The best parts of the campaign are those battles in which you take on an opposing faction's stronghold. These set piece battles can be very tough even at the default difficulty setting, as you can expect heavy resistance just moments into the fight, followed by a bitter struggle against a cornered, deeply entrenched foe. The specializations and unique personalities of each of the different races are made readily apparent through these battles, and chances are you'll emerge from each one of them with newfound admiration for the opposing faction. By contrast, the standard missions in the campaign play out like skirmishes, which end abruptly when you destroy the enemy headquarters. Too bad you can never get into situations in which more than two factions are fighting over the same territory at the same time, though some of the stronghold missions do include enemies from more than one side.
In the campaign, you'll get to outfit your military's leader with unique war gear that you'll earn from vanquishing opponents.
As you win battles, you'll also earn unique war gear for your commander, which bolsters his strength and defenses or grants him new abilities. It's up to you to choose which war gear to take first, and while you won't win or lose whole battles based solely on this special equipment, it's a good addition to the game that makes you grow more attached to your increasingly powerful warlord. Incidentally, if your faction's leader falls in battle, you can predictably just build a new one in most cases, same as any other unit. It's a contrivance that encourages you to send your leader into battle rather than hide him in a corner of the map. Overall, the new campaign mode is well made and a big improvement on the linear campaigns offered by Dawn of War and its first expansion. It breathes new life into the single-player part of the game, thanks in part to a challenging computer opponent that effectively controls each faction and isn't easy to predict.
There's a lot to be said for the new strategic campaign, but the highlight of Dawn of War is probably the two new factions, the Tau Empire and the Necrons. One of the best-known Warhammer 40,000 species, the voracious Tyranids, are still nowhere to be found, but the relatively new Tau and Necron factions are each interesting and likable in their own right. The Necrons use a different resource model than all the other sides, in that they don't need requisition points to build new units--creating new warriors and upgrading abilities is only a matter of time, and the more strategic points you have, the less time you need to build up your army. Also, the Necrons' headquarters may slowly be upgraded to become an extremely powerful, though extremely slow, flying fortress. As for Necron units, they're slow, relentless, and hard to permanently destroy. Their vehicles aren't as imposing as some of the other races, but their lumbering infantry squads can overwhelm the opposition.
The forces of the Tau Empire seem like a cross between the Eldar and the Space Marines, with their sleek battle suits and long-range energy rifles, and the look of their units is reminiscent of anime mechs. The Tau demand you to use mixed forces more so than most of the other sides, because their troops tend to be highly specialized either for ranged combat or close combat, but not both. Once you've mustered some of the Tau's strongest weapons, it can be a real thrill to lay into the enemy with all their concentrated energy bursts. Notably, the Tau can also deploy invisible units that can safely attack while cloaked. It's something that's been done before in other RTS games, and Dark Crusade handles it about as well by making you be mindful of units or special abilities that can detect cloaked assailants. Meanwhile, returning factions in Dark Crusade each have some sort of powerful new unit and some means to detect invisible foes. The new units, like the Imperial Guard's heavy weapons teams and the Orks' flash gitz, seem powerful and useful.
It's hard to decide which of the game's seven factions is the strongest or the coolest, and that's a good thing.
As mentioned, if you don't have the original Dawn of War or the Winter Assault expansion, then you'll only be able to use the Tau and the Necrons in multiplayer matches, though you can still take on opponents playing as the other factions. Even just these two factions offer a lot of depth and intricacy, and they enhance the complexity of the game as a whole when you consider all the different match-ups possible, especially in team-based games. Though Dark Crusade doesn't use Company of Heroes' slick Relic Online service for multiplayer sessions, it's still easy enough to get into an online multiplayer match, and since there are so many different maps, factions, and victory conditions for battles, as well as an army-painter mode if you want to customize the look of your forces, there's an awful lot of lasting value in here.
Dawn of War was a fantastic real-time strategy game to begin with, but it takes an expansion pack like Dark Crusade to make the original game feel as fresh and interesting as ever two years later. It helps that the game's presentation has held up so well, between the spectacular graphics and all the thunderous weapon effects and lively unit voices, but it's all been built on a foundation of great underlying tactical gameplay. So if you like Dawn of War, best conserve your cognitive ability for the battlefield, because this one's a no-brainer. And even if you haven't played Dawn of War before, this is a great way to get into it, as well as the Warhammer 40,000 universe.