Relic Entertainment announced the first major update to Dawn of War III – the latest instalment in the long-running RTS franchise that released to less-than-stellar reception at the end of April – in the form of its ‘Annihilation’ content patch just under two weeks ago, .
Though the updates went live on June 20th, the news might have passed you by. It’d be hard to blame anyone for seeing little reason to follow the game closely; entire articles could be written on exactly what went wrong with Dawn of War III. (or ‘DoW’, as I’ll refer to it and its predecessors) For the sake of the RTS genre’s future perhaps such a post-mortem is necessary.
For now let’s concentrate on what was added to the game itself. A week on, is there any reason to revisit it?
The new ‘Annihilation’ game types were the biggest changes advertised by Relic’s initial press release. Described by the developers as ‘going back to our roots’ there’s more than a hint of the series’ first titles in the focus on base-building. Focus on destroying an opponent’s ‘core structures’ is promising if Relic’s aim is to turn the game back into an RTS proper from the strange MOBA-lite creation it appeared to be at launch.
One has to wonder why such a mode wasn’t included in the game to begin with. While base-building has always been present in DoW III it was sidelined by Elite units and the unlockable gameplay-affecting ‘doctrines’. The Annihilation game modes don’t entirely fix these problems or scratch the itch earlier DoW games did. Players disappointed by DoW II’s focus on squad management over army-level play may instead find III has taken its first stumbling steps in the right direction.
Other updates are worth talking about. Most notable of these aside from small balance tweaks and bug fixes is the reintroduction of defensive turrets. Continuing the theme of the entire patch it’s a return to previous installations in the series for inspiration. Anything that provides additional options when it comes to tactical play should be lauded to an extent. The game’s core issue can however be seen in the implementation of the turret system.
These defences are accessible in one of two ways. The ‘Annihilation with Defences’ game mode provides pre-built structures at the start of every game. This game type does make constructing your base at a match’s beginning easier, but players may find it cuts down decision-making drastically by offering no player input on where turrets will be located. Turrets are also available as structures that can be built in any location in Multiplayer through a selectable doctrine. Unlike other doctrines there’s no need to expend the in-game currency of ‘Skulls’ to unlock it, but if you’re not a fan of the new system altogether it’s cold comfort and a reminder that Relic shows little interest in dropping some of the more widely criticised core elements of the game.
There’s some good news, here and there. The effort shown in tweaking existing maps to accommodate the new Annihilation game modes is commendable. The new Mortis Vale map deserves special attention for its aesthetics alone. The gothic nature of its environments captures the all-important ‘feel’ of the Warhammer 40’000 universe that is missing elsewhere.
It’s difficult to know what to make of the Annihilation patch or what it means for DoW III’s future. It adds options, but fixes little. It certainly strives to recreate its ancestors to an extent. Players familiar with earlier games though will find only some of their major complaints addressed. The title as a whole remains something profoundly different to the Dawn of Wars of yesteryear.
Unfortunately for Relic, players haven’t been returning en masse due to the patch thus far. Steam analytics as of the time of publishing show only around 1500 players in a 24-hour period. For context, Soulstorm – the final somewhat-controversial expansion to the original DoW game that released nine years ago – still pulls roughly 750-1000 players a day.
(Funnily enough, only a few hours before this article was finalised Eurogamer published their own thoughts on the subject. Debates over DoW’s future look like they’ll be continuing for a while yet.)
The Annihilation patch is perhaps worth a quick look to see if it’s to your taste. It certainly isn’t worth buying or re-downloading the game over yet. It’s an encouraging start, however, and suggests Relic will at least try and right their ship’s course.
At age seven, Jordan wanted to be a paleontologist. That went well. He now fills the void by writing on all manner of mildly-interesting topics - when he finds time in between complaining how everything was better in the 'good old days', that is.