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Lamenting the loss of Dawn of War's cool kill animations

Snarl of the Wolf.

One of the things I loved about Dawn of War 1 and 2 were the elaborate kill animations. Whether it was your Dreadnought chucking an ork halfway across the map or your Warboss carving an eldar's face in half, Dawn of War's kill animations always felt exciting to me.

They looked like this (the music's a bit loud, by the way):

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Dawn of War 3 doesn't have kill animations, and while developer Relic has a good reason for ditching them, I can't help but lament their loss.

Before we dig into Relic's reasoning, it's worth going over what the studio is trying to do with Dawn of War 3. I've already reported on how Dawn of War 3 has modernised the RTS genre by adding MOBA elements, but that's just a part of the story.

Relic obviously hopes Dawn of War 3's competitive multiplayer will keep the community going for years on end, and Relic obviously felt that the right way to achieve that goal was to incorporate MOBA-esque elements into the game, even if doing so risked incurring the wrath of the Dawn of War faithful.

MOBAs are known for their responsive gameplay, easy-to-understand visual style and, well, there aren't many kill animations, are there? There are fun abilities that pop on screen and plenty of basic attacks, but they look the same whether you're landing the first or last strike. When it comes to MOBAs, every millisecond counts. No time for fancy finishers here.

So, we come to Dawn of War 3's animations, and we find Relic has employed a similar strategy.

"When we came to evaluate it we realised there were some gameplay problems with those kill animations because they take away your control," Relic game designer Philippe Boulle told me at a recent Dawn of War 3 hands-on event.

"They happen randomly, you're actually no longer delivering damage while you're spending your time ripping that unit apart. So, it feels really good the first time. The 10th time when you're in a competitive match it feels terrible. We wanted to avoid that."

I completely understand this decision in the context of the kind of game Dawn of War 3 sets out to be. But I'm still sad kill animations aren't a part of it, because for me they were one of the things about the first two Dawn of War games that made them feel alive.

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I'm not much of a competitive RTS player. For me, the appeal of the Dawn of War games was their campaigns, or playing with a friend against the computer in co-op scenarios. So, I was less bothered by delivering maximum damage in the most efficient way possible than I was living out the fantasy of the grim dark Warhammer 40,000 universe in video game form.

For me, the kill animations were an occasional delight, almost like mini-cutscenes that cropped up mid-battle. Whenever I'd spot one amid the chaos I'd zoom in for a closer look and inevitably end up grinning from ear to ear. That's my Dreadnought there, picking up an eldar and crushing its bones to dust. That's my Terminator there, smashing an ork in the face with its shield. The kill animations helped bring what would otherwise be nondescript units to life. All of a sudden they had character, a personality. These guys knew how to hit hard, and they weren't afraid to have fun with it.

The difference between Dawn of War 3 and the first two Dawn of War games, them, is a bit like the difference between Tommy Lee Jones' Kay and Will Smith's Jay in Men in Black. Kay gets the job done with as little fuss as possible. He's stoic and rarely shows emotion. Jay, on the other hand, is a showoff who doesn't play by the rules. "You know what the difference is between you and me?" Jay asks, while donning a pair of sunglasses. "I make this look good."

Perhaps that's a tad unfair on Dawn of War 3, which I had a huge amount of fun playing. It's not that its battles are boring to watch. Quite the opposite, in fact. This is, after all, a game in which a Wraithknight can powerslide into a group of Space Marines. It's just different.

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You still see enemies flying all over the place, but it's not because of a synchronised kill animation, it's because you've triggered a hero ability that knocks enemies off their feet. Dawn of War 3's battlefields are packed with death, it's just none of it feels synchronised, or, for me, personal.

"We were at a point where we could spread the animation fun across the entire battle experience," Boulle explains.

"So now instead of the synchronised kill animations you get people being knocked into bits and pieces left, right and centre. You get giant orbital lasers levitating people into the sky and vaporising them - just trying to get that spectacle across the entire combat experience."

If you're big into Dawn of War competitive multiplayer, you might be delighted to hear Relic's ditched synchronised kill animations for the third game in the series. If that's you, fair enough! But when I think about Dawn of War 3's campaign, which I really am looking forward to by the way, I can't help but shed a tear at what's lost. It's what the Emperor would have wanted.

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