Why Dawn of War 3's Jain Zar is my new favourite RTS unit

With a screaming deathmask, a spear and a spinning blade that she can throw like a boomerang, Jain Zar would normally be the most ostentatious unit on an RTS battlefield. In Dawn of War 3 she is frequently outdone by the hulking Gabriel Angelos of the Space Marines, or the huge figure of the Ork warboss Gorgutz. The never ending conflict of the Warhammer 40,000 universe is a personality war as much as it is a war about guns and chainswords, and in this busy corner of the galaxy a screaming ever-living phoenix lord can slip by unnoticed. This plays to Jain Zar's advantage. If she sits inside a mass of her fellow Howling Banshees in a big fight, the enemy might not notice her approach until it's too late. For squidgy back-line units this is a fatal mistake.

Jain Zar has quickly become one of my favourite RTS units because she's fast, looks amazing, and only excels in very specific situations. Years ago I played Dune 2 and fell in love with the pitiful stick-man building-killer saboteur units—ever since I have enjoyed RTS units that have very precise utility. Jain Zar is fragile and tough to use, but utterly devoted to her cause. Vehicles and buildings can ignore her forever, but to exposed (and ideally evenly spaced out) infantry units she is death incarnate.

The dash attack is her main party trick—a vaulting coup de grace that captures the grace and deadly efficiency of the Eldar. You use a straight-line template to target the attack. Jain Zar leaps off the first enemy unit she hits, and slams down some distance ahead with an explosion of white fire and swirling blades. The dash is a strange ability because it doesn’t seem to do much to the unit that serves as a springboard. But if you manage to plant her landing on another enemy infantry unit they are likely to be instantly and bloodily killed. If not, they will be scattered by the force of the blow and left to the mercy of her spear strikes.

It’s such a strange move that it seems easier to take the capable Striking Scorpions close combat elite instead. The Scorpions can cloak and stun enemies with their own relatively pathetic leap, but when you sacrifice Jain Zar for the Scorpions, you’re swapping explosive damage for consistent damage. The former surely more fun, even when you need to do some extra micromanagement to deliver the payload. In addition, Jain Zar's sheer speed is really useful for running down units that are trying to retreat. Dawn of War 3 lacks the retreat button of the other games in the series, so it's great to have a unit that can overtake enemies that are trying to disengage. She's like a cat explodo-leaping into pigeons.

Let's take a brief interlude to watch Zar leap off a Librarian's head to finish off a Kill Team.

There’s another quirk to the attack. If you can’t find a good springboard unit, you can use Jain Zar’s throwing weapon as a jumping-off point. This boomerang-like projectile arcs back towards its owner. If the path of the dash intersects with the boomerang’s returning trajectory Jain Zar uses it as a step and vaults into her leaping attack. Dawn of War 3’s abilities are designed to interact, which is one of the reasons it has the potential to support high-level competitive play. The trick-shot quality of the silent death-dash combo introduces a degree of analogue control. There’s a trick-shot quality to it that makes it exhilarating to pull off. It’s a slam dunk. And the ability just feels great. The one-two rhythm from springboard to landing is satisfying. A successful landing is ferocious, and can simply delete one of your opponent’s weaker units from the game.

Also, if you need to escape from a Space Marine commander, jumping off his head and legging it into the distance is a great way to do it. 

Tom Senior

Part of the UK team, Tom was with PC Gamer at the very beginning of the website's launch—first as a news writer, and then as online editor until his departure in 2020. His specialties are strategy games, action RPGs, hack ‘n slash games, digital card games… basically anything that he can fit on a hard drive. His final boss form is Deckard Cain.