DoW started off well and just keeps getting better.
In 2004, Relic entertainment (the people behind Homeworld, lest we forget) released Dawn of War. Based in the Warhammer 40,000 universe, this incredible game leveraged a spectacular new game engine (which would go on to power the amazing Company of Heroes) to bring spectacular RTS gameplay to a new audience. There have since been three expansion packs released to the original game and a full-blown sequel is just about to grace the shores of our fair nation. We decided this was a great time for a series recap and a preview of what's around the corner.
The first expansion pack, Winter Assault was released in 2005. The addition of the Imperial Guard as a playable faction (initially only available in certain single player missions) was the most significant change to the base Dawn of War gameplay but it wasn't the only change. A whole host of balancing changes - specifically limitations and "nerfs", for the most part - changed the core gameplay significantly. There were also two new singleplayer campaigns to play, each of which was more enjoyable than the original and as a whole the game was extremely well received.
Released near the end of 2006, Dark Crusade added not one but two new races - the Tau Empire and the Necrons. Dark Crusade is a stand alone expansion - you do not need a copy of Dawn of War installed to play. Dark Crusade introduced a new interface for the campaign mode, where players were no longer restricted to a linear path through the narrative. Instead, players would use the campaign map to choose their own destiny as they decided where to move and when to attack. This meta-game featured turn-based combat where the outcome of battle was decided via a regular skirmish. Key battles would result in story cinematics playing out and advancing the narrative. If you've been following the theme so far, you've probably already guessed that Dark Crusade was extremely well received in the gaming press.
Like Dark Crusade, 2008's Soulstorm expansion was stand-alone. And, like Dark Crusade, the singleplayer campaign used a turn-based layer to frame the regular RTS action. Again, the new expansion added new races: this time the Sisters of Battle and the Dark Eldar. But this expansion lacked the excellent reception of the previous titles: while still a solid title, it seemed to offer too little that was new. Apart from the new factions, gameplay was altered very little. New air units added a little zest - but this was insufficient to really excite. By this point, Dawn of War had had its run. The time of expansions was over, and it was time for...
Dawn of War II
The launch of the highly-anticipated sequel to Dawn of War is just days away now. But the multiplayer beta has given many the opportunity to sample its delights. Dawn of War II takes what was great about the original series, and then marches further away from the RTS mainstream. Emphasis has been moved further from base-building to combat. Relic have incorporated many of their innovations from Company of Heroes, and the tactical firefights of DoW2 are close, intense, and brutal. Each race now also has a choice of three different leader types, each with their own distinctive style and abilities - and this looks to tie in well with the new 3 vs 3 battle type. With amazing visuals, excellent innovations, and some seriously hardcore tactical gaming, Relic looks set to once again wage war on RTS mediocrity!