The RTSC Guide to Dawn of War
Part 4: Tiers

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Dawn of War
changes how an real time strategy game collects resources, but it still builds a base and tech tree that you've seen in every WarCraft clone out there. You know the ones: the headquarters with a set of Add-Ons, the barracks, the armoury, vehicle factory, turret, etc. For those not familiar with RTS games, this is a sequence of buildings with push-button techs you can buy, where each structure (and some upgrades) act as prerequisites to unlock progressively more powerful units to play with. If you lose a building somewhere, then units and techs down the chain that rely on that building are disabled. You have to replace all the missing prerequisites to re-enable all your units and abilities again. Losing part of your build tree is known as being de-teched. De-teching an opponent is usually worth sacrificing a lot of your forces for. While you simply replace your losses with fresh reinforcements, your opponent has to replace their missing building (or buildings) before they can even start to replace their missing squads.

The whole base building and teching process in DoW is roughly grouped into three teching stages known as Tiers. Each Tier roughly corresponds to your start, mid and end game. I like to think of "tiering" and "teching" as two different things, even though they're all part of "teching".

Tiering is building up your army's build tree; that is, building your base and unlocking all your units and abilities. These are essential upgrades, buildings and add-ons that you simply can't do without if you want to survive the game. Tiering is usually "live". That is, if any of your base buildings get demolished, then you immediately lose any access to all the units and techs those buildings unlocked, and you're forced to replace all those missing structures and add-ons before you can get them back again.

Teching, by contrast, usually covers things like simple upgrades or any one shot researches. Techs are permanent. Once researched, they stay researched, regardless of how badly damaged your base or forces get. Usually, techs are optional - although more often than not they spell the difference between victory and defeat. Point is, you can bypass a lot of them. For example, if you "hard tech" straight to Tier 2, you can skip a lot of Tier 1 upgrades (and save a few resources) because a lot of those early forces of yours will be rendered obsolete by Tier 2.

Tiers have less importance in Dark Crusade than in previous versions of this game. For more details, see below.

There are roughly three tiers in DoW, loosely based on each Headquarters add-on upgrade.
Tier 1

Establishing your economy and capturing the map are all important at this stage. Most players will be trying to harass each other, attempting to decap enemy flags before any Listening Posts can be built. At the same time, you should be trying to cap as many of your own as you can, and fortifying them as soon as possible.

During this period the Barracks and the Armoury will be built. Most people build a Barracks as soon as the game starts, making available their primary Leader and their regular infantry. Most battles in Tier 1 are fights using light and regular infantry, with the presence of a single Hero turning the tide. With no vehicles or anti-vehicle units in sight, buildings are substantial obstacles. You'll need most of your forces just to demolish a Listening Post. Turrets and Minefields are at their most dangerous early on before the vehicles and anti-vehicle units start to show.

However, the option to go first with an Armoury allows people to leapfrog straight to Tier 2 in a matter of minutes. Armouries unlock your squad leaders, heavy weapons and a line of infantry upgrades. Whether or not you upgrade your early forces or decide to bypass them and jump up to Tier 2 really depends on the situation or your own preferences. You build options have expanded mightily in Dark Crusade.

Tier 2

The First HQ Add-On (or its equivalent) heralds the start of Tier 2. At Tier 2, Vehicles and advanced infantry appear, along with anti-vehicle (or AV) and any secondary Heroes. At this stage you should be consolidating your economy and forces with upgraded LP's, unit upgrades and heavy weapons. Your army can now be built up to tackle just about anything - except Tier 3.

Unless your Tier 1 units can scale up adequately with some upgrades, there's a good chance they are simply going to get crushed in Tier 2. If you haven't got your own anti-vehicle (AV) or vehicles by then, then the rest of your game will be a hard slog. With vehicles and AV on the field, LP's and turrets become noticeably weaker. Buildings can be readily demolished. Minefields start to lose their effectiveness, although they can still disrupt. Usually, you'll have sufficient resources to produce lots of guys, or lots of vehicles; but rarely enough for both at the same time, unless you're playing Quickstart.

An army reaches Tier2 when...

Space Marines, Chaos, or the Imperial Guard build their first HQ add-on.

Eldar gets a Soul Shrine up.

Orks build a Pile of Guns and four Waaagh! banners.

Tau build their Path to Enlightenment.

Necrons build their upgrade to an Awakened Monolith..

Tier 3

The second HQ Add-On (or its equivalent) heralds Tier 3 - the Dawn of War end game. The really heavy duty units start to appear, demolishing all other Tiers before them. These squads are the elite squads: Terminators, Flash Gitz and Nobs; Kaskryn and Ogryn; Warp Spiders; Krootox and Pariahs. All these units have been hard capped to just one or two squads. While lacking numbers, they make up for it with awesome firepower, more so than in previous versions. The big, potentially game finishing spells arrive to wreak havoc on the field. The following armies reaches Tier 3 when...

Space Marines, Chaos and the Imperial Guard build their second HQ add-on.;

Eldar builds their Support Portal (vehicle yard);

Orks build their Orky Fort add-on.

Tau build either the Mont'ka Command Post or the Kauyon Command Post.

Necrons upgrade to an Engaged Monolith.

More tiers
But wait - there's more!
Tier 0 This is really a subset of Tier 1. Tier 0 is game start: nothing more than a builder and a vanilla headquarters. There's only one type of very light unit to fight with. The first skirmishes take place between small, un-reinforced squads squabbling for map control as players try and save req for teching or tiering. With the flatter, cheaper tech tree, its highly unlikely that Dark Crusade games are going to be lingering here.
Tier 1.5

Tier 1.5 used to be when both the Armoury and the Barracks had been built, but since you can have one or the other and then leapfrog into Tier 2, Tier 1.5 has sort of been redefined partially out of existence. The Armoury is simply just a prerequisite for heavy weapons and Squad Leaders now - you only build it if you have some specialised infantry builds in mind. You can read up on what the old Tier 1.5 in Winter Assault was all about here.

Tier 4

This is really a subset of Tier 3, but its useful to think of Tier 4 as the end game, where all techs, upgrades and add-ons have been completed. There are very few Tier 4 units: usually its a pair of uber-tanks and a God unit - and you can only reach them after you've built the second HQ add-on, and an expensive and slow tech is studied at the vehicle factory. In some cases, you'll have to capture and hold a Relic too. These uber-units include the Obliterators, the Land Raider, Squiggoth, Fire Prism, Leman Russ and Looted Tanks, or the Chaos Predator with the Chaos Projectiles upgrade. The Necrons HQ can take off as a Restored Monolith, trundling across the map and laying waste to all before it.

Tier 4 is reached when...

The Space Marines research Heavy Armour Deployment at their Machine Cult.

The Imperial Guard research Full Scale War at the Mechanized Command.

Chaos researches Chaos Projectiles in their Machine Pit.

The Eldar researches Annihilate the Enemy in the Soul Shrine.

The Orks research Extra Vehicle Armour at Da Mek Shop.

The Tau either researches Teachings of Mont'ka at the Mont'ka Command Post or Teachings of Kauyon at the Kauyon Command Post.

Necrons set their Restored Monolith on the loose.

Notes: some background

In the original Dawn of War, working through the Tiers was an arduous and expensive process. Most games in Automatch were often resolved at Tier 1, with big opening skirmishes using infantry and the occasional tech. You'd be lucky to make it to Tier 2 (the mid-game) in Auto. In team games, Tier 2 was very common, and big battles were commonplace with lots of heavy infantry, vehicles and anti-vehicle (AV) counters in play. But the big end game units, like Terminators, Obliterators, etc. were considered too expensive for relatively little power, and few people chose to use them outside of Quickstart games.

DoW also used a hard counter system. What tended to happen was that a specialist unit would absolutely murder its quarry in seconds, and barely scratch targets it wasn't designed for. What made it difficult for people trying to learn the original game was that it wasn't immediately obvious what countered what - unless you were prepared to put up with a long run of (humiliating) losses before things started to make sense. Most people simply didn't have the time or the inclination to wade through pages of forum threads, balance bitching and Gamespy Automatch losses just to learn what most other RTS games made quite plain in the first game or so. You'd die so fast that you'd barely have a chance to tech. There was much weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth for changes. Balance was considered so bad in the 1.3 patch, that it saw the creation of swag of balancing mods like DowPro and Fairness. It also saw RelicNews establish the original Balance Forums in an effort to contain the screams of imba and the nasty bitching and flame wars that were threatening to undo their excellent forums.

Winter Assault

In response to all the weeping and wailing, Relic changed quite a few rules in the Winter Assault expanison. Much of the build trees were "streamlined" and the cost of teching up to later Tiers was much reduced. The hard counter system was toned down to a soft counter system. Unlike a lot of RTS games, many units in the game now had a tendency to become obsolete as you teched up. Not all players were happy with this. In particular those that considered "skill" (read: micro heavy unit control) as the dominant criteria for a "proper" win felt the game had been dumbed down. It may have been, but it was also opened up - Automatch duels weren't decided by the end of the opening battle and many team games could make it to Tier 3 and 4.

In Winter Assault, tiering up was more important: players who failed to tech up to the next Tier of units generally lost. Unfortunately, this also meant that the Tier 3/4 units were the ultimate ones, so many games became a frantic tech race to the top, becoming massive spamfests of end-game units. You can read up on the Winter Assault Tier system here.

Dark Crusade

Dark Crusade has modified all the basic game rules again. Tiering has been flattened still further and made slightly cheaper, with the need for many prerequisites removed. If you want to get to Tier 2, you simply need your Barracks or your Armoury; you don't need both. To reach Tier 3, you only need one Tier 2 building, not all of them. The practical upshot of all this is that the variety of builds and approaches you can take have skyrocketed. You don't progress linearly through a long tech tree, but assemble a custom force up front. You can go straight for a vehicle build, or an infantry build, or play around with all kinds of variations. On top of that, elite end-game units have been hard capped to only one or two squads. Wall to wall spamming of end game units have disappeared. The (unpleasant?) side effect to all this is that in winning 1v1 duels sometimes veers dangerously close to a random guessing game, where one opening build can demolish another.

Its still a too early to say one way or another whether this has "broken" the game. My initial feeling about DC is that its a giant step up from WA, give or take some balance issues and bugs - and in version 1.11 there's a fair few. This has upset a lot of old pre-DC players, who were getting used to the almost-there balance of the last version of Winter Assdault.

As a rough rule of thumb, Tier 2 units still dominate Tier 1 units, while Tier 3 will usually overpower everything else. However, end game Tier 3 units have some serious hard caps, and with changes in Infiltration rules, most units in Dark Crusade are now useful throughout the game.

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Last modified Wed, Jun 6 2011 by Lindsay Fleay