Warhammer: Dawn of War: Soulstorm is the third expansion back for Dawn of War. Similar to the two previous expansions, Winter Assault and Dark Crusade, this one can be tied into with the core game and other releases to unlock all nine races in multiplayer. The factions new to the series are the Sisters of Battle and the Dark Eldar, both of which happen to be excellent additions. Itís hard to imagine another throwback real-time strategy as epic as the Dawn of War series; and I donít foresee too many following suit. Relic hasnít tried to reinvent the wheel here, having followed the incremental improvement approach thatís become standard, but the results are as enjoyable as its predecessors.
The 40K universe is a pretty polarizing one. If you canít get into the over-the-top nature of beefed-up armored Space Marines calling enemies ďHeretics!Ē and elegant aliens ranting about perfection, then this really isnít the set for you. Soulstorm does nothing to change this, and rightly so. There is a gleeful satisfaction to be had when a chainsaw is jerked through an Orc Ė a space Orc, at that Ė that is hard to match, and Relic has embraced that from the very beginning. The series has slowly evolved over time, starting out as a traditional story-based game and morphing into something grander, with a RISK-style map providing a lengthier campaign with an additional layer of strategy.
Soulstorm takes its advance slightly further with multiple worlds up for conquest. Teleports link distant worlds together, and certain territories must be held before your armies can advance beyond the starting planet. This approach helps newcomers to get acclimated as the base planet only has one or two rival factions to contend with and numerous low-level territories to romp around in. The numbers on each represent their strength, as conquest brings requisition points that can be used to install bases and units in territories (ready to go the second you go to defend it), or as bodyguards for the general or assault troops when attacking a territory. So going after a high-level territory will be for those with some practice under their belt, as those tend to have an enemy aggressive with multiple bases; conversely, those with a low number are perfect for practicing on and building up your per-turn requisition point income. Victory can also bring the addition of a new piece of wargear to your leaderís collection to increase stats such as health and attack power.
Each faction also has two aces up their sleeve: a stronghold and specific abilities. The strongholds are heavily fortified territories that are an enemyís base. These have numerous defenses, multiple bases, and tons of enemy troops. Since these are also keys to progressing the story, due to a factionís destruction if taken, they tend to have a different, more involved style of play. A factionís special abilities extend beyond their specific units and are general enhancements for the whole; for example, the Sisters of Battle can build a forward base when assaulting a territory, meaning that with enough requisition points an assault can begin with most basic structures built and a handful of squads ready for combat.
Once a territory is attacked, the game switches to the more traditional real-time strategy style of play Ė complete with a base, barracks, armory, etc. Squads are trained, and subsequently upgraded with leaders, better weapons and armor, and additional units to take and hold flags. A captured flag will either allocate additional resources to the holder or lead to a victory through holding the majority of territory, depending on that mapís requirements. Squads can receive certain modifiers as well, such as extra defense when hunkered down in craters. After a while, with all of the requisite research complete, squads are decked out in an impressive fashion; an advanced Sisters of Battle squad will have bolters, flamethrowers, Roman-style signifiers, and grizzled veteran leaders barking out orders. Another treat is that the battles become visually impressive when debris is kicking up, grenades being tossed, lasers are burning mechanized walkers, and lumbering monoliths and angels are sending units flying into the air.
The other big addition is the inclusion of aircraft. Now, the Dawn of War titles have never been the most balanced games out there, and the aircraft really donít help this, but they are a blast to use. With heavy armor and strong offensive capabilities, they can be devastating to infantry and vehicles. Their inclusion also pushes the unit count fairly high, and in combination with the leader unitsí spell abilities, it can be pretty daunting for newcomers. Since all of the expansions are standalone, and the box art fetching for all, it isnít unthinkable that someone would pick this up on a whim and be a bit overwhelmed. Those who started with the original Dawn of War wonít have a problem, as it was pretty straightforward, so those wanting to get into the series now should do themselves a favor and pick up a Gold Edition of the original Ė youíll get access to the other races in multiplayer as well.
The balancing issues and general nagging problems werenít really addressed in Soulstorm. That is unfortunate, because the fact that it amps the game up means that it also increases those issues. One major problem I had in Dark Crusade was a really grinding endgame on the globe, whenever my side and another were equally matched: one side would easily repel the other, and automatically resolving a conflict was never to be trusted, leading to really long games that felt like they went nowhere. That is magnified here, thanks to the multiple worlds. I encountered the same grinding feeling on the very first world, with the other faction holding a their stronghold and a strong adjacent territory. I would actually have to skip assault them on some of my turns because they would always Ė always Ė attack me, never resting to build up their requisition points. By the time a new world is reach, the faction that won it had tended to consolidate its power there, which just extended this grind.
Fans of the Imperial Guard might enjoy the slog, though. The struggle is certainly an epic one, and the planets simply become large territories in a galactic map. Thatís true to an extent, but considering that each has numerous territories that need to be taken means that thatís a lot of time. Those looking for a lot of play will certainly find their fill here. When dealing with planetary conquests, one would expect a protracted war. So depending on what youíre looking for you either have a hardy struggle or a poorly-structured campaign. Eye of the beholder and all.
Overall: 7.5/10WarHammer: Dawn of War: Soulstorm takes the Dark Crusade design further with the introduction of a multi-planet campaign and expands the core design with the Sisters of Battle, Dark Eldar, and aircraft. At this point, the series is so entrenched that it is difficult to view it apart from the previous releases, especially since the older titles are fairly cheap and really complete the experience. The game does suffer from a mid- to end-game grind, but I approached that by taking a step back and proceeding slowly, protecting myself from burning out as best as I could. The campaign could certainly be refined so that it doesnít become such a massive tit-for-tat fest, even though its grand scale fits well with a set that is four releases strong. Fans of the universe will enjoy the new additions, tame as they are, and newcomers should do themselves a favor and start at the beginning. If you canít wait to send an angel around to stomp the beejezus out of alien undead, then youíve found your title.