Waaaaaaagggghhhhhh! That's my only thought as hordes of upgraded Ork Nobz slam into those pretty Space Marines and make quite a mess. That, and quite a sinister laugh. Hur hur hur.
Commanding vast armies in the 41st Millenium was, and still is, insanely fun, and that's why I keep coming back to Warhammer 40,000: Dawn of War - Dark Crusade. Not that I disapprove of what Relic have done with Dawn of II - far from it. I absolutely love guiding my small squad of Space Marines through the battles of a distant future, leveling up and gaining new equipment as they go. It's just that with Dark Crusade, the base-building, fast-paced RTS formula was absolutely honed to something nearing perfection.
The great wealth of races and units available lent itself well to the Campaign mode where, instead of a series of linked story missions, Relic chose to include a turn-based strategy map, much like the Total War series. Once a battle was chosen, Skirmish mode was initiated, including any special units you managed to accrue along the way. There were even semi-scripted missions to completely wipe an opposing faction from the face of the map, which were highly entertaining. Overall, this was a refreshing change.
That wasn't the best thing about Dark Crusade, oh no. Indeed, something else continually draws me back to this game like a moth to the barrel of an overheating plasma pistol; the audio.
In no other game have I been so enthralled by the voice work. Relic's Company of Heroes games come close, but nothing beats listening to the panic in an Imperial Guardsman's voice, or the savage joy in the war cry of an Ork. In fact, I'm going to wax lyrical on this even further and set out a formula for this success:
- Each faction sounds significantly different. You might think this was a given in 40K, but many other RTS games have units which sound incredibly similar and, therefore, rather dull. Not so here. Space Marines sound professional and fearless; Eldar echoing and dreamlike; Orks have a somewhat dark humour; Imperial Guard like regular humans about to face untold horrors (and, much to my delight, like British Tommies from WWII); Tau full of confidence; Chaos Space Marines sound, frankly, insane. Overall, each faction's voice artistry immerses you in their universe. Admittedly, the Necrons just utter beeping noises, but you can't have everything.
Foolish humans, ignoring warnings.
- Factions alert you when the enemy is revealed for the first time. This is a stroke of genius which other games overlook. Each race utters their own characterful exclamations when they first spot the enemy in a battle, making the whole setup feel almost real - that they really don't know who they might find, and they're not just moving 3D models set up to fight some others. Notable examples include Space Marines direly muttering 'Heretics...' when spotting Chaos forces, Eldar proclaiming that 'The humans have ignored our warnings, and now they must die', and - my favourite by far - Orks spotting Space Marines shout gleefully 'TIN CAN HOOMIES!!!'
- Units scream in terror when they lose morale. An interesting mechanic in Dark Crusade is that units lose morale during a fight and become far less effective. When this happens, you can hear a Guardsman cry 'We can't hold 'em!' or a Tau Fire Warrior shout 'Fall back, fall back!' to his comrades. The voices even change depending on which leaders you have attached to the squad. This actually quite helpful, as when you hear a Space Marine exclaiming 'Back to the rally point!', you know one of your units is in trouble somewhere.
Death from above!
- Units announce their presence on the battlefield. If your attention is elsewhere, it's handy to hear a reassuring 'Imperial Guard reporting for duty.' announcing the presence of your Guardsman spawning at base, or the ominous 'I have arrived' of the Tau Commander.
- Units say cool things when you select them. This isn't anything revolutionary; in fact I'm pretty sure this has been an RTS staple since the beginning of time. However, Dark Crusade has several different lines for any one unit, and the character in the voice work is a joy to listen to. Favourites include the Space Marine Chaplain proclaiming that 'I am the Emperor's will made manifest!', or Eldar Banshees stating 'We exist to avenge our sisters.' As ever, Chaos Space Marines provide some of the most characterful lines, including such gems as 'Do you hear the voices too?!' Quite possibly, yes.
Having typed all of that, I feel that I may have gone into a bit too much detail, but I can't help it. Dark Crusade's audio is insane, and I encourage everyone to immediately play it just for that. Alternatively, if my tirade has resulted in you dying of boredom, hopefully your soul will have a fun journey as it flies screaming into the warp. You filthy heretic, you.