Meet Robbie MacNiven, the author behind the Dawn of War III novel! We sat down to chat about Warhammer 40,000, the main story characters, and their motivations!
Space Marines, Eldar or Orks. Who is your favourite and why?
That’s a tough one, but I’ve always been an Imperial at heart, so I’m going to have to go with the Adeptus Astartes, especially since here they're being headed up by the one and only Gabriel Angelos. Orks are always vying with Tyranids as my favourite xenos faction, though. They’re probably the single greatest expression of Warhammer 40,000’s unique style of dark humour.
What has happened to Gabriel Angelos?!
Gabriel’s been through a great deal since we were first introduced to him on Tartarus, way back in the first Dawn of War game. Right from the start he was haunted by the fact he had ordered an Exterminatus on his homeworld, Cyrene. On Tartarus he failed to save the planet, was forced to execute his Chaos-corrupted Librarian, and was ultimately tricked into freeing a Greater Daemon of Khorne. He was then left with no choice other than to order the Exterminatus of another world, Rahe's Paradise, before being engulfed in a Chapter civil war that saw him eventually slay the tainted Chief Librarian Azariah Kyras. That final battle left him near death, and only extensive bionic treatment saved his life. To use an old cliché, he’s more machine now than man, but his mental state is also a far cry from the Gabriel of old.
After all that he’s been through, he’s more reserved, more pessimistic, and less likely than ever to bow to the authority of other Imperial factions like the Inquisition. As the Chapter Master he also feels the burden of responsibility more than before. The campaign on Cyprus sees him deployed with his old company, the 3rd, and he finds himself missing his days as their Captain. As the Master of all the Blood Ravens he now finds he can’t just wade in to fix every problem, or offer himself as a sacrifice for the wider victory. It’s a difficulty that becomes more and more apparent as the story progresses.
What makes Gorgutz different from a regular Ork?
In two words, survival instinct. Orks exist to fight, and will generally carry on fighting until they’re dead. Gorgutz is just about one-of-a-kind insomuch as he refuses to perish once the tide has turned irrevocably against him. Getting out while he still can is pretty un-Ork – and it’s something his rivals frequently taunt him over – but it also means he can come back for more. There aren’t many other greenskins out there who have suffered major defeats yet remain such a constant thorn in the Imperium’s side. If Gorgutz survives his Acheron adventure I’m certain he’ll be back for annuver’ go.
How do you create the right atmosphere in a Warhammer 40k setting?
Well for this project the soundtracks and character audio from the previous Dawn of War games certainly helped me get in the mood! In-story the atmosphere often hinges on who the point of view characters are. Seeing a battle from a Space Marine’s perspective might be cool, but if we then switch to, say, a Guardsman, we realize just how mighty the Adeptus Astartes are, and just how chaotic and deadly Warhammer 40,000 battles tend to be. There’s also got to be that gothic “grimdark” flavour, of course. Swathes of the setting are basically the medieval period in space – characters should be suspicious of technology, devoted to the Imperial Cult and ever-wary of the many terrors that lurk in the dark.
What are the top things you try to keep in mind when writing Warhammer 40K?
There’s got to be a balance between action and wider plot development. Warhammer 40,000 novels are almost invariably driven by action, but that must be backed up by strong, memorable characters with things like good dialogue and – even in a universe of cosmic daemons and hell-based time travel – believable goals. For me there should also be a bit of mystery and foreboding. Thankfully Dawn of War III has that in spades. Writing a game tie-in also gave me some unique challenges to overcome. A game can never be switched into novel format without making any changes whatsoever, so it was often about balancing the plot and overarching story with the demands of a different medium. I think I’ve been as faithful to it as possible.
Do you like strategy games?
Absolutely. I grew up playing RTS games, and needless to say I’ve been a Dawn of War fan since the day the first one came out. I’m pretty sure I almost failed my first year at University because myself and a posse of friends would order in pizza and spend entire weekday afternoons grinding through hours-long multiplayer battles – and this was a full six years after the initial release! I also love the entire Total War franchise, no surprise given my degree in Military History.
Are you planning to play Dawn of War III when it's released?
Definitely! I’m in a strange position because I know what’s going to happen, but that just makes me want to get it even more. Seeing characters and events which have only been in my head so far battling it out in real time is both a surreal and exciting prospect!
To order the novel, visit the Black Library!