The least engaging aspect of Soulstorm, however, is also its central conceit: the solar-system campaign map. Theoretically this is the best way of making a strategy game non-linear - just look at the Total War games - but in practice Soulstorm doesn't make it work. The main problem is that I'm just not really interested in fighting for control of the system itself. Because the strategic game is a little shallow, there's no sense of empire-building, and because there's no real story, I might as well exit the campaign and simply play a series of skirmish games.
The bigger problem is that the campaign is overly protracted and will often force you into replaying a single map repeatedly because there's no way to adequately reinforce it and allow the battle to auto-resolve. It's not a huge problem, but enough of an irritation to actively need addressing. I seem to recall people having a similar beef with Dark Crusade, so it seems that it wasn't fixed here. Anyway, that mechanical stuff aside, I simply never found myself wanting to conquer the solar system. It doesn't have the wide open feeling of empire-building that, say, a Total War game, or even Star Wars: Empire At War offered in its conquest mode.
On the other hand the various "stronghold" maps, which are variously scripted to provide enormous challenges and varying events as you play, really do give some sense that you're defeating a particular faction and facing them on their home turf. I lost a couple of these on my first attempts because I simply underestimated what I was up against. After a couple of turgid, challenge-free skirmish-style missions, it was easily done. Speaking of skirmishes, there also seems to be a minor AI bug in some of the maps, where enemies simply don't build up very far, making them a pushover even on hard difficulty settings. It was extremely annoying, but inconsistent and I couldn't replicate it at will. Nevertheless I can't see why anyone should forgive bugs in an expansion for a four-year-old, extremely commercial game. And I've had a number of people point out that the Sisters of Battle side contains an exploit, while the Dark Eldar are suffering from a bug in multiplayer matches with spectators.
Viewed on its own merits, Soulstorm's a six. That does feel very harsh, because you could easily pick it up and play without having played any of the previous games and still have a fine time. Dawn of War is still a thrilling, explosive real-time strategy, even if it is now starting to look quite raggedy. Viewed against the backdrop of the series as a whole, however, that's looking like a fair score. It offers too little, and is without the massively appealing races of previous expansions. Anyone with an extensive Dawn of War collection is probably going to feel pretty lukewarm after the first few hours here. Hell, after a few hours of the campaign mission I found myself setting up a game as the Necrons, just to play with a more satisfying army. And then there's the huge visual gulf between this and World In Conflict, and the tactical gap between Dawn of War and Company of Heroes... Soulstorm is a stopgap game. It really feels like the last breath of the series. And that's a real shame.
When oh when will we get another potent dose of the 40k universe? I guess we'll just have to wait for that Dawn of War II that the Internet keeps murmuring about...
6 / 10