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Dawn of War: Winter Assault Review

Winter Assault Box art
Developer:Relic Entertainment
Official Site:http://www.dawnofwargame.com/
Release Date:September 23, 2005
Reviewer:Craig Dudley (Mani)
Buy now at Amazon.co.uk

It's hard to write original things about a mission pack, they're usually just extra content for games that are already pretty well known. In the case of Relic's blockbuster Dawn of War, that would be very well known of course, it was probably last years best RTS game after all. Still, my problem of trying to find something interesting to write about is very much alleviated by the fact that Winter Assault is no ordinary mission pack, it includes not only new campaigns and multiplayer content, but also an entirely new playable race, The Imperial Guard. Of course we saw them briefly in Dawn of War, but you certainly couldn't play a whole campaign with them or select them in a skirmish game, now you can.

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Pretty much all you reading this will know exactly how good Dawn of War looked and you won't be surprised to know that Winter Assault looks just as good, I'll therefore try to talk about any differences. As with Dawn of War, the environments are mostly battle damaged cityscapes, and again they are beautifully drawn. But as it's title would suggest, Winter Assault takes place mainly in winter environments, a cold an inhospitable planet known as "Lorn V". Most of the time it's therefore snowing or on occasion raining. Most of the maps also have mostly snow and ice covered ground too, at least until you've started trying to annihilate your opponent, the ground will soon be full of bodies and blood. Violence is clearly part of the Warhammer 40K universe and Winter Assault portrays it well.

The new units in the Imperial Guard are also of typically high standard, even zoomed up close, I do wish you could zoom out much further though, I'm a big fan of being able to see lot's of the map at once. That would probably make managing squads and using some of their special powers almost impossible. Some of those powers do have very nice looking special effects too, it would be a shame to lose them.

Animation of the new Imperial Guard units is also excellent, from running to flying through the air after being blasted by a grenade all seem fluid, nothing is clunky or jerky. However, I must admit I was slightly disappointed that we didn't get another awesome intro movie though, Dawn of Wars' was great stuff, another would have been gratefully received.

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There aren't a whole lot of exciting things to talk about with regard to sound effects, they are perfectly good however, very effective in fact. There isn't a lot of music either, what there is blends in nicely and never seems out of place. Anyway, I wouldn't want to break the habit of a lifetime and go into excessive detail while describing a games' musical score.

Voice acting on the other hand is something I love to talk about, fortunately Winter Assault like it's predecessor provides us with a wealth of voice content. Most of which has a comedy British accent as you might expect with an idea which originally hails from British gaming company Games Workshop, they even managed to sneak in several mild British profanities, I found it highly amusing when selecting an Ork squad that they will sometimes shout back "Up yours!" or something similar, it's hardly offensive though, and as the game has a 16+ rating, it's fair enough. I can't imagine big nasty green skinned Ork's being the most pleasant of fellows anyway.

All in all, voice acting is mostly great, there's just the usual issue of there not quite being quite enough variation in unit responses, some of them can get a little bit annoying, however virtually every RTS game in recent memory suffers from that so we can't get too upset about it. As with graphics, there's nothing to let the game down at all.

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The first thing that strikes you about Winter Assault is the length of the campaign missions, they are enormous and really take some time to complete. Most of them are that big that they are split into smaller, more logical chunks. I won't discuss these in any great detail as that might spoil things a little, let's just say that's it's quite different from the first game, I think it helps to involve you in the storyline a little better. Winter Assault might be expensive for an add-on, but you're not being short changed, there's plenty of content and definite value for money here. For example, Winter Assault contains two campaigns, you can play as Order, Imperial Guard and Eldar or if the mood strikes, Disorder, Chaos and Orks.

You do also get the familiar squad based units, while I'm not the biggest fan of this feature I suppose it can make managing large numbers of units that bit easier. Each squad can usually be upgraded in several ways too, you can of course just add more troops to your squad or give some of them enhanced weaponry once it has been researched. But you can also add command units to a squad to give them a specific bonus, for example the new Imperial Guard Commissar adds a morale bonus to any squad he is attached. It's this sort of subtle variations of squads and play styles that add an interesting gameplay dynamic. Still, there's no substitute for tactical awareness, as I found out several times while trying to be clever with my squads and getting over run by Orks. I should also mention the addition of tunnels to the game. So far I've only encountered them on the Imperial Guard team, but they are very useful. Each infantry command building you erect automatically gets added to your tunnels network and can hold three squads, it does take some time to transport a squad down the tunnels, but it is much faster than travelling by foot over ground.

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That's the other thing that I noticed fairly quickly, Winter Assault seems much harder than Dawn of War ever was to me, perhaps I'm just out of practice and to be honest I never was great at it, or maybe the A.I. is just that much better, I'd like to think it's the latter but it's probably a combination of all three.

Gameplay is usually pretty fast in Winter Assault, you get very little time to sit back and think, which for beginners perhaps isn't great, fortunately the enemy A.I. is very slow on the easiest setting and the campaign modes do try to ease you in. My one complaint is again regarding the use of pre-defined squads to control your infantry, sometimes they can be a little dificult to move where you'd like them, the squads jsut take up a fair bit of space and don't seem to like standing in irregular formations, this can cause a few blockages and minor annoyances.

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Generally, Winter Assault plays just like Dawn of War did but with the addition of the new race and a new unit for each of the other races. Add some slight balance tweaks and you just get more fast paced, ultra violent madness which requires skill, speed and most importantly, a strategy. It really is not a surprise that the World Cybergames will be using Dawn of War this year. However, if you're like me and playing a game in the world championships isn't your thing, then there are still plenty of skill levels, races to choose from and a large number of maps to play, both in skirmish games and against your mates.

Dawn of War: Winter Assault is a damn fine expansion pack, if your'e a fan of Dawn of War, buying this is really a no brainer, if you can afford it of course as this is not the cheapest add-on ever. If you're a RTS fan but haven't played Dawn of War yet, I'd suggest picking up the gold edition which includes the original game as well the Winter Assault and some collectibles. I'd say it's probably the best RTS game that's been released for a while, and this expansion pack has brought it right back upto date.

Good stuff

  • Looks great
  • Sounds good
  • Lots of content
  • Loads of skill levels
  • Easy to play, hard to master

Not so good stuff

  • Some annoying squad A.I.
  • Could be a little cheaper

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