Warhammer: Mark of Chaos Review
Warhammer: Mark of Chaos brings the popular tabletop game of fantasy warfare to PCs. The human, elven, and dwarven armies of the Empire and its allies clash with the monsters and demons of the forces of Chaos in a manner reminiscent of the Total War games. So how does a world crafted for a turn-based war game fare in the translation to a real-time strategy game? Well, Iím not sure. I never played the tabletop game and my entire exposure to the Warhammer universe has been through the Warhammer games that periodically appear on PCs. I can tell you whether or not I think Mark of Chaos is an enjoyable PC game, though.
The single player game is centered on two campaigns Ė you guessed it Ė one for the Empire and one for Chaos. Each campaign progresses as a linear series of battles that you initiate by moving along a path on the gameís superfluous map. There are occasional branches in the path that allow you to take on optional missions before returning to the main mission sequence, but Iím not sure why youíd want to skip the optional missions anyway. Basically you fight a battle and if you win you return to the strategic map and click on the next battle spot. There is a story associated with the campaign, but itís not really engaging or exciting. I donít know if itís because the game assumes that you already know a lot about the Warhammer universe, the cutscenes are pedestrian at best, or the story just isnít that interesting. Perhaps itís a combination of all of the above. Luckily the battles themselves are far more interesting.
As I mentioned earlier, Mark of Chaos bears more than a passing resemblance to the Total War games. You command groups of soldiers collected into units by their specialty Ė swordsmen, archers, pikemen, etc. These units act as one, moving and fighting as a whole on the battlefield, allowing you to command entire armies without worrying about giving orders to each and every soldier on the field. The game further simplifies command and control by letting you select multiple units and giving them a single destination order complete with the desired facing of your troops. Mixed units will assume their formations intelligently, so you donít have to worry about accidentally leaving your gunners in your front ranks to face a cavalry charge while your pikemen mill around in back.
Thereís more to the game than simply matching up the right units with their corresponding counters. A unitís formation, spacing, and facing all factor into its performance in a skirmish. Flanking a tightly-spaced unit marching in a column formation will result in a much more successful attack than will charging it head-on while it is in a battle-ready line formation. Another factor weighed into combat performance is morale. Each unit has a morale rating which represents its ability to remain a cohesive fighting unit as it starts to take losses. Some units will attempt to bolt from the battlefield after it has its nose bloodied while others will fight to the last man.
In addition to the troops in the game, Mark of Chaos features powerful heroes. These heroes are individual champions, generals, wizards, and their ilk that are commanded on their own, although they can be attached to a unit and commanded with it. Heroes are not only powerful in battle, they are blessed with special abilities or spells that can help turn the tide of battle. A wizard can cast a fireball into a charging enemyís ranks or a knight can rally his troops and give bonuses to their attack, defense, and morale. As they gain experience on the battlefield they can gain levels and earn points to spend on strengthening their abilities or gaining new ones. The abilities fall into three categories designed to enhance the heroís attacks, buffs for his troops, and dueling skills. Duels can occur when two heroes meet on the battlefield. Should they decide to meet one-on-one, they are surrounded by a special circle and can not be attacked from outside. The army of the winning hero will gain a big morale burst while the losing heroís army will suffer a major blow to morale. The hero duels are kind of a cool feature, but it can be hard to micromanage your heroís fight while simultaneously trying to maintain control over the rest of your army so duels are more enjoyable in the smaller skirmishes than the larger battles.