Great moments in PC gaming are bite-sized celebrations of some of our favorite gaming memories.
Developer: Relic Entertainment
I love a cheesy RTS cutscene, whether it involves actors hamming it up or in-game models blown up to a scale they should never have been seen at, but even I have to admit they're optional. The proof of that is Dark Crusade, which ditched Dawn of War's prior narrative style (complete with in-game Space Marines trying to emote by flapping their lantern jaws and stiffly performing emotes), and instead created a more freeform campaign structure.
There are seven factions competing for the planet Kronus, which makes it a pretty crowded place. Each has a single mobile army, led by their commander, who can attack an adjacent territory. Right from the off you've got two hostile neighbours to deal with—but so does everyone else. Say you get distracted from attacking the Blood Ravens because the mech-loving weebs called Tau are too attractive a target. Not to worry, because meanwhile the pseudo-Egyptian robotic Necrons have launched an assault on the Blood Ravens' flank, keeping them off your back.
It's a gloriously compact free-for-all, a scrum on a planetary scale. The next Dawn of War standalone, Soulstorm, expanded to the level of interplanetary conflict, which was a bit much of a good thing. Dark Crusade's one-planet brawl is the perfect Goldilocks zone of not too big, not too small.
Though you've only got one army to attack with, you can spend the requisition gained from successful assaults and held territory on improved defences, so that when someone sneaks past your front line you're not entirely vulnerable. When you're fighting on the back foot like this, your small besieged force against a host led by a hero with a suite of powers who keeps coming back from the dead, victory feels like a proper triumph.
Then there are the fortress assaults. Each faction's home ground, which you need to conquer to defeat them, is guarded by a fortress with its own special abilities. It might be able to call down planetary bombardments and summon reinforcements, or cloak and reveal hidden troops. Though Dawn of War minimized the importance of base-building compared to other classic RTS games, in these fortress assaults you need to spend serious time building up a force, researching and churning out your faction's biggest guns, whether hovering tanks or stompy robots.
Waves of enemies harass your base the whole time, until you finally have the force you need to death march across the occupied map, cutting off reinforcements and then hurling everything you've got at their walls and turrets, lighting up the map with beams of lasfire and the chattering dakka dakka of boltguns.
These fortress assaults trigger the closest thing to a story Dark Crusade has, little scenes introducing your opponent as they prepare for your assault and then, after your victory, showing their reaction and a hail of explosions. They may not be Tim Curry cutscenes, but when you take that last fortress and kick the final opponent off Kronus it still feels pretty sweet.