Just so we’re clear, VOLV’s Dawn of War [$.99] has nothing to do with Relic Entertainment’s RTS series of the same name. While I’d imagine this will cause some legal woes down the road, it does present a cool contrast at the moment. This Dawn of War is a 2D side-scrolling strategy game grounded in the technology of modern warfare. Its backdrops and armies are also based firmly in our actual world. Relic’s Dawn of War, on the other hand, is filled with thickly plated space imperialists and mutants tainted by a ruthless intergalactic nether realm.
Most strategy games we see are firmly entrenched in sci-fi or fantasy like Relic’s game, so its neat play one that doesn’t try to stretch the limits of the imagination. But, a slice of realism does not a good game make: Dawn of War is troubled, as it sports some woeful balance issues and some pretty rudimentary play that isn’t back by meaningful depth. It’s not a great game, but it’s not a terrible one, either. It just sort of sits in the middle.
Speaking on a strictly mechanical level, most of what you’ll do in Dawn of War is purchase tons of troops and hope that your ally waves can beat the AI’s waves. The goal is, simply, the other side of an invisible wall on the 2D plain.
Dawn of War features soldiers with rifles and bazookas, and boasts vehicles like tanks, HMVs, artillery, and planes. Where it departs (aside from its grounded approach) is in its aerial deployments. Provided you have the cash, you can order in specific drops of troops, tanks, and even bombs. In fantasy games in this specific genre like Sword and Soldiers, this would be the rough equivalent of magic, as these attacks have serious range and areas of effect.
There is no finesse or overarching strategy to the moment-to-moment action, which is a fairly significant flaw working against Dawn of War. You can win any map by simple troop spamming and most of lower difficulty tiers are winnable with just infantry.
While we’re talking about flaws, the lack of a camera is maddening. Dawn of War is so macro-focused that it neglects any ability to follow the action on a soldier or wave level. This is a bigger problem when you factor in area of effect attacks, as you’ll need to slide to the wave you want to hit with them, which takes a lot of precious time.
And seconds are a big deal; Most levels end within one-to-two minutes with you as the victor or the fallen. Dawn of War sort of salvages its weak mission time with a cool ‘perk’ mechanic that allows for persistent upgrades based on cash earned in levels. If it hooks you like it did me, you’ll find yourself grinding through the same locations over and over again.
Strangely, the game encourages this behavior outside of upgrades. Levels, including extra armies outside of the US and Britain are purchasable with in-game cash. Alternatively, you can buy a heap of in-game cash through IAP for 99 cents.
The extra levels, for what its worth, are really necessary to the experience. I should also add that they all boast a really cool water-color kind of look that mixes in well with the silhouetted art style of the vehicles and soldiers.
I don’t want to get into value proposition territory here, so I’ll just say that I had an okay time with the game. Its super simple and inarguably flawed, but its persistent upgrade system is a great carrot-on-the-stick and its modern war trappings do set Dawn of War apart. I hate this line, but if ‘you’re a fan of side-scrolling strategy games,’ I can’t imagine you’ll come away wholly unimpressed with this effort.