Reviewed: November 12, 2008
Released: September 2, 2008
If there was an award for the video game release with the worst sense of timing, Warhammer: Mark of Chaos - Battle March would win hands down. This new strategy title from Black Hole Entertainment and Bandai Namco is set in the brutal Warhammer universe, where the human race is threatened on all sides by insane chaos hordes, cruel dark elves, and rampaging orks. The only problem is Battle March released a few weeks after most Warhammer fans were already addicted to the new hit MMOG, Warhammer: Age of Reckoning. Many of the players who would be the most interested in Battle March probably don't even know it exists.
Battle March is technically an expansion to the 2006 strategy game Warhammer: Mark of Chaos, adding two new races, a new single player campaign, and a multiplayer map campaign. I use the term "technically" because the original four races and two campaigns from Mark of Chaos are also included.
Unfortunately, Battle March has bigger problems than stiff competition with the Warhammer MMOG. There isn't enough new content to warrant a $40 price tag, or fix the more annoying flaws found in Mark of Chaos. If anything, this expansion is a repackage of the same old content with a few new features.
Battle March's gameplay remains the same as Mark of Chaos. Players have a set points total for recruiting heroes and various units, as well as for buying magic weapons, items, and upgrades. Actual combat takes place in real-time, but there is no base building or resource gathering. The only way to call in reinforcements is by capturing spawn points. Troops move around the battlefield in massed units similar to the Total War series.
Properly positioning your troops is very important, as is using terrain to your advantage. A cavalry unit will be wiped out if it charges a group of spearman head-on, but not if the cavalry attacks from the flank. Likewise, missile units do more damage when fighting on high ground. The hero system is similar to Warcraft III in that heroes can give can give troops combat bonuses, heal units back to full health, or assassinate enemy heroes. Likewise, heroes gain experience in combat, which further improves their abilities.
However, the glaring flaws from Mark of Chaos have not been fixed in Battle March. Games still take forever to load and at times everything seizes up for no reason. I'm convinced it's not my computer because I've made significant upgrades since Mark of Chaos came out. Another big headache is the game has no pause button. This makes it extremely difficult to issue new orders in the middle of a fight. Also, troops will charge without being issued an order, though I couldn't tell if this was by design or a bug. The AI is slightly more aggressive than it was in Mark of Chaos, but battles remain way too easy on anything less than hard difficulty.
Heroes remain overpowered, as they can single handedly destroy units and change the course of a battle. I will say that the hero duel function now works better than it did in Mark of Chaos. Heroes can challenge each other in single combat, and now it's much easier to manage these duels and keep track of the bigger battle thanks to an improved user interface.
The two new races in Battle March are the Orks and the Dark Elves. The Orks are very much a horde army and will appeal to players who like to take down their opponents with zerg rushes. That being said, the Ork warriors are a force to be reckoned with when a warboss hero whips them into a frenzy. The Dark Elves are more of a finesse army – incredibly fragile but able to dish out massive damage.
Other than the new armies, Battle March is severely lacking in expanded content. The new single player campaign, chronicling the rise of the great Ork warboss Gorbash, is painfully linear. You must lead Gorbash and his Ork horde from one boring battle to the next, where the only real objective is find your way around a circular maze and kill everything in sight. Gorbash and his Ork "boyz" become more powerful if you can keep them alive over several battles, giving the campaign a certain role-playing aspect. However, the uninspired map layouts and storyline make it tough to want to finish the campaign.
The one very cool new feature is the multiplayer map campaign. Players choose to fight for one of the six main races, then compete online in up to 6-versus-6 battles for territory and resources. For example, if you decide to play for the dark elves, your wins help all other dark elf players playing in the campaign. Winning multiplayer games gives your race special bonuses such as more gold with which to buy troops, more powerful heroes, or spell bonuses. It's a great idea but only available through GameSpy's online service. I'm not sure why there's no single player campaign map, especially since it's tough to find a game online.
Battle March doesn't offer much of a facelift to the original Mark of Chaos. The Ork and Dark Elf armies are both well done, but overall the graphics look dated. The combat animations look stiff and unrealistic, especially when compared to leading strategy titles such as the upcoming Empire: Total War, Company of Heroes, or Command & Conquer 3. The opening movie for the new Ork campaign is awesome, but the mission cut-scenes are sub-par, even by Warcraft III standards. My final complaint is Battle March has some of the ugliest terrain that I've ever seen in a strategy game. Most of the maps are set in swamps, deserts, or blasted Chaos wastes.
The one area where Battle March truly shines is the ability to completely customize your army's look. The army editor allows you to change the colors of uniforms, swap heads and armor styles, and customize battle banners. It's nice to be able to create a unique looking army without using mods.
I'm a big Jeremy Soule fan (who also composed music for Oblivion/Guild Wars/Company of Heroes), and his musical score for Battle March is solid. What I didn't like were the voice-overs for the new armies, especially the Cockney accents of the Orks. The sound effects are ok, although I would prefer not to have to listen to some of the more wonky spell effects.
If you already own Mark of Chaos, I really can't recommend that you buy Battle March at full price. The new races are fun but not unique enough to justify the $40 price tag, and the Ork campaign is actually more of a snooze-fest than the original Empire and Chaos campaigns. The multiplayer scene is for all practical purposes dead, which means new players will likely never get a chance to compete in the online map campaign.
If you never tried Mark of Chaos and are either a hardcore Warhammer or strategy player, Battle March may be a decent buy. I'd still recommend waiting for the price to drop.
I was really hoping that Battle March would improve on the original Mark of Chaos instead of being a lackluster expansion. The game tries to be both a roleplaying and strategy game but really doesn't pull either off. It's a really bad sign that while playing the Dark Elves and Orks, I kept wanting to go log into my characters on the Warhammer MMOG. I'm also disappointed that some of the more promising features, such as the map campaign, are not available in single player.
Unless you're a diehard digital general or rabid Warhammer fan, I'd recommend giving Warhammer: Battle March an about face.