Warhammer 40k translated to real-time on the PC isnít as involved as one might think. The game is almost completely about micromanagement Ė getting the biggest army out there as fast as possible. In many ways, the StarCraft paradigm works Ė that a hard rusher will beat someone trying to tech up, a middle-of-the-road player beats a rusher and hard teching beats middle-of-the-road.
There is very little room for micromanagement. The special units like Force Commanders and Land Raiders have special abilities to call down manually, and most regular squads get the ability to throw grenades, if researched. However, for the most part, itís all about throwing hordes together and seeing who wins. The special abilities do make a difference, as do the stances (even if you donít have a melee squad, itís best to get up close and personal with the Eldar, for example), but the game is ultimately about numbers.
Fortunately the economy is rather simple. Players compete for strategic points, which, when controlled, give a steady stream of requisition points. The other main resource is energy, which is made from player-built generators. Other races can have special requirements as well. The Orks, for example, have a Waaagh! rating and are rewarded
for having larger numbers, rather than prevented from doing so. For example, to build a Squiggoth, in addition to the energy and requisition points cost, the player must also be controlling at least 61 Orks.
Combat is relatively simple then, especially for Space Marines and Orks, but it does include some features that are unlikely to be familiar to RTS players. The obvious black sheep is the concept of morale. Now it has appeared in the Total War series, but those arenít such traditional strategy games as Dawn of War is. Morale is constantly replenishing itself, often enough to survive withering enemy fire, but there are special weapons and abilities that make it go down much faster. Flamethrowers of various kinds are very likely to make a squad break and run, as are mental attacks by various special units. Even under regular fire, a squad may run for the hills during prolonged combat when itís surviving solely off reinforcements, though the presence of a Sergeant, Nob or similar character can restore morale.
Squads typically spawn in at four units strength or less. Theyíre brought to full strength by buying reinforcements. What full strength constitutes can vary. Terminators are limited to 8 units per squad, while Slugga Boyz can get to 15. Slugga Boyz can get a Nob, but Terminators donít get a Sergeant, which can move the Slugga Boyz to 16 per squad. Finally, the special leader units like a Warboss or Force Commander can be attached to a squad, meaning that some Ork combat units can have up to 17 members!
Squads are also upgraded with various kinds of equipment, in the same fashion that they get replacements. Click off 2 Heavy Bolters and 2 Plasma Guns to turn your Space Marines into a lean, mean, infantry shredding machine. Alternately, you can equip them with four flamethrowers, set them to melee stance and watch the enemy panic and run. Just pray that neither of these squads has to deal with armored enemy units!
The units of each side are quite different from each other though by no means as utterly unlike as in StarCraft. A better comparison would be WarCraft III, what with the presence of hero-type units in both games, but the units in Warhammer are, again, more similar to each other, and simpler to use. In fact, the game plays in a very un-Warhammerish way: just throw your armies together and see who wins. Thereís obviously more to it, like scouting, raiding, keeping your enemy off balance by attacking his listening posts, but as far as RTS games go, Warhammer 40,000: Dawn of War is very light and oddly enough, more enjoyable for that.