Because of Dominion's inherent similarity to its role models, it is impossible to review it strictly on its own merits. Dominion, a hand-me-down passed from 7th Level to ION Storm, is yet another science fiction real-time strategy game that bears any number of traits in common with recent successes like Auran's Dark Reign, Cavedog's Total Annihilation, and Blizzard's Starcraft. And while Dominion is a decent game in its own right, its lack of distinguishing features renders it entirely tedious for real-time veterans, while its difficulty and bland presentation make it the wrong choice for newcomers to the genre.
Dominion looks fine but is completely forgettable (at least it runs smoothly even at very high resolutions). Command & Conquer's influence on its graphic design is obvious, though the perspective is nearer to the ground rather than higher up, thus making structures and units look flat. The terrain looks pleasant enough, but you've seen it all before: the grassy plains, the desert, the snow, and of course, the volcanic wasteland. Though you can play as four different races, they are effectively identical with the exception of a single unique unit per side and a few variations in strengths, defense, and build time. Otherwise, each race has infantry, a single tank, artillery, a couple mechs, two flying machines, and a few other units. Even those that are unique to any particular race are contrived and boring - small wonder that the Scorp race's super unit is a giant, mechanical scorpion. Though the units themselves animate smoothly, they tend to be pixelated around the edges and look awkwardly pasted onto the backgrounds. Explosions and other special effects look similarly out of place. Audio is likewise acceptable, consisting of effects and a techno soundtrack that aren't shabby but aren't anything special either. Unit voices and weapon fire range from pretty good to pretty bad but mostly hover right there in the middle, demanding no attention whatsoever. A few well-made cutscenes and fancy mission briefings don't go far toward improving Dominion's halfhearted appearance.
A less-than-spectacular aesthetic presentation would be negligible if Dominion played well, but alas, it remains consistently mediocre even in this crucial respect. It plays like a typical real-time strategy game where you collect resources, defend your base, build an army, and try to crush every last enemy unit on the map. The two token resources to worry about as you build up your force are men and materials. Men are generated continuously from colonies, and from one to several dozen are required in order to build any unit or structure. Why 25 men are necessary to operate a tank is anyone's guess. Furthermore, there's no explanation of where this limitless supply of men originates, since Dominion takes place on a deserted, war-torn planet. Meanwhile, materials are extracted by placing a refinery over a well, like in Starcraft or Dark Reign. Combat in Dominion is uninspired and suffers from many of the problems encountered in other real-time strategy games. Buildings can often be repaired faster than they can be damaged, and if not, they can be sold for resources even from the brink of destruction. Dominion contains a very typical cast of units from the fast-but-weak to the slow-but-strong. Throw in your long-range yet easily killed artillery unit and you can imagine how any particular skirmish plays out.
Luckily Dominion's interface is slick. It looks different for each race and allows you to begin constructing anything within two clicks of the mouse by means of categorical tabs and corresponding toolbars. But while you can queue multiple units for construction, or even set up an infinite queue that will keep churning out units so long as you can afford them, you can only queue units of one type at a time. This leans gameplay toward mindless rush tactics since it's tempting just to set an infinite queue of tanks and have at the enemy with brute force.
To its credit, Dominion does make a few attempts at evolving the genre. Many real-time strategy games let you deploy a defenseless engineer unit that can take control of enemy buildings, and sure enough, Dominion is no exception. But in this case, two engineers are required for the job; the first plants a virus on the enemy structure, while the second takes command of it. Hitting a structure with a virus negatively affects its performance (and prevents it from being sold): For instance, an inflicted refinery transfers half its resources to the enemy. Yet a virus may be nullified with one of your own engineers, thus rendering this strategy next to useless since it's much easier to counteract the problem than to cause it in the first place. The one entertaining unit in the game is the mobile teleporter, a vehicle that may transform to a teleport pad at will. You can quickly ferry vast quantities of troops from your base to a remote location by means of this vehicle, which takes the sluggish nature of your more powerful units out of the equation.
Whether such features ultimately have positive or adverse effects on gameplay does not change the fact that they are the most compelling elements in the game's design. Otherwise, Dominion feels like a sluggish version of Command & Conquer. No line of sight or high-ground advantages exist. Once you pass through the fog of war, it's gone for good, which means there's no way to be stealthy since the enemy will always see you coming on the minimap. Units tend to stop dead in their tracks as they turn, which makes control frustrating, and poor pathing exacerbates the problem even further. Dominion's AI is only average at best, and laughable in most cases; the enemy will continually send units single file toward the heart of your base, ignoring any of your defenses along the way. Though there are four long single-player campaigns to fight through, they're just four missed opportunities. Each campaign becomes difficult to the point of frustration, and the missions are rarely intriguing. Never at any point will you feel like you're involved in a four-way conflict since almost every mission forces you to eliminate a single enemy presence. And since you cannot challenge CPU opponents within a multiplayer game, the problematic campaign is all you're going to get.
There is nothing fundamentally wrong with Dominion. There is nothing noteworthy about it either. At least half a dozen real-time strategy games released within the last year surpass it in every respect, and many more released within that time frame bear at least one unique trait that sets them apart. Therefore, unless your want for more of the same real-time formula is insatiable, you mustn't commit to Dominion. Even those who are new to real-time strategy are better off with one of the genre's recent successes, if not because they are easier to play, then because they are superior in execution.
(Editor's note: When this review originally appeared, it stated that there was no way to judge the remaining quantity of materials in a well. This was erroneous, and GameSpot regrets the error.)