Warhammer 40,000: Winter Assault E3 Exclusive Preview - First Look, New Faction, New Units, New Gameplay

Take an exclusive look at this upcoming expansion pack for THQ's and Relic's brutal real-time strategy game Warhammer 40,000: Dawn of War.

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Real-time strategy games as we know them are changing, thanks to games like Warhammer 40,000: Dawn of War. Where these games used to all start off with chopping wood and harvesting gold to build up a base and churn out an army, we're now seeing games that focus on forward bases and tactical combat. Last year's Dawn of War was a visually impressive strategy game that pitted four factions right out of Games Workshop's classic tabletop universe against each other, and the upcoming expansion pack, Winter Assault, will add an all-new faction, plus several all-new units and new gameplay features that, according Relic lead designer Andy Chambers, will "make sure you can't go back to the original game." Take an exclusive look at these new features here.

The most brutal real-time strategy game to date is going to get a whole lot more vicious.
The most brutal real-time strategy game to date is going to get a whole lot more vicious.

The most obvious addition to the game is the all-new playable faction, the Imperial Guard, which, on the surface, may seem a bit mundane. However, the expansion is very much a product of player feedback--Relic has taken great care to listen to player comments and incorporate them into the new game. To that end, the new faction doesn't specialize in heavy melee like the orks, or in highly versatile units and tactics like the space marines, or in units with powerful special abilities, like the chaos marines, or in smaller armies with powerful units to micromanage, like the eldar. Instead, the Imperial Guard, also known as "the hammer of the emperor," focuses on attacking in numbers with powerful defensive bonuses. Maybe a squad of infantry with blaster rifles doesn't have quite the same visual flair as a gigantic red demon rising from the earth, but you'll forget your skepticism of these troops when a battalion of them chews up your entire front line while firing from cover without so much as breaking a sweat.

The Imperial Guard will focus on a defensive style that heavily favors ranged combat--a style of play that, according to Relic, might be more beginner-friendly, and will definitely be highly complementary to the factions of the original game. You'll see this reflected in both the faction's regular infantry guardsmen and its ogryn troops--ugly, brutish ogres who are deadly crack shots at range (and vicious melee warriors up close). Interestingly, both infantry types will be represented onscreen with randomized body parts. That is, no two units will look alike; some soldiers will have shoulder pads, eye patches, heavy helmets, and other accoutrements that will make them look less like a squad of clones and more like an actual army of soldiers). While these troops can be a real threat when amassed at an excellent vantage point, they suffer from morale problems, especially when confronted by huge, high-level enemy units.

Thankfully, the new faction also has access to fearsome commander units and highly advanced technology, such as two-legged sentinel walkers that are ideal for staging raids on strategic points, and mid-level tanks and artillery guns that pack a respectable punch. The faction's top-level superunit is the "baneblade," a gigantic mobile weapons platform with 11 mounted guns, including a humongous main cannon with two troopers to man it and constantly reload ammunition, alternately passing shells and plugging their fingers in their ears (and rocking back and forth) with each thunderous shot. Rounding out the ranks are elite infantry units like the commisar, who, like World War II Russian officers of the same name, keep infantry units "motivated" by shooting any would-be deserters in the back. The Imperial Guard can also recruit the psyker, a mad wizard that hurls lightning bolts and uses a "strip soul" ability to instantly kill any enemy (but with a small chance of incinerating himself instead), and the Imperial Captain, a unit described as "part General Patton, part [comic book superhero] Wolverine." The latter is a robust, if aging soldier whose white mustache and beard aren't quite as prominent as the jagged sword-blades attached to his wrists, with which he impales, lifts, and eviscerates enemy units.

Appearances can be deceptive. If you're not careful, the Imperial Guard will cut you down before you can even get into range.
Appearances can be deceptive. If you're not careful, the Imperial Guard will cut you down before you can even get into range.

We also had a chance to briefly visit the Imperial Guards' bases and expansion strategies. Even though the new faction's forte is defensive entrenchment, the Imperial Guard can secure forward bases at strategic points by building heavy weapons platoons in the area, then garrisoning infantry within for strong defensive bonuses. The new faction's bases themselves will resemble a cross between modern-day military bases and World War I trench bases lined with sandbags, barbed wire, and machinegun nests.

Fortunately, the game's four other factions will be joined by all-new units to round out their ranks as well--and all of these units come right out of the actual Warhammer 40,000 tabletop game rules. These include the space marines' skull-headed chaplain, a powerful ranged commander unit, and the chaos marines' Khorne berserker, a heavy melee fighter sworn to the service of the chaos god. Rounding out the new units are the eldar firedragon, an anti-vehicle infantry unit useful for early-game defense, and the orks' "mega-armored nob," a heavily armored (and knob-shaped) frontline unit. In addition, each of the four factions is being rebalanced and fine-tuned for online multiplayer play, since Dawn of War was recently selected by the World Cyber Games as a new entry for its highly competitive online tournaments. Relic considers this to be a rare distinction and a serious challenge, so the studio has an in-house testing team to make sure things stay balanced for both the original game and the expansion.

Of course, it wouldn't be Warhammer 40,000, or Dawn of War, if there weren't any new gruesome battles planned for the expansion. Apparently, Relic designers felt that the original game might not have made enough use of its powerful graphics engine, so aside from the great detail you'll see on the new faction's units, the new expansion will also have many more "sync kills." These are the dramatic, close-up, animated confrontations between various units as one finishes the other off in spectacular, gory, bloody death scenes.

Relic is also emphasizing more choices in the expansion's single-player campaigns. Apparently, some players felt that the original game's campaign was a bit too linear and forced players along a certain path. As such, the expansion will have two completely separate campaigns (a "good" campaign for the Imperial Guard, space marines, and eldar, and an "evil" campaign for chaos and the orks), each with about a dozen missions and an intertwined story structure that will make your decisions much more impactful--even to the extent that you'll be able to choose which faction will ultimately complete the game and achieve victory.

Winter Assault will pack in a huge amount of new stuff for beginners, veterans, and multiplayer experts alike.
Winter Assault will pack in a huge amount of new stuff for beginners, veterans, and multiplayer experts alike.

There's no question that Winter Assault will have a huge amount to offer fans of Warhammer 40,000, both old and new. If the promise of having an all-new, more beginner-friendly faction doesn't get your attention, the all-new single-player campaigns, enhanced graphics, and highly tuned multiplayer should. The expansion is scheduled for release later this year.

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