The next expansion pack for Dawn of War is finally here and boy, it is a big one. We are talking about the veritable king of expansion packs, a masterpiece that very rightly could be called a sequel on its own, rather than be diminished by the expansion pack tag. It has been in the public eye for almost a year and hotly awaited, partly in due to the fact that it brings not one but two new races as well as a promised unique single-player experience. Has Relic proven to be true to form, in bringing us yet another classic? Short answer: yes they goddamn have. Read on.
First, of course, the races. In Dark Crusade two new races have been added: the ancient Necron race and the relatively young Tau. Both of these are also relatively new to the Games Workshop universe on which the game is based, having only been around for roughly the last five years, and both differ quite widely from the other races you might choose to play.
The Necron is a cybernetic race that is millions of years old, having served some of the first extra-dimensional gods of the universe. Back then in the dawn of time they waged a war which nearly cleansed all of existence of biological life, and rumour has it they only abated when they decided that, if they continued, the food supply wouldn’t recover. And so they rested, burying their vast superior armies beneath the surface of the so-called tomb worlds, slumbering for eons while they waited for the galaxies to slowly repopulate.
The Tau on the other hand are an upbeat and determined New Race whose history barely extends back 7000 years. Indeed back when they were a primitive tribal society thousands of years before the present time the Imperium of Man visited their world and scheduled the Tau for extermination, in preparation for human colonies. However a bureaucratic mistake and warp storms delayed this process, just long enough for the Tau to develop into a technologically superior force dedicated to forming their own empire. Now they are carving out a region of space in pursuit of “the greater good”, annexing planets and incorporating other races (including humans) into their rapidly growing empire.
On a gameplay note these two races bring wildly different playing styles to the game. The Tau has a base warrior unit, Fire Warrior. The units are fast moving but have vulnerable health and only medium armour, as well as having next to no ability in hand to hand combat. Furthermore they have a very short sight-range, to the point where any unit they personally spot will inevitably be close enough to engage them in close combat.
But damn, the rifles they carry are hideously powerful. They have, eventually with upgrades, the longest range of any weapon in the game, and are powerful enough to decimate even a space marine or terminator squad in seconds. By combining firewarrior squads with good micro and a spotter unit you can form an army that can decimate almost any non-vehicle force with little difficulty. We once had four squads take out more than eight times their number of Orks without having to take a step back, as 1 or 2 shots of a fire warrior's pulse rifle can kill a slugger, and they fire fast. Of course they cant fire while moving, and have a one-second setup time upon stopping, but due to some changes in the game that we will get onto in a second this really isn’t an issue.
Apart from the fire warriors the Tau have a number of interesting units. Their first unit producible from their HQ is the stealth suits, which is a small squad of permanently stealthed troopers. As you can not only fire and remain stealthed but also cap and decap points while stealthed, these troops are obviously a boon. They also serve as good early spotters for your fire warriors before you get the much longer sight-ranged pathfinders.
The Tau’s answer to melee comes in the form of the Kroot, one of the allied races of the Tau empire. The avian like fighters are, while only average in melee, really really hard to kill and as a good Tau player is basically just trying to hold up the enemy in range of his fire warriors the Kroot infantry proves invaluable. Vehicle-wise the Tau have a number of vehicles, but as we'll discuss later, vehicles have a much more diminished role in Dark Crusade. One unit of note, though, is a permanently stealthed transport vehicle, which can hold three squads. Quite useful if you’re that way inclined.
The Necrons are wildly different, in units and building choices and in the way their whole economy functions. For a start, they don’t gather requisition. Every unit, building and upgrade in the Necron tech tree requires power and power alone. Accordingly they can build a lot more power plants than the usual six afforded to other races. So what does taking points do for the Necrons? Well, it increases their squad and vehicle cap, as well as their speed modifier.
Much like the Orks with their Waaagh, the Necrons have a unique resource that is rated between 0 and 100. It directly decreases build and construction times for the entire Necron War Machine. Sound Impressive? It is, but it is balanced by the fact that every time you build a unit or building in the Necron army the next one takes longer and costs more. This can be envisioned as a negative time modifier increasing behind the scenes, so the benefit of the initial modifier is diminished somewhat. Nevertheless, if your army is wiped out then the time it takes to rebuild is massively decreased.
Next for the Necrons is that every offensive unit they have is built at their HQ, and their HQ ultimately serves as their relic-enabled super weapon if you fully upgrade it. Remember those floating monoliths from Winter Assault? The ones that were virtually indestructible yet capable of dealing out an incredible amount of damage? Well, that’s what you get once you’ve finished upgrading. It can also teleport and when too damaged auto retreats back to its build location.
Tactics-wise the Necron army takes a bit of thought. They are very slow, and lack any serious vehicles except for their monolith. Their base troops are crap in melee but lethal at range, and the Necrons are easily the hardest race to kill, their ability to resurrect notwithstanding. While the Necrons have a number of specialist troops, such as the deep striking flayed ones and the ominous Pariahs, none of these truly excel in their role and need to be used in tandem with other forces in order to secure a victory. All in all the Necrons are a very different race to play, and we wager it will be a while before the first truly skilled players emerge.