Oh dear, it’s happened again. A developer, attempting to cash in on a popular gaming trend, has ignored the impassioned cries of its dedicated fan base and created a game that nobody asked for. We’ve seen this treatment many times in the past, across a myriad of genres and intellectual properties, usually resulting in morbid amalgamations of equal parts trendiness and design-by-committee. You can understand why companies do this. Why take the risk of creating something original when you can just tweak a winning format? There are a lot of success stories to cite as justification for this reasoning. By copying the core elements of the Dark Souls formula, Nioh and The Surge managed to create fun and engaging experiences. The resurgence of hardcore platformers over the last decade can be traced directly back to the popularity of Super Meat Boy. We also can’t forget that we probably wouldn’t have Overwatch without Team Fortress Classic blazing the trail for hero based shooters.
Unfortunately, as Relic showed with DoW3, this scheme doesn’t always pay off for game designers.Typically when a clone gets released, it’ll be panned by critics, ignored by fans, and fall into relative obscurity. My fingers would wear to the bone before I could make a dent in the list of titles that failed miserably, while attempting to follow in the footsteps of a popular release. When you combine this creative cronyism with an established IP, like Warhammer 40k, you end up alienating your core fans while simultaneously producing a game too uninspired to attract any new ones.
So what happened? What could industry veterans Relic Entertainment have done with DoW3 to deserve this level of vitriol leveled at them? To understand that we need to first look back at the two previous entries in the DoW franchise.
Released in 2004, DoW1 is viewed by many as the best entry in the series. It featured many classic RTS tropes; resource generation, branching tech paths, multiple playable races, base building, etc… There were several well received expansions that added a tremendous amount of replayability to both the single player and multiplayer modes, with additional races and modes. It’s a sublimely enjoyable game to hop on with a few friends, and sits on my hard drive to this day.
In the interim years between DoW1 and 2, Relic released the incredibly successful Company of Heroes. It was a groundbreaking RTS experience that eschewed conventional base building defense focused tactics, to more accurately portray the mobile cover based warfare of World War 2. CoH won awards across the board and secured its place alongside the likes of Starcraft and Age of Empires as legends in the RTS genre. It broke the proverbial mold and was hugely influential in the making of DoW2.
Actually, to say it influenced DoW2 would be akin to saying GoBots were influenced by the Transformers, in that they were basically the exact same thing. DoW2 played like a direct reskin of CoH, missing only a few truckloads of Nazis to make the experience complete. This angered a large portion of the existing DoW fans who felt betrayed by the devs by straying so far from the core components of the previous game. That’s not to say DoW2 wasn’t good, but it wasn’t what the fanbase was hoping for. We wanted updated graphics, higher unit counts, expanded tech tree options; basically the Starcraft 2 treatment. As a result, DoW2 didn’t have nearly the long term playability or appeal of its precursor.
When DoW3 started releasing teasers, I could not have been more excited. Prerendered trailers showcased massive conflicts between the Imperium of Man and the hordes of Xenos scum. The 40k lore is host to one of the richest and most interesting universes I’ve ever dug into, and these images had me chomping at the bit, ready to take a chainsword to some orcs. The obvious assumption among 40k followers was that Relic had learned from the lukewarm reception of DoW2 and were creating DoW3 to be closer in line with the beloved DoW1. We could not have been more wrong.
Have you ever seen someone try make a paper airplane for the first time? Usually they will focus intently on every little fold, forgetting for a moment that they don’t actually work at Boeing. They wind up and fling the creation with all their might; only to watch it soar forward about 2 inches before unceremoniously nosediving. There could be no more apt analogy for DoW3’s release. It was poised to be the redemption of the franchise, bringing back the near infinite replayability and engrossing campaign we’ve been missing. Instead we got our own personal Horus Heresy* courtesy of Relic.
If you’ve turned on a computer in the last 5 years then you’ve probably heard of League of Legends. It’s one of those games I was talking about earlier. The kind whose immense financial success warps the entire industry around it. Call of Duty did it to FPS**, and League of Legends gave MOBA games the same treatment. It’s League’s dominance that Relic was grasping after when they made the decision to make DoW3. They turned this cherished RTS franchise into yet another damn multiplayer online battle arena.
Well, DoW3 isn’t entirely a MOBA in the most traditional sense. Sure, it’s hero focused, lane based, and there are pre-placed turrets guarding a
nexus core generator. Thus, all the normal boxes are checked. What makes DoW3 somewhat standout is Relic’s twist on the formula. They jammed in components from classic RTS games to try and hide the fact that they are less original than a six month old meme being used by someone at the office who should really know better. You’ll be constructing buildings and crapping out irrelevant units that will be wiped off the map by even the weakest Heroes. The fun will last for a couple of games, and then you’ll get bored and start looking for something else to do. Start mousing over the options and that’s when you’ll notice the heart wrenching truth in store for you. There’s only one game mode. There is no skirmish mode, no free play; and the tiny campaign plays like nothing more than a tutorial for your inevitable online showdowns. The MOBA game type is the only way to play DoW3 and, like all MOBAs, it gets really old, really fast. I could have forgiven everything else if they would have just left in the ability to play traditional RTS style skirmishes with some friends. It’s all we’ve wanted since DoW1. It’s what we disliked about DoW2.
The real kicker is that with the base building and different playable races, they already went through most of the trouble of making a cohesive RTS experience. I just they wish wouldn’t have shoved it up LoL’s ass afterwards. Adding these elements didn’t make MOBAs better, they just made DoW worse.
I wanted this game to be so great that it would inspire sporadic parades through the streets of our greatest cities. A limited edition steelbook copy would sit atop a red crushed velvet pillow flanked on all sides by an esports honor guard escort made up of the finest Korean athletes. The confetti alone would have taken days to clean up…DAYS! Instead we got the gaming equivalent of Godfather 3, a soulless, bitter disappointment lacking both Marlon Brando and Robert DeNiro.
The units and paint schemes do look pretty sweet though. I’ll give them that. Enough from me, what do you think? Have you played it? Do you want to? Would cast changes alone have been enough to fix Godfather 3? Whatever happened to Godfather’s Pizza? Is that still a thing? Was Godfather’s Pizza related to the Godfather movies? Related, that is, beyond just the vague Italian stereotypes?
*The Horus Heresy is one of the pivotal events in the history of the Warhammer 40k universe during which The Emperor of Man was completely betrayed by many of his sons and closest allies. Chief among the traitors was his favorite son Horus Lupercal who was corrupted by ancient extra-dimensional entities of immense power known as the Chaos Gods that seek only to feast on the suffering of all sentient life. Fascinating right? Go check out these fantastic youtube channels to learn more about the lore of Warhammer 40k: One Mind Syndicate, Arch Warhammer, Vaults of Terra.
**Is FPS the only acronym that is both singular and plural? FPS = First Person Shooter, FPS = First Person Shooters.