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'Dawn of War III's' space marines make Master Chief look like a rookie recruit

'Dawn of War III's' space marines make Master Chief look like a rookie recruit

Before demoing Warhammer 40,000: Dawn of War III, Game Director Phillippe Boulle described it as “a fast, big, real-time strategy game.” Perhaps doubtful we won’t embrace his claims at face value, the 10-year Relic Entertainment veteran then treated Digital Trends to a sneak peek that became more badass with each passing second.

A sequel to 2009’s Dawn of War II, and its subsequent expansions, DoW3 will feature three factions — Eldar, Orks, and Space Marines — at launch, but our hands-off preview focused on the screen-clearing capabilities of the latter group. Lead by elite hero Gabriel Angelos, the Space Marines are tasked with staining the snow-covered map with Eldar blood. Building on the popular hero units from DoW2, Angelos and his ilk are, according to Boulle, “Heroes with really crisp abilities that do a lot of damage and do lots of fun things.”

“You have to move out of the way…move your troops so they don’t get caught up in this giant death ray.”

If our demo is any indication, one of those “fun things” includes crushing foes with a hammer that makes Thor’s mighty Mjolnir look like a glorified mallet. Aptly dubbed the “God-Splitter,” we witnessed the massive weapon crush Eldar infantry like ants beneath a boot, before morphing into a spinning shield that not only knocked back approaching enemies, but also deflected bullets.

While the genetically engineered space knight has little trouble holding his own, he’s nevertheless joined by Solaria. Wielding a pair of enormous Gatling guns, the Imperial Knight is classified as a super elite or, as Boulle giddily described her: “the biggest, baddest unit we have ever produced for Dawn of War.” Solaria’s technically a late-game unit, but our developer-directed demo afforded us the opportunity see her in action early. Unleashing her Gatling Barrage ability, she sweeps the twin guns back and forth until the battlefield is brimming with Eldar corpses.

With the enemy forces temporarily silenced, Boulle took a moment to show off the game’s base-building mechanics. A popular feature from the first Dawn of War — but notably absent in the sequel — the ability to build barracks and other military structures makes a welcome return in DoW3. Of course, in keeping with the enemy-obliterating tone of our demo, Boulle used the feature to construct Dreadnaughts, powerful line units that essentially transform foes into craters with their mech-like melee claws.

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Unfolding on the icy volcano planet of Acheron, the demo’s map sports plenty of cozy terrain suitable for cover. The few Eldar squads not yet turned into paste manage to find some temporary solace behind these shield-protected bunkers. Unfortunately for them, Boulle used their cover to demonstrate the power of Assault Terminators — close-combat elites capable of teleporting to their targets. The units took out the cover before opening their enemies from belly button to brain stem.

Despite deploying tanks in retaliation for the hell wrought by the Space Marines, the Eldar’s last ditch effort is summarily swatted by Solaria’s second ability, Ironstorm Missiles. A barrage of six projectiles, the devastating attack targeted its enemies, then cooked them, extra crispy. Speaking of barbecuing bad guys, the Space Marines saved their best foe-frying technique for the final set piece. With the Eldar nearly defeated, the super-soldiers pried open the heavens and rained down death with an Orbital Bombardment.

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While this planet-scorching attack might sound familiar to seasoned DoW fans, Boulle assured it’s been tweaked to take advantage of the latest tech. For starters, it can now be controlled by the player; rather than being triggered and left to do what it does best, the beam can be steered into targets for optimal enemy-vaporizing effect. If that’s not enough, the Super Ability also gains power with every target it turns to dust.

As Boulle cautioned, though, finding yourself on the business end of this Death Star-like laser is also more challenging thanks to its new-found maneuverability. “In a multiplayer context, if it’s being used against you, you really have to pay attention. You have to move out of the way … move your troops so they don’t get caught up in this giant death ray.”

In addition to being controlled by the developer, our demo was tailored and polished to showcase the map-clearing abilities of the Space Marines. If the game’s more strategic, brainy side can match the epic display of brawn we witnessed, though, DoW3 might be the ultimate culmination of its predecessor’s best features, with an added cinematic flair that could draw more casual fans into the cerebral genre.

We look forward to getting behind the Space Marines’ unmatched power when SEGA and Relic decide to put us in front of the mouse and keyboard ahead of the game’s 2017 release.