"That might lead you to believe that you spend a lot of time in micro-management screens, but you really donít. While some of that is here by necessity, itís kept more minimal than battle-hungry players might ever have hoped. You recruit new soldiers to replace those lost in combat, revive fallen heroes as necessary and purchase available armor upgrades. In a minute or two, youíre done and can return to the plot and the battles."
The opening video for Warhammer: Mark of Chaos is seriously cool. It feels like something directly out of Lord of the Rings, but that comparison isnít the bad thing you might expect after suffering through a series of lifeless clones. As a warrior leads a line of soldiers through a forest, he hears something approaching from the distance. The lineís progress falters then halts as a horde of monsters descends from the gaps in the lush foliage to the side. Brutal battling ensues. Beasts fall from the sky itself. When the video is over, the rush is enough to leave a person breathless and certain that whatever game follows canít possibly live up to that introduction. Only this time, thatís not true.
If youíre new to the game, you might not think so at first. Your first stop will likely be the tutorial, and itís hard to argue that such a mode matches the adrenaline from the video. Still, itís a competent and at times amusing tutorial. Its focus is on troop positioning and formations, on quick access to a remarkably smooth camera. Youíll learn about attacking from a distance and about melee combat. The tutorial makes clear the gameís true focus: combat.
Mark of Chaos is full of battles. Most of your time with the game is spent in battle, whether youíre storming a fortress (a daunting task that will cost you many soldiers) or climbing your way up a mountain pass while flaming projectiles and arrows rain from above. Youíll commandeer siege weapons, battle trolls and orcs and all manner of beasts hideous and deformed. As your men fight their way to victory, youíll rally them around their heroes and struggle to save the day, one gruesome encounter at a time.
Heroes play a significant role in Mark of Chaos. Theyíre directly tied to the attitude your men have about the battle. If things are going well and the chosen hero youíve tied in with the group is feeling particularly spry, then a duel with that troll will go precisely as you might dream. The monsterís bulk will succumb to the power of your superior numbers and his minions will scatter as his body slumps to the ground, lifeless. The inverse is true, though; if your hero falls in battle your men will be all but useless.
More than just figureheads, the heroes are your direct link to the most important segments of each epic battle. With each victory they gain experience points that can in turn be applied toward the mastery of unique skills. If you have a wizard, he might master all sorts of sorcery, while a battle-hardened warrior will learn how to more effectively repel attacks and will perhaps increase his endurance. Heroes can cast spells in combat that affect every soldier in their attached unit, and the successful player will learn what situation calls for which buff. Thereís a cooling period that you have to wait through whenever you use a skill, so victory is about more than just spamming your most powerful attacks.
Heroes have another role, too. When the plot dictates it, youíll sometimes find situations where your hero challenges a rival hero and they become locked in one-on-one combat. Here, honor requires that the many soldiers watching on the sidelines not participate. The winner is the one who leaves the battle alive, as well as his troops. The loser is apparent by his blood-stained corpse and the sound of his followers fleeing. These battles donít occur nearly as frequently as those that involve whole brigades going at it, so theyíre all the more exciting when they do. When you canít call on support from your soldiers, each second of combat is tense. Sure, you can load your previous save if you happen to lose, but whereís the fun in that?
Though one-on-one duels do provide a break from the regular combat, the departure hardly seems necessary; standard combat is plenty enjoyable on its own merits. The decision to grant the player control of entire units at a time, while obvious and typical, was definitely the right one and is used here to its fullest advantage. Heroes make it more personal, so that the resulting blend gives the player a true sense of investment in each unit. Itís depressing when the last few soldiers from a unit fall in combat, not only because your chances at victory just grew slimmer, but because youíll have begun to care about the wellbeing of every troop under your control.
That might lead you to believe that you spend a lot of time in micro-management screens, but you really donít. While some of that is here by necessity, itís kept more minimal than battle-hungry players might ever have hoped. You recruit new soldiers to replace those lost in combat, revive fallen heroes as necessary and purchase available armor upgrades. In a minute or two, youíre done and can return to the plot and the battles.
The plot gets the job done while failing to break much new ground. This is, after all, a Warhammer game. Fans will no doubt love each and every little snippet of dialogue, while I myself found things to be fairly generic and little more than an excuse to work my way along the map to the next scene of battle. Character models reveal the plot a bit at a time. Again, youíll be reminded of Lord of the Rings, though the stiff movements when characters speak are sometimes more amusing than was likely intended. One character in particular looks almost like a Muppet the way his lips move up and down but the rest of his face remains mostly static.
Though plot sequences are unimpressive, though, the visual approach to the rest of the game is competent and even exemplary. The glow of fire, the pale shadows cast in a moonlit night. . . all of these things are rendered as impressively as I can recall in any recent game. You can zoom in and out with a scroll of the mouse wheel and always the clarity is sharp. Though youíll probably view most of the proceedings from a distance so you have more control over the struggles as a whole, some of the character models are so impressive that youíll have to zoom in just because you canít help yourself.
Warhammer: Mark of Chaos is that rare PC title that feels completely natural even if youíve spent most of your life playing only console games. The fact that it features beautiful visuals, magnificent combat and enough gameplay to fill several discs makes it one of the greatest PC games of 2006. People will quite possibly be playing it years from now, and if you like strategy titles youíll definitely want to be one of them.
Staff review by Jason Venter (January 03, 2007)
Jason Venter has been playing games for 30 years, since discovering the Apple IIe version of Mario Bros. in his elementary school days. Now he writes about them, here at HonestGamers and also at other sites that agree to pay him for his words.
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