This week saw the release of Dawn of War III, much-awaited but with mixed reception. That said, it’s good to cast a fresh pair of eyes over these things. Check out a review by Old Man Mordaith over on his blog; he’s not a long-time player of RTSs and neither has he played either of the prequels, so it’s as close as you can get to a clean slate from a game reviewer.
I’ve held off purchasing the game myself – it seems as if DoW3, like DoW2 before it, doesn’t live up to the base-building and scale of the battles found in the roots of the series. I’ll hold off saying too much about DoW3, because I’m yet to play it (I’ll wait for a sale), but I do know that the original DoW holds a special place in my heart as a Warhammer 40K table-top hobbyist.
This post is quite long, so for your benefit, it has this structure:
- Nostalgia – a little bit of preamble.
- Ultimate Apocalypse – an introduction to the mod.
- Verdict – why UA brings me back to DoW 13 years after its release.
- Installation – how to get this running yourself.
Booms and Hordes
I have a thing for base-building, empire-creating, and snowballing. When I play AoE II, AoM, Rise of Nations, Supreme Commander, Planetary Annihilation, or Civ (to name a few) online or over LAN (yup, LAN parties still happen!), I gain the ultimate satisfaction from having an economy so superior to my opponent that I can afford to smash hordes of troops against their own armies and defences. “Phew!” they might think. “Glad that’s over!” Then they realise that while my troops were en-route and buffeting their walls and towers, I was beavering away preparing the second wave. Ditto for the next, ad infinitum.
I like those drawn-out matches in RTS games that can only really take place between amateurs – my opponent, the turtle, versus me, the boomer. I am very much a casual gamer. I’m better than most of my friends when it comes to RTSs, but then none of my friends have the same history with the genre as I do. I realise that the reason I play these games, to get that sweet economic boom, can only exist in this sort of environment – one in which I ever so slightly have the edge in skill and my friends are willing to play the long game.
The almost-guarantee of winning is not a prerequisite for enjoyment. My brother and I used to play DoW cooperatively with the odds stacked against us. We ramped the AI up to max difficulty, pitted four Ork armies against our two Space Marine armies, and had at it. We had endless fun lining up rows of Heavy Bolter Turrets, watching the waves of Orks trying desperately to break through. All they needed was to knock out two adjacent turrets and they’d basically won. Up until that point, it felt like a balancing act.
We once managed to beat them back and come to win. It was so satisfying, and the game probably lasted three hours as we slowly crept forwards and exploited the map geography to maximum effect. We were probably outnumbered 4-to-1 – the Heavy Bolters certainly lived up to their reputation.
I’ve come to revisit a number of my childhood favourites, Dawn of War amongst them. Rise of Nations and Star Wars Galactic Battlegrounds, too. (The latter is perhaps less well-known than some of the other titles in this post, but was based on the AoE II engine but was, well, Star Wars, so obviously better.)
What I’ve come to enjoy is that there is still very much an active community around these games, and a large portion of that community focuses on the continued efforts of the modders. These are people like me – that feel a wave of nostalgia for some old-school RTS.
Thankfully, some of them also have the thirst for scale that I do. Dawn of War was great and all, but damn if that unit cap didn’t stop me from trashing my friends even more than I already did. I wanted a bigger economy, more units to choose from, bigger armies to field, more powerful units, super weapons, bigger maps, more armies, and I’ll be damned if the community didn’t deliver on almost every one of those childhood gems!
Back before DoW2, when Dawn of War was still current and reeling off some successful expansions, there was a mod announced aiming to bring the Tyranids to the game. There was already an awesome selection of armies in the game:
- Space Marines
- Chaos Space Marines
- Imperial Guard
- Sisters of Battle
- Dark Eldar
Given that each army played quite differently, this is an incredible line-up. But we’re talking about the motherfucking Tyranids.
The addition of these guys to the game would really just be the icing on the cake for that army lineup. I can’t remember how many times I checked in over the next few years to see how the mod was progressing, but I do remember constantly seeing it in an unfinished state – I even gave an early alpha a go once, was a little disappointed, but happy to see that things were still happening.
Eventually I forgot about it. Then, some months ago, I thought I’d check it out again. What I found was Ultimate Apocalypse.
Imagine a mod featuring massive Warhammer 40,000 battles where all 9 races in Soulstorm (and more!) have a chance at epic victory. A mod where there’s no shortage of all-new units, buildings, abilities, and even titans! A mod where there’s nearly no limits holding you back. It’s all about all-out, massive war. Wanna nuke your enemies? You can. Gloriously epic titan duels are your thing? Ultimate Apocalypse has you covered. Not only that, but Ultimate Apocalypse is continuously tested to ensure the epic battle experience it delivers remains unique while being completely awesome.
They don’t exaggerate. This is the Dawn of War mod. If you use it alongside a couple of other mods, you get three more races to go along with the original nine:
- Tyranids (yaaaas!)
- Chaos Daemons
- Inquisition Daemonhunters
Even better, it’s still being updated, with the most recent release of the mod in December 2016. (And there’s lots of engagement on the Steam group linked above.)
It’s been a while since I played this and the launch of DoW3 gave me the nudge to try it out again. I think there has been at least one update to UA since then, but I honestly don’t know if I’d be able to tell the difference as I haven’t been following it too closely.
So, for all intents and purposes, this acts a bit like a first playthrough. I’m not overly familiar with the options available to me, so this – well, let’s not beat around the bush, it’s a mod review – will be carried out through a fresh pair of eyes.
Options, options, options
I thought a 1v1v1 skirmish would be enough to get my feet wet. Configuring the match you’re immediately presented with a lot more options than in the base game. In previous posts I’ve said how much I love depth and complexity in my games.
A few of the options are selected by default, but I pick these:
- Addon: Army Cap. This gives stackable options to increase the squad limit above the base amount, ranging from +10 to +200. I tick them all for a total increase of +370.
- Addon: Automatic Reinforce. This reinforces squads that aren’t in combat. Stops you getting surprised by an enemy army after forgetting to reinforce squads on standby.
- Addon: Fortress Defenses. Makes turrets and walls (yeah, walls are a thing in UA) more durable.
- Addon: Legio Titans. Allows Legio Titans – I’m not sure why these are, but they sound cool!
- Addon: Nuclear War. All super structures will be able to unleash superweapons 2x faster. Again, not 100% on what super structures are but this sounds cool.
- Addon: Tips and Tricks. Gives UA hints throughout the game – sort of like a tutorial, I take it. Given that I don’t know the game that well, this could be useful.
- Addon: AI MapDB. Improves AI pathing.
- Addon: Heroes. Squads gain battle experience so veteran squads are more formidable. This, in my opinion, would encourage tactical thinking, forcing you to consider retreat even if it’s something you’d never otherwise contemplate.
There are many other options, most of which aim to scale the game in some dimension or another, be that increasing or decreasing build times, unit health or structure health. This way you can craft a very tailored gaming experience that works for you and/or your opponents.
After choosing the options, I drop the Space Marines and Eldar into the game… and choose Tyranids as my own army. I go with the “Giger” colour scheme, which is all black and grey, presumably an homage to H. R. Giger’s Alien.
As promised, the squad cap is 380 and the vehicle limit 373. That means massive battles. I immediately start pumping out Genestealers and they certainly live up to their tribute in appearance.
I can already see the mod’s added complexity. More buildings and more… resource types? UA adds a resource called “Relic Points”, which are used to requisition epic late-game units and utilise superweapons. More on those later!
If you’ve played the original DoW before, you might already know that ownership of a relic point was require to produce the most powerful units in the game. For the Eldar, it was the Avatar of Khaine, for example. For the Chaos Space Marines, the Bloodthirster. UA takes it to a different level – there’s not just one epic unit per army, any more, and they need a way to differentiate between them, and they do that with the relic points.
For now, I need to get some map control and capture the only relic on the map for those sweet relic units.
My first impression of the Tyranids (granted, not UA-proper) is just how much work has been put into making them seem Tyranid-like. The models are as detailed as the vanilla ones, the sound-effects are truly alien (gurgling/cracking/hissing), buildings heave and pulse as they operate, and the flavour text on units and techs makes you feel like a part of the biologically superior hive mind that you’re playing.
UA itself is not as in-your-face about its face as the Tyranids mod – in the early game, at least. In the early stages of the game, you could be forgiven for thinking you were just playing a normal game of DoW. It’s the late game where things get interesting.
UA introduces some truly terrifying end-game abilities which result in conflict ramping up to a crescendo in true Warhammer 40K style. The most deadly of the Tyranid’s superweapons is called “Claim World”. It costs a ludicrous 30,000 power but makes all Tyranid units free to construct, among other things.
To be honest, though, these technologies become feasible when a competent player should have won anyway. If they’re generating enough power to save up for that, then they would have the resources to defeat their foes long in advance of unleashing that power.
BUT. But not every player is competent. Not every player even wants to destroy their opponent as quickly and efficiently as possible. Some players want to toy with their prey first. Indeed, friends might play with a mutual understanding of small skirmishes before they truly clash in the late game; borders are established, hatches battened, artillery placed, and troops hunkered down.
As I already mentioned, I’m among these casual gamers. I’ve had plenty of RTS matches hit this sort of “cold war” state. Everyone lets their economies boom, their labs research, and their walls rise. Eventually there’s a small border conflict – nothing unusual – but this time something goes wrong. More troops than expected are kited into the conflict because of a mis-set aggression stance. You respond proportionally and your opponent escalates to handle what is also a surprise to them. And the cold war is over – now it’s total war.
It’s fun to finally be able to use those powers. Here’s one:
The miasma wasn’t quite enough to finish them off, so I flanked them and called in some orbital support.
There’s no real surprise that I can’t recommend using this mod enough. I don’t think I’ll ever play a vanilla game of DoW again. It’s just. So. Goddamn. Epic. It’s like it was made for me.
(Those are in-game screenshots, by the way, with the Reshade.me postprocessor. This is the same postprocessor I use for KSP.)
I only showed you some Tyranids gameplay above, but there are, of course, 11 other armies to choose from. And they have some crazy titans and superweapons – enough to make the Emperor proud.
There is a lot of additional complexity introduced to the game with UA – more buildings, more units, and more ways for them to interact and for you to interact with them. I spent a significant amount of time reading unit descriptions (to then immediately forget unit descriptions) my first through playthroughs – and that was just with one race. As with any RTS, you may way to practice on a lower difficulty while you get to grips with a new race. It’s worth noting that in adding all of this new content, some serious imbalance issues have been introduced. Casuals might not notice (or care), but I don’t think the spirit of the mod is in well-balanced, precisely-executed strategy.
Some might see the extra complexity as a negative. I get that. And it’s definitely easy to get lost amongst all the options presented to you in UA. But I also think it’s still simple enough to bumble along to the end-game and start playing with nukes, and I feel like that’s really a feeling at the core of the Warhammer universe, at least for me – unadulterated brawls on a ridiculous scale.
If you’re feeling disappointed by DoW3, or put off by the mixed reception, this might be a good opportunity to dust off that old copy of DoW that set the bar so high, and give it a bit of polish right from the heart of the fans.
There are instructions provided on the UA MODDB page but they’re a little confusing. Hopefully those I’ve provided below will be clearer.
1) Get the game
Obviously you’re going to need the base game. For those who didn’t play the original DoW or its expansions, it works like this:
- Dawn of War – base game, four races (Space Marines, Chaos Space Marines, Eldar, Orks)
- Winter Assault – expansion (requires either DoW base or one of the standalone expansions), one race (Imperial Guard)
- Dark Crusade – standalone expansion, two races (Tau, Necrons)
- Soulstorm – standalone expansion, two races (Sisters of Battle, Dark Eldar)
Each expansion also added new units to the existing races. The final two expansions (Dark Crusade and Soulstorm) were standalone but didn’t give you access to the races contained in preceding games. That is, if you only had Soulstorm, you would only be able to use the Sisters of Battle and Dark Eldar. If you wanted to use anyone else, you’d need to purchase the other games.
The mod installation instructions indicate you should only need Dawn of War – Soulstorm. It’s £9.99 on Steam (12.99 USD or 12.99 EUR) and a bit less if you go through a CD key reseller or get a physical copy off of eBay, and even less if you wait for a good Warhammer sale on Steam again. (I know there’s a moral conversation to be had around CD key reselling – I’m not endorsing the practice as I’ve still not come down on either side of the fence yet myself.)
All races should be available in skirmish matches with the AI if you just own Soulstorm and use the UA mod. This means, for example, that you don’t need Winter Assault if you want to use the Imperial Guard in a skirmish match. However, if you want to use the additional armies in multiplayer, you’ll have to get the additional games. If you just use Soulstorm, UA, plus the Tyranids mod, you’ll have access to the following armies in multiplayer:
- Sisters of Battle (SS)
- Dark Eldar (SS)
- Daemonhunters Inquisition (UA)
- Chaos Daemons (UA)
- Tyranids (Tyranids)
If you want the rest (and you should want the rest), you’ll need to get the additional games. You can get the lot in the Dawn of War Master Collection on Steam for £29.99 (37.99 USD or 38.99 EUR).
2) Get the mods
At the time of writing, you only need to download two mods (it used to be more for the extra races, but the modders are collaborating to make things easier):
- Ultimate Apocalypse (latest version at time of writing is 1.88.5, release date 1st December 2016)
- Tyranids (latest version at time of writing is 0.5b2, release date 23rd September 2012)
3) Run Ultimate Apocalypse installer
Launch the downloaded executable. Choose your Soulstorm installation directory; if you used a DVD to install it (!) then it’ll likely be C:\Program Files (x86)\THQ\Dawn of War – Soulstorm. If you installed it from Steam, then it will most likely be C:\Program Files (x86)\Steam\SteamApps\common\Dawn of War – Soulstorm. If it’s not either of those, then you’re a computer person who remembers where it got installed.
When selecting components, you can select everything. You probably don’t need the browser tab to the Tyranids mod since you’ve already got it, though!
Installation can take a while if you’re not using an SSD as this installer unpacks 8.8 GB of files.
4) Run the 4 GB Patch for Soulstorm
Installation will have placed a shortcut on your desktop. This allows you to run a patcher that lets Soulstorm utilise more RAM on modern systems (which it most certainly will have to do given the sorts of battles that UA enables).
Patching is easy:
- Launch the patcher with the new shortcut on the desktop (called “4GB Patch for Soulstorm”). This should immediately present you with an Explorer window in your Soulstorm installation directory.
- Select “Soulstorm.exe” in your installation directory and click “Open”. This will run the patcher for this executable.
- Click “Another File” in the patcher UI.
- Select “GraphicsConfig.exe” in your installation directory and click “Open”. This will run the patcher for this executable.
And you’re done! Delete the desktop shortcut if you like; the patcher is maintained in the Soulstorm installation directory.
5) Run Tyranids mod installer
Make sure you choose the Soulstorm installation directory appropriately as in step 3. This is especially important here because the installer assumes that Soulstorm is installed in C:\Program Files (x86)\THQ\Dawn of War – Soulstorm, so it looks like everything’s dandy and you might just click through without realising it.
6) Launch the DoW Mod Manager
This was installed automatically for you, don’t worry! In your Soulstorm installation directory there is an executable called “DoW Mod Manager 1.3”.
This utility lets you select which mods you’d like to apply to this game. Back when DoW was released, modding wasn’t supported by developers in the same way that it is now. This is the community’s answer to the problem of selecting mods on startup, much like you can do with many games today.
The “everything, please” option is UltimateApocalypse_THB_DIDHT, which is near the bottom of the list. Select it and click “START GAME WITH SELECTED MOD” in the top-right of the window. If this isn’t available, there is red text in the right hand pane, or a big red cross on the page, it means something went wrong with installation or you skipped a step. The red text should give you a clue as to what went wrong.
7) (Optional) Run first time configuration
If you ran through this list one right after the other, as I did, you’ll need to run the first time graphics setup for the game. Note that skipping the ‘Test’ option will set all graphics configurations to low.
8) Play the game!
I had to launch the game a second time (by clicking the “START GAME WITH SELECTED MOD” button) after first time setup.
Now go blow some shit up.