I remember many years ago, watching and listening to my friend collect and play the table top Warhammer 40K game. It was an interesting hobby, whereby you purchased these plain pewter figures and accessories and painted them up and then put them into battle. Outside of that, playing the great Dawn of War games on PC is as close to the Warhammer universe as I have gotten, until now. We received the Mark of Chaos expansion pack, Battle March, in for PC. It's also out now for the Xbox 360. This expansion pack includes a significant amount of extra content for the Mark of Chaos fan, but doesn't really do much in the way of improving the drawbacks of the original.
Marks of Chaos
Both the PC and the Xbox 360 release come complete with the original Mark of Chaos game and of course Battle March. Once installed, I spent some time with the first chapter of Mark of Chaos, “The Call To War” to familiarize myself with the mechanics of this particular RTS. If you don't know, as I didn't before I played it, Mark of Chaos and its expansion are more similar to Total War than to a more traditional RTS game like Command & Conquer. That is, instead of starting off with x amount of funds and resources, and deploying and creating buildings and vehicles and soldiers, you purchase and select forces to take into battle before battle begins, and you march through the battle field to hopeful victory. I think this method does reduce both the micromanagement and strategy load on the player, and ultimately simplifies gameplay; which for RTS newcomers or people who want to just gather a force and dive into battle is fine, but for those who like more strategic based battles, it's unsatisfying.
In both Mark of Chaos and the Battle March expansion, controlling your units in battle and deciding what to do with them in between battles is about as strategic as it gets. You can have your men form up in certain formations and easily turn to face certain directions. It is important to align your long range units in the back of your close up units so that they can provide support from a distance. It's also helpful to assign your Hero character to a unit to help their morale and give them other power ups, like a temporary boost in the chance to hit their enemy or make the enemy miss, or several other helpful ways. You can have several Hero characters in battle at once, and often will, however all of them draw from the same pool of magic, so keeping a check on that is key.
In between missions, you can replenish your troops by purchasing new units or replacing missing unit members with gold you've found in battle. As a unit does battle, it can level up to level three, and you can also outfit units with battle flags, new armor and other small items that will keep doing their best. Heroes can equip and purchase various items to gives themselves more protection, make them quicker, and frankly more effective on the battlefield. Heroes also have a separate leveling up scheme whereby there are three branches of skills that you can assign your points to including your combat and commanding abilities. After you've taken care of business, you're presented with a world map showing you where you've been and what lies ahead. At certain points you come to a crossroads where you can choose to continue the main campaign or take on a side mission to extend the game or to earn more gold and equipment. Other times, your Hero will be involved in a duel with an enemy hero, during which time the Heroes from both sides cannot be hurt from anyone but the Hero they're dueling with.
New To Battle March
The Battle March expansion seamlessly adds a new campaign to the original game giving you a total of three campaigns. This new campaign has players taking the role of the Orcs & Goblins and even the Dark Elves. You'll primarily take the role of Gorbash, the Orc Warboss. Along with this comes of course the addition of new units for all factions and environments. As far as multiplayer additions, there is a World Domination mode now that you can play online.
The graphics haven't changed in terms of the engine used, and overall the game does look dated, but it's not awful by any means. In terms of audio, I think the amount of dialog the characters say is still unusually limited; you'll hear the same things over and over again whenever enemy troops pop up on the mini-map or when you command your units or Heroes to move. However, just like with the original Mark of Chaos, the actual voice acting itself is enthusiastic and good. I also noticed that in Battle March, there is music playing during the missions, and oddly enough in Mark of Chaos, or at least in the first chapter of the first campaign, there is no music at all.
The Battle Rages On
The endless battle between these different races continues on in Battle March with your ability to take control of the Orcs & Goblins, and the Dark Elves. This is a fairly straight-forward expansion pack, offering just the new single player campaign, some new units and environments, and a new online mode, World Domination. It's not a great RTS, but it definitely caters to a niche market and even for someone like me who doesn't know anything about Warhammer, it's pretty fun, but not quite my style (I like building bases and harvesting resources).