Summary: Jakub gets lucky and has to play another strategy game. Lucky like a speculator in 1929.
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.
The Dark Eldar are essentially a somewhat tougher if slower Eldar race, but again, with the twist that they have a new resource that's consumed to power their special abilities. The ultimate problem with the Dark Eldar and Sisters of Battle is not that they're uninteresting from a lore or gameplay perspective, just that they're too similar to pre-existing races and the diversity is now harming the game. Rather than creating the feeling of more unique options, it seems as if Soulstorm has just blurred the differences among the races.
Where the game really fails however, is in the little things. You can just tell it was rushed. The production quality just isn't there. Where Dark Crusade at least had a series of fitting in-game cutscenes, Soulstorm really doesn't. Dark Crusade would have customized dialog to explain why Imperial Guard are fighting Space Marines, or the different ways the Eldar used to eliminate the Necrons compared to others. The enmity between Chaos and Space Marine was certainly there. Soulstorm has nothing comparable just generic cutscenes for every capital invaded. Despite the presence of three Imperial factions in the game, there's no explanation given why they're fighting against each other.
That's not to say it's all doom and gloom for Dawn of War: Soulstorm. It has improved on Dark Crusade in certain respects. The special provincial powerups are more balanced, so you will no longer be able to attack two times per turn anywhere on the map for example. Still, the provinces retain their strategic significance because of the honor guard units they hold and the webway gates that permit travel between different planets and moons.
Race balance is always a touchy issue in Dawn of War, but that's really not a surprise given how Games Workshop operates. Games Workshop, owners of the 40K license, balance the tabletop wargame so that most of the time, the newest race released or updated to the current edition rules is the most powerful race. This encouraged sales of materials and figurines. Dawn of War has no such incentive but the races are still arguably quite imbalanced. Imperial Guard are just plain difficult to use, while Necrons and Orks are arguably the easiest and most powerful.
The core game is essentially identical to Dawn of War, but given the feature cuts and the fact that this is the third expansion to a game, charging full price for it is rather excessive. Between the lack of significant forward progress and the lower production quality, Soulstorm loses a lot of value relative to Dark Crusade and it's cynical to expect gamers to pay full price.
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