Warhammer: Mark of Chaos Review
|Publisher:||Deep Silver / Namco Bandai|
|Genre:||Real Time Strategy|
|Release Date:||November 24th, 2006 (UK)|
|Reviewer:||James Barlow (Malis)|
Many of you will be familiar with Warhammer, the classic hobby of collecting and painting fantasy miniatures, and then battling them out on table-top with a comprehensive and exhaustive set of rules. Over the years there's been many attempts to translate the success on the table to success on the screen, sadly to little fanfare. All that changes with Warhammer: Mark of Chaos, a major RTS from Black Hole Entertainment.
From the moment you load up Mark of Chaos, it's quite apparent that the high production values from the table-top realm have transferred over to the PC screen. As ever, events are kicked off by a CGI movie. And what an event. Simply put, the intro to Warhammer: Mark of Chaos ranks amongst the best I've ever seen - violent, atmospheric, and leaving me wanting a hell of a lot more. After digesting this piece of cinema, it's onto the intricately decorated options screen, another clear indication of the time and effort put into this game.
But gaming is where it counts, and it's in the single-player campaign that you'll undoubtedly spend your first few hours. You can play through the campaign from two perspectives, the evil Chaos or the Empire, a human faction. Along the way either side will get allies from Elves, Orcs and Skaven (rat-men). The basic foundation of the campaign is a linear path through chapters, moving from battle to battle where your objective may vary from simply eliminating the enemy, to capturing a hill or aiding a besieged town. The story is told through the in-game engine, and while the vocals are suitably done, at times the dialogue being sputtered can seem ludicrous coming from the little models, so it's a shame there isn't more CGI. Interspersed between these battles is something we're being accustomed to seeing in RTS games: the campaign map strategy screen.
An overhead map shows you the campaign path you're on, and as mentioned before it's sadly linear. Although at some points you are offered branches to choose, they normally only offer one extra battle to gain some new allies or items. Whether you choose to do these or not, you'll find yourself back on the original path you chose well enough. It's a little frustrating, purely because the strategy screen is there. If there was no such screen and we were presented with just a series of battles, then fine, we can live that. But to go so far and only half develop the map screen just feels a little wasteful. Total War games have shown that RTS and deeper tactical management can be successfully blended, and has set a high standard for RTS games at the moment.
Nevertheless, it's here that you can sort your army out between battles. This can vary from buying new units with gold earned, upgrading existing ones, blessing the army and equipping your hero with powerful magic items. It's as well presented as the rest of the game, with striking art and beautiful menus, but really just a diversion from the meat of Warhammer - combat.
When the battle horn sounds, it's immediately striking just how good the game looks in motion. I'm not entirely sure how it's achieved, but the graphical style almost makes you feel like you're gazing down on an elaborate moving tapestry, rich with colours and life. It's certainly great to look at, and seeing the forces of evil march on you with daemons swirling overhead makes for an impressive experience. A word of warning though, when the action starts hotting up, and the sky turns dark from the arrows of your enemies, you may well experience some slow-down on slower PCs. While artistically and graphically the game is top-notch (the art design throughout this game is utterly superb in fact), the animation feels a little cheap. Units tend to have only one attack animation, and do little when they idle, making for battles that can be somewhat static if you're the type to zoom in and watch from ground level.
If you've ever played an RTS before, the controls and general flow of the game will be instantly familiar. You're given a deployment phase at the start of the battle (much like the table-top game) and from there on it's down to your wits as you manoeuvre your troops and try to get the best from your elite units. It's fairly tame stuff if you're a grizzled veteran from Total War or other close-combat RTS games, but the inclusion of fantastical fantasy units certainly adds an individual twist. From daemons to shadow warriors, dragons to giant eagles, Warhammer: Mark of Chaos has a sufficiently diverse range of units to wreak war with.
Hero units, made up of Magi and Princes, offer battle-turning potential. These powerful individuals have equipment screens, and can be decked out with an array of magic items to aid their abilities. In addition, level-ups through experience earned allow you to spend skill points in talent trees, not unlike World of Warcraft. Each hero has 3 trees: combat, duel and command, so it's up to you to choose how you balance your hero. Will he be a mighty leader, or a fearsome warrior? Or perhaps a duellist that specialises in killing enemy heroes? It's a system that allows for a welcome degree of customisation. Of course, much like in an MMORPG, any game which offers skills and items to powerful individuals is open to exploitation, and Warhammer is little different. Some top-level heroes with the right abilities and items can match entire armies in power, somewhat cheapening things - though this is primarily a problem with multi-player.
And it's one of the few problems, because sandbox skirmishes and deathmatch games are where this game really shines. Games are easy to set-up, and play exactly the same as the campaign mode, only now you can pick your army. It's here where the real joy of the game is. Much like the table-top hobby, where as much enjoyment was gained from buying and painting models, here as much fun can be gleaned from picking your army from a points pool, choosing the banner, arranging the parts on models and choosing the army colour. Playing around with different armies is great fun, and when you're done you can save your custom selection and take it online. While the standard deathmatch modes are present, there's also siege maps and reinforcement modes (where you can buy more troops if you hold camps) to spice things up. All in all, great fun, and where you'll spend much of your time once through with the campaign mode.
So is this then, the perfect game for Warhammer enthusiasts? Well, yes and no. The game in truth only incorporates half the rules of the table-top hobby (in particular, army list restrictions are absent and most annoyingly, hills seem to be no longer important for ranged units), and only four of the core races pitched up for the show (no doubt more will be seen in an expansion). Warhammer: Mark of Chaos has chosen to be an RTS game, perfect for any fan of the genre, and not full-bodied reproduction of the table-top game. This in my eyes, can only be a good thing. With the decline in so many past-times being blamed on computer-games, it's refreshing to know that the simple hobby of collecting miniatures and battling with them cannot currently be replicated on the PC. Warhammer: Mark of Chaos is its own adaptation of the game, and a solid and accessible one at that.
- Gorgeous art design, nice graphics
- Impressive army creation mode
- Solid game-play
Not so good stuff
- Some of the best races are currently absent
- Heroes can be overpowered
- Missed opportunity with the campaign mode
- Animation cheap in places
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