Warhammer: Mark of Chaos Review
publisher: Bandai Namco
developer: Black Hole Games
PIV 2400, 512MB RAM, 3GB HDD, 128MB video card
|ESRB rating: M
release date: Nov 14, 06
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Fans of the fantasy-inspired Warhammer setting have had a lot to enjoy in the past few years. The gaming market has seen numerous titles depicting races and realms from the exhaustive Warhammer history. Strategies like Warhammer 40,000: Dawn of War delivered a satisfying interpretation of the particular timeline in the universe, which, in turn achieved its reputation through various tabletop games.
Black Hole Entertainment and Namco Bandai Games are setting foot deeper into the territory of this fantasy universe. Offering gamers a chance to initiate two campaigns (Empire or Chaos), Warhammer: Mark of Chaos follows a specific storyline. Many unique characters are portrayed within these campaigns, so that story-wise, it definitely feels less generic than most RTS games nowadays. In the Empire campaign, players step into the boots of a noble hero named Captain Stefan Von Kessel, a strong-minded war veteran determined to prove his loyalty to the crown. Your alternative is to begin a journey with Throrgar the Blooded One, as you tread along the path of Chaos. Chosen by the gods, Throrgar strives to rally enough fearless warriors so he can reunite the armies of Chaos. It won't be an easy task, since most forces are scattered throughout the land. However, most puny-minded humans are prone to one weakness - they keep underestimating Thorgar and his powers, which certainly gives him a fair advantage on the battlefield.
Each campaign allows you to fight with a pleasing range of races. All races vary in appearance and tend to rely on their own fighting skills when they meet their foes in combat. While you do get to toy around with many unique units throughout both campaigns, it's slightly off-putting to have only two campaigns to choose from (given the vast choice of factions you'd normally find in any Warhammer tabletop game). It does, however, lay groundwork for potential expansion packs that could offer a more comprehensive representation of the Warhammer universe. Another slight disappointment is that we were able to complete one of the campaigns rather quickly. During most scenarios, the gameplay is quick-paced and feels somewhat linear at times, hence it won't be too long until the word 'Victory' pops up on the main screen.
Warhammer: Mark of Chaos borrows several elements from hits such as Warcraft 3: Reign of Chaos and RTS classics like Rome: Total War. Actually, Mark of Chaos seems a lot like a mish-mash of the two titles, wrapped in a Warhammer setting. The main interface greatly resembles the one we've seen in WC3, while the battles often resemble the clashes in Rome: Total War (though conflicts rarely manage to gain epic momentum noted in Creative Assembly's renowned strategy). Mind you, the incorporation of these clich'd features is not necessarily a downside. Using known recipes from popular PC titles certainly paid off, since they were implemented quite well, allowing you to grasp the basics of gameplay without any difficulties. Items carried by hero units are easily accessed via the intuitive inventory system. The same thing goes for distributing experience points when you wish to level up your heroes to make them more efficient on the battlefield.
There's a number of facets that make real-time battles interesting. To begin with, you'll often keep an eye on troops during combat, so they can survive through each conflict. Surviving strengthens units in general and makes them tougher against foes. Also, when you rush into the fray, you'll have to make various decisions on the spot, depending on the units that accompany you. As you'd expect it, placing ranged units, like archers, riflemen, or axe-throwers on higher ground is always a good idea. At the same time, you should create a barrier with spearmen and send the cavalry to take out enemy ranged units swiftly.
Heroes are one of the most intriguing aspects of gameplay. If two opposing armies collide, heroes may lock into combat without any other units interfering. At this point, players get to use a wide choice of skills and special abilities during the duel of heroic figures of the Warhammer universe. Reengaging from the duel has severe consequences and could easily reduce moral within your ranks. Proving victorious, on the other hand, encourages the troops to keep fighting until the enemy is vanquished. Such elements help perpetuate an exciting atmosphere throughout battles and give players a chance to test their tactical skills. It's one thing to command a bunch of mindless infantry units, but using heroes and their various abilities and spells is something else. From this standpoint, I found Mark of Chaos to be rather enjoyable.
Fundamentally, though, this game doesn't accomplish much beyond the standard RTS gameplay we've witnesses plenty of times before. So basically, in terms of actual innovation, Mark of Chaos doesn't have a lot to offer. Also, like I've said earlier, it doesn't take you a long time to complete the main campaigns.
Another disadvantage arrived when most of my troops chickened out on me in the middle of a fight. My army had all the advantages - experience, moral and two heroes by their side. Nonetheless, they started taking heavy losses, eventually withdrawing from the conflict for no reason. Other than that, the AI seemed to work just fine and (thank God) I didn't run into any path finding issues. So, for the most part, Mark of Chaos doesn't have any noticeable technical flaws... well, not in the single-player portion anyways. We did experience connection difficulties when attempting to engage in a multiplayer online match. Contrary to that, the game has a surprisingly huge number of options, giving you the opportunity to customize units and armies to your preference. Also, winning LAN matches takes time and is challenging all the way. In other words, the multiplayer definitely comes recommended, especially if you enjoy classic RTS conflicts.
The game falls a bit short in terms of production value, which came as yet another disappointment. The opening sequence is practically breathtaking, and yet for some reason crucial story segments are inadequately presented through low-quality cut-scenes. In game, however, the visuals appear satisfactory when you zoom in on the action, enabling you to check out an impressive amount of details on units and on some of the structures. But as soon as the camera pulls out, the surroundings look almost featureless and colorless for that matter. It's blatant that the designers added specific colors and darker tones to suit the murky ambiance of the Warhammer universe. Still, that should've been done more subtly I think. The game simply cries out for more vivid tones. It just looks a bit too dull and lifeless if you know what I mean.
To sum up, Warhammer: Mark of Chaos probably makes a worthwhile purchase for fans of the universe. RTS fans may also find it entertaining, but not very innovative in terms of the gameplay basics it has to offer. Players take charge of a variety of armies and individual heroes, and there's a lot to come back to if you're into multiplayer LAN matches. Although a lot of different races are at your disposal, the single-player campaign ought to have been a bit more elaborate. The developers plainly created a cornerstone for potential add-ons that could enrich the franchise. Well, here's hoping.
Interesting plot, entertaining real-time battles, a solid portrayal of Warhammer realms and races;
Nothing particularly original, minor AI problems, connection issues in the multiplayer, single-player campaign is short, dull visuals when zoomed out.
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