Review by BloodGod65

Reviewed: 08/10/09 | Updated: 07/07/10

Johnny! Stop Building that Snowman, We're Supposed to be Killing Orks!

Ah, winter. Such a wonderful time of year, what with the snow falling on the ground and making the world look so surreal and beautiful, when you can stay inside and curl up next to the fire and drink cocoa, when Santa comes to give presents to all the good kiddies. What’s that? There’s none of that in Winter Assault? Oh, this is a Warhammer 40K game? So much for winter wonderland, I guess. Allow me to amend the previous statements: “snow falling on the ground” can be changed to “bombs, bodies and blood falling on the ground”, “beautiful” is now “hellish” ,“drink cocoa” is now “die” and “Santa giving presents” can be changed to “Orks eat your face”. Dammit, Warhammer 40K, you ruin everything!

As the first expansion to the critical hit Dawn of War, Winter Assault plays things safe. But with a formula as exciting as this, it’s hard to find any real problem areas that needed solving in the first place. What Relic has done is partially solve the one major issue of the original game, add a new faction and a handful of new unit types.

Those expecting the triumphant return of the Blood Ravens will be disappointed, as Winter Assault contains a story unrelated to that of Dawn of War. But any disappointment should be tempered by the fact that this is a drastically more original tale (at least judging by Warhammer 40K standards). The ice-world of Lorn V was an Imperial stronghold before the forces of Chaos arrived and took over. After the invasion, Lorn V has been under Chaos control for thousands of years and is also suffering from an Ork infestation, with the greenskins in constant conflict with the Chaos forces. Little does either side know, an Imperial Titan was left behind after being damaged during the fight to fend off the Chaos invaders. Now the Imperial Guard has come to take it back.

For those who aren’t walking Warhammer 40K reference libraries, a bit of explanation is required as to why the Titan is so important. A Titan is a massive war machine fashioned in the shape of a man, which acts as a walking fortress on the battlefield. They’re capable of vast amounts of destruction and, as the game mentions numerous times, a single one can conquer an entire world (though we’re left to wonder how such a powerful weapon was disabled in the first place). Because of this, it is imperative that the Titan not fall into the hands of Chaos, as it will be a nigh insurmountable weapon in their fight against the Imperium.

The biggest change for Winter Assault is undoubtedly the fact that players will control Orks, Chaos, Eldar and the new faction, the Imperial Guard, during two separate campaigns. The Order campaign consists of Eldar and Guard while the Disorder campaign has players using Orks and Chaos. Players will not control the Space Marines, but I think it’s safe to say everyone got enough of them in Dawn of War. What’s interesting about the way the campaigns are set up is that within each mission, you’ll usually be controlling both factions at some point. For instance, in the first Order mission you’ll be using the Imperial Guard up to a certain point, then the Eldar has to step in and do some stuff, and then control switches back over to the Guard. In each campaign, there’s a single mission where players will have to manage both factions at the same time, which is… interesting.

In terms of how much content this new expansion adds, each campaign consists of six missions. While twelve may not sound like much, the missions are lengthy and feel more difficult than those in Dawn of War.

Because the original Dawn of War only had players using the Space Marines, many players may have never experienced the other three unless they played online. As is to be expected, each race has its own strengths, weaknesses and individual style of play.

The Imperial Guard, the only new faction, is similar to the Space Marines. However, they’re not as tough and their morale is easier to break, which means that they usually tackle enemies en masse instead of in small squads. They also have access to some really awesome tanks and vehicles, such as the Hellhound, which spews a long-range stream of fire, the Basilisk, an extremely long range artillery tank and the Baneblade, a massive tank equipped with a total of eleven heavy weapons (can I get a hell yeah?). The Imperial Guard also has a strategic advantage when it comes to their buildings. Nearly everything they build can be used as a bunker. Not only that but they can travel from building to building and pop out on the other side of the battlefield in just a few seconds, allowing them to quickly reinforce other areas.

The Eldar are a tricky race to play as because each and every unit is specialized to the point it excels at one task and is terrible at everything else. For instance, Howling Banshees are excellent melee fighters but can’t fight at range, while Rangers are long-range scouts who move quickly and can kill enemies from afar but can’t take much damage. Because of this, the Eldar can’t adapt to new threats easily and must prepare for any eventuality beforehand. The upshot of this is that each unit type is excellent at what it does and can easily take out the enemies it is strong against. The new Eldar unit is the Fire Dragoon, a close-range unit that uses a flame-thrower.

Chaos Space Marines are similar to the regular Space Marines in that they have no overwhelming strengths or weaknesses. However, many of their units are better at close combat and tend to attack in mobs that scatter and destroy the enemy. As soldiers of Chaos, they also have access to daemonic powers that allow them to summon daemons from the warp, as well as the Bloodthirster, a massive Avatar of Khaine who can destroy entire armies. The new Chaos unit is the Khorne Berzerker, who is even more powerful in melee combat than the typical Chaos unit.

Orks may be the easiest race to play because their simple-minded nature precludes any form of coherent tactics. They like guns, but are incredibly inaccurate with them, yet their massive strength makes them excellent melee fighters. Because of this, most fights come down to throwing as many units at the enemy as possible and hoping for the best. The new Ork unit is the Mega Armored Nobz who is equipped with heavy armor and is very dangerous in close combat.

If there’s one gameplay issue that really needed fixing it was the pathfinding. Sadly, Relic doesn’t seem to have worked on it at all, as units often get stuck or simply won’t go where they’re told. As before, this means you can order a group of units into an area, only to have them go a handful at a time, giving the enemy enough time to kill them off one at a time.

Graphics and audio haven’t been altered much either. As before units all look very good and have plenty of little details that are apparent even from the default zoomed out view. This makes it easy to distinguish units from one another, even in the middle of a frenzied firefight. The animations are still entertaining and give the game its own, uniquely violent, personality. Some of the more entertaining include tank shells exploding in the middle of infantry and sending bodies through the air. My personal favorite is with the Ork Warboss, who grabs infantry units and bashes them on the ground with his mechanized fist. Unfortunately, the issue of boring environments persists, but the mud has now been replaced by snow.

The voice acting is still hard to describe any other way but terrible. Orks sound like cockney English thugs, and the Chaos still exemplify terrible bad-guy monologue. The Eldar and Imperial Guard are slightly more tolerable, although the Guard heroes are the very definition of over-actors.

THE VERDICT
The Imperial Guard really isn’t a great new addition to the franchise, because they feel too much like the Space Marines to be truly unique. However, being able to finally play other races in a campaign setting is a nice change. Winter Assault has less content than Dawn of War, but there’s much more variety so it’s hard to call this a step back. Overall, it’s a worthy expansion pack.

Rating:   4.5 - Outstanding

Product Release: Warhammer 40,000: Dawn of War - Winter Assault (US, 09/21/05)

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