Dominion is too little too late

Dominion: Storm Over Gift 3
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It was bound to happen sooner or later. With the influx of money and the media attention on certain high-profile personalities, the gaming industry is suffering from some of the same ills as the movie industry. Unfortunately, Ion Storm’s Dominion: Storm over Gift 3, published by Eidos, is a casualty of these ills.

In development for over three years, Dominion suffers from a dated approach, poor implementation, and a kind of me-too attitude. Like an over-budget action flick, the game never seems to gel with any particular focus. If Dominion came out two years ago, it would have been the talk of the industry. However, with problems making it into production and a change in ownership, the game lost its window of opportunity. Now it is just another strategy game that has nothing to really separate it from the rest of the field.

The gameplay is for the most part satisfying, though certainly old hat to many strategy players. Anyone who has played StarCraft or Red Alert will not see anything new here. You are presented with a world being fought over by four races. Whoever controls the world controls the "Messiah" which will bring both peace and power to the race that holds it. It would almost be better if they didn’t supply any plot at all rather than this drivel.

And while the cutscenes usually serve to involve you emotionally in a game, in Dominion, they seem to be just cute filler. In fact, Dominion would almost seem a purely intellectual pursuit if it were not for the avalanche speed of the game.

The pace of the game will indeed keep you on your toes. There’s no real time to watch the shape of a battle or mission develop, it is all simply a matter of reacting as quickly as you can. On the front cover of the Dominion manual is the phrase "Real Time, Real Strategy." Well, the real time part is correct, but as for strategy, there really isn’t any.

The main point of most missions is to build as fast as you can and then go slaughter the other guy. If the folks at Ion Storm had broadened the missions to include multiple objectives, you would then have to prioritize your troops and resources, thus bringing strategy into the game. As it is, instead of the Doom-like first person shoot-em ups, Dominion is a third-person shoot-em up.

Troop and vehicle control and compound this problem. I had to spend half of every mission redirecting troop movements. Rather than following the straightest line forward to a new destination point, the troops and vehicles would occasionally pull a 180-degree turn and head off to get the destination point by the scenic route. Gameplay would be significantly improved if you could set waypoints for troop movements. Otherwise, your characters have a tendency to get lost or wander straight into enemy fire.

The enemies you face in Dominion tend to be a little smarter than average, thanks to a pretty good AI, but considering the complicated interface and poor control offered for your troops, it is too much of a good thing. If the AI can tell computer-controlled units to follow an exact path, you as a player should be able to have the same advantage.

At least Dominion: Storm over Gift 3 provides a wide variety of troops, vehicles, terrains and missions. If you do decide to buy this game, definitely try playing as each of the four races: Human, Merc, Darken, and the Scorps. While there is not a great deal of difference between the races, there is enough to keep most people interested in trying them out. Each race has different requirements for building troops, vehicles, and buildings and a style of play that best suits those requirements.

Dominion can be played at a resolution of 1024×768, but there really isn’t much point. The graphics aren’t good enough to warrant it, and it really slows down the game on some machines. Dominion offers no 3D graphics and no eye candy, but the designs behind many of the troops, vehicles and buildings are very cool. They would have been even cooler if the graphics engine had been better. In addition, there is the problem of units being blocked from view by buildings, rocks and trees. The game should either provide object transparency or the ability to change your point of view.

In a good strategy game, you might get frustrated by being outplayed by your opponent. With Ion Storm’s first release – Dominion: Storm over Gift 3, you get more frustrated with the game’s inadequacies than your own.

It gets 2 GiN Gems, because Ion’s first release is too little, too late to compete with other strategy games already dominating the market.

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