BEING a big fan of the Warhammer 40,000 (also known as 40K) universe, I was eagerly anticipating this release, which incidentally, is the last title of the Dawn of War series.
To kick things off, there's a short introduction movie that explains why all the different armies are fighting in the Karuva system as well as why the forces of the Imperium are at each other's throats.
Aside from the seven factions from Dark Crusade; Space Marines, Imperial Guard, Eldar, Orks, Necrons, Tau and the forces of Chaos, you also get two new armies, namely the Sisters of Battle and the Dark Eldar.
The Sisters of Battle are a largely all-female army of holy warriors serving the Church of the Imperium and their idea of dealing with their enemies involves an excessive use of bolter fire and flame. This is pretty much reflected in the composition of their force, which gives you plenty of infantry and flame-equipped units.
The Sisters of Battle also have a unique resource called "faith points" - generate enough faith points and you can call in some neat holy powers which help you in battle, including having a unit of angels fight for you!
Their vehicles are largely not that powerful but balanced out by the fact they cost less so you can field more of them.
Unfortunately in Soulstorm, the game continues to make flame weapons affect only unit morale and buildings, which is pretty annoying as anyone who's read the 40K novels or played the tabletop game knows that flame weapons in the 40K universe pretty much destroys anything it is used against.
In the game, this translates into the Sisters of Battles' defensive structures being pretty weak as they all utilise flame weapons. So you need to make sure you have your units ready to respond quickly to any attacks on your defensive structures.
Join the dark side
The Dark Eldar are the sadistic, corrupted brethren of the Eldar whose main purpose is to raid and gather plunder along with slaves to torture.
This faction does a lot of damage especially when you upgrade their weapons but they can't really take damage so going toe-to-toe with most of the other races is not a good idea.
However, you can swing the advantage in your favour since the Dark Eldar infantry have the "terrorflex grenade," which stuns and breaks the morale of enemy units, giving you free shots at them along with being able to inflict more damage.
The Dark Eldar also have a unique resource in the form of souls harvested from their enemies. Dark Eldar worker units, in the form of slaves, can gather souls from Dark Eldar buildings or from any slain enemy units, though the latter is fairly pointless since your workers can just simply stay in your base and gather souls from your buildings.
Harvest enough souls and you gain access to various powers that you can use on your enemies such as lowering their morale, corroding their vehicles or poisoning their troops.
The other armies from Dark Crusade pretty much are the same, save for minor adjustments to them and the addition of air units to all armies.
My personal favourite still remains the Baneblade tank of the Imperial Guard, which pretty much lays waste to anything facing it.
The air units, in my opinion, really don't make much difference to the game and most of the time I hardly build any of them anyway. This may be due to the fact that when I play my favourite faction, the Imperial Guard, my tactics consist solely of getting the Baneblade operational and then rampaging with it or parking my artillery pieces outside the enemy base and lobbing shells into it.
The fact that they can largely be easily shot down by most units also lowers their appeal for use in most cases.
The plus side might be that the air units are more of a testbed for inclusion in Dawn of War II and that the designers will then be able to make them more usable based on the experience in Soulstorm.
As always each faction is led by a Commander who you can upgrade with various equipment to make him or her more powerful in combat. The only Commander from Dark Crusade who returns in Soulstorm is the Ork Warlord Gorgutz, while all the others are new characters.
When you conquer certain areas, you get an honour guard unit, which is basically a more powerful version of standard units to take into battle with you.
The honour guard units don't count towards your infantry and vehicle caps and thus allow you to field a larger army.
They are particularly valuable in the Take and Hold missions since you need to quickly capture critical locations and hold on to them for a certain amount of time.
Didn't we fight before
The campaign takes place on four planets divided into provinces with limited access between the planets via provinces with Warpgates. The result is that you end up battling in phases against only one or two opponents on each planet in contrast to Dark Crusade where since all factions could easily move around.
Personally I'm not keen on the format in Soulstorm since it can get pretty boring fighting the same foe several times in succession and it takes a while before you get to fight a particular faction for the first time.
The missions are divided into Annihilation, Take and Hold and Stronghold missions. Annihilation missions require you to wipe out all enemy forces - pretty much straightforward except when you fight the Eldar as they can make their buildings invisible so it can get very annoying when you have to search the map for that last Eldar building.
Take and Hold, as mentioned above, requires you to capture a certain number of critical locations and hold on to them. Since you need to do this quickly with no time to build, along with the fact that the defending force is already well set up, having a decent honour guard with you is essential.
The Stronghold missions occur when you attack your enemies' home province and opens with a short video story. Sadly the opposing commanders' dialogue at the start in which your commander and the enemy commander engage in some trash talking is no longer present. A real pity since Dark Crusade had some pretty humourous dialogue in this section.
The Soulstorm campaign, while fun to play, doesn't really have much of a storyline. This is always a problem when you have an open-ended campaign setting.
Hopefully Dawn of War II will have a more storyline-based campaign as the Soulstorm campaign storyline doesn't do enough justice to the 40K universe. To be fair, however, there are some nice short stories and flavour text in the archive section of each province. There's also an awesome end credit movie featuring the Space Marines and Orks.
Overall Soulstorm is still a fun game to play, especially if you are new to the genre or a big fan of the 40K universe. Being able to play out the mass mayhem and carnage that you read about in the 40K novels is a big plus factor for me personally.
However it's probably just as well that THQ and Relic have opted to end the Dawn of War games since the series has pretty much run its course.
The good news is that Dawn of War II is set for next year and you can see a preview of it here at www.dawnofwar2.com/us/home.
Now excuse me as I go back to crushing the enemies of the Imperium.
Pros: New armies; 40K mayhem; and more 40K mayhem.
Cons: Very little back story: air units fairly superfluous; not much change from Dark Crusade.
WARHAMMER 40,000 DAWN OF WAR: SOULSTORM (THQ)
Genre: Real-time strategy
System requirements: Intel Pentium 4 2.4GHz or better, 512MB RAM or more, 5GB free hard disk space, DirectX 9.0c-compatible graphics card with hardware T&L.
Review copy courtesy of New Era Interactive Software, (03) 2143-1332.