While attending E3 2016 last week I got the chance to sit down with Brent Disbrow, Campaign Lead at developer Relic Entertainment, and talk about Warhammer 40,000: Dawn of War III.
Relic’s upcoming Dawn of War title will be the first mainline entry since Dawn of War II launched in 2009. This interview took place after a gameplay presentation delivered by Disbrow himself, which you can now watch on their Twitch channel.
Steven Santana: How long has Dawn of War III been in development? It’s been quite some time sine the last one, has Relic been thinking about getting back to it while doing their other projects?
Brent Disbrow: Absolutely. This team has been on this version of Dawn of War III for about two-and-a-half years. There was some work done on Dawn of War III under the THQ leadership but then it got picked up by Sega when THQ dissolved. Sega came on and asked: “what would you like to work on?” “What are some of the things Relic does really well?” So we thought about it. and came back around to Dawn of War III.
Steven: How do you keep track of the massive amount of lore contained in the Warhammer universe?
Disbrow: There’s a variety of ways we do so. We have a really close partnership with Games Workshop, so anything we do, we run it by them for approval or feedback. The studio has been lucky enough to create the Blood Raven chapter of the Space Marines awhile ago for Dawn of War. We continue to work with it because it’s near and dear to our hearts, and it’s also something that the Games Workshop guys approve of, but we’ve also got a tremendous number of Games Workshop and Warhammer 40K fans.
Then I work as a campaign lead with a writer whose job is basically the canon guy, so he is super familiar with the lore both within the Dawn of War corner of the universe, as well as the greater universe of Warhammer 40K. So we have a lot of passionate people at the studio for it.
Steven: The team has been working on Dawn of War for a long time. How do you continue to stay interested in the property after spending so much time with it? How do you not get burnt out?
Disbrow: It’s pretty easy! [laughs] It’s actually funny because you’d think it’s really hard, it’s just more Space Marine stuff. That’s one of the nice things of working with a property where you have three races. So when you’re maybe a little bit creatively spent on the Space Marines, you go over to the Orks or the Eldar and they’re so different in terms of the units and their gameplay styles, that it keeps people fresh and kind of moving around those spaces.
Then the further you get into the project, the more stuff you see on the screen and can play it. You kind of get a very nice positive loop. You get to play it every day and it’s getting different and better every month, every week. So I think there’s a lot to keep people energized. And then something like this, seven weeks ago we released that story trailer and that was something super energizing. E3 is another thing that’s super energizing and I’m pretty sure people back of the studio will be happy, hopefully, with all the positive vibes coming towards the game and you won’t believe how much that helps.
Steven: Some of the criticism for Dawn of War II was that the campaign featured different races but not each race had their own story line. It was more interchangeable. You could play a mission with a different race and it would be the same for another. Will that change with Dawn of War III?
Disbrow: We’re doing something new with Dawn of War III that we are really excited about. We have a strong epic story that fans expect. But what we’re doing is we’re telling it from three different perspectives. We have the Space Marines, the Orks, and the Eldars. For the Space Marines you have Gabriel Angelos as their perspective, he is the voice of the Space Marines at the beginning of the story. The Eldars and Orks have their own perspective of the story that we are going to bounce between over the course of the campaign. You’re going to do a mission as the Marines, and then Orks, and then the Eldar and repeat onward as opposed to separate campaigns or one where it is totally interchangeable.
We believe it will be a really strong story by having events that happened in one mission culminate in with the next mission but from a different perspective. We thought that would be a really different and dramatic way of telling the story. You’re always the hero of your own story right? So something the Space Marines do as Gabriel Angelos will be like, “Yeah I did this awesome thing!” But from the Ork side they have a totally different perspective on it so we’re really excited to see how that plays out.
Steven: I know that Titans won’t be playable but will any piece of them maybe show up in the game as a cameo or teaser as has been done in other Warhammer games?
Disbrow: I thought you’d be happy with the Imperial Knights! Already asking for more. We’re focusing on the Imperial Knight as the largest unit. All the factions have their own equivalent super Elite. If you watch the story trailer you’ll see the Wraith Knight, that’s what the Eldar are going to have. So there are some very big units coming, it’s very exciting.
Steven: Base building is returning, but is that something that people who played the first game will be able to jump straight into multiplayer and handle? Or would you recommend they play the campaign first?
Disbrow: If it was somebody new then the campaign is a great place to learn. We’re going to have some tutorial aspects outside of the campaign. But as I mentioned earlier, the campaign is the ramp-up, introducing you to each concept and mechanic. Base building should be familiar, but has some nice touches that are very new. If you played Dawn of War before you are going to be comfortable with it, but there are some other cool things in there that hopefully make it fresh.
Steven: What exactly is the campaign going to be about? Is it completely new or touching on something established?
Disbrow: It’s entirely new and it’s taking place several years after the events of Dawn of War II. We start with Gabriel Angelos, from his perspective. And he is kind of in a dark place. He has a history and a lot of things have happened to bring him to where he is now.
Steven: The verticality that the Space Marines have, will that also be included with the Eldar and Orks?
Disbrow: I can’t really talk about that right now. We want to have very different play styles with the Space Marines, Orks, and Eldar. We call the Space Marines the tip of the spear. They have few units but are very strong. We want to make sure there are interesting units out in the battlefield, exploiting the landscape, taking different paths. So we have those, and I think the other factions will have their own advantages which will let the player can make use of in multiplayer.
Steven: I enjoy real time strategy games, but I’m terrible at them. Will this have a good learning curve or will it be a little steep?
Disbrow: I think we’re probably similar, in that I really enjoyed the campaign mode of Dawn of War and real time strategy games in general, but I’m pretty terrible at the multiplayer. I just can’t play like a pro Starcraft player, it’s just not possible. So part of my goal for the campaign is to bring players to that level. Bring them on to that place where you are comfortable, you feel like you can handle it, you feel like “this is all under my control and I can enjoy myself.” As opposed to being worried that you’re going to do the wrong key combination and totally lose.
Steven: Lastly, is there anything you want to tell those who may not be familiar with the game, to bring them in?
Disbrow: Two things: one, that mission you saw, we are going to release a YouTube and Twitch stream of it on June 24th. So people will be able to see that and hopefully that will get them excited. Second, this is an evolution for us. We’ve been building Dawn of War games for over 10 years, and I think the experience that we have, and the clarity of gameplay, the scale of gameplay, and hopefully the very compelling story will be enough to get people excited.