Warhammer 40,000: Dawn of War: Soulstorm Hands-On - Demo and Dark Eldar

We break down the single-player demo and Dark Eldar faction in the new Dawn of War expansion.

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The Warhammer 40,000: Dawn of War franchise has proven to be one of the most consistent and popular real-time strategy series around. Based on the tabletop miniatures game by The Games Workshop, Dawn of War lets you command armies of Space Marines, Chaos Marines, alien Eldar, and green-skinned Orks in sci-fi battle. There have been three expansions to Dawn of War, including the upcoming stand-alone Warhammer: 40,000: Dawn of War: Soulstorm. A demo for Soulstorm was just released, and we put it through its paces to get a first hands-on with the game.

The Dark Eldar are the star of the new single-player demo for Soulstorm.
The Dark Eldar are the star of the new single-player demo for Soulstorm.

Soulstorm will introduce two new factions, the Dark Eldar and the Sisters of Battle. Only the former is included in the demo, which features a tutorial mission, a single skirmish mission, and a single campaign mission. All are played from the perspective of the Dark Eldar as they battle against the human Space Marines. The Dark Eldar are an advanced alien race that look a bit like twisted elves, specializing in enslavement and torture. These are themes that recur throughout the faction as you play them, so even if you're a Dawn of War veteran, it's probably wise to play through the tutorial to get a feeling for the Dark Eldar's capabilities.

The Dark Eldar are a fairly mobile, hard-hitting faction, and their basic construction unit is the tortured slave. This slave has the ability to begin constructing a project, then move on and construct another one before the other has even finished. This means that you only need one or two tortured slaves to build up a small base very quickly. You will need to focus on three resources. Requisition is the primary resource, which is generated by capturing and holding strategic and critical points on the map. Next up is power, or energy, which is generated by building and upgrading plasma generators.

Soul essence, the third resource, is also the rarest, but it's used to power six Dark Eldar special abilities. It can be harvested from recently deceased bodies on the battlefield or by building a torture-pit add-on to a specific building. Tortured souls can then harvest the souls while they're fresh. When you have enough soul essence, you can fire off special abilities, such as piercing vision, which lets a squad detect any invisible or cloaked units around it. Or there's corrosion, which creates an acid cloud that eats away at enemy units in it. The most powerful ability is the soulstorm, which creates an energy vortex that can damage both friends and foes.

The Dark Eldar have plenty of twisted military units at their disposal. Mandrake squads are melee infantry, the Archon commanders are accompanied by incubi protectors, and the vehicles look like funereal dirges. Towers of Loathing, which are built atop strategic points, look like giant skulls with guns. The demo also gave us a first glimpse at the new air units, which are a first for the series. The Space Marines rely on the deceptively named land speeder tempest, which is actually an air vehicle. Be careful; the computer likes to send these to raid your base.

The skirmish mission is probably the most challenging in the demo because there are so many different ways to either win or lose it. It's a one-on-one battle against the Space Marines, but it's also a race to see who can seize and hold strategic and critical points on the map. Strategic points are more numerous, and if one side controls more than two-thirds of them, a countdown timer will begin. The other side has that much time to try to capture enough strategic points to stave off defeat. There are only two critical points on the map, and a countdown timer also appears if one side controls them. It's possible to have two countdown timers ticking down against you. At the same time, you have to worry about defending your base from relentless assaults.

The Warhammer 40,000 universe is a really bloody place.
The Warhammer 40,000 universe is a really bloody place.

The campaign mission is also challenging, but it's also a lot more forgiving because you don't have to worry about battling the clock. In it, you must destroy a Space Marine base by building up your base and forces. That's fairly standard for an RTS mission, but this one throws a nasty twist in that the Space Marines have planted beacons all around the map. This allows them to insert from orbital strike teams at a moment's notice. So from the beginning, you'll be attacked from almost all sides, and every time you advance into a new location, you'll have to deal with Space Marine strike teams raining down on your head.

The demo just gives a brief glimpse of what's in Soulstorm, and it lacks multiplayer, which is a big part of the series' success. There's also no sight of the strategic metagame that features four worlds to conquer, which makes Soulstorm about four times larger than its predecessor, Dark Crusade. And, of course, the Sisters of Battle faction remains completely MIA in the demo. Still, if you like Dawn of War or you can't get enough of Warhammer 40,000, it looks like Soulstorm will tide you over until Relic and THQ deliver another expansion or a proper sequel. Soulstorm ships in March.

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