It was 2004 when Relic first translated the Games Workshop tabletop war game to the PC, with almost universal acclaim. Here was a strategy game that got away from the classic Command & Conquer ‘resource gather and rush’ model and made you push out from your HQ as soon as possible to capture vital targets before you had the strength to take on your enemies.
This is the second expansion pack and, unlike the previous ‘Winter Assault’ that promised more of the same with significant improvements, Dark Crusade has made giant leaps forward and introduced a different design of gameplay. For a start, you don’t need the original game to play in the campaign or skirmish mode (although the multiplayer mode will restrict you to two races), which means that even newcomers can get right in on the action without coughing up any more dosh.
Secondly, you have two completely new races that are now battling for supremacy on the planet Kronus. The Necrons can best be described as undead Terminators who rely on mass numbers and the immense power of their flying Monolith to decimate their foes. The Tau, on the other hand, use an alliance of species as well as long-range weaponry to achieve their aims, along with specialist stealth fighters who can capture targets unseen.
All of the seven races have been given additional units (such as the Imperial Guards’ Heavy Weapons team, the Orcs’ Flash Gitz, who contribute long range destruction, and Chaos’ awesome Daemon Prince).
The single-player campaign has been completely transformed too, as it’s now devised around a turn-based, Risk-style domination, where you either attack or defend the adjoining province until all the map is under your control. Capturing a region gives military benefits in the shape of extra units or, say, a Space Portal, as well as upgraded armour or abilities to your commander. It’s not a new idea but carried out with Warhammer’s characteristic gung-ho enthusiasm, blood-lust and humour it makes for some adrenaline-crazed gaming.
Since you can enter the campaign as any of the seven races and the direction your expansion takes is entirely in your hands, there are endless possibilities for replay, plus of course the multiplayer mode. The graphics are top notch, the music keeps the heart pounding and the firepower and battle scream effects appropriately loud, frequent and chilling.
It’s unfortunate timing that Dark Crusade has been released just after Relic’s mega-hit Company of Heroes, which is based on the same principles but includes extra improved features such as retreat orders, better use of cover and topography and smarter enemy AI. However, that still won’t detract from what is probably the best stand-alone expansion pack ever…