Expansions can ultimately serve two purposes for any given title. They can elongate the life-span of a particular story or idea, or they can come in and take out the trash if the original offering wasn’t up-to-scratch. In the case of Battle March
, an expansion for Warhammer: Mark of Chaos, it serves a little of both.
Mark of Chaos wasn’t necessarily the most groundbreaking of fantasy RTS games. Familiar rules with an equally familiar landscape were really only held up by the game’s unrelenting delivery of Warhammer lore (something that may have ultimately scared people away in the first place).
At its very core, the Warhammer series of games works tirelessly to be at the forefront of deeply compelling fantasy literature, albeit based upon a table-top RPG game. Still, they do a fine job of throwing you in the Warhammer deep-end with no rescue crew in sight – leaving the only way to deal with it is to learn to swim.
And that’s exactly what you’ll need to do if you’re picking this up. You’ll need the full mark of Chaos game to play it, so it would make sense to me you play
through that title, however, if you get bored of it (not at all unheard of), you can switch right to the expansion which does offer up some new gameplay ideas, a more fun set of characters to play as and a challenge unlike any other in the Warhammer gaming realm.
While it’s arguable the original Mark of Chaos did very little to light a fire under your belly, Battle March kicks things off without so much as a warning.
This is some tough gameplay if you haven’t played the series before, and you can very easily find yourself drowning in what’s being presented to you. Still, by most other RTS standards, this isn’t anything new or groundbreaking; it can simply be tough micro-managing on-the-fly if you don’t know the system or set-up very well. That said, it only takes a few bouts to get things kicking along, and once you have the hang of it, it’s not so bad.
Battle March introduces two new factions to the playable faction mould; the Greenskins (Orcs and Goblins) and the Dark Elf. While these two races did exist in the previous game as fodder, they’re available now for you to run through their paces.
The Orcs and Goblins here are by far the most fun due to their comedic nature. They also batter people about pretty well and seem almost like reluctant workers in a factory with some of the phrases they throw about. The Dark Elves on the other hand are pretty much an evil, straight-forward race of baddies who don’t offer too much in the development dimension of characterisation. In case you hadn’t realised it yet, it turns out the Dark Elves are puppeteering the Orcs in a bid for world conquest, and the Greenskins have no idea of this. It’s like Zap Brannigan sending wave after wave of his own men at his worthless adversaries, the Killbots in this case the Dark Elves are Zap and the Greenskins his own men.
What this does, however, is dish up two different mission types and play styles as well as two sides of the same story. As the Greenskins you’ll perform all manner of thankless grunt tasks from sieging castles to ripping through humans to keep them at bay as the Dark Elves weave their web of deceit and destruction. While as the Dark Elves you’ll micro-manage and utilise your forces to greater effect.
All of this sounds good, but unfortunately following the pedigree it does, Battle March only makes the game a little easier to swallow, and that’s only because it came after the fact. If this were the title released in the first place it still wouldn’t ultimately offer anything compelling. Most missions are ridiculously straight-forward with objectives rarely shifting from survival or saving a particular hero or unit to anything remotely interesting, while the game’s plot and lore that is constantly thrown at you is primarily designed for the A-typical Warhammer geek so many people have made fun of over the years. Listening to the names of places non-essential to the game is just overbearing and tedious, after a while (with an equal thanks to over-acting in the voicing department) you just drown it out.
Moreover, visually this isn’t anything to write home about. The bland textures and drab colours are uninspiring when looking at other games in the genre - hell, even WarCraft III seems more visually rewarding than this (though that could just be because I like bright, shiny colours), and despite the cool theatre-of-war-esque camera view, there’s nothing cool about zooming out so all you see is a bunch of arid land with an army of blurred colours waking across it. Zooming in is a tad better, with some reasonably detailed character models, but their animations are slow and archaic, and no one seems to properly connect in the battlefield.
Finally, as mentioned before, the voice-acting leaves a lot to be desired. It’s over-the-top and forced in the way you used to talk when playing fantasy styled games in the backyard as a kid. I can completely imagine a bunch of Warhammer aficionados sitting around a table-top speaking like this to each other, completely devoid of any real-life attachment. And if that the case, we don’t need it delivered verbatim here in videogaming (we have enough over-the-top stuff as it is).
All that said, if you did get into mark of Chaos and enjoy it, it’s likely you’ve already smashed through this. The multiplayer stuff is the same as before with the addition of the new factions and this is the crux of Battle March’s problem; it’s almost too much of the same. It has definitely done a little better in the tightening and delivery department than Mark of Chaos, but not nearly enough to be a stand-alone item. Here’s hoping Warhammer online serves a far better purpose than either of these games.