Dawn of War, like Dungeon Fighter Online, is one of those games that I would never have picked up myself without pressure from friends to do so. Thankfully, my reaction was somewhat similar; I ended up liking this game a lot.
Dawn of War is a real-time strategy game set in the Warhammer 40k fictional universe. For those unfamiliar with this setting, think back to your times wandering around malls. Do you remember looking curiously inside game stores from the outside and seeing grown men (usually heavy-set and bearded) move little painted pewter figurines around in mock battles? What that was was people playing the original Warhammer 40k tabletop game, what this video game was based upon. I've never played it myself as it is a very expensive game to play; those figurines cost a bundle and you have to paint the damn things yourself. But some people like it. After playing Dawn of War, I can say that I loved the gameplay but am still distaseful of the setting itself.
The Frenzy of War
Part of what made the game's setting so unappealing was that it involves a number of wildly different factions who are in a continuous state of war. This game is defined by combat and death, and buckets of blood are hardly uncommon along with grotesque killings. Your commanders seem to be undergoing a competition to see who can kill something the nastiest. Certainly, the game's over-the-top feel keeps it free from too much disgust, but it still does little to conceal the crapsack world that this takes place in. I suppose I shouldn't be surprised. The word "war" is in the title, after all. But it does get tiresome after a while.
One good thing about this fictional universe is it has made for a design choice that can involve some simply massive battles. With instances like this, you are too busy micromanaging to care about the bloodshed, guiding a gigantic steel robot to target where the enemy is weakest at one moment, sending rocket raiders to the enemy's flanks in another. This is where the game shines as you are able to use your units' diverse abilities to tip the balance in your favor. And unlike most real-time strategy games I've played, Dawn of War has some truly epic possibilities on the tactical level; the unit list is varied and their abilities usually interesting and useful.
The Nuances of Conflict
What makes the gameplay so intriguing is the sheer amount of options before you. For each faction there are usually up to around twenty different units with varying degrees of firepower, strengths, weaknesses, and abilities. Building a unit of infantry gives you a couple of guys. From there it is up to you whether you want to build additional units into the squad (which can be done directly from the squad's interface) and they often have a number of options with regard to the weapons you can suit them out with. Similarly, you can choose to attach leader units to them to improve morale, or you could attach a unique and separate commander unit to the squad to give additional bonuses.
The possibilities are so many that one can often have one squad of the same kind of unit be suited out and prepared for a completely separate scenario than the other one. You can give them plasma guns, flamethrowers, long-range sniper rifles, machine gun emplacements, rocket launchers, mortars, and more. Each weapon has its own separate advantage and disadvantage. Machine guns will rip up any opposing infantry from afar, but is less effective against vehicles and enemies who get too close. Flamethrowers do a ton of damage at close range and ruin morale but, if the enemy has any form of armor, their effectiveness can be limited considerably. The separate commander units and buildings have even more unique abilities and upgrades that can be considered, including lightning storms, satellite-guided air strikes, and teleportation capabilities. As one can clearly tell, Dawn of War is a game that has a great deal of replayability, making it a perfect candidate for a good game to play with friends.
In the end, the only thing that I found irritating about Dawn of War was the fact that, if all else is equal, the one who has captured the most territory is given a decisive advantage. This makes it much more difficult for an underdog to make a comeback because their resources are that much more limited. Thus the irritating scenario is created where, even if the underdog is a genius at using what little troops he has to work with, the greater resources of the winning faction make an effective retaliation improbable. This is a problem with a number of real-time strategy games, but with this one I found that it made me far more willing to quit if I started to lose; why would I bother to go to the trouble of fighting to the last when defeat was a foregone conclusion?
Overall, the game is excellent, though, despite the flaws and passable setting. Each of the factions feel mostly unique and, with the strategic options near endless, the game has an enormous replay value. Dawn of War wasn't good enough to make me bother to look into the more recent sequel, but it was pretty good for something I had little desire to play in the first place.