Warhammer: Mark of Chaos PC Review
We’ve all played Warhammer. Don’t try and hide it. It’s like a rite of passage for nerds. Like it or not, we’ve all been through the phase of being conned by the over-friendly Games Workshop commission slaves (sorry, salespersons) into spending at least forty quid on a bunch of lumps of plastic that probably cost the manufacturer about 2p each. It’s an ugly business, and most of us would rather not talk about it. But we all know it must’ve happened to everyone else at some point between the age of ten and fifteen. A bit like your first wank, then.
I’ll be honest – I don’t have a lot of love for the whole Games Workshop thing these days. They seem to be more concerned with continually extorting money out of anti-social, borderline-autistic teenagers than producing a good game. I mean, name one other boardgame that needed the creators to run a premium-rate helpline purely for settling disputes between players about the rules of the game. Utter pish. Still, this apparently financially-motivated attitude shouldn’t necessarily have an effect on the games, should it?
Well, gosh – it has. Ever since Warhammer and Warhammer 40k games started appearing, a vast majority of them have been found lacking. Few of the games have been bad, but there’s always the over-hanging stench of reliance on the popularity of the license. Although, let’s be fair here – it is a good license to rely on. Say what you like about the tabletop games, there’s little denying that the world created for them provides a plethora of excellent backdrops for video games. But that doesn’t change the fact that the majority of the games come across as being somewhat half-arsed. And Mark of Chaos isn’t really set to buck this trend.
Still, let’s actually talk about the game itself before I start criticising it. It’s a real-time strategy affair that deals with the apparently everlasting conflict between the human Imperials (along with their Elfin allies), and the hordes of Chaos. The latter are going around slaughtering innocent folk, while the former are trying to stop them. So, no question marks hanging over who’s ‘good’ and ‘evil’ here, even if the Imperialists are faintly creepy with their overwhelming desire to wipe out Chaos. The singleplayer campaigns (one for each side) see you progressing through missions pinpointed on a series of large maps. The maps are just an illusion, mind you – your progression is almost entirely linear and forces you to go from one pre-destined point to the next, with the occasional optional side-mission. Of course, linearity isn’t as inherently evil as people would have you believe – but trying to cover it up with such a painfully transparent disguise somehow makes it much worse. The two main types of stages you’ll come across are full-scale battles, and duels. Full-scale battles are your standard RTS affair and while the objectives vary between each stage, they all happily boil down to “just kill all the enemies, aye?”. Duels, on the other hand, are a little different as they allow you to pit one of your army’s heroes (indivduals who can be ordered about separately from a squad and given special abilities) against an enemy commander, while the two armies just kind of sit back and watch them go at it. Sadly, the duels end up being a badly missed opportunity. Rather than demanding that the player pay attention to the battle and use his hero’s skills wisely, all you end up doing is telling him to attack the other guy and occasionally clicking on a skill when it recharges, or topping his health up with potions, while you watch both fighters go through the same combat animations over and over again until one of them keels over. EXCITING STUFF.
Obviously the full-scale battles are the real meat of the experience though, so it’s a good thing that they have a little more to them than the duels. You do each mission in turn, and in between missions you get to recruit new soldiers (usually to replace the dead ones, rather than to expand your army by any considerable amount) and upgrade your army’s gear using gold you’ve earned on the battlefield. On top of that, you can also upgrade your heroes using your average RPG experience points/levelling system. But, y’know, reading that back to myself, it doesn’t sound too bad, and I’m trying to see why I had trouble loving this game. But the answer is actually pretty simple – none of the stuff I’ve just mentioned really feels like it matters. My army’s main hero managed to go up about 14 levels before I felt the need to start giving him new skills. And when I did give him those skills, it didn’t really seem to help. Sure, I got some new buttons to click during battles that took a tiny chunk of health out of the enemy, but that was about it. Similarly, I spent a tonne of gold making sure all my squads had the best armour and weapons, but they still seemed to get killed off just as swiftly as before. On top of this, one of the flaws of the duels is actually amplified in the battles – the way that the units don’t ever really ‘hit’ each other. They just start their combat animations, their damage is calculated at regular intervals, and you just kind of wait until one of the squads decides they’re losing, fails a morale check and runs off. The result of this is that there’s this weird sense of disconnection during the battles. It makes you feel less like you’re commanding an army, and more like you’re just moving numbers around to clash with other numbers, to see whose numbers are biggest. This is compounded by the fact that there doesn’t seem to be much scope in terms of tactics – you’ve got your ranged squads and your mêlée squads, and the knowledge that squads are more vulnerable if they’re flanked or attacked from behind. But that’s really about it. And since most missions have your enemy charging at you head-on most of the time, you don’t even get to play with different formations or attack patterns. Or rather, you can, but you just don’t have to.
Multiplayer is slightly better, as you’ve got a human opponent to outwit rather than a scripted bunch of hordes charging blindly at you. The create-an-army function is also surprisingly flexible, and will certainly please Warhammer fans no end. However, it is bogged down by some serious bugs, but if the developers manage to fix this then it’ll be well worth a pop.
It inevitably boils down to a simple fact, though – Mark of Chaos is a half-decent Warhammer game. One of the best, in fact. But it’s not a great strategy game. If you’re a Warhammer fan, pick this up. If not, do yourself a favour and pick up Medieval 2: Total War instead.
Warhammer fans will love it. But they shouldn’t.