The Wraithlord is a twelve-foot tall monster crafted from psychic bone, imbued with the spirit of an ancient warrior who exists to only to kill. The Space Marine Captain is the champion of a barely-human warrior caste who runs around in power armour that compounds his ridiculous strength. When these two meet on a battlefield, something messy and exciting ought to happen.
In Dawn of War, it does. The Wraithlord burns the Captain with his fist-mounted flamethrowers and then crushes him with the squeeze of a single hand. The Captain pops in a cloud of red goo that Relic refer to as the “blood pinata” effect, and the Wraithlord throws his broken corpse out of the melee leaving a messy trail across the map. It’s grim. It’s perfect. Dawn of War is one of the few games to get close to delivering the spectacle the Warhammer 40k universe demands. In pursuit of that fantasy, Relic also challenged the RTS format created by Dune 2 and proliferated by Command & Conquer, StarCraft and Age of Empires.
“One of the expressions on the team at the time, as was related to me, was ‘in the 41st millennium, no-one chops wood.’” says Phillip Boulle, campaign and narrative designer on Dawn of War and its subsequent expansions. “It was all about going out, all the ways you got resources were points of conflict. Go out, fight with the enemy early.”
Wraithlords. They do one thing and they do it well.
Dawn of War does this by inverting the traditional RTS map, which tucks static resources into safe corners behind each faction’s base. Dawn of War ties resources to capture points in the battlefield, a move inspired by the original Warhammer ruleset. “In the tabletop game, there isn’t really any resourcing,” says Ian Cumming, artist, modeller and art director on Dawn of War and Dark Crusade. “It was all about combat and the variety that comes from that, from the different races. Putting the resource sy...