One thing I particularly enjoyed experimenting with in Dawn of War III, and this was a surprise, was the way each faction controlled. While there are stereotypical expectations you have coming into the game that are quickly met—Orks are overwhelming and the Eldar have fancy gear—there are a number of things related to Dawn of War III’s new design decisions that were a blast.

On paper, each faction has a similar roster. Each side has builders who build buildings which produce roughly the same kind of units: ranged and melee infantry, vehicles and support buildings.

But their use is wildly different. The Space Marines, OK, they’re your happy (well, nobly unhappy) medium. The Orks are able to use scrap—battlefield wreckage gained from dead enemies or lying around the map—to upgrade their units and even build new vehicles right on the spot. And the Eldar are incredibly tricky, with shields on most units, a reliance on building support buildings to improve their stats and an emphasis on speed over straight-up combat.

So you can take each faction, combine their base strengths with their Elite’s abilities and really go to town crafting your own approach to playing this game. I had fun as each faction too, and found myself regularly playing as all three instead of quickly settling on a favourite, which is not something that happens very often with me and an RTS. Normally the differentiation comes in the units and structures you can build, so to have every side feel unique because of their powers and perks was cool.

By now you might be thinking that this barely sounds like an RTS at all, at least a traditional one, and I wonder if that was entirely the point. There’s so much tinkering and redefining of what we expect from a game like this going on here that, for all of Dawn of War III’s successes and failures, at least you can’t fault it for trying something different.

There’s this weird thing where multiplayer matches are defined by a timer that does stuff like give resource refunds for early losses, encouraging players to immediately go on the offensive.

The accumulation of those resources are also handled differently. There’s no harvesting here, as the only real way to get hold of the power you need to build units is by first controlling certain points on the map, then building extractor buildings on top of them.

You can’t get resources without the extractors and they’re very flimsy, which introduces a cool twist to the power struggles at the centre of the map: you don’t need to wrest control of an entire point to hurt your enemy, you can simply raid them, blowing up their buildings and denying their supply.

This focus on attack extends to the way the factions are designed. The Eldar rely on certain buildings being teleported to the front lines, while the Ork’s WAAGH towers are similarly designed to be constructed where the fighting it, not deep behind the safety of your own lines.

Dawn of War III does not want you to worry about resources, or base defence, or slowly securing your lines. This isn’t a game about taking cover. It wants you to attack, attack, attack.

Dawn of War III’s Elites are cool and interesting, but you can’t win with them alone, so you also need to fight alongside grunts. But regular units are relatively worthless, weirdly expensive and too easily killed off. This disparity could have formed the basis of a strategy, but I instead simply found it frustrating, like the game was trying too hard to bridge the gulfs in playstyle between the first game in the series and the second and ended up achieving neither.

One of the best things about your heroes in Dawn of War II was equipping them with a bunch of arcane old 40K shit and really getting to know/love the characters. And the best thing about the first Dawn of War was the way your otherwise expendable units could turn into superheroes through proper use of the terrain for things like cover.

Both those things are gone in Dawn of War III, replaced in emphasis by the MOBA-like Elites. Which, don’t get me wrong, on their own are great, not only in terms of how they play, but in the unique and extravagant ways they differ from the design of regular units. But it still feels like there’s something missing at the heart of the game once you look past them.

The most fun I had in Dawn of War III was walking an Elite up to a crowd of bad guys and just unleashing hell on them, in a way more devastating than most RTS games would ever dare. Macha, the Eldar’s lead character, is especially cool: she’s got a range of powerful abilities but also a spear that she can throw. If she’s holding the spear those abilities erupt around you, but if you throw it, they explode out from where the spear has landed, and you can then magically recall the spear to your hand. I must have done it 500 times over the last week and it just never stopped putting a smile on my face as sometimes dozens of units went flying and exploding after just one attack.

But you can’t pull those moves off too often. And while you wait for them to recharge, you’re left in control of an army full of weaklings, and they’re a drag. As I’ve said, a lot of the tactical nuances of regular units has been cut from the game thanks to its simplified maps and terrain, and while an attempt has been made to make them more interesting—all units have special abilities just like the Elites—it’s a pain keeping track of them all, and in most fights I could barely keep tabs on my three Elite’s attacks, let alone the powers available to every regular unit as well.

By giving players three Elites to control, you feel like you can take on the whole world yourself. Everyone else feels like babysitting, a chore you have to patter around with while waiting for the good stuff to recharge. As though Relic only put regular units in the game to give the Elites something to smash. I found myself wishing throughout that the game had stuck with one approach, whether it be to ditch the Elites and simply make another Dawn of War (Company of Heroes with Angry Space Men) or turn this into some glorious singleplayer MOBA.

The game we got is neither of those things, but it’s the time it comes closest to the latter that it’s at its most enjoyable.

As an experiment in how far the boundaries of what constitutes an RTS can be pushed, I admire Dawn of War III for what it’s tried. It may not have entirely pulled it off, but there aren’t many games that play like this (WarCraft 3 fans, this one’s for you), and there aren’t many trying such interesting things with the way their factions are designed.

It’s a shame it doesn’t all fit, and that its campaign is a bit of a disappointment, but then, war in the 41st millennium is a dark and dirty business. You’ve got to accept that your victories sometimes come at a cost.