Neither Relic Entertainment, nor SEGA, nor anyone else has yet announced they’re making a Warhammer 40k Dawn of War 4 – but it’s about time they did. Yes, 2017’s Dawn of War 3 was a beautiful, but ultimately dismal failure of a game, hamstrung by a lackluster campaign and ill-conceived MOBA-esque gameplay choices that tried to please too many disparate crowds at once. But that was then and this is now – and now is the time for DoW4 to revive this iconic, unjustly shelved series.
In case you’ve been lost in the Warp for the last two decades, Dawn of War is perhaps the most famous and influential Warhammer 40k game series of all time. It would be the biggest Warhammer game series full stop, had Total War Warhammer 3 (and its now-amalgamated prequels) not come along to claim that crown.
2004’s original Dawn of War and 2009’s Dawn of War 2 both enjoy rightful spots in our guide to the best RTS games ever made. Both are – in very different ways – masterpieces of the real time strategy genre; they represent unmissable opportunities for Warhammer 40k fans to play out exciting battles in Games Workshop’s grim dark future, and a veritable army of expansions added options to command a goodly number of the many Warhammer 40k factions.
Why it’s time for Warhammer 40k Dawn of War 4
When Dawn of War 3 came along in 2017, promising a melding of the classic, head to head RTS action of the first game, and the zoomed-in, character and story-led squad battles of the second, juiced up with new gameplay elements and stonking, vivid graphics, the community was pumped.
Nevertheless, while not quite dead on arrival, the game bombed within its first few months, and Relic gave up trying to resuscitate it after less than a year (read on to find out why). It was a sad time.
We’ve now had more than five years to mourn, to grieve for the miraculous genre-spanning 40k extravaganza that could have been. But here’s the thing: I’ve grieved enough. My tears are dry. It’s time for a new Dawn of War game. I’ve read the Emperor’s Tarot multiple times, and the portents are good. Let’s talk about the Dawn of War 4 that could, and should, be.
Dawn of War 4 release date estimate
Alas, the first question to answer is also the one I can’t: when DoW4 might be coming our way. Wargamer’s astropathic choir is listening intently to the whispers in the dark, but as of yet there’s been no hint of a new Dawn of War being in development, or even being discussed.
Based on what we know about Relic Entertainment’s projects right now, I wouldn’t expect to see a Dawn of War 4 release date earlier than mid-to-late 2025.
As far as I can tell, Relic’s resources are still focused on making updates and new content for its flagship WW2 game, the excellent Company of Heroes 3. It’s released several patches and balance updates since the game dropped in February, and the first official CoH3 expansion – codenamed Steel Shepherd – is scheduled for December 2023.
Besides that, it’s also still working on Age of Empires 4, with the first full DLC – The Sultans Ascend – arriving November 14.
That means even if DoW4 is in the works, we’re unlikely to get an announcement until January or February 2024 at the very earliest. While we waited less than a year from Dawn of War 3’s initial reveal to release, I suspect (and hope) Relic would want to take its time a little more when delivering a follow-up – for the sake of rebuilding community trust if nothing else.
Perhaps, mindful of the surprise mega-success of Baldur’s Gate 3 (another game in a less fashionable genre, the CRPG, made by a smaller, sub-AAA developer) the studio may even take a leaf from Larian’s book and approach DoW4 as a long-term early access release, building the game incrementally based on player feedback. I, for one, would warmly welcome that strategy – but we’ll have to wait and see. In the meantime…
Why Dawn of War 4 now?
We are – and I write this tentatively, but without hyperbole – on the brink of what could be a new golden age of Warhammer videogames. Sure, there are still borderline shovelware mobile games coming out left, right, and center – but these days there are also pretty good mobile games like Warhammer 40k Tacticus. And, more importantly, the current crop of Warhammer PC and console releases is only getting stronger.
Total War Warhammer 3 is a behemoth that’s so good, it’s casting problematic shadows over historical releases like Total War Pharaoh. Warhammer 40k Chaos Gate Daemonhunters is one of the best games like XCOM ever made. In the world of turn based games, Slitherine’s Warhammer 40k Battlesector has blossomed into a deep, content rich connoisseur’s choice to mirror its miniature wargame roots. Warhammer 40k Darktide, a flawed gem on release, is finally coming into its own as a truly fantastic, thematically near-perfect, co-op 40k looter shooter.
Looking ahead, Owlcat Games’ Warhammer 40k Rogue Trader seems poised to deliver on an age-old desire for a real, immersive, story driven Warhammer RPG, while Space Marine 2 (supposably on the way before the holidays) promises an impossibly good-looking power-fantasy action game with a Black Library-level story to boot.
And Frontier’s imminent RTS Age of Sigmar: Realms of Ruin – releasing Friday, November 17 – looks set to do for GW’s flamboyant fantasy setting what the original Dawn of War did for 40k, even as its gameplay owes more to DoW2 and Company of Heroes, with slimmed down base mechanics, upgradeable squads, powerful hero units, and territory control leading the way.
Our own Tim Linward has previewed Realms of Ruin extensively with Frontier, and has nothing but good things to say. It’s not going to shatter any preconceptions or redefine any genres – but we’ll be very surprised if it isn’t a really solid, popular, and playable RTS that makes hordes of Age of Sigmar fans very happy, rendering the mighty Stormcast Eternals, stinky Kruleboyz, spooky Nighthaunt, and mystical Disciples of Tzeentch in glorious 3D technicolor.
If Realms of Ruin sells as well as we think it might, among both Warhammer lifers and generic strategy game fans, well, to me, it’ll be tantamount to the erection of a two-mile high, six-mile-wide neon-lit billboard that reads: “The world is ready for Dawn of War 4”.
If a game like Realms of Ruin can successfully marry CoH3-style, multiplayer squad based territory battles with a serviceable, well-delivered, lore appropriate Warhammer Age of Sigmar story – then Relic can damn well do the same for my beloved 40,000.
Why did Dawn of War 3 fail?
Gather round, children, for one of the saddest tales in modern gaming.
In the mid-2010s, Dawn of War 2 was still seeing a fair amount of play; the 2011 Retribution expansion added the Imperial Guard (now called Astra Militarum) as a playable faction, as well as a new, semi-branching single player campaign that you could play through as any of the game’s six factions, fighting the various missions via similar (but distinct) interwoven variants. It also converted the incredibly popular Last Stand co-op multiplayer horde mode into its own separate game. DoW2 was a very long-lived game.
But the technical prowess of PC hardware, and fans’ presumed appetites for sumptuous graphics, new ways to play, and an expansive multiplayer metagame, wait for no-one. Legions of strategy game-loving 40k fans wanted more, and, when Dawn of War 3 was announced in May 2016, oh boy, were we hyped for it. The promise of a game just as steeped in the 40k mythos as its predecessors, with the benefit of nearly a decade of advances in technology and gameplay options, was intoxicating.
What we got in April 2017 was a confused, unsatisfying, and ultimately bland, mid game that, while nowhere near as fundamentally bad as the angriest claimed, suffered from limited variety and an egregious unit-unlocking progression baked into the crucial multiplayer mode.
The infamously hard-to-please Warhammer fandom revolted and, despite some valiant efforts by the developer to pivot and update DoW3 according to fans’ desires, it proved too little, too late. Sales flatlined, and Relic pulled the plug on further development in February 2018, less than a year after release.
As far as I can tell, this loss really wasn’t for lack of at least some trying on Relic developers’ part. Three months into the game’s life, it added the Annihilation game mode, shifting focus away from holding mid-map objectives, and onto the more DoW1-like objective of destroying your enemy’s base.
Three months after that, it removed Skulls, a deeply unpopular in-game currency, earned via playing matches, that you needed to unlock the game’s most powerful elite units. Instead, all the elites were unlocked from the start, for players to experiment with. These changes were welcomed – but they weren’t enough to rescue dropping sales and player counts.
Players had other, more fundamental complaints about DoW 3, too, that were far harder to patch out – from animations and visual effects that played fast and loose with 40k’s grimdark setting (Space Marine Terminator Gabriel Angelos front-flipping, anyone?) to the all-important, ultra powerful endgame hero units dominating multiplayer matches, draining any strategic variety from the meta.
No one of these would have been fatal on its own, but all together, in combination with a cripplingly limited range of multiplayer maps at launch, they added up to a game that released too soon, didn’t (or couldn’t) reshape itself quickly enough, and simply ran out of money before it had a chance to succeed.
Let’s look ahead: Relic has not forgotten how to make a great RTS – reading our Company of Heroes 3 review should demonstrate that – and it can’t help but have learned lessons from the Dawn of War 3 debacle. With Warhammer 40k 10th edition in full swing, Warhammer 40k TV shows on the way, and a shining new era of Warhammer videogames dawning, it’s time for a fresh start. Relic, please give me Dawn of War 4 – I trust you.
While we wait, Wargamer can sate all of your Warhammering needs, from screen to tabletop – apart from the main wargame, we can offer guides on the best Warhammer board games and our favorite Warhammer 40k RPGs, for starters.
If you only dabble in the ‘Hammer, but love a strategy PC game, well, check out our favorite games like Age of Empires, our lists of the best 4X games and sprawling grand strategy games, or our picks from the best Total War games instead.