If you've read our Sins of a Solar Empire review you probably realize that I look forward to RTS titles the way a cookie-addicted five year old looks forward to visiting the dentist: with fear and loathing. Hunter S. Thompson on mescaline is a good approximation for my state of mind as I try to grapple with a 14 year old energy drink addict who's currently not just assembling a larger and more potent army than mine, but has his troops engage in what seems to be ballroom dancing. Why? Apparently he feels the only way to challenge himself is by trying to keep his casualties at zero.
Alright, so there's a little bit of exaggeration there, but it's no secret that of all competitive games it is real-time strategy titles that freeze my fingers and tie my brain in knots or is that supposed to be the other way around? Point is, it's difficult to enjoy an activity where you end up chewing your own hand out of frustration. It's like playing Daikatana... actually, it's exactly like playing Daikatana.
Fortunately, Dawn of War: Soulstorm is, as the title states, a Dawn of War game. The economic micromanagement is kept to a minimum and most of the focus is on the fighting. Depending on race, even the combat micro is minimal, though some factions like Imperial Guard and Eldar require quite a bit of attention to get the most out of them. Necrons, Orks, and to a lesser extent the Space Marines, are more like juggernauts where most of the player's concern in combat is keeping units reinforced and remembering to focus fire on key targets.
Really, that's what makes all Dawn of War games so accessible to those people whose good taste usually prevents them from picking up an RTS title. It's easy to pick up and play, and the stress level of keeping buildings constantly pumping out units is minimal, because with proper play your army is never entirely wiped out. Resources do not need to be harvested and are in fact fought over rather than merely gathered, which keeps the boredom of economic expansion to a minimum.
Soulstorm's problem is that it follows the very good Dark Crusade. Though we didn't review Dawn of War: Dark Crusade, we'll summarize it here so you know just how much awesome was packed into it. Where Dawn of War had a traditionally mind-numbing singleplayer campaign complete with scenarios about as enjoyable as jumping levels in first-person shooters, Dark Crusade had the player pick his own fights. There was a map, a starting province, and a bunch of hostile factions to defeat. Each province contained a bonus of some kind, whether an honor guard unit (units that would follow your leader and you'd get to begin with them in every map), or special bonuses such as the ability to attack twice in one turn or to buy garrison units for less money. Not only that, but your force leader would gain the ability to buy wargear by collecting achievements like a 3:1 kill ratio or winning three defensive battles. The wargear would make him exponentially stronger.
So why do I like Soulstorm so much less than Dark Crusade? It's all in the differences.