rely too heavily on them as solid, individual units. They need to be incorporated with other units.
New weapons, spells, abilities, and vehicles are also introduced. The Exorcist is a rocket-launching church organ mounted on a tank. It’s part of the Sisters of Battle’s arsenal, an all-female race of aggressive fanatics bent on blasting nonbelievers to Hell. Going further with the religious theme, the Sisters employ the power of Faith, a powerful force allowing them to use various spells. By properly combining units with commanding officers, their powers are intensified. Faith will heal and it will also conjure a squad of avenging angels. The Sisters share military characteristics more closely with the Space Marines. With their dual flamethrowers and highly skilled infantry, the Sisters are almost unbeatable at melee combat. Their weaknesses can be exploited by races more adept at ranged combat.
If you’re looking for a more resilient race of elves, then look no further than the Dark Eldar. They are fast, strong, and relentless, but they have a weakness with their vehicles that when targeted, can slow them down considerably. With the ability to steal the souls of their enemies, the Dark Eldar use this as an alternative form of resource energy to power spells. By employing the Tortured Slave, you can have your bases built quickly without having to relegate one of your units to do this for you. This will have you scaling the tech tree faster than other units. The Rend Soul spell renders enemy’s weapons temporarily impotent, allowing the Dark Eldar to do some quick damage. By the same token, when assaulted by a massive ranged attack, the Dark Elder fell like dominoes in a wind tunnel.
Using old graphics has its advantages. While there is nothing particularly ugly about the graphics of Soulstorm, they are dated. You’ll notice many similarities in the maps, which is not surprising since there are hundreds of them in the series. The textures may be bland in some cases, but at least you can easily discern a hill from a crater. Most of the maps are generally flat, although there is some terrain where you can take cover. The good thing about this is that you won’t experience any latency online. Expect a smooth and solid online experience.
The cutscenes are nothing short of amazing. Showing a full-scale battle among races, they are reminiscent of the battle scene in Lord of the Rings: Return of the King. The controls and commands are easy to use and navigate. The sound effects are varied and imaginative. It runs the gambit of the hum of futuristic force fields to the gushy squish of foreign object breaching flesh. The voiceovers are well done, but can be a little over-the-top at times.
Soulstorm gives you another kick at the Warhammer cat, proving that the series may indeed have nine lives.
RATING OUT OF 5 RATING DESCRIPTION 3.3 Graphics
Aging engine. Amazing cutscenes. 4.2 Control
Easy interface and well designed menus. 3.5 Music / Sound FX / Voice Acting
All the goodies are in the cutscenes. 4.0 Play Value
Classic strategy game. Maps can be tedious. 4.0 Overall Rating – Great
Not an average. See Rating legend above for a final score breakdown.