Warhammer: Battle March (PC)

Reviewed May 2008. Excuse the title mix up, my editor called it that at time of launch!

When I was younger, a friend of mine got hooked on the world of Warhammer and quietly happily spent a small fortune on miniature models that he had to paint himself before playing the table top game. I could never quite see the appeal in either the pricing or the fact you had to paint them yourself, but the game looked fun, just far too much effort to put together in my eyes. Not long after this, the Warhammer video games started arriving on the scene, and I had a great time playing Warhammer: Shadow of the Horned Rat on the Playstation 1. I returned to the Warhammer world with Dawn of War but I somehow managed to entirely miss out on Black Hole Entertainment’s interpretation of Warhammer in the form of Mark of Chaos until I had a copy of this expansion pack thrust upon me.

Mark of Chaos seems to have slipped under the radar a bit for many gamers and with over a year between the original release and this expansion pack coming out, the requirement of owning the original to play this could be a bit excessive for many. With a number of developers managing to release standalone expansion packs or well priced bundles of the original and expansion; it seems a bit unfortunate that gamers are forced to buy both to experience the newer game. Especially as the original is starting to look a bit dated now. But just how well does this new game play?

It all starts out pretty well. The presentation of the storyline managed to keep me interested with some decent quality cutscenes; an excellent quality orchestral soundtrack and a story that should keep many fans interested. The only real downside on the presentation side of things is almost immediately apparent however. The loading times are incredibly slow. Considering I was running it on a far from minimally specced machine, it really was a bit of a joke. But look past that and throw yourself into the game and you’ll find….quite an average and unexciting RTS.

It’s not a bad game, it just doesn’t feel very original or different compared to other superior RTS games. For those who haven’t played the original, it feels somewhat like Age of Empires albeit without the resource hunting, just fighting akin to the Total War games but more simplified. The expansion pack adds a new campaign alongside the two already offered with the original. The campaign focuses on the greenskins (Orcs) and the Dark Elves, who appear in later stages of the campaign. The Orcs are a typically brutish force with most missions along the lines of ‘kill everything’ while the Dark Elf missions can get a bit more interesting and more tactical. Occasionally you have to team up alongside AI groups to achieve a common goal. There are also hero units, individual units that are able to use and learn new abilities, as well as gain levels and experience from fighting in many battles. It’s quite a nice quirk although not overly unique to this game (it’s been seen before in Age of Mythology and Warcraft III, to name just two). One bonus to the hero units is you can duel other enemy heroes, causing a loss in morale for the losing side. It never really felt like it affected much though, except for specific missions where it was required.

Looks wise, Mark of Chaos: Battle March is also fairly uninspiring. Despite the decent cut scenes, the in game graphics are just dull. The combat animations in particular are somewhat awkward and really could have done with some tweaking. There’s just no other way of describing it other than dull. It’s not a huge problem with RTS games if the graphics are uninspiring but combined with far from rousing gameplay; it makes for an overall, very dull package.

If you’re an RTS or Warhammer fan you will probably still enjoy it, it’s just lacking a certain something that would make it a good game regardless of whether you normally love RTS games or not. It’s a pity as it’s a missed opportunity when there’s nothing fundamentally wrong (barring the problems with the loading times). It’s a bit like if you lived on the same food all the time, sure it’d be fine, but wouldn’t life be a bit more exciting if there was some variation? And here we have the gaming equivalent of a predictable life.