McMillan’s Codex #42 by C. T. McMillan
Dawn of War: Dark Crusade
Warhammer 40k is a tabletop game in which you build an army of miniature figures to do battle in a variety of scenarios. I never learned how to play, but the appeal for me is the ancillary materials. The art books, novels, and rulebooks are a treasure-trove of lore that speaks to me as a fan of science fiction. 40k imagines a universe in the 401st Century where humanity has spread across the known galaxy, surrounded on all sides by forces that oppose their existence. Billions die in unending wars for dominance over what is left of dead and dying worlds. I was introduced to 40k when I played Dawn of War from the now defunct THQ. There were a few expansions to the base game and the one I kept coming back to for more was Dark Crusade.
Fitting the concept of large-scale tabletop battles, Dark Crusade is a real-time strategy game (RTS) that adapts the 40k brand. Base building, resource gathering, and army building mechanics are easy to understand for veterans. The only thing separating Dark Crusade from any other in the genre is the brand. The structures you build and the maps in which you battle are taken from Cities of Death. The factions you pick are inspired by the same playable armies from 40k along with the units you make for your army. There are the human Space Marines, elf-like Eldar, Orks, and undead Necrons.
What sets Dark Crusade apart from standard RTSs is how the game approaches the single player campaign. Instead of a straightforward narrative, you must choose between the available factions that are at odds with each other on the planet Kronus. Regardless of whom you pick, your mission is to kill everyone else and conquer the planet. The most you get in the way of story is vignettes for faction introductions, those you defeat, and the final endgame.
You start on the over-map showing a continent divided amongst the factions into provinces. When moving your commander character to the territories you wish to invade, the game switches to the standard battle-map. Here you engage in the kind of battles you expect from run-of-the-mill RTSs. At the faction stronghold provinces the battles become more difficult than a regular skirmish. There are also other objectives to consider like an artillery emplacement or a diversion of sorts. Taking the stronghold means one less enemy in your way.
Dark Crusade gets interesting after you conquer a province with the selection of victory conditions. You have the option of recruiting units that will show up in the event of a defense, ready for deployment. While this was a nice touch that helped the overall annoyance of defense, I discovered a method that made the task easier and broke the game in the process.
Before victory you have the option of basically dominating the entire map with structures. For every listening post you capture the more resources and land you have available. Play a province long enough and many times over you also learn where the enemy spawns. A common stratagem I adopted was building turrets and mines all over the map. When I had to defend a territory, the enemy would basically lose before they started. Of course, this is very unfair, but the tactic made the tedious affair of defense efficient and fast.
My only gripes with Dark Crusade stems from my 40k nerd bias. The game came out in 2006 and at the time Games Workshop, the company behind the tabletop game, updated a few elements of their armies. There were new units designs and an expansion called Apocalypse that emphasized huge armies and armor. Seeing as how Dark Crusade had to follow Dawn of War, I understand why the developers could not update the look of models, and the timing was not ideal. But the more I imagine building massive armies, super-tanks, and mechanized walkers, the more I become depressed that they were not in Dark Crusade. I also become irritated at the how certain units do not look the way they should.
Furthermore, there are inconsistencies in the lore involving the Imperial Guard faction. In 40k the Guard is recruited all over the human sectors of the galaxy with each system building a regiment with a distinct look and style of combat. There is the Catachan, Death Korps, Mordian, and Steel Legion, each with an aesthetic that makes them different from each other. In Dark Crusade the Imperial Guard faction is represented by the Cadian who stand in for the Kronus Regiment. They are box-standard with nothing that makes them exclusive to the planet in which they were recruited. I know this is not very important, but I would have liked to see a regiment that represents the planet’s culture.
Warhammer 40k has a wealth of culture and creativity that I would not have discovered without Dawn of War: Dark Crusade. The basis of how I write fiction came from reading ancillary materials about the game’s complex history and universe. None of that would be possible had the game not piqued my interest as both a gamer and fan of all things science fiction. If you play real-time strategy games, Dark Crusade is a must have before you pick up a copy of Dan Abnett’s Horus Rising for a primer on 40k.