Dawn of War: Soulstorm

The past few months have brought a surge of fantastic RTS games and expansions including C&C: Kane’s Wrath, Supreme Commander: Forged Alliance, Universe at War, Sins of a Solar Empire, and World in Conflict. More gems are slated for the upcoming year: StarCraft 2, Spore, an as-of-yet unnamed Company of Heroes expansion, and Galactic Civilizations II: Twilight of the Arnor. On the horizon, we see Demigod and a recently announced Warhammer 40k: Dawn of War 2.
So where does that leave Dawn of War: Soulstorm, the third expansion in the Warhammer 40k: Dawn of War series? Released right in the middle of an RTS renaissance, Soulstorm has quite a bit to live up to. Being the final expansion to one of my favorite RTS series of all time raises the bar significantly higher, and I expected quite a showstopper to cap off the splendid DoW: Dark Crusade. Did it deliver? Somewhat.

Soulstorm adds 2 new races (bringing the total to 8), aircraft, and a campaign map about twice as large as that in the Dark Crusade expansion. In other words, the risk map employed by the previous expansion has been expanded to encompass four planets instead of just one. On paper, this all seems standard fare for an RTS expansion. It is greater than that in certain areas, and far less in others.

First, the overall (Risk-Style) campaign map:

On the sad side, the entire campaign map feels like a downgraded version of the one in Dark Crusade. Gone are the detailed army markers and territory images, replaced by blinking icons and an overall clunky feel. Don’t get me wrong, the battlemap as a whole looks pretty awesome — like something you’d set as your desktop background — it just feels like someone made it out of clay.

On the bright side, the developers have managed to include boatloads of new content in the form of writing, voiceover, and prerecorded cut scenes. This content functions in exactly the same way it did in Dark Crusade; each race has a unique set of story interactions with opposing races during the course of a campaign, giving the game decent replay value. Also, the detailed territory “archives” are back, giving each scenario map a little bit of extra personality.

And for the in-depth look:
The addition of aircraft is interesting but adds a questionably low amount of dimension to the game. Aircraft are nothing more than perpetually “jetpacking” vehicles. Each older race gets one new aircraft unit. Pure melee units are incapable of attacking aircraft, and as a result each race counters aircraft with range units and their own aircraft.

The two new races, the Sisters of Battle and Dark Eldar, are fairly distinct. I say “fairly” because the Sisters of Battle are a cross between the Imperial Guard and Blood Ravens races while the Dark Eldar are a modification of the Eldar. One very interesting addition to each of these races are powerful spells fueled by special resource types. The Sisters of Battle accumulate “Faith” in order to cast these spells/powers on foes or friends. Faith spells are cast by certain “Faithful Units” who also happen to be the units that generate said faith. The Dark Eldar utilize their own “God Powers” by collecting souls, blue blobs left over from killed units or collected from the Dark Eldar torture buildings. Their spells are cast from a toolbar at the bottom of the screen (can be seen in screenshot).

Dawn of War’s powerful graphics engine allows for great tactical depth.

The AI in Soulstorm might feel a little bit weak compared to that in Dark Crusade, especially if players are using their favored race from previous games. Older players or RTS junkies should probably set the difficulty to high for a midlevel challenge. It feels as though AI aggression in Home Territory battles was reduced slightly, which makes things a bit easier.
Online multiplayer is populated with around 10-20 games available to join in the lobby at any given time. Automatch features are included, and the wait will be shorter or longer using this feature based on how many people are around.

Girl Power!

Overall, Dawn of War: Soulstorm doesn’t add anything really groundbreaking to the Dawn of War formula. What it does add are two compelling new races and a new, content-filled campaign. Any fan of the series should definitely go out and pick up a copy. Players unfamiliar with the series should also feel fairly comfortable, though I recommend playing the previous games* and enjoying their respective contributions to the series before investing $39.99 in Soulstorm.

– Interesting new races, the Dark Eldar and Sisters of Battle.
– More content in the new Campaign.
– Scantily clad warrior-women.

– The metamap feels clunky.
– AI is a little weak against good players.
– It costs $10 more than the rest of the entire series combined.

*Dawn of War: Platinum Edition, which includes all previous DoW games except Soulstorm, is $29.95 on Steam.