Review by christiantfo

Reviewed: 09/11/06

Winter Assault is a great enhancement to Dawn of War, especially in the single-player campaign mode.

Warhammer 40k: Dawn of War was a heavy order for the developers. Translating a deep tabletop experience with a rabid fan base to a video game was an arduous task, but Relic performed admirably and put out a game that I have thoroughly enjoyed for countless hours. I was excited to learn about the Winter Assault expansion, but I had to simply scratch my head at the choice of including the Imperial Guard as the new race. I was hoping for Tyranids or perhaps the Tau, but the Imperial Guard? I almost wrote off the expansion as a waste, but thankfully, that changed as soon as I delved into the meat of the game.

The Imperials are composed of regular men (at least when compared to the Space Marines). Their base unit – guardsmen – suffers from quickly diminishing morale, but there are upgrades to combat this weakness. For instance, you can attach a Commissar to the unit, and he has the ability to execute one of the members, which will spur on the rest to fight even harder. They also receive an impressive array of armored units, such as the flame-throwing Hellhound and the quick transport Chimera, but the best of the bunch is the Baneblade tank, which can mow through armies like there is no tomorrow. Also joining in the fight for the Imperials is the Basilisk artillery which has incredible range, and the Leman Russ, a more common type of tank. The sentinel is another motorized unit that is extremely agile and excels at destroying other vehicles.

They also enlist formidable infantry units like the mutant Ogryns, who excel in hand-to-hand combat; the psyker, who uses his devastating psychic powers; the elite Kasrkin squads, who serve as an upgrade to the run-of-the-mill guardsmen; and also the Vindicare Temple assassins, who do long-range wet work quite admirably. The most powerful of the infantry is the Imperial General, who also leads the command squad; he is equipped with a decent gun, but instead thrives in the thick of battle with his powerful claws, which can slice through the enemy. My favorite of the ground troops, however, are the Priests. These fanatical followers of the emperor are equipped with huge chainsaws that they use as swords, and they greatly increase morale, which is useful when they rouse the troops into a berserker frenzy.

The Imperial Guard also benefit from powerful defensive turrets and infantry bunkers that can house troops, and units can also travel between bunkers, much like the Eldar warps. This is important, as your soldiers can be shuffled around and effectively defend multiple areas.

Each of the existing races also attains a new unit with the Winter Assault expansion. The Space Marines receive the Chaplain, who is a commander unit that has a strong ranged attack and hastens the regeneration rates of nearby soldiers. The Orks get the Mega Armored Nobz, which are much like regular Nobz, only greatly upgraded to take extreme amounts of damage. The Eldar obtain the Fire Dragon, which is an infantry unit that uses a fusion gun and wreaks massive amounts of damage to vehicles and buildings alike, although they have a rather short range. Last, but not least, the forces of Chaos get the Khorne Berzerkers, who fight rather well in close combat, especially when fully enraged.

Another major enhancement that Winter Assault brings to Dawn of War is the new campaign mode. At the outset, you can choose from Order or Chaos. If you choose the Order side, then you take control of the Imperial Guard and the Eldar at different points, and if Chaos is chosen, then you play as the Orks and Chaos. There are approximately five or six missions for each side, and some of the maps are used in both campaigns, which makes the story connect rather well. One of the last missions is especially fun for both sides, as you can switch between either faction at any time to accomplish their respective goals. Other than just being an intriguing story, the campaign also eases you into the game and acts as a good refresher course or introduction to the character races.

Basically, each of the new units for the various races was implemented to help give them the edge they were missing, and the Fire Dragon is an extremely welcome addition to my Eldar arsenal. Large amounts of gameplay by the staff and players alike helped to shape the races, and the Imperials also need to be tweaked, as I've played many multiplayer games with them, and comparatively, they seem a bit underwhelming. One of the major premises of their mechanics is defensive gameplay, which can be useful, but when facing an all-out assault, I would rather have more firepower than is currently available to them. I'm sure that this will be addressed with time, just like when THQ toned down the Space Marines.

Speaking of multiplayer, that aspect is still as addictive as ever, and with this offering, it breathes some much-needed life into the series. Adjusting your strategy to the new units and the Imperials is a fun experience. Every time I finish my "last" game of the night, I find one more excuse to jump into the fray again. Finding a game is still an easy endeavor; you need only create an account or use your existing account and then find a game with the easy-to-use interface.

The cut scenes for the new campaign mode are well done, but I would have liked to see a new intro movie for this expansion. The current introductory cinematic does get me in the mood to slaughter to my heart's content fairly quickly, though.

The music and all other sounds in the game are beautifully crafted. The urgent yet sprawling scores that set the background for warfare are well done and serve to more fully immerse the player into the world of Warhammer 40k. Each gunshot and hammering explosion brings a smile (or frown, if you are on the receiving end) to one's face.

The graphics are still wonderful, even after a notable amount of time between the original Dawn of War and this offering. The visuals look only slightly dated, and the Imperials have a great style about them, with the futuristic battle armor and the conservative pomp that swaddles the commanders. Seeing craters punched into the ground as soldiers fly through the air is still a pleasure not found in most titles.

The Winter Assault expansion provides a good amount of new material and addresses a few issues, but there remain some unsolved problems. Chief among them is that the pathfinding for units is still a bit quirky, as sometimes it is a chore to move a large group at once. Many a time, I've tried to move my army forward, only to see them stringing themselves out in a long line, with some of them simply standing around. The computer A.I. is also a bit lacking, and it seems that Relic did nothing to address this issue. One of the most annoying occurrences is when the A.I. leaves pockets of men simply sitting around, even if a critical area is being assaulted.

Overall, Winter Assault is a great enhancement to Dawn of War, especially in the single-player campaign mode, which offers up several hours of fun and a nice refresher course to those of us who took a break from the series. Despite some issues with the A.I. and pathfinding, as well as some balance problems, this is a rather extraordinary expansion pack for an already stellar game.

Rating:   4.5 - Outstanding

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