7   +   8   =  

Perhaps you’ve heard the slogan of Games Workshop’s tabletop wargaming franchise Warhammer 40,000, the rallying cry of an entire sect of insular nerddom: “In the grim darkness of the far future, there is only war.”

With Warhammer 40,000: Dawn of War 3, developer Relic Entertainment hopes to deliver an experience unparalleled in grimness, darkness, and futurity. During a gameplay demo at E3, Relic Entertainment’s Brent Disbrow explained the studio’s intent to deliver an experience more like the first Dawn of War, an RTS of base-building and massive conflicts.

2009’s Warhammer 40,000: Dawn of War 2 was an experience much in line with Relic’s other premier RTS series, Company of Heroes. Company of Heroes features squad-based World War 2 strategy gameplay, with a directional cover system, minimal base-building, and smaller squads of troops. This rigid run-down of mechanics isn’t to suggest I disliked Dawn of War 2–quite the opposite, in fact. I felt the more intimate take on Warhammer (focused on micro-management, unit positioning, cover, Warcraftian heroic units) was a fresh approach to the 41st millenium. An intimate take on the Space Marines–genetically enhanced, psychically indoctrinated demigods who protect the interests of humanity’s God Emperor–was an impressive reach for Relic, given Games Workshop’s own reticence in characterizing its setting.

Still, if there’s anything to be observed about Warhammer 40,000, it’s a grandness of scale–an extremity of action, size, fire, and metal. And in providing a very explicit framing of Dawn of War 2‘s mechanics and experience, what we’ve seen so far of Dawn of War 3 can be more readily appreciated.

Immediately noticeable is Dawn of War 3‘s return to base-building and larger unit sizes. Game designer Brent Disbrow explained a scaling up of conflicts in Dawn of War 3, both in terms of unit mass, and in the implementation of superheavy units for each of the game’s three launch factions.

Where units such as the Space Marine Dreadnought, a mecha-sarcophagus for a mortally wounded warhero, would’ve been on the larger scale of units for Dawn of War 2, Dawn of War 3 is introducing superheavy units such as the titanic Imperial Knight. A walker roughly 3-5 times the size of the Dreadnought, the Imperial Knight rains destruction on enemy infantry and armour alike. This change was made to shift the focus of units like the Dreadnought to crowd-control and tanking, as a line unit instead of an ace in the hole. For infantry, focus has been shifted away from Dawn of War 2‘s use of positional cover objects like sandbags and logs, to an “areas of cover” system, such as bunkers or energy shields, for more traditional RTS pitched battles.

This expansion of scale was a big part of this year’s E3 demo, but was also paired with smaller moments of character and intimacy. Returning Space Marine hero Gabriel Angelos demonstrated multiple special abilities for both protecting allied units and assaulting the enemy. Of the two abilities named, “Retribution” is a damaging bubble-shield, and “God-Splitter” is a mobility ability tied into a leaping hammer strike–hearkening to the focus on unit-per-unit special abilities that was integral to Dawn of War 2. Please note that, in as far as Warhammer 40,000 is concerned, leaping hammer strikes are as far as the series comes towards the aforementioned “character” and “intimacy.”

Warhammer 40,000: Dawn of War 3 will be coming to PC in 2017– 37,983 years earlier than you might’ve expected.