Good morning, this is going to be a longish post, but I have been thinking about it for some time, and wanted to share my thoughts on DoW3, what it did right, and areas that I feel could be improved in the Dawn of War series going forward. I hope to do this by analyzing the elements in three key areas of DoW3 that contributed to the mixed reception. Most importantly, I will try to summarize my observations into ways that future dawn of war titles might utilize to attract a wider audience.
I will preface this by saying that I am not any particular expert in game design, but have been an avid strategy game player for almost 20 years, and a part of the Dawn of War community since 2005. I have always been passionate about the Dawn of War series, as it was the first to introduce me to WH40k, as well as sparking my initial interest in playing RTS’ competitively. This is an opinion post, so everything after this point is basically a big “IMO”. Let us dive right in.
Personally, I actually enjoyed the gameplay of DoW3, but there is no doubt that it was very different from previous titles. I will, however, address three important things that I think the game did very wrong, and were very harmful to player retention as a result. I won’t be covering all game play issues; just ones that I think hurt the strength of the player base
Towards the end of support life, relic tried to correct this, but unfortunately it was much too little, much too late. The game was designed from the ground up with the premise that squads and units were disposable. Losing a squad was not supposed to hurt too badly, and late game, squads would be evaporated like mist. This was a giant mistake, because it is not what people wanted. In dow1 and 2 (but especially 2), losing a squad was bad, and they had quite a bit more staying power with longer engagements. Mechanics also existed to get them out of harm if they were being swamped. In DoW3 it is simply very unsatisfying to watch squad after squad of elite space marine / elder get thrown into the grinder and disintegrated. In some battles, I lost half of the chapter / craftworld, and this is not what players expected. I could actually see this disposability of units being ok with some factions (like orkz / tyranids), but overall, people wanted beefier units and longer engagements.
Related to the previous point, people wanted wargear for their squads. Customizability and individual upgrades simply doesn’t work when I have 20 squads of dire avengers who get ground into paste by a brisk wind. Beefier units and unit upgrades were what people were expecting, and they didn’t get it. The elites couldn’t be upgraded either, whereas upgrading your commander was one of the interesting parts of DoW1 / 2
Base building was added into DoW3, but it didn’t feels like DoW 1 base building. The tech tree was extremely shallow, and it felt like relic didn’t fully commit to adding real base building back into the series. There were no intertwined tech / building restrictions, and the HQ building still used DoW2 style tiers. Most of the time, I didn’t even build my base in my “base” and structures simply served as forward recruitment points. The base building of DoW3 lacked depth and substance, and this is something that turned off casual players. Abilities, tech upgrades and building also lacked distinct flavor text. We no longer have upgrades like “annihilate the enemy” or “full scale war”, now we have upgrades called “HP Upgrade 1/2/3”, something that, again, would have turned off people who like to get immersed in the game.
• Change must be done carefully when working with an established franchise. DoW2 changed many things from DoW1, but it still managed to keep the “feel” of the DoW series. This does not mean that “innovation” should become a bad word, but it should be measured and thoughtful, with consideration of what people want to see from the game.
The campaign is one area of DoW3 that received an especially cool reception. I believe this was the result of a multitude of factors, but ultimately, I believe it boiled down to two important ones. A campaign can survive a failing in one of these areas, but in both, it is a critical flaw.
The story wasn’t engaging
• I have been really big into the DoW story since the beginning. It was, for me, fascinating to become immersed in the fleshed out world, the characters, and to follow their struggles and sacrifices throughout the series. For me, vanilla Dow2 and Chaos Rising were the epitome of storytelling in the series, and relic’s best cumulative narratives to date. They offered excellent character development, memorable dialogue, and incredibly exhilarating climaxes that all built upon the previous games. The chills I felt as Gabriel Angelos warped into orbit during my last stand against the hive tyrant, or the blood ravens making their final push against chaos to defeat the great unclean one were truly awe inspiring. Unfortunately, DoW3 failed to capture anything close to this. The characters felt one dimensional, and we were not given enough time with any one faction to really feel like we were witnessing an unfolding and compelling narrative. Furthermore, the game felt disconnected from the previous titles, and the main story itself felt like a bit of a rehash from the old games. There just wasn’t much to keep people engaged from a storytelling perspective. DoW3 brought nothing to the table, adding no new compelling characters, and giving us very little character development for the existing ones.
The objectives and gameplay was boring
Overall, the gameplay in the campaign was likewise not enough to keep me entertained. The missions seemed to consist of basic “go here / destroy this” objectives that often felt like an exercise in tedium. This was especially true on the missions where you got a limited size force, especially on harder game difficulties, where a player might have to constantly restart because of minor mistakes. Generally, the way I beat missions was either abusing elite mechanics, or smashing my force into the enemy force to breakthrough, and then waiting around for a few minutes for enough requisition to buy another army if my last A-move push failed. The core mechanics of DoW3 did not lend themselves well to the campaign. The player’s army is so fragile, that it could be lost quite easily compared to the previous titles, and unlike DoW2, each engagement felt much less interesting, as the lack of cover and little variety of abilities just turned my fights into a bloody grind fest to the objective. Don’t get me wrong, I love a challenging campaign, but the challenge should come from the difficulty of each engagement, not how many minutes I need to wait to build resources for my next attack force.
• When designing future campaigns, I think it is important to ensure that the story is compelling, both by continuing the stories we know, as well as building new and interesting ones. The story should feature strong character development, with a strong emphasis on storytelling and meaningful dialogue. Likewise, the campaign should feature varied and interesting objectives, with elements to substantially differentiate it from skirmish and multiplayer.
Content is a very important point, both for selling copies of the game, and retaining players through replayability. Unfortunately, DoW3 was extremely lacking from a content perspective when the game launched, and the post launch support, while nice, did little to address the barebones nature of the game. We had a short campaign, an extremely limited multiplayer map pool, one game mode at release, and only three races. In addition, teams had to be fixed, as there was no free for all, or ability to set up custom teams. In my opinion, this lack of content is what truly sealed the fate of Dawn of War 3. Competitive players were not satisfied, as the map pool and race selection was lacking, and casual players were extremely unsatisfied, as there were no PvE or coop elements. Even comp stomps felt limited, as you could fight 3 AIs at the most; In DoW1 I could fight 7 AIs if I wanted to! These issues were further compounded by the fact that the lobby was poorly done, and player made content was hard to access.
I cannot stress enough how much I feel that the lack of content harmed the game. I had friends who bought previous DoW titles ask me if the game had a coop campaign, I had to answer no. They asked me if it had the last stand, and I had to answer no. I can personally attest to three lost sales simply because of those two questions alone. Another friend simply stopped playing after a few months because there simply wasn’t enough in the game to keep him in. He wanted to play big 2v6 comp stomps, but the game simply didn’t allow it, and there were no other game modes to keep him in.
• Nothing kills a game faster than a lack of content to keep people playing. Even the most engaging RTS can get stale quickly if there are only 2 or 3 interesting maps and one game mode.
• Options such as custom teams / free for all, a solid AI, at least 4 races, a substantial map pool and multiple game modes should be mandatory offerings for release. Likewise, coop / pve elements should be strongly considered from the outset
• Future DoW titles should try to offer a very robust game from the beginning, one that can stand on its own, even if additional support was not added.
It really saddens me that it has come to this, but I hope the lessons of DoW3 help relic going forward, and I truly hope we will see another DoW game at some point in the future. If you managed to read my whole post, then congrats, and thanks for bearing with me! Let me know of anything I have missed, or if you disagree with any of my points.