Warhammer 40,000: Dawn of War III

Dawn of War 3 launched on April 27, and you can read our review for our verdict. Prior to release, Relic provided us with a near-final review copy, which includes a benchmark tool, so naturally I wanted to find out what sort of hardware Dawn of War 3 requires.

Note that while there was an open beta this past weekend, it was slightly different than the review copy. This is an important distinction as both drivers and the game engine will likely improve over the coming weeks, but I'm looking at how the game runs right now using the review code (we've also checked some of the features against the release build).

Quickly running through the features checklist, Dawn of War 3 is more limited than many games that I've tested. Resolution support is good, including ultrawide resolutions and even multiple monitors—though there's a quirk to that I'll get to later. And many of the other items like FOV don't really apply, since this is an overhead RTS game.

As far as the settings go, for the performance testing I'm using two options. For the 'medium' testing, I use the 'medium' setting on image quality, texture quality, and physics, with anti-aliasing set to 'off' at 1080p. These are settings that most PCs should be able to handle and it represents a base level of performance.

For the 'ultra' testing, image quality is at maximum, texture quality is set to 'higher,' physics is at 'high,' and anti-aliasing is set to 'low.' Why not 'medium' or 'high' on anti-aliasing? Both of those modes use super-sample AA, which can look nice but is basically the same as running at a higher resolution. I'll discuss the settings more below.

Be sure to check out our performance analysis video as well. Along with the usual suite of benchmarks and charts, the video provides real-time framerate comparisons. I've included three or four cards at each test setting that are reasonable options—so while I did run benchmarks with low-end graphics cards at 1440p and 4K, the video will focus on budget cards at 1080p medium, mainstream cards at 1080p ultra, and high-end hardware for 1440p and 4K ultra.

Dawn of War 3 includes a built-in benchmark, which is great as it means others can use the same tests I'm running. But there's a catch: the results collected by the benchmark include extra frames rendered before and after the actual gameplay, which can radically skew the results. To get around this, I've captured the 30 seconds of simulated gameplay using FRAPS. If you're wondering, at 1080p medium with a GTX 1080, the internal benchmark reports 190 fps average compared to just 135 fps for FRAPS.

For more information on how I'm testing gaming performance, check out our performance analysis 101 article.

MSI provided all of the hardware for this testing, mostly consisting of its Gaming/Gaming X graphics cards. These cards are designed to be fast but quiet, and the fans will shut off completely when the graphics card isn't being used. Our main test system is MSI's new Aegis Ti3, a custom case and motherboard with an overclocked 4.8GHz i7-7700K, 64GB DDR4-2400 RAM, and a pair of 512GB Plextor M8Pe M.2 NVMe solid-state drives in RAID0. There's a 2TB hard drive as well, custom lighting, and more.

MSI also provided three of its gaming notebooks for testing, the GS63VR with GTX 1060, GT62VR with GTX 1070, and GT73VR with GTX 1080. The GS63VR has a GTX 1060 6GB with a 4Kp60 display, the GT62VR has a GTX 1070 and a 1080p60 G-Sync display, and the GT73VR has a GTX 1080 with a 1080p120 G-Sync display. For testing higher resolutions on the GT-series notebooks, I used Nvidia's DSR technology.

Jumping into our entry level settings, 1080p medium is a good target for moderate graphics cards. I've tested the GTX 1050, 1050 Ti, and RX 460 as budget offerings, but if you're looking for older equivalents, the GTX 950, 960, and R7 370 should be similar. By popular demand, I've also included older generation GTX 970, R9 380 4GB, and R9 390 hardware in the testing, though those cards slot in above the budget cards. If you need to boost performance even more, dropping settings a notch or two can potentially double framerates.

Nearly all the cards break 60 fps averages at 1080p medium, though minimum fps is currently well below that mark on many GPUs. Initial testing was done with a preview build, and there's some odd stuttering and fps drops that come into play, but looking at the now-public release this has been corrected. The average fps didn't change, but the minimums have been smoothed out, particularly on faster cards.

Cranking up the image and texture quality while staying with 1080p is what I'll call 'ultra' quality. Anti-aliasing is at low (FXAA), and the performance is still good for mainstream cards. The 1060 3GB and RX 470 4GB both clear 60 fps, and only the 1050 and RX 460 cards (or similar) struggle. Faster cards like the 1070 and 1080 start pushing above 120 fps, and interestingly the Fury X beats the 1070 by a small margin.

With the higher quality textures in play, 2GB cards can also run into VRAM limitations. AMD's RX 460 2GB has a bad showing here, though future drivers will likely improve the situation. AMD did just release updated 17.4.4 drivers, which should improve the situation, with up to eight percent better performance (on the RX 580). I haven't had a chance to retest all of the AMD cards, unfortunately.

Keeping with the 'ultra' settings and cranking up the resolution definitely requires beefy graphics hardware. At 1440p, we're focusing on high-end cards, and the 1070 and above from Nvidia all continue to do well. AMD's previous generation R9 Fury X also performs well, but it's due for retirement. The RX 500 series cards are now available and RX Vega is coming soon, so until that happens Nvidia is basically unchallenged at the top of the performance stack. Everything below the GTX 1070 and Fury X fails to hit 60 fps, though opting for high/medium instead of maximum/higher settings may be enough to get you there.

For anything less than a 1080 Ti, 4K will require either lowering your standards for 'playable' from 60 fps to 30 fps, or else you'll need to drop to minimum/low settings.

Gunning for 4K means bringing the elite units into play. The GTX 1080 Ti does manage to hit 60 fps average, but only barely. You can see in the performance analysis video that some areas will run at close to 70 fps while others sit at 50 fps. This is where technologies like G-Sync and FreeSync are useful, as they link your display's refresh rate to your framerate, avoiding tearing while still delivering smooth gameplay.

For anything less than a 1080 Ti, 4K will require either lowering your standards for 'playable' from 60 fps to 30 fps, or else you'll need to drop to minimum/low settings. This is why I continue to look at 1440p as the sweet spot for high-end gaming, though I won't deny 4K on a larger screen looks great.

You might also be thinking about multiple GPUs. I did some limited testing with 1080 cards in SLI, using Nvidia's latest 381.89 drivers. The best scaling was at 4K, where the second GPU improved framerates by a mere 28 percent. That's just about enough to match the performance of a single 1080 Ti. Hmmm…. Relic's Company of Heroes 2 never got functional SLI / CrossFire support, so at least SLI is doing something here, but at lower resolutions it does very little, and a single faster GPU is the better solution.

I've only focused on the GPU side of the equation so far, but how much CPU will you need to run Dawn of War 3? Your graphics card is the primary consideration, but if you have a fast GPU you'll want a potent CPU backing it up. I ran a collection of seven CPUs through the benchmark, using the GTX 1080 Ti. This shows the worst-case situation for CPU scaling, and mostly things aren't too bad.

At 1080p, there's some clear separation between Intel's Core i7 and i5 parts, as well as from AMD's Ryzen chips. Is it enough to really matter? Only if you have a 1080 Ti—with a GTX 1080 or lower, everything from a several years old i5-4690K through Ryzen and Core i7 is fine. The only CPUs where I'd be worried are Core i3 parts, along with older AMD APUs and FX-series CPUs.

With Core i3 (and a hypothetical 2-core/4-thread Ryzen chip running at 3.9GHz), DoW3 is limited to around 75 fps—and that's in the benchmark sequence. If you were in a highly competitive multiplayer map with potentially two or three times as many units onscreen, those slower CPUs will seriously bog things down. But going from 4-core/8-thread to 8-core/16-thread (the Ryzen 1500X and 1700 lines), the extra cores only help a little bit. Pure quad-core i5 parts (or Ryzen 3 when that arrives) get you almost all the way to the top.

Again, most of these CPU limitations are only visible with an ultra-fast graphics card. Using a slower mainstream card like a GTX 1060 3GB or RX 470/570 4GB, Core i5 and Ryzen 5 are definitely sufficient. I didn't run a full set of benchmarks, but as a point of reference, there's only a five percent difference between the overclocked 4.8GHz i7-7700K and a 3.8GHz Core i5-7500 at 1080p ultra when using an RX 470. At 1080p medium, the gap is 13 percent, while at 1440p the difference is only three percent.

Moving over to the mobile side of things, MSI's gaming notebooks are very nearly the equal of their desktop counterparts. The GT73VR has a GTX 1080, with clocks that basically match MSI's factory overclocked GTX 1080 Gaming X 8G. The differences you see in the charts at 1080p and 1440p are due to the slightly slower i7-6820HK processor in the notebook, and at 4K testing you can see the mobile and notebook 1080 GPUs are tied.

The GTX 1070 and 1060 6GB mobile options aren't quite as fast—they have clocks that are about 10 percent lower than the desktop variants. If that sounds like a big deal, keep in mind the old mobile graphics solutions used to use a lesser GPU with fewer cores, along with lower clockspeeds. It was usually a 30-40 percent difference compared to desktop cards.

The GT-series notebooks also include G-Sync displays, with a 120Hz panel on the GT73VR and a 60Hz display on the GT62VR. The higher refresh rate is the way to go, as it means the performance potential doesn't go to waste. The GS63VR meanwhile has a 4K IPS display, which looks beautiful but unfortunately proves a bit much for its slower GPU when it comes to gaming.

I skipped over the discussion of settings to get to the interesting stuff, but I wanted to cover a few things before wrapping up. Unlike many other games I've tested, the graphics settings in Dawn of War 3 are quite limited. Resolution support appears, but at present it doesn't do what you'd expect. Instead, the game runs at your desktop resolution (as a borderless window), and any resolution you set in the game is rendered internally and then scaled to your desktop resolution. That means alt-tabbing won't usually cause problems, but it's a bit weird to not have direct control over the game resolution.

There's a scaling option that also overlaps this functionality, with three scaling factors: 100 percent, 67 percent, and 50 percent. If you have a 4K monitor, those will cause the game to render at 4K, 1440p, or 1080p respectively, but you get the same result by setting 1440p or 1080p. Note also that if you have a high resolution display like 4K, that still uses more video memory, so you lose a few percent in performance.

In my experience, rather than running at 4K with 50 percent scaling (or setting the internal rendering to a lower resolution), you're much better off running at 1080p via the desktop resolution setting, with 100 percent scaling. That's what I've done for all of the performance results today.

The only options for modifying graphics are the overall image quality, the texture quality, anti-aliasing, and physics. The above gallery shows the difference between the six Image Quality settings, though it's hard to spot the differences once you've moved past minimum and low.

There's a pretty healthy jump in performance going from low to the minimum image quality setting (about 50 percent), but minimum image quality also turns off most of the lighting, shadows, and other graphical effects. Going from maximum to low meanwhile only improves performance another 30-40 percent. Texture quality causes the game to use higher resolution textures, though I didn't see a massive difference between low quality and 'higher' quality. If you have a graphics card with only 2GB VRAM, you'll probably want to stick with the medium setting.

As noted above, anti-aliasing can have a huge impact on performance at the medium and high settings. Medium uses 1.44x SSAA and high uses 2.25x SSAA, the net result being performance that scales just like it would with higher resolutions—4K with high AA is like running at 5760x3240 with Low AA.

Finally, let's talk about the benchmark itself. The built-in benchmark has a moderate number of units onscreen, giving a decent look at performance. If you put as many units as possible on the screen at the same time, it can drag performance down, but that doesn't represent typical gameplay.

Another item to note is that the benchmark runs in a letterboxed mode with black bars on the top and bottom of the screen (at least when using 16:9 aspect ratios). That means fewer pixels to render, so there's a slight difference between the benchmark and actual gameplay. But performance can vary widely depending on what's happening onscreen, and any benchmark is merely a snapshot of performance. Other areas may run faster or slower, but framerates generally scale the same across the hardware configurations.

Real-time strategy games are a bit different compared to first-person shooters. With the overhead view and mouse-driven interface, extremely high framerates aren't quite as critical as on shooters. Unless you're a 200+ clicks-per-minute pro looking for every edge you can possibly find, in which case higher framerates can only help.

As far as AMD vs. Nvidia, AMD's previous generation R9 300-series and Fury cards perform well, though the RX 480 is faster than the 390, indicating Dawn of War 3 benefits from the architectural improvements. For Nvidia, previous generation 900-series GPUs aren't radically different from the 10-series parts, so the GTX 970 occupies its typical middle ground between the 1050 Ti and the 1060 3GB.

Overall, the GTX 1080 and 1080 Ti obviously rank as the top performing cards. Until the RX Vega cards come out, that's not going to change. Just be aware that if you're using such a fast GPU, you'll also want a fast CPU. It's too bad the game doesn't scale much beyond four CPU cores. For mainstream users, AMD's RX 470/480 (and the nearly-the-same 570/580 updates) are a better value, but any of the current generation GPUs can deliver a good experience here.

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PC Gamer

Outlandish swagger seeps through every pixel of Warhammer 40,000: Dawn of War 3, and I can't help but admire it. Here we find a future so advanced that people flit about in spacecraft as easily as we take the bus, and yet one of its greatest heroes is a guy wielding a big frickin' hammer.

And oh, how he uses it. The man is Gabriel Angelos, commander of the Blood Ravens of the Space Marines, and he leaps into piles of orks and sends them flying as effectively as Chris Farley cannonballing a balsa coffee table. I press another hotkey and his hammer swings 360 degrees, causing orc blood and guts to splatter the turf and walls in gruesome imitation of Jackson Pollock. I may have grown weary of other elements in the latest entry in Relic Entertainment's long-running real-time strategy franchise, but from start to finish I admired the gusto of its presentation.

Dawn of War 3 is all about recapturing that classic real-time strategy excitement. Much of the time it succeeds.  It accomplishes it not only with (literally) larger than life elite units like Gabriel, but also by stuffing in massive-screen hogging armies, limited base-building, and squabbles over resource nodes. Some good elements from the past get lost in the process, such as the cover system and Diablo-style loot hunts that helped make 2009's Dawn of War 2 so exciting, but nothing shines so brightly in this new dawn as the emphasis on unrelenting, aggressive action. What it lacks in creative scenarios it makes up for in intensity, to the point that I rarely found myself bored in both multiplayer and the campaign. 

With a better story, Dawn of War 3 may have even been magnificent. It certainly has the ingredients on hand—a dash of old, favorite characters like the Eldar's Farseer Macha and a crunchy pinch of the Orkish warboss Gorgutz 'Ead 'Unter—but it squanders it on an unappetizing tale about the humans, Orks, and Eldar (space elves) brutally bickering over a mysterious spear and some business about a runaway planet. There's war! There's betrayal! Wacky alliances emerge! In other words, well, it's essentially Warhammer as usual. 

It's been a long time since I've felt such a satisfying buildup in an RTS.

The big difference this time around is that Dawn of War 3 lets you play all three factions in the 17-mission campaign rather than limiting yourself to the Space Marines. Each bunch feels distinct, and I found experimenting with each one of the greatest joys Dawn of War has to offer. The Space Marines may be a straightforward bunch with swords and guns, but they march down that straight path with panache, mowing down Orks and Eldar with hulking mechs or smashing through walls of green flesh with Gabriel's big hammer. The Eldar, though, are a band apart. Lithe and lean, they dart across the battlefield with rechargeable shields and an emphasis on strike-and-run tactics, and they can teleport almost all of their base's structures across the field rather than build a new one.

But it's the Orks that steal the show. They can upgrade themselves with the scrap from ruined buildings littering the field, and every one of their ramshackle structures invites admiration. Nothing sets them apart quite like their WAAAAGH towers, though, which look like things that might be loaded on Mad Max: Fury Road's doof wagon and which pump thumpin' heavy metal out to the green hordes around them. Activate one—hell, activate five of them—and the music intensifies until the surrounding orcs revel in a savage ecstasy, gaining enough attack boosts and speed to knock some hurt into anyone who comes near. It's been a long time since I've felt such a satisfying buildup in an RTS.

It can get tough to see all these units in action, particularly when the screen floods with little green men (that do drag the framerates down to around 40 frames per second or so), but the intuitive user interface usually smooths out any potential issues. Every squad that's either in the field or being prepared gets its own little square at the bottom of the screen, making it easy to keep track of which ones are taking heavy fire and need to be directed over to a health boost. They also make it easy to tell which units need to be upgraded, as the icon changes once the upgrade is in place to reflect the newer look.

Such variety. Such potential. But for all of the creativity that went into making each faction feel distinct, only a little made it into the maps themselves. A fairly typical mission might see me stepping into the clanky shoes of an elite like Gorgutz and directing my guys to muscle their way from one point to another, smashing whatever objective was there, and capturing resource nodes throughout the map. I'd then set up a few base buildings like barracks and an advanced vehicle shop, and then take the battle to whoever was on the other side. And that, sadly, would usually be that.

The lack of creativity fortunately doesn't mean a lack of content. At least the missions are long; their objectives neatly scattered. It took perhaps half an hour to plow through the shortest one, and the longest one took a couple of hours out of me. But the pacing isn't always perfect. Even on some of the most intense maps, I still found myself in plenty of situations where I'd end up waiting quietly and awkwardly for resources to pick back up so I could enter some more units into the queue. Worse, at least as far as believable strategy is concerned, in almost every one of these vulnerable cases the enemy showed next to zero interest in taking me out. Cover might as well not exist at all. Sure, you'll find a couple of circular areas with destructible shields across the map, but the battles rarely seem to take place near them.

For better or for worse, it's usually safe to expect a dull campaign from a real-time strategy game. After all, the joke-that's-not-a-joke goes that they're really only meant as lengthy tutorials for the multiplayer mode, and that's true here. The catch? Dawn of War 3 does a shoddy job of it. Rather than sending you through multiple missions at a time with a single faction, Relic passes you off to a different faction every mission. I started off with humans, but one mission later I was turning up my nose along with the Eldar. One more, and I was shouting WAAAAAAAGH with the Orks. (That was my favorite.) And then it's "Hey, humies" all over again. 

Stomaching this kind of thing might have been easier if the factions played a little more similarly (which would bring its own set of problems), but the factions play so differently that it's tough to get the hang of micromanaging the upgrades for squads, the specific abilities for three elite heroes and their grunt units, and the queues for specific buildings. Just as I'm getting comfortable with the tactics associated with a certain faction, I'm asked to step into another. The narrative suffers a little as a result as well, as the disjointed story does little to foster the cohesion that comes from a focus on one faction. 

Sometimes, though, the spectacle of its setpiece kept my attention. I wish there had been more. Early on, for instance, the Orks cobble together a big gun in an inconvenient spot and then realize moving it might pose a few problems. They realize after the first shot that the gun has a massive kickback, so the latter part of the mission hinges of the orcs fighting off Eldar as they warm it up and fire it toward the next point on the map. Dawn of War 3 also revels in the beauty of carnage. Forums and subreddits leading up to the official launch crawled with complaints that it looked too "cartoony," but the graphical approach here generally works well in action. Dawn of War 3 unfortunately doesn't let you zoom in for detail as far as Dawn of War 2, but from afar, the flashy animations for elites make it easy to find them in the flood of fighters. 

Elites are the mighty hero units that dominate Dawn of War 3. A specter of Warcraft 3 heroes looms over their presence, to the point that Gabriel himself—standing twice the size of his fellow men and toting a two-handed mallet—could be sculpted into a modern-day model for Arthas Menethil with little effort. He leaps into battle with arcs perhaps better suited to comic books than grimdark fantasy and his voice actor clearly enjoy yelling out his goofy, noble lines with weighty conviction. (Sound design as a whole is a great strength throughout.)  I admire the surprising variety in both appearance and abilities in all of them. Some, like Farseer Macha, who tosses her spear across the map and unleashes telekinetic blasts, are fairly simple. My personal favorite is likely the Orks' Beauty da Morkanaut, a building-sized walking metal effigy of the Ork god Mork that lumbers through the battlefield taking on entire armies on its own with its devastating "rockit fists" and "kustom force shield."

They're like gods on the field, and I can't shake the feeling that they're too powerful.

They're like gods on the field, and I can't shake the feeling that they're too powerful. That's not to say that they're immortal, as you could take down a melee-focused elite like Gabriel with some smart positioning of snipers and other ranged units. And to be fair, taking one of the giants down is one of the great thrills of the game.

But there's a good chance Gabriel could just jump into that pile of snipers and scatter them anyway. I normally get the most satisfaction from real-time strategy games by lining up a smart succession of grunts troops, but such meticulous efforts come off as a waste of time here when elites crush your armies within seconds. Elites technically can't even die. You first summon elites of varying power by building elite points from passive play (Da Morkanaut takes a hefty 9), but after they fall, you only need to wait out a short timer before you can set them to wreaking havoc again. They're so essential to the strategy here, in fact, that in the multiplayer maps I'd frequently see players just turtling around their base until they had enough points to throw an elite into the field. I can't even say I blame them. 

You also gain 'skull' currency by leveling elites through the campaign, but that leveling unfolds at a glacial pace. Skulls allow you to buy new 'doctrines' for your elites, such as one that heals all the troops around Gabriel when he falls in battle. You're clearly meant to build up most skull points through the multiplayer mode, as a fully unlocked stable of abilities allows for loadouts that give you significant edges over your opponents.

And what about that multiplayer mode anyway? (And unfortunately, for now, there is just the one and it only comes with eight different maps.) It, too, hearkens back to real-time strategy's good ol' days of building bases, scrounging for resources, and slapping armies of humans, orcs, and elves together into a giant, scrappy pile in 3-v-3, 2-v-2, or 1-v-1 modes.

But there are more distinctly modern elements here, too. The battles themselves aren't really about destroying bases. Instead, they're about taking down 'power cores,' but not before first taking out sets of shield generators and turrets. In short, in action, Dawn of War 3's multiplayer mode looks a lot like a multiplayer online battle arena in the vein of League of Legends or Dota 2.  I initially wasn't much of a fan of the approach, but it's grown on me. A bit, anyway. The presence of elites and escalation timers mean that smart players are always on the offensive, trying to keep the elites and bay and trying to slap key enemy structures with permanent damage. Most of the best action takes place around resource nodes, as losing them can quickly cripple a faction beyond recovery. Playing defensively? You're probably going to get a few nasty comments in chat from your teammates for not helping out. I've grown to love the associated energy, except perhaps when they devolve into what looks like pure chaos in the 3v3 mode. 

Still, I'm convinced the elites make the battles go on far longer than they should. You can spend several minutes building a smart selection of troops, but they're little more than wheat before the thresher when an elite stomps on the screen. Elites dominate the field so thoroughly that I've sometimes seen matches devolve into two elites just swatting each other in the middle of the field, their armies dead all around them. It's in these moments that they most resemble a MOBA's hero units, and the look isn't always flattering.

Other flaws pepper the experience, too, whether it's the absence of autosaves during the long campaign missions or the mind-boggling inability to reassign keybinds. For all this, I can't say I wasn't usually having fun. I admire Dawn of War 3 for trying to reinvent its formula again. It isn't quite the pure RTS of the first game or the RPG experiment of the second, but it sits somewhere in between. In its finest moments, when armies are crawling over each other and mechs make the ground tremble, it's an exciting place to be. 

The Edgelands

Billed as a "narrative adventure in which players explore a rustic twilight world where modern life mingles with real and imagined folklore", The Edgelands is the debut game from independent outfit Marshlight Software that was part-financed by Failbetter's fundbetter initiative. It's a strange game, but an intriguing one and while its creators suggest it references Infocom era interactive fiction, there's some strong hints of Kentucky Route Zero's eccentricity in there too. 

Which, if you've followed my writing over the past several months on PC Gamer, you'll know suits me nicely. Despite kicking off with the tired amnesiac protagonist trope, The Edgelands soon opens up its dream-like world, where its woodland landscapes are as unsettling as its disreputable characters. You're of course forced to converse with the latter in order to solve puzzles and progress its narrative—which underscores primitive living with themes of technological dependence. 

Having played through the first few areas of the game, I at one stage found myself stealing money from a sleeping vagrant in order to afford sleep medicine for a different chap blocking my only route of progression. Later, I wound up taking on a short-lived job as a waitress at a riverside food van in order to obtain a key item. Throughout, you discover more about the world, its characters and how everything ties together. 

Here's a gander at The Edgelands in motion:

As you can there, the game's soundtrack and art style is pretty out there too. But it suits. 

The Edgelands is due May 9, 2017. More information can be found via its official site

Dota 2

The Kiev Major and DreamHack Open are well underway: it’s going to be another busy weekend across the world of digital sports. There’s plenty of action from the League of Legends Mid-Season Invitational to the StarCraft 2 World Championship Series. We even have the Overwatch Apex Season 3 to look forward to. All the details on this weekend’s events can be found below.

League of Legends: Mid-Season Invitational

The 2017 Mid-Season Invitational (MSI) is kicking off its international tournament at the CBLoL Studio in Brazil. This year, all 13 regions will participate by sending their split champion (Spring Split or Split 1) to face off against other regional champions. However, only three teams from the Play-In Stage will advance to take on the champions from Europe, China, and Korea. The format remains the same as last year with the six teams competing in a best of one double round robin, which means every team will play each other twice. Oceania’s Dire Wolves will face Brazil’s Red Canids today at 11:00 PDT / 20:00 CEST, while the remaining Play-In teams will duke it out over the course of the weekend. The full schedule and stream can be found on LoL Esports.

Dota 2: Kiev Major

The Group Stage for this year’s Kiev Major has finished and the main event is starting today with the remaining brackets. Invictus Gaming is the third seed of the Kiev main event, and arguably the strongest team in the world given their recent results. They beat mousesports 2-1 yesterday and the team will be looking to continue their winning streak this weekend. TNC Pro Team will be looking to continue their climb when they clash with Team faceless today at 00:00 PDT / 09:00 CEST. Matches will be played throughout the day, so make sure you check out the schedule and stream over on the official Kiev Major site

StarCraft 2: World Championship Series

This weekend, 80 of the world’s best StarCraft II players are heading to Austin, Texas, for the World Championship Series and a chance to win the $100,000 prize pool. Last year’s DreamHack saw Hydra clinch a 4-2 win over Neeb in a tense final. This year Neeb will be hoping to climb the ladder to claim their seat at the the global championship finals. The group stages start today at 17:00 PDT / 02:00 CEST, while the quarter finals start the following day at 14:35 PDT / 23:35 CEST. Make sure to check out the full stream over on Twitch.

CS:GO: DreamHack Open 2017

The DreamHack Open returns this weekend and on this occasion the tournament will be held in Austin, Texas, United States. Eight teams from Europe and the Americas will fight it out for the lion's share of $100,000 at the LAN finals event. Last year's tournament saw Luminosity Gaming take first place after defeating fellow Brazilians, Tempo Storm for the champions’ title. You can check out the full weekend schedule and stream over on DreamHack’s official site

Street Fighter V: DreamHack 2017

The fourth Premier Event of the 2017 Capcom Pro Tour season will also be at this year’s DreamHack event. Players from around the globe will square-up in Street Fighter V at the Austin Convention Center today for a chance to win their share of the $15,000 prize pool. The winner of the last premier event will also be making a return and PG Punk will be looking to combo his way to victory once again. However, Capcom Cup 2016 champion Liquid NuckleDu will be looking to take revenge after PG Punk delivered a critical blow at the NorCal Regionals. The event could see these two giants clash once again, so be sure to tune it to the live stream on Saturday at 08:00 PDT / 17:00 CEST.

Hearthstone: Grand Prix

The DreamHack Hearthstone Grand Prix will see 200 competitors clash this weekend and only 16 players will advance to the single-elimination stage. Notable participants include GreenSheep, Chakki, amnesiac and Rdu. The winner will receive $25,000, while $1,500 prize pool is at stake for those who don’t make it through the grueling Swiss stages of the main tournament. The full schedule and stream can be found by heading over to battle.net.

Hearthstone: Global Games

The Hearthstone Global Games tournament is well underway, and a few teams have begun to establish themselves in the early stages of the tournament. The USA are off to the best start out of anyone in the Global Games so far – securing two match wins and only dropping one game. Edwin ‘HotMEOWTH’ Cook and 2014 World Champion James ‘Firebat’ Kostesich have given the team the power they need to climb the rankings and beat their opponents. It’s a long road ahead for the pros and every team will be fighting hard to secure the $300,000 prize pool. The full schedule and stream for week three can be found here.

Overwatch: Apex Season 3

The Overwatch Apex Season 3 begins in Korea today and we finally know the two Western teams that have been invited. Rogue has been placed in Group A alongside Lunatic Hai who are expected to be the group winner, thanks to their recent Season 2 victory. Meanwhile, EnVyUs has been placed in Group D where they will battle it out against the likes of MetaAthena and BK Stars. EnVyUs have a significantly easier group stage, but the team will need to be at their best if they wish to make it to playoffs. Lunatic Hai will face KongDoo Panthera today at 03:00 PDT / 12:00 CEST, while RunAway will clash with Afreeca Freecs at 04:30 PDT / 13:30 CEST. Make sure to check out the full stream over on Twitch.

Heroes of the Storm: Global Championship

The Heroes of the Storm Global Championship is wrapping up week nine of play this weekend and the tension continues to build up. Teams from around the world will be aiming to continue their journey towards the Mid-Season Brawl and secure a top spot in the regular season. Tempo Storm still remains at the top of leaderboard in North America, while Team Liquid are the team to beat in Europe. However, Gale force and Fnatic are creeping up the rankings and they’ll be looking to snag another victory this weekend. You can check out the standings for each region and view the tournament schedule for your area over on the Heroes of the Storm’s official site.

SMITE: Masters

The SMITE LAN Masters continue this weekend and North America, Europe, Latin America, Oceania and Brazil will be battling for the Masters title, as well as the $120,000 prize pool. The quarterfinals start today at 08:00 PDT / 17:00 CEST, while the semifinals start tomorrow at the same time. Hi-Rez will be randomly dropping skins of each team’s choosing whenever they win a game, so make sure you link your Twitch and Hi-Rez accounts in order to have a chance of receiving a skin while you watch. The Masters format, stream and Twitch drops can be found by heading over to SMITE Esports.

Dota 2

Thanks to Valve, Dota 2 players that take their rank seriously have a chance to stop seeing blue. They’ve finally added an authentication system to ranked play, which involves registering a phone number to any accounts wishing to queue in the game’s ranked mode (and no, you can’t use numbers from VOIPs such as Skype.) 

According to the devs, it’s a response to a longstanding issue of duplicate accounts, or smurfs, used by players to enter matches outside of their assigned skill rank. The rank disparity seems to go both ways: high-skill players smurf in lower matches for entertainment or education, and low-skill players buy higher-level accounts. There’s no single reason for the latter, though accounts in the 6000s and higher can likely play with celebrity pro players. Even players using smurfs in lower accounts can feel accomplished if their higher-level team carries them to victory. Either way, it creates imbalance in the match  for the other nine players (provided that they’re not smurfs too).

Already, though, criticism has arisen about the obstacles that the system creates for aspiring professional players.

The phone registration system has been frequently requested of late due to Valve’s implementation of a similar system in Counter-Strike: Global Offensive. Known as “prime matchmaking”, the system certainly hasn’t reduced the number of bitter players in each match, but it’s reduced the number of smurfs that serious players encounter. Dota 2 players are hoping for the same results. 

Already, though, criticism has arisen about the obstacles that the system creates for aspiring professional players. Some are concerned that the phone system isolates players in much poorer regions. The game is certainly popular in LAN cafes in regions such as South America, the Philippines and rural Russia. However, there’s also the case that mobile ownership, and even smartphone ownership, is booming in such regions. Since the Dota 2 authentication system only requires a basic telephone, most players will likely avoid this issue. 

Even age may not be an issue. In America, at least, the average age of initial smartphone ownership was estimated at about 10 years old, which may not be too far off for other countries as parents rush to keep their kids caught up with their peers. Even then, younger players can borrow a parent’s phone, or use the house phone. In that case, no issues should arise—unless there are multiple Dota 2 players in the house. 

For most players, the new system has no real consequences besides a temporary inconvenience. After all, it’s part of the long and complicated history of Dota 2 matchmaking, which is certainly neater than it used to be.

The original DotA actually didn’t have a matchmaking system. Warcraft 3 custom maps such as DotA lacked the perks of default multiplayer, which included regional and ping-based matching. For the most part, players could technically just jump into any public games, but this didn’t necessarily make for a better game. Community leaders stepped in to help alleviate some of this trouble, forming in-house leagues with their own rankings and hierarchies. This was how most DotA players socialized and played. 

Then, Dota 2’s beta was released, hoping to improve on many things that were limited in the Warcraft 3 mod. Sometime during this beta, Valve quietly added an unlisted matchmaking rating. Dotabuff, the stat aggregation site, was able to group players into normal, high or very high rankings. Still, the lack of a formal matchmaking system meant that players were free to play with others of any rank, though that wasn’t a major concern in the beta days. 

The matchmaking system as we know it today came about in late 2013, after the game came out of beta. It introduced the numerical matchmaking rank, with no upper ceiling but a floor of, of course, zero. Players needed at least 150 games, a fair 85-100 hours for most players, and a series of calibration matches needed to be played for placement. The only major change since then is that the requirement to queue in ranked was changed to a level 13 profile with the summer 2015 Reborn update (and the phone number, of course). 

For the most part, it’s remained a pretty acceptable system, and even Overwatch has taken a similar approach with its Competitive Mode matchmaking by using a numerical system plus period calibration. However, that’s generally where Dota 2’s general similarity to other games’ matchmaking ends, and some of the criticism it warrants begins. 

Games like LoL or Overwatch are more active in maintaining an up-to-date hierarchy of players.

While there’s been mostly positive feedback over the general ranking system, some have argued that Dota 2 should have a decaying MMR—that is, if a player is absent for a while, their MMR should go down. In many games, such as League of Legends, this system has a floor, meaning that it only applies above a certain rank so that lower-level players don’t need to worry about keeping up. It also means that players coming in after a long hiatus are essentially re-tested in order to prove their rank. 

Games like LoL or Overwatch are more active in maintaining an up-to-date hierarchy of players. They also have a seasonal reset and give out vanity rewards for end-of-season success, including a custom real-life jacket for Challenger players in LoL. Players with such high rankings, then, can’t just sit in the lowest Challenger rank and expect a jacket: they need to remain active and competitive. Meanwhile, Dota 2 doesn’t reward high MMR with anything other than pride.

So does Dota 2’s ranked matchmaking have anywhere to go from here? The answer isn’t clear, as ranked MMR is a controversial subject for many players. It’s clear, though, that the community has tried to push Valve to make sure everyone has a good competitive experience, whether in the trench or at the top. Prime matchmaking is a step in that direction.

Rising Storm 2: Vietnam

While it doesn't have a specific release date nailed down yet, Rising Storm 2: Vietnam is scheduled to release some time in the first half of this year. And as proof that this is probably still the case, Tripwire Interactive has opened pre-orders for the war shooter on Steam.

There's a standard edition as well as a Digital Deluxe Edition: the former is, y'know, standard, while the latter comes bearing a bunch of extra perks. These include two exclusive items in the form of "camouflage 'Boonie' hats" for both the North Vietnamese and US factions, as well as four cosmetic item unlocks. The official soundtrack is bundled in as well.

Finally, the system requirements have also been published, which you can peruse below. The link to the pre-order page is here. Tyler went hands-on with Rising Storm 2 last year, and you can read his impressions here.

Minimum SpecWindows® 7 / Windows® 8 / Windows® 10 64-bit (latest Service Pack)Intel® Core™ i3 @ 2.5GHz or AMD Phenom @ 2.5GHzNVIDIA® GeForce® GTX 460 or ATI Radeon™ HD 58504 GB RAM

Recommended SpecWindows® 7 / Windows® 8 / Windows® 10 64-bit (latest Service Pack)Intel i5 @ 3.2GHz or AMD @4GHzNVIDIA® GeForce® 760 or AMD R9 270X6 GB RAM

Stardew Valley

A man, disenchanted by the rigors of city living, leaves his old life behind to run a farm and rediscover a sense of purpose. That's the setup for Stardew Valley and just about every Harvest Moon game. But for Samuel, that premise isn't just a fiction. It's his real life.

Living on a farm had been one of Samuel's dreams since he was a child, but life has a way of sweeping aside our big ideas. Then last year, Samuel started playing Stardew Valley. Now, at 33 years old, Samuel has given up his city apartment in Illinois that he's lived in for years and bought a small farm out in the country. 

"I've got a friend over right now and about two weeks ago and we were outside having a beer and he said, 'You are living in a Harvest Moon game. You know that, right?'" Samuel tells me over the phone while laughing. "The similarities, believe me, they don't escape me. A lot of people are telling me that I'm taking cosplay to the extreme."

But a dirty pair of overalls isn't just a costume Samuel wears for a bit when he feels like it. With 2.5 acres of land, a barn, shed, two dogs, and a real fixer-upper of a house, Samuel's got more responsibilities than he's had in a lifetime. And, despite having "a few more grey hairs" because of it, he tells me he would never go back.

"It's everything I wanted it to be." 

Four walls

Multiple times a night, trains would run by Samuel's window. It wasn't a comforting sound, just another way that the restlessness of the city invaded his life. For someone who grew up running through the vineyards of his aunt's farm, the chaos of the city just wasn't where Samuel felt he belonged. He might not have worked in a soulless Joja corporate office like in Stardew Valley's introduction, but his life was just as unsatisfying. And his "cramped" apartment wasn't helping. 

"I love my job, don't get me wrong, but when you come home and all you have is four walls to stare at, it turns into tedium after a while," Samuel admits. "I can go outside, but as soon as I step out the door I'm in the middle of the city. I step out and its concrete, there's nothing I can do about it. What's there to do? You can go to the bar I guess. I can become an alcoholic or I can stand outside and stare at the ground."

I know that it's mostly a joke when he says this, but I also sense a kind of desperate truth to it.

"A lot of people are telling me that I'm taking cosplay to the extreme."


Unsurprisingly, Samuel passed the time by playing videogames. As we talk about them, he makes a few lighthearted jabs at Mass Effect: Andromeda, mentions how much he loved Dust: An Elysian Tale, and confesses that he's been playing EVE Online for almost eight years. But Stardew Valley was different. "It had that little piece of charm, a piece of magic that people grab onto and you just don't find that everywhere," Samuel says. "It had so much heart and so much soul."

While he's always enjoyed the older Harvest Moon games, Stardew Valley took hold of him in a different way. As 2016 ticked by, he clocked over 120 hours cultivating his plot of virtual country heaven. For someone who grew up in the country, Stardew Valley had a powerful grasp on the beautiful nuances of that kind of life.

A shot of Samuel's 2.5 acre backyard.

When the isolating freeze of a midwestern December began to creep into his apartment, so too did Samuel's restlessness. He needed to get out of the city. "I felt disillusioned with that kind of lifestyle," he says somberly. "I wanted to get my hands dirty and I wanted to go out and tear the soil up and see what I could grow. I think there's a disillusionment from modern society. People get tired of always looking down at their phones and eventually one day you look up and say, what am I doing with my life?"

"I realized I needed to grab my dream and run with it and take all the chances I can." 

After New Year's, Samuel says he was sitting with some coworkers talking about their resolutions when he thought, to hell with it, and confessed his: "I'm going to buy a farm. I'm going to have chickens and two turkeys and I'm going to name them Christmas and Thanksgiving and I'm going to do this thing I've always wanted to do."

"Everybody said I was nuts," he laughs.

A new beginning 

Samuel bought the first farm he visited. "It's ideal for me," he says. "It's 20 minutes from my job and 20 minutes from my parents' house, but slap in the middle of nowhere."

True to the premise of Stardew Valley, the 2.5-acre property had been neglected for years. Samuel says that, structurally, everything was in great shape, but there was a lot of preliminary work that would need to be done—trees to cut, weeds to pull, and stones to break up. 

Samuel's new one-story house with an unfinished basement.

That's not to mention the work that needs to be done on the house. "It needs updating," Samuel laughs. "The green shag carpet is a bit much." He tells me that when pulling some of it up, he found hardwood floors underneath and immediately got excited. Then he pulled up more of the carpet and realized that what he thought was hardwood flooring was actually just half of the front porch. When the previous owners wanted to expand the inside, they simply cannibalized half of the porch.

Despite all the maintenance the property needs, that hasn't stopped Samuel from getting started on the actual farming. The field beyond his house is already tilled and planted. "I've got onions, okra, cucumber and I have a row of cabbages out there even though it's a little early for cabbages right now," Samuel says excitedly. "I plan on throwing in some lettuce and pole beans too. I also plan to grow a little bit of tobacco out in the field."

"I wanted to get my hands dirty and I wanted to go out and tear the soil up and see what I could grow."


I ask him why he wants tobacco. "I've always wanted to try it because my grandpa used to grow tobacco," he says. "I remember being a little kid and you'd see these big, huge tobacco plants hanging up in this old beat up green shed he had. I don't know, I just thought it'd be fun to do."

That's just the beginning, though. After buying the property in January, Samuel's crops are already starting to resemble Stardew's. A friend gifted him two apple trees which he's already planted. There's a row of grape vines that he hopes to turn into sugar-free jam. "I also want to make wine and I want to get some hops and brew beer. I just want to be one of those crafty kinds of dudes. It sounds like fun and hey, if you can get drunk in the process, even better."

And then there's livestock. Samuel tells me that he plans to have around 15 chickens, including his two turkeys named Christmas and Thanksgiving. Though some people have tried to talk him out of it because of the effort, he's considering getting a pig or maybe a goat. "I know everyone says they're cute and all, but boy, they're yummy," he chuckles. A neighbor also gave him two Saint Bernard puppies that he's named Donny and Gordon. On top of all that, he plans to keep four hives of Carolina Honeybees. Like tobacco, beekeeping is another way Samuel can emulate his great grandfather. 

Donny and Gordon, Samuel's two Saint Bernard pups.

It's certainly an ambitious plan, but Samuel is confident he can do it. Though his knowledge of farming is limited, it runs in his blood. "My great grandfather was a farmer in the area where I grew up," he says. "He immigrated from Germany and everything I know about farming or beekeeping I learned from my mother because she learned it from him. That's a wealth of information that I can tap at any time."

But as much as Samuel likes to joke that he's living a real-life Stardew Valley, he isn't. Sure, he gave up his apartment and moved out to the country, but he's skeptical he'll ever be able to sustain himself on his own land. Come summer, he won't be able to plant a few hundred blueberry bushes and drop them in a bin for someone to pick up in exchange for a few thousand dollars like he could in Stardew Valley. A living wage doesn't come that easily.

"Every single day I definitely have moments of self-reflection and doubt where I think, oh boy."


On top of everything Samuel has to take care of on the farm, he's also working night shifts full-time to make ends meet. "When I took possession of [the land] I thought it was going to be three or four hours of work a day. When I get off work and its seven in the morning it's a good time to work, so I work until noon and call it a day. But I've realized it'll probably take a couple of years, honestly, to get it where it needs to be."

And even once the farm is back in good shape, fields full of crops and a pen full of animals, it's unlikely that Samuel will ever be able to make a serious living off just the land alone. Agriculture just isn't what it used to be—especially for such a small farm.

I ask him if he ever doubts his decision. "Every day," he says without pausing. "Every single day I definitely have moments of self-reflection and doubt where I think, oh boy. I can work for six hours and it may not look like I've accomplished anything at all. I'm beat up and broken and covered in dirt and dust and I'm just like, did I even accomplish anything?" 

There's a lot of work that needs to get done before the farm is in optimal shape.

Looking at it cynically, I can't help but worry if Samuel might've bitten off more than he could chew in pursuit of an idle fantasy. But then I ask him if, in spite of all the hard work, he's happier now than before. He pauses a moment and then tells me a story.

A few months back, Samuel finished up his night shift and drove out to the farm. The weather had worsened overnight and, upon arriving, he found a six-inch blanket of snow draped over everything. As he stepped out of his car and his boots crunched in the snow, he stood still and listened. He heard something he hadn't heard in the longest time: perfect silence. "I was just like, this is it. This is perfect. This is where I need to be, right here." 

A wonderful life 

Giving up life in the city to buy a house in the country was a gamble, but for Samuel it's paid off. "I was just outside drinking some coffee and everyone who drives by will give you a wave. In the city, everyone is so fixated on what they're doing they forget the community they live in. They don't know who their neighbors are. I lived in that apartment and I only met my neighbors who lived 20 feet away from me maybe twice, I couldn't even tell you their names. Now that I've moved here, I've got about 10 neighbors around me and I know every single one of them."

I wanted to know where he sees himself in a few years, and he begins to ramble excitedly about all of his plans for his new life. He even mentions having kids. He'll need to get married first, so I ask what his strategy is to woo the local bachelorettes. "I'm going to run up and hand them an egg and then leave," he laughs. "That's how you win the ladies over, right?"

Given how much his life is turning out to become Stardew Valley, nothing would surprise me. 

Samuel jokingly calls this the entrance to his mine, though he hasn't found any slime monsters yet.

"When it's your dream, you have to take the bad with the good. You have to take those hard times with all those good times, that's where the real charm is."


But really, Samuel isn't too concerned about the future. He's just enjoying each day as it comes. "I've had a very negative attitude for a very long time. But you can't carry it with you or you'll have more grey hairs than you plan on. You can't constantly be negative, you can't constantly be worrying about everything going wrong in the world when what you really need to worry about is your two acres of land. The whole world is going to take care of itself, but at the end of the day you got to get outside and feed the chickens." 

It's only been a few months, though, and it's quite possible the charms of country living might one day wear off. It's something that Samuel has accepted as an inevitability. But for him, it's not about the romanticized fantasy of simple country living. It's about working to achieve the things that matter most.

"It's really easy to go out and plant the garden and put that seed in the ground, but it's really hard to weed and tend to it for months on end," he tells me. "I hope I'm up to the task. But when it's your dream, you have to take the bad with the good. You have to take those hard times with all those good times, that's where the real charm is. It's not in sitting back and having a glass of tea, it's sitting back and having a glass of tea after you've worked for 12 hours. That's when it counts." 

Victor Vran ARPG

Victor Vran—no disrespect intended—turned out to be a better monster-slaying action-RPG than I expected. But what really got my attention was the August 2015 announcement of an upcoming Motörhead expansion, "Motörhead: Through the Ages," which developer Haemimont Games said would be "heavily inspired by and based on Motörhead's history, lyrics and general attitude." 

Virtually nothing more was said about it after that, however, until early last month, when Haemimont confirmed it was still on the way as either separate DLC, or in the upcoming Victor Vran Overkill Edition. Today the studio nailed down the release date to May 30, and put out a new trailer that really needs to be listened to at full volume. 

Motörhead: Through the Ages will run through "the Wörld of Wars, the Weird West and the Dark Ages," where players will do battle with the Preacher, the Führer, and the Queen of the Damned. It will add three new outfits based on the members of the band, new Revolver and Guitar weapon types, new bosses including the Corrupted War Pig and the Orgasmatron, and new eight new Motörhead-themed demonic powers. And on top of all that, it features actor, director, and "living legend" Lloyd Kaufman, who along with Lemmy (of course) will aid players in their quest to resurrect the mighty Snaggletooth. 

Naturally, there will be plenty of Motörhead music, too, although it sounds like you'll have to work to get to it. "Rock out to fan-favorite Motörhead tracks like they’ve never been heard before," Haemimont said. "Activate Monuments of Rock to experience unwoven instrumentals from the band’s original studio recordings, then defeat hammering waves of monsters to complete the song and earn exciting new treasures, weapons, and abilities." 

"In over 20 years of making video games this is my proudest moment," executive producer Achim Heidelauf said, and I'm really inclined to believe him. It's silly, but it looks like a lot of fun, too, and even though it's obviously all-in on the Motörhead, it comes off as a proper expansion rather than just a throwaway novelty for fans. 

Motörhead: Through the Ages, and also the more conventional Fractured Worlds expansion that was revealed in the Overkill Edition announcement, will both be available on May 30 for $12/£10/€12 each. The Victor Vran Overkill Edition will be out on the same day, and will cost $40/£35/€40.

Warhammer 40,000: Dawn of War III

Dawn of War 3 is out, which means millions of power cores are about to die. Dawn of War 3's signature multiplayer mode is designed to drive huge forces towards vital objectives, encouraging enormous battles, particularly in 3 vs 3. It's a daunting prospect for new players, and though the structure of the mode is simple, there are hidden quirks and complications that I wish I had known before I started playing. 

With that in mind, I've decided to try to clear up the game's clutter and demystify a few things rather than focus on unit and army strategies. There's little I can say about the factions that will help you learn them faster. Every RTS has a bedding-in period when you learn the units and their abilities, and for this Dawn of War 3's tooltips, and the singleplayer campaign, are your friends. Instead I have decided to focus on elements that will hopefully help you through those early games, and clear up a few questions you might have, like 'what do all these slightly different-looking circular capture points actually do?' and 'why is the power core a wobbly blob of energy one minute and dormant the next?'

Let's talk about Power Core

The game does a good job of teaching you how this works. Kill the shield generators, kill the turrets, kill the power core.  There are some rules I wish I knew from the start, however.

Firstly, shield generators are pretty weak. You can kill them with some focused infantry effort in the early game quite easily. However, they act as heavy cover points for allied units stationed within the outer ring of the shield generator, and while the cover shield is up the shield generator itself is invulnerable. This means that as a defender it really pays to get at least one unit right on top of the shield generator in a fight. As an aggressor, you'll need close-combat units to get under the shield and clear the area out. One more little thing that's worth knowing: shield generators detect stealthed enemies within a considerable radius. Click on the shield generator and mouse over the 'detector' icon at the bottom left of the screen to see that radius in blue.

You need a proper force to take out a turret, and be sure to spread your forces as you move in. The turret can do two things: shoot in a straight line, or pulse to temporarily freeze enemies withing an area-of-effect. When you box-select and move in Dawn of War 3 the army tends to coalesce into a narrow clump that turrets love to toast. Manually spread your squads as you move in to minimise damage.

Power cores have two abilities you should know about. 'Power core shelter' lets the enemy lock down the power core for a duration—the vulnerable lightning core goes back into the shell and you can't damage it. The passive 'power core repairs' ability causes the lightning ball to go back into the shell after a while if the core is not attacked within a certain radius. The rule essentially stops you from shelling the core from miles away to keep it 'awake'. You would want to do that because before the 40-minute mark, the core heals up while dormant.

Grab those resource points

There are a lot of objectives on a Dawn of War 3 battlefield and unfortunately they are all circular bits of machinery that look quite similar if you are completely new to the game. Shown above, the small circles of tech with attached coloured blobs are resource nodes. Capture them by moving troops into the circle, and then build on them to start generating requisition and power.

Generally you need requisition to build infantry, and power to build advanced infantry, vehicles and walkers. Vehicles tend to come in during the mid-game, so you probably want to focus on requisition in the very beginning so you can build some basic squads to scrap for resource points.

Listening posts are turrets that  your builder units can build on resource points. They're extremely useful, and they grow more powerful as the game progresses through each escalation phase. It is a good idea to build them first on your most exposed or precious points.

Know your nodes

Resource points have different numbers of yellow and blue nodes. When you upgrade a point you're building a little generator on one of these nodes to produce requisition from yellow points, and power from blue points. With this in mind, we start to see how Dawn of War 3's maps a little differently. On the huge 3 vs 3 map above there is a four-node point in the middle, which makes it worth as much as two smaller two-node points. If you want to calculate whether you have a resource advantage, count the nodes rather than the resource points themselves.

Don't forget hero points

But wait, there is one more type of node! It is purple, and it generates hero points. These tick up slowly over time, and you spend them to unlock your powerful hero units. Anything you can do to bring out your elites a little earlier is useful. If you're banking on getting a hero into the fight soon and you're one point out, know that you can mouse over the purple diamond resource icon at the bottom left of the screen for a countdown timer.

Use stealth, and take cover

There are two other vital map elements you need to know about. Stealth cover is arguably the most important. These dark, glittering rectangles will hide any troops and buildings to everything that isn't standing within that space. You can use them creatively. Ork Gretchin can stealth temporarily, so move them invisibly between patches of stealth cover to scout. Eldar buildings have a small footprint, so you can teleport them into stealth cover to attack from surprising angles.

Heavy cover can be useful occasionally. You can capture these circular barricades to throw up a shield that resists gunfire. In my experience they are unreliable because it's trivially easy for a mobile assault unit to get in there and shut down everything you have garrisoned, and cover tends to get crushed when the serious walkers and artillery pieces come out. Still, put some snipers in one and they can do a lot of damage to passers-by while also providing some map visibility.

Take heed of status effects

Status effects are displayed as small square icons that sit above a unit's health bar. You can mouse over them for a tooltip that explains what they are, but in the heat of battle there is rarely time. 

The one you will see most often is an exclamation mark in a yellow diamond. This means the unit has been slowed. If you see two of these the unit has been doubly slowed, and is probably in trouble if it's facing any significant fire. This replaces the suppression system in previous games. Empty brackets seem to reflect passive benefits that the unit is receiving from a doctrine or a hero's buff. A purple silhouette of a Space Marine means the unit is stealthed.

Don't give up

I have won a bunch of Dawn of War 3 games by being so aggressive with Eldar in the early game that my opponent simply quit. Don't quit. Dawn of War 3 battles go through three escalation phases that soften your losses in the early game and give you more resources in the late game—the escalation phase is displayed at the top right of the screen. In matchups where you're being beaten back for the first ten minutes, losing every skirmish and leaking resources to the opponent, sit tight. A hard game of survival can dramatically turn as you start bringing out your late game units, especially if those units include the brilliant Space Marine walkers.

If in doubt, kill it with lasers

Even if you're definitely about to lose, fire all your lasers. The endorphins this releases will ease the pain of defeat.

Fallout: New Vegas

It’s the stuff of a thousand RPGs: you’ve braved the Barren Pass and crossed the Aching Plains and now, hours since you last spoke to a coherent NPC, you’re finally standing before a city teeming with literally tens of characters, each bursting to tell you at length about the history of their people.

Getting to discover the politics and personalities of a new location should feel like a reward, but the same formulaic text dump from city to city can make you feel awfully weary. Being NPCsplained at with screeds of exposition and feeling you’re taking little meaningful part in it all, game dialogue can make you want to run back into the hills.

It’s easy to blame writers for this, but like every other aspect of videogame development, the craft of game writing is more complex than you’d think. As Adam Hines, co-founder of Oxenfree developer Night School Studio, says, "Writing for games and writing for anything else is a totally different job. It’s more like trying to solve a very complex mathematical problem than it is a pure writing exercise."

Writing for games is more like trying to solve a very complex mathematical problem than it is a pure writing exercise.

Adam Hines, Oxenfree

Oxenfree, a modern adventure game built around a group of teens chatting their way through a supernatural mystery, is a prime example of how game dialogue is getting better: more reactive, more natural, more involved, through a combination of game design and writing itself. But that doesn’t mean that game history isn’t already littered with beautifully crafted conversations which succeed at scene-setting, character-introducing, goal-orientating, and instruction-giving. Oh, and also entertaining. Game dialogue needs to do a lot.

The form must be functional

When Chris Avellone—writer and designer of games from Planescape: Torment to Fallout: New Vegas and recent free agent—writes dialogue, he thinks about it performing three fundamental things. First, the conversation needs a purpose. If it’s with a merchant, then they need to provide that service, and quickly. 

Second, the dialogue needs to be aware of the narrative happening in the nearby area as well as the overarching story. "If the Enclave is encroaching on a community in Fallout, even a simple merchant can say, 'If you’ve come for supplies, you’d best hurry, won’t be much left after the Enclave arrives.’ That tells the local narrative, and the larger narrative."

And third, dialogue has to be as aware of the player’s actions as possible. "If you’ve just wiped out the Enclave, then you’d script the merchant’s opening node to something else: 'Hey, you’re the one that kicked the Enclave’s ass. Anything I have in stock; for you, half off.’"

For Avellone, the third part is where he finds a lot of the challenge in writing. It’s not just about crafting wonderful words, but making sure they acknowledge the player and react accordingly, and that means a lot of checking and accounting. Has the player already done the quest the NPC talks about? Has the player joined an enemy faction? "I have a checklist I go through for each character to try and make sure I haven’t forgotten anything," Avellone says. "It’s usually a matter of repeating the mantra, 'if-then-else,' again and again."

Those are the basics for dialogue in which you’re rooted to the spot, the typical way games attempt to represent the messy and responsive nature of human conversation. But some games attempt to make it more naturalistic. GTA IV, for instance, has characters who ride with you and deliver story while you’re driving to the next location, and that dialogue changes if you’re restarting a mission.  

You don’t get choices, but the experience feels truer to life than a talking head and folds neatly into GTA’s existing gameflow. And in fact, it’s an idea that fits with classic scriptwriting technique.

"Aaron Sorkin said one of his writing tricks was always to have the characters talk about two things at once," says Hines. "Never have them only talking about one subject. In a game design-y way we found that really worked in Oxenfree, where if you’re having a conversation and doing something that isn’t directly tied to that conversation it feels good and like you’re patting your head and rubbing your chest. It just feels very..." He pauses, looking for the right word, but dialogue works so subtly that it’s hard to find one. "...Nice."

Having led writing on The Wolf Among Us and Tales From the Borderlands at Telltale Games, Hines wanted to reflect Sorkin’s trick, making an adventure game in which you can walk and talk at the same time. "It very quickly became apparent why every other adventure game in history is written as: you go up and you click on an interact-able and then you stand there and you have a little scene and then you regain freedom again," he admits. 

That’s because players, whether they think they do or not, need dialogue to give them information about what they’re meant be doing, where they’re going, and why. In Oxenfree, you can often interrupt, choose not to respond, or simply not be listening. Part of the solution was to make the player feel like they are Alex, Oxenfree’s main character. "It’s important to us that you don’t have to think about the choices you’re making because they’re your natural responses," says Hines. 

And with that comes the challenge of delivering all the exposition required to feel secure in your understanding of Alex’s world, something it solves with the device of having a stepbrother character who Alex hasn’t met before. She can relay to him (and therefore us) information about the island they’re visiting and introduce him to her friends, and it feels natural and part of the plot.

Oxenfree uses the multiple-choice format that most dialogue-based games do: dialogue options that branch off into new areas of a greater tree. Managing these trees, ensuring the player flows through them smoothly and gets the right info and tone of response for their choices, makes writing something of a technical job. "In many respects, it’s just like designing a UI," says Avellone. 

Better tools can therefore aid better writing. Avellone had to use a scripter to build conversations from Word into Fallout 2, but now dev tools often allow authoring directly in the game engine, making writing faster and playtesting a whole lot easier. As a measure of how important tools were to Oxenfree, its lead engineer, Bryant Cannon, put nearly eight months of the first year of development into creating the tool in which the dialogue was written. Resembling a flow chart, it connects all the dialogue and animations in a visual way.

Oxenfree's custom dialogue tool. This is how you make natural conversations.

But it’s a creative job as well as a technical one, and tools will only go so far. "The sad thing is that the trick is just to write a shit-ton," says Hines.

And there are practical limits to how complex a conversation can be. "If the designer can’t navigate their own conversation, it’s generally the first sign," says Avellone. "This usually happens when they’ve made the conversation too organic, have too many branches, or they don’t use chokepoints when they should." Chokepoints is the name Avellone gives to major branches in a conversation where you’re given many dialogue options, all of which will return you to that chokepoint so you can explore the rest.

And aside from the creative challenge of constructing a dialogue tree, there’s the cognitive challenge for the player trying to digest it all. "There’s a practical limit to how much text a player should be presented with, and this is even affected by if the conversation is voiced or not, since that has rules as well," Avellone says.

The Witcher 3 set a new bar for engaging dialogue and animation, and was comfortable with long conversations. It'll be hard to top. But what about dialogue out in the open world?

The future of dialogue: more ambient, more reactive

Not all dialogue in games is one-to-one. An increasingly important kind is ambient dialogue, barked by NPCs as you move through the world, giving it a sense of life. One of the ambitions Ubisoft Montreal had for Watch Dogs 2 was "to create a non-player-centric universe," according to game writer Leanne Taylor-Giles. "It naturally feels more realistic since that’s the way we, as humans, largely inhabit the world."

In Watch Dogs 2, civilians notice you running around with a gun out or if you’re doing something weird, like hiding next to a wall in broad daylight. But it’s in the details that the sense that the city is made up of people with their own agendas and problems: "For the example of the player running around with their gun out, things might get more heated if one of the nearby civilians happens to be an NRA member, for example."

The challenge for Taylor-Giles was to identify situations that people would realistically react to, as well as not writing lines for situations that are so specific that most players would never hear them. "Those moments can be great, and they are! But when you’re working with a large number of NPCs any additions become exponential." As ever, cost-versus-impact is what really decides what goes into a game. 

These dynamic systems feel like they might be the future of game dialogue. "Personally, I love systems that can chain and which thereby tell a story, regardless of whether the player arrives at the beginning, the middle, or the end," says Taylor-Giles.

I often admire writers who don t use words at all. They just work with the environment artists to build the story in the scene.

Chris Avellone

And dynamic storytelling like this doesn’t even necessarily need to be systems-led, or actually be told through dialogue. "I often admire writers who don’t use words at all. They just work with the environment artists to build the story in the scene," says Avellone. "There’s a lot you can say with just an arrangement of environment props and inventory items."

"But the emphasis also needs to be on readability," says Taylor-Giles. "Whether or not the player knows exactly what’s going on, they should be able to come up with a version of events that seems logical and realistic for the world their character is inhabiting."

In other words, developers still need to be sure that players are absorbing the information they need. But one thing that’s helping is steadily changing player expectations. Not all games give strict stories to follow and goals to accomplish, and players are becoming more comfortable with the idea of open-endedness, in which dialogue can more freely be part of the experience rather than a straightforward means to an end. 

"We’re now, just in the last few years, getting out of that box and having games where there isn’t a goal and you’re hanging out and having fun and experiencing the art of them," says Hines.

As you enter that city after your long journey, what if you know that its secrets will organically unfurl as you explore it on your own terms, less being told and more feeling your way through it? Now that’d be a reward.


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