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Dawn of War Winter Assault

Dawn of War: if ever a game was built for expansion packs, it's this one.

Relic's characterful Warhammer 40,000-inspired RTS (PCG 140, 90%) may have featured a generous four armies to play with, but there are plenty more in the 40K universe that would - and inevitably will - lend themselves wonderfully to the PC treatment.

Enter Winter Assault. The well-trained eyes out there will immediately recognise the forces of the Imperial Guard in action: the very backbone of humanity's future fighting forces.

The Space Marines may swoop into the fray to provide fearsome punch (and inevitably steal the glory), but their numbers are pitifully small. When it comes to defence on a galactic scale, mankind needs a well-armed conscript army... and here it is.

The new 12-mission single-player campaign acquaints us with the use of the Guard from the ground up, and demonstrates just how different a fighting force they are from the four existing Dawn of War armies.

The weapons and tactics of the Guard lend themselves heavily to defence, encouraging the employment of turtling strategies.

Everything about the Guard screams hunker down: their base structures are squat concrete bunkers, which can be heavily garrisoned with lasgun-wielding guardsmen. This provides a core of base defence until you can build further turrets to lay down a heavier curtain of fire.

Even on the move, the Guard are cautious, and the units on offer encourage you to work on a principle of slowly expanding defence lines.

For example, one of the main support units is the heavy weapons team: two-man squads that run with the troops, and set up their heavy weapons to provide a static swathe of supporting fire.

The army is also heavily reliant on armoured vehicles, and there are a number to choose from.

The Sentinel is one of the units we're particularly pleased to see in action (and it's available very early on). These AT-ST-style walkers make great scout units. They're not tough, but can pack a variety of weapons for different situations, and are one of the most beautifully animated units in the game.

They stomp along just as you'd expect a large metal walker to do, swivelling at the waist to scan the landscape, and when they stop to fire, they plant their feet solidly on the ground to brace against the recoil. As with so many units in Dawn of War, they're an absolute pleasure simply to watch, let alone use.

And if you thought the Marine's Land Raider was impressive, just wait until you see the Baneblade. This massive tank dwarfs other vehicles, and bristles with more gun-barrels than a WWII documentary.

It's capable of laying down a withering hail of fire, and embodies the ultimate expression of the Guard's tactical doctrine: a slow, inexorable, armoured advance behind a thunderous wall of firepower.

The existing armies get a bit of a tart-up too, in the shape of new units designed to redress the now-apparent imbalances in the original game.

The Eldar, who struggled against vehicle-heavy armies, now field Fire Dragon aspect warriors - armed with fusion guns that lick through armour like glowing cheesewire.

It's hard to see how Winter Assault can fail. The unit animations are a joy to watch, the new army works unlike any of the others, the imbalances are being addressed, and Relic are promising a campaign that'll put Dawn of War's to shame. We can only hope that winter comes early this year.

Dawn of War Winter Assault will be out for PC this September

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