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Warhammer: Battle March Review

Warhammer: Battle March pack shot
Developer:Black Hole Entertainment
Publisher:Deep Silver
Genre:Real Time Strategy
Platform:Xbox 360
Official Site:http://warhammer.deepsilver.com/
Release Date:September 12th, 2008 (UK)
Reviewer:Andy Hemphill (Bandit)
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When you think real-time strategy, what’s the first thing to pop into your head? I would expect that, like me, the first thing you thought was "PC." The simple fact is that RTS’s on consoles don’t often work. Attempting to port over a point and click strategy game to a system with a control pad is usually just a plain bad idea.

When it comes to controlling armies in the heat of battle, you just can’t beat a mouse.

Battlemarch, an RTS game set in the wide world of the Warhammer universe- a tabletop game where you buy, paint and then battle miniature soldiers- suffers heavily from the curse of the console RTS, but before I rip holes in the game, let’s consider its merits.

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As a war-game of some repute, both on the table and on PC’s all over the world, the Warhammer universe is wide and varied. There are three playable factions in this game- Orcs (greenskins), the armies of Chaos and the noble forces of the Empire. Also featured are various other armies such as the elves, but they sadly aren’t playable.

The campaign missions for the three factions centre mainly on either stopping the spread of Chaos or trying to take over the world. And other than a short introduction movie, the entire saga is played out using either in-game cutscenes or incredibly boring scrolling story screens.

The story itself is boring and linear, with hardly any innovation or change to the standard ‘go here and destroy this because I want you to’ system. The only stand-out points are Helm’s Deep-alike siege battles, when it becomes a very satisfying experience to burst into a castle and take it from the inside.

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However, for the most part, the battlegrounds are boring to look at, with high mountain peaks and wide meadows alike being rendered in a fairly dull palette of colours. In contrast, the armies themselves are rendered very nicely. Zoom in and the individual differences in the squads under your control become obvious, and once they are in full battle, you can often find yourself admiring the carnage as opposing forces go at it.

Sound effects are also of a high standard, with the clash of swords and the barked orders of your army’s commander sounding like they actually came out of the Medieval ages, minus the horribly bad English accents of the Empire's soldiers.

The armies themselves consist of your usual collection of infantry, cavalry, heavy weapons and heroes, with the usual RTS concessions of strength- pikemen are good at killing horses but useless against hand gunners etc etc.

One interesting addition is the way that your hero characters- who come with various special abilities such as being able to cause an earthquake or rally fleeing troops- will challenge each other to a duel and carry out their own battle while the melee continues around them.

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Another interesting addition is the create-an-army option, which, like the tabletop game, allows you a certain amount of points to spend on creating the army of your choice. For example, if you prefer to use siege tactics, you can build an army full of long-range units, and visa versa if you like to have a good scrap. Once you’ve built your dream army, you can then take it online into the multiplayer battle mode and watch the fight unfold or play against the computer in skirmish- though this is largely pointless as the dumb AI of the game will make your opponents take the same route into battle every time.

As for the online portion of the multiplayer, you would need to find someone else who is actually playing online first. Needless to say, this isn’t very popular, at all. So, as well as the dull story, bland graphics and non-existent multiplayer, the main flaw of Battlemarch is, hands down and without a shadow of a doubt, the control system.

Consisting of a long and contrived series of D-pad commands and multiple uses of all of the Xbox 360 controller's many buttons, the control system is just a mess. While it is easy to select and move your units, grouping them into formations is incredibly tricky, as is switching between different units in the heat of battle. I usually played with the manual open so I could constantly refer to the control scheme, meaning that I would often loose entire squads or even a hero as I scrambled to control my increasingly disorganised army.

After a while you can eventually start to learn the controls, so it becomes less of a problem, but the constant grind of having to use complex controls for everything, from camera control to summoning daemons to the battle, can eventually drive you mad.

Summary

Long story short, this game should have remained where real-time strategy is at its best, on the PC. The control system on a games console is simply not designed to handle the demands of an ever-evolving battlefield, and the lack of online interest in Battlemarch shows that I’m probably not alone in this belief.

The bottom line
5.0 / 10

Good stuff

  • If you’re a Warhammer fan you’ll love it
  • Large armies, beautiful battles

Not so good stuff

  • Terrible control system
  • No-one is playing online
  • Dull story, graphics and AI


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