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Warhammer: Mark of Chaos ? Battle March

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Warhammer has been around long enough, and has enough back story explaining every nuance of every character’s actions that it has a habit of making the story around Warcraft look shallow and empty.  Battle March does very little to justify to the player who any of the main characters are, or how they relate to one another for anyone who hasn’t read the volumes of text pertaining to the story.  All told, Battle March does still manage to be a rather competent real time strategy game.

Unlike other strategy games, Battle March has no base building of any kind during gameplay, instead the units that are taken into battle are the ones that the entire area must be finished with. This adds an element of pressure to every map as when a unit dies, they are gone forever.  Combined with the customization of new equipment for every unit, and the ability for them to gain experience and level the more they are used, this adds a sense of risk when sending a unit out as it may be lost forever.  

This is felt especially hard when a hero unit is lost, as these units are vastly more powerful than standard units.  The problem that this causes is the desire to never lose a single unit, ever, in any battle.  As with most strategy games, these battles can last upwards of an hour, sometimes with only a handful of the player’s most powerful units in play.  A single bad choice at the end of an encounter can cause a hero unit to fall and die for the rest of the game, and the options are then to reset the area or continue the rest of the game without them.

This could be more complicated if it was not for the terrible AI on most of the lower difficulty settings which makes it entirely too easy to lure a single unit away from an army and destroy it with the entire force available. This single method proves to be entirely too useful at picking apart even the largest enemy forces  one at a time, seemingly with even the most underpowered units selectable. 

Another vastly annoying AI issue is the players units are not self sufficient in any way, and must be babysat.  This becomes annoying when units are left behind to keep the fog of war at bay, or sent out to scout and forgotten, as the moment that they are attacked, they do not attempt to defend themselves.  This seems like an even larger flaw when recent strategy games, some of them even Warhammer strategy games, have managed to solve this problem amazingly well.

Some of this is helped by the verbal queues that are thrown up when a unit is attacked, but that does not always help during larger, more intricate fights, or if the sound is off due to the not great voice acting.  Several of the key characters in the game can come off sounding like they are doing impressions of Lords of the Rings characters, and others simply manage to grate on nerves.  This is rather unfortunate because the rest of the sound work in the game is rather good, but this one flaw can easily cause an easily annoyed player to turn off the sound.

While Battle March does end up looking rather good, and running relatively well on a moderate gaming rig, it suffers the same fate as most RTS games by not letting the camera zoom far enough out.  While this is probably a design choice, as most of the more battles in the game end up being intimate skirmishes instead of the standard all out battles found in most RTS games, it causes a form of disconnect from the map that the two sides are fighting in, as no real perspective can ever really be gathered from any of the angles. 

Battles in Warhammer never really end up feeling that confusing or out of control. This could be because there are almost never that many units on the field at any given time, or it could be because the camera doesn’t pull out far enough to lose touch with the area that is being controlled. This does seem like a nice change of pace from other games in the genre that try to make a strategy game play out like some kind of puzzle that specific actions must be done at any specific times.

Any strategy game worth its salt normally has some kind of very long tutorial process explaining the vast aspects of every single unit in the game.  Most of the time this is spread throughout several levels, and in some cases can come off as rather insulting or annoying as they seem to think that no one has ever played any form of a RTS game ever before.  Battle March chooses to have almost no form of a tutorial level, and instead simply starts the game expecting the player to have nuanced information about how the entire Warhammer universe functions and the balance struck between the plethoras of units that can be commanded.  For those that know this system, that must be relieving and wonderful, for those of us that don’t, it ends turning every new unit type a quest into wikis and FAQs for detailed information.

Battle March’s only major flaw is that it expects the player to have thoroughly enjoyed the tabletop game.  From the perspective of bringing that game onto a PC, they have done a rather good job, from the one where they introduce new players to the rules and functions of the game, not so much.  While this will allow diehard fans to experience a great tabletop game in an easier to set up environment, it will never be for people who simply enjoy the RTS genre by itself or those that do not have a detailed knowledge of how this game works.  Strangely, these are not faults.  Battle March is faithful enough to the tabletop game for these two points to not really come off as faults.

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