An expansion to 2006's Warhammer: Mark of Chaos, Battle March adds two playable factions (dark elf and orcs/goblins) and new units for the existing races. Control one of six armies while asserting your dominance on an assortment of battlefields featuring multiple terrain types. Customize individual units with weapons and armor, lead powerful heroes and champions, and focus on tactics instead of micromanaging bases or resources. Challenge the computer AI in user-defined skirmishes, or track your stats and winning performances against online players from around the world.
The success of the Warhammer 40,000: Dawn of War games makes a compelling argument for translating the tabletop Warhammer game into a traditional base-building RTS. The question, then, is whether Warhammer's fantasy manifestation is equally well-served by modeling the gameplay after another strategy powerhouse, the Total War series. After playing Warhammer: Mark of Chaos and seeing firsthand just how well it works in delivering the seminal Warhammer fantasy experience, no one will ever ask the question again. The tabletop game's driving elements have been smartly recreated in an interactive environment, but not to the detriment of the game as a whole. It's a great computer game translation for Warhammer fans and a pretty decent real-time strategy game to boot. Granted, the game has some issues, but as a starting point for the ongoing digitization of the world's most famous toy soldiers, it's a great start.
The single-player aspect of the game bears a superficial resemblance to the Total War formula, though without as much depth. There are two separate campaigns: one in which you control the Empire and its High Elf allies (the Empire being a medieval European-style kingdom), and another that puts you in command of the Chaos army (demon-possessed Norsemen) and their Skaven friends, a race of dastardly rat-people. Each campaign tells the same story from opposite sides, though it's strongly recommended that you start with the Empire -- the Chaos campaign is considerably more difficult.
The single-player game plays itself out on an overland map where every point represents a single battle. Ultimately, the game could have done without the map, since it doesn't really factor in from a tactical standpoint. It's just an abstraction used to represent your army's movements throughout the Warhammer campaign. The game flows in a largely linear fashion, though you'll occasionally encounter forks in the road that lead to optional missions. Settlements are scattered throughout the map, and when you visit them, you get access to a variety of amenities. There are shops in which you can outfit your heroes, barracks and armories where you can purchase new regiments and upgrades, and temples where you can resurrect fallen heroes, replenish battle-worn units and purchase combat buffs. All of these services are available even after you've moved beyond the town's point on the map. Simply hit the "make camp" button and you're back in the interface.
You get gold by defeating enemies in battles. They actually drop treasure chests filled with money, or magic items that you can equip on your hero units. Apart from this, you'll get a lump sum of treasure after completing each mission, representing booty acquired from fallen foes. The in-battle drops are a bit problematic; only hero units can pick them up and it isn't always tactically sound to move one to the location of the drop. If a mission ends with treasure still on the field, you're out of luck -- this tends to happen quite frequently.
Luckily, the actual combat in Mark of Chaos is designed well enough to make the thinness of the single-player campaign a bit easier to tolerate. Though the battles look amazing from a purely visual standpoint, there is actually quite a lot going on behind the scenes. Some of the linchpin elements of the tabletop game have been modeled in Mark of Chaos, and they've been superbly translated into fun gameplay mechanics. Regiment morale, for example, factors significantly into battles and being mindful of it will measure heavily into your success as a general. While some units are more battle hardy than others, in the face of superior numbers (or particularly frightful foes like giants and demons) even the most stalwart regiment will break. Skaven units, for instance, are especially cowardly and more prone to break, while others (like the Empire's crazed Flagellants) are effectively unshakeable.
As in the tabletop game, positioning plays a large role in combat. If you engage an enemy on its flanks, it'll have a harder time defending, making its morale break sooner. To facilitate these sorts of tactics (not to mention help you defend against them), the game makes it easy to control the orientation of whatever regiments you have selected -- simply hold down the right mouse button, move the cursor into the formation you want, and the models will move into it upon your release. Artillery units also behave in ways that mirror their functionality in the tabletop game. You can have them target specific regiments or shoot at a fixed point on the map, though their shots won't always hit their mark. Instead, there's a chance that a shot will scatter in a given direction, quite possibly splashing some nasty damage on your own regiments. Interestingly, apart from a scant few hero abilities, artillery units are the only ones whose attacks count as "friendly fire."
Hero units play a huge role in your army, and while they're exceptionally powerful on the battlefield, they're governed by some interesting mechanics that quite often set them apart from the proceedings. As they level up, you have the option of pumping points into skills that determine how powerful their attacks are, how much they bolster regiments they're attached to, and how effective they are when in duels with other hero units. If your hero encounters an enemy hero on the field, you can opt to engage in a one-on-one battle with it, using a set of skills completely separate from the ones it uses on the battlefield. When a duel is in session, the two participants are completely isolated from the battle going on around them by means of an impenetrable aura. Success means a lot of experience points for the victorious hero and a drop in morale for the opposing army. Paying too much attention to these duels means that you're not micromanaging the rest of your army, though, so engage with caution and don't expect any but the most skilled players to do this very much in multiplayer.
It's impossible to talk about Mark of Chaos without taking into account its multiplayer game. The game's multiplayer battles use a point-based system similar to the tabletop game. These points determine the size of the force each side can bring to battle. Players can customize any number of armies and save their profiles, fielding whatever type of force seems appropriate for the battle at hand. At this point, the variety of armies and units is decent. There are three variants for each major faction in the game, plus "mercenary" units consisting of Orcs for the "evil" races and Dwarves for the "good." There is quite a bit of unit overlap between each of these variants, but given the cost factors for different units, it's quite possible to field armies that are very different even while using the same faction. It's precisely this element of the game that gets the Warhammer diehards so excited. Add to this the prospect of an ever-expanding roster of units with which to build armies and the game's future potential becomes enticing indeed.
At this point, the multiplayer scene seems pretty lively. Up to six players can fight it out, depending on the size of the map. There are a few different play modes, including a capture-and-hold variant and one whose objective is to lay siege to a castle and hold a point within it. There were some technical problems preventing players from seeing any games in the multiplayer browser close to the game's launch, but those problems seem to have resolved themselves with the game's most recent update.
The initial release of Warhammer: Mark of Chaos seems to be setting the groundwork for a vast virtual translation of the world-famous tabletop game, and it's already quite a bit of fun. The biggest problem is that it isn't quite there yet in terms of expansiveness. If you're mainly interested in the single-player campaign, then you may be a little disappointed. If being on the ground floor of what is likely to be a long-lived multiplayer franchise is important to you, however, then you'll probably enjoy this quite a bit. The core game is already very compelling, and it's likely to get much better as time passes.
People who downloaded Warhammer: Mark of Chaos have also downloaded:
Warhammer: Dark Omen, Warhammer: Shadow of the Horned Rat, Lord of the Rings, The: The Battle for Middle Earth II, Warhammer 40000: Chaos Gate, Warhammer 40,000: Dawn of War, Warhammer Epic 40000: Final Liberation, Warhammer 40,000: Fire Warrior, Warlords: Battlecry III
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