This month’s issue of White Dwarf (462) contains a whopping 12 free games for your PC and, with that in mind, I thought I’d pick out the ones that have meant a lot to me and share some thoughts. Being the predictably bland and mainstream gamer that I am, I’ll be mostly talking about the games that pretty much everyone has played, rather than the more obscure titles from this bundle.
Dawn of War
There had been Warhammer video games before Dawn of War, but none that caught on so quickly and became such a phenomenon. Relic hit gold with this game. As a young 40K fan, I lapped this game up. I bought it on release, installed it as soon as I got home and immersed myself in the war-torn battlefields of the 41st millennium.
The first game was solid, bringing in four of the major factions of the setting. You could play as the Space Marines, Chaos Space Marines, Eldar and Orks. It never really felt quite complete because of course I always wanted the Tyranids in there, as well as the Sisters of Battle and the Imperial Guards. I would get most of what I wanted in the subsequent expansions, but the Tyranids were never released.
The gameplay was really cool. There was base building, but it wasn’t really the focus. The squad management was cool, with options for how to arm some of your units and vehicles, and the ability to replenish injured squads. There was some resource management, but it was pretty straightforward and I never felt limited by it like I would from a bad start in a game of Starcraft.
The game had a very rock, paper, scissors feel to it with unit types and what was effective against what. Each of the factions did feel quite different, too. The best thing about the game, though? The battles themselves.
To zoom in in a close-quarters fight in Dawn of War was a splendid thing. Most of combat was pretty samey, with Marines hitting Eldar with chainswords or Orks snapping at Chaos cultists with the megaclaws. But every so often there was something really special in the form of a cool finishing move. You see troops rip each other apart and, yes, it’s bloody satisfying!
There’s still a good community around the game, but they tend to congregate around the later expansions, Dark Crusade and Soulstorm. Dark Crusade is probably the best campaign, but Soulstorm seems to appeal more to the multiplayer crowd, probably because it also has the biggest modding community.
If this is your first taste of Dawn of War, give a go. See what you think and then, if you enjoy it, I’d encourage you to splash out and pick up the expansions for more units, factions and general improvements. I’ve gotten years of absolute joy out of this game.
Space Marine is another game that I was looking forward to and, sure enough, I loved it. The campaign is so much fun. I never though I’d enjoy being an Ultramarine! I mean, come on, they’re so dull!
It’s such a small thing, but what I really love about the game is the sense of weight that your character has. The way you move, jump, land, fight; it all just contributes to this feeling of being substantial. That’s how it should be. With more typical, floatier FPS controls, I just don’t think this would have resonated with me as much.
The variety of weapons was also a big draw, as it brought in so many of the cool Imperial weapons that we’re used to seeing on the tabletop. Bolters, plasma guns, meltas, chainswords, power swords, and more are all represented here. Better, you even get to strap on a jump pack and soar through the skies before crashing down on the enemy in a devastating aerial assault. The close combat weapons are actually the best bit because of the cool way the combat works with impressive finishing moves that replenish your health.
The campaign is good, with a servicable story taking you through some pretty interesting stages. The multiplayer though? Oh, that shines. It sets Space Marines against Chaos Space Marines in some really wonderful deathmatch play.
I’ve not tried to play online for a while, but I’m told that you can actually still get a game of this from time to time, which is fantastic! My hope for this offer is that an increased awareness of this absolute gem of a game will breathe more life into the online scene and maybe boost activity for a while. I’d better go reinstall…
I played this one last night! I actually play it at least a couple of times a week, even if it’s just for one stage.
I loved Left 4 Dead back in the day. Getting together with a group of friends and throwing yourselves through a group of zombies to escape to safety? yes, please! When I heard there was a Warhammer game with the same feel I was all over it.
There’s so much to like in this game. The characters, first and foremost, make the game. I love that each one has real personality both in how they play, and in how they are presented. I love the banter back and forth between them as they progress through each stage. It makes the whole thing feel real and there’s a sense for me that when I’m sitting there being insulted by an elf or supported by a dwarf that I’m just home.
With each character having three (now some have 4 with DLC) subclasses, there’s a lot of variety in how you can play. Some of my favourite include Kruber’s human Huntsman, Bardin’s dwarf Slayer, Kerillion’s elven Waystalker and Saltzpyre’s human Bounty Hunter. Oh, and the new Grail Knight subclass for Kruber is a lot of fun, too. I love that each character uses different weapons, different abilities and just feels so different to each of the others. Character progression is really satisfying as well, earning talent points and cool new gear as you level up.
The game is also challenging. You can sometimes get through a level really easily with a good group and some luck with where and how certain things spawn… or not. Sometimes you get unlucky and things get very difficult. At that point things can get messy, but it’s so satisfying to claw things back and still get through the level, even if not perfectly.
I just love this game. It’s full of Skaven, servants of Nurgle, Beastmen, Chaos Warriors, Trolls… oh, just all the good stuff. There’s a real sense of dread when one of the big guys appears. I particularly fear the Chaos Spawn who always seem to want to take a bit out of me.
Yeah, this is an amazing game and I can’t wait for the upcoming 40K version!
Total War: Warhammer
Finally, we get to the grandest strategy game to ever portray the Old World. Whilst Vermintide II gives you a pretty incredible up-close look at the world of Warhammer, Total War zooms out and shows you the world and the armies that march across it.
We all know by now what a Total War game is. You recruit and field huge armies, take, hold and develop territory, and fight massive battles. The different with this version is that there are Orcs. And Vampires. And Magic.
The scale of the game is so satisfying. Playing as Emperor Karl Franz, for example, will see you trying to unify the massive area that makes up The Empire whilst holding off encroaching Beastmen, Vampires and Greenskins. You’ll also keep an eye on those Bretonnians to the west and the Norse descending from the north. And then, just when you feel that you’re handling all this whilst managing an economy, developing your generals and heroes, and putting down rebellions, the news will reach you that the Chaos invasion is coming.
This is a game into which I can just pour hours of time. I sit down for a new campaign and it just vanishes. There’s so much fun in trying to juggle all of the aspects of the game and in putting together armies and storming across the map. I think the map side of the game is my favourite. The battles are fun, definitely, but I like prefer the grand strategy and empire building to the cut and thrust of the actual battles.
What I do like about the battles is how cinematic they can be. There’s splendour in watching your massive units of Empire Swordsmen, Orc Boyz, Dire Hounds or Dwarfen Ironbreakers smash into the opposing forces. It’s amazing that a few gestures with your mouse can take you from a birds-eye overview of the battlefield to an up-close and personal ringside seat to the individual acts of violence between distinct soldiers. There are some really amazing videos of this on YouTube and plenty of mods to make the battles look even better.
The only real pity is that this is only the first game in the series. Total War: Warhammer II brought with it a raft of really interesting factions and features. The thing is, even if you do intend to buy the second game, it’s good to have the first one as well. By having both games in your Steam library, you can access all of the original factions in the sequel and play on a massive campaign map that combines the smaller-but-still-large maps of each game. There’s a ton of DLC for the game. I’d suggest playing without it first and then adding in as you feel you need to for variety.
There’s also, like all of the games that I’ve featured in this post, a fantastic multiplayer mode. It’s one thing to crush AI-controlled empires, but quite another to decimate the forces of your friends. Well, I assume that this feels good, but I rarely experience it. I tend to lose. A lot. Still love it, though!