Warhammer: Mark of Chaos Review (PC)

Defend the Empires lands from the unrelenting, leaderless hordes of chaos or thrust your dark will and serve the Chaos gods themselves.

This is no fellowshipped Middle-earth
An easy going tutorial

Itís your standard good guys vs. the bad guys setup, a lot of nasty words were traded with oceans of blood too, and now youíre responsible for sorting out this mess. So what makes Mark of Chaos anything special then? The answer is simply: thunderous battle.

As the game opens youíre treated to one of the best salivating intro movies a game could offer with plenty of sword, axe and blood. The detail is brilliant and the animators having everything to be proud of, it sets the tone for the entire game and doesnít disappoint.

You have the usual suspect of configuration settings at your disposal, whacking as many as high as you can get away with really doesnít transform the experience of the game. I donít have too meaty a machine, turning off shadows and the bloom effect was enough to pump out a nice frame rate leaving me with many other fine eye candy options switched on.

The game is gorgeous for its battlefield environments, playable units and a brilliant user interface. From the preview version I noticed that every model within a unit was identical, this has changed and a greater variety is given. While not entirely free of clones the units when you zoom up close for some action vary in their equipment such as helmet, shield banner etc.

Detailing of more unique units such as giants or trolls really stands out, though itís probably more tactical to stay zoomed out, take a close look at these beasts and recognise a great artwork department. Battle maps and even the campaign map are impressive enough without even having men and orcs marching across them. While the campaign view may feel like youíve stepped into Lord of the Rings for a second, the way it plays out is very different.

Aside from multiplayer which Iíll go into later, youíll be able to choose from two campaigns. The first is to serve the Empire and the second, youíve guessed it, fight for the hordes of chaos. Each campaign is then split into chapters which consist of the player traversing a campaign map with various stopping points, both mandatory and optional.

Mark of Chaos is unique in that it is a real-time strategy game at heart but it also delivers a fantastic light role-playing element Ė itís actually been done before yes but this game blows them away. The reason for this 0wnge? Well there are three categories you can level up your heroes into, so the more death they deal the more experience theyíll rake in. The first is more of general combat against foes; the second is for duelling against other heroes, and the third aiding attached units.

Hero duels are a fantastic little feature; you can charge one of your great heroes and make them challenge another. Theyíll fight to the death, no other unit can interfere with the duel, an enforced honour ethic protection barrier forms around them. If things look bad then you can always use the option to flee but your troopís morale will take a hit.

A hero, with a traitorís bloodline
Easy three category RPG system

Your units themselves too can go up in experience, so when you combine a powerful hero with a veteran swordsman group you can bet thereís going to be a lot of dark red liquid sloshing about the place. You can also outfit your heroes with dropped or purchased booty, better armour, weapons like sword or staff, a decent pair of slippers etc. This applies to troops as well, except they get standard upgrade gear from a townís armoury. Sadly you canít trade items between heroes from retail version, but a recent patch fixes this issue.

Yes the campaign maps does more then let you play the route and conquer your way to the next chapter. Itís also where you get to spend your gold, recruit your army and outfit your shiny trinkets. You use towns to access places like a temple which will provide blessing bonuses for the next battle as well as replace fallen comrades. An armoury will let you gear up the troops with better weapons, armour, siege equipment, banner carriers etc. A barracks lets your enlist fresh faced units to swell your numbers and an alchemist offers potions and is where you can sell unwanted junk.

Of course this doesnít happen out of charity, gold is all important in Mark of Chaos and it isnít easy flowing so watch the purse strings. Itís almost critical then to watch out for your current troops, as they gain experience and have better equipment theyíll be worth far more than to enlist a new unit as replacement. Experience cannot be bought like cheap wine, fight with your brain on and youíll really do yourself a favour later on financially.

After a battle youíll also get a sum of pillaged monies, a nice little incentive to storm over optional battles. In the actual battle themselves enemy units can also drop gold so donít leave dropped items behind. Another drawback is that you canít explore battlefields after objectives have been met so any bounty left on the floor will be lost. As you recruit and outfit your army on the campaign map you donít do so whilst in battle. You canít build more troops like many other traditional RTS titles, you choose your units and heroes before the conflict and then deal with what youíve got.

Itís a great way to remind everyone itís not just a numbers game; you have a maximum you can take into the field so you have to choose wisely, you could also select the option so the computer chooses for you. This is a great way to jump into battle as it will pick a variety of units to help you deal with what lies ahead.

Each major point in a chapter has ingame cut scenes done rather well; while not as divine as the intro movies quality it is more than enough to move the plot forward. The voice acting is spot-on with everyone feeling human, or orc, and youíre not reminded this guys in some booth waiting for his pay check. Kudos as many gamers (me included) fear wretched acting, spoiling our whole virtual experience. If only the lip-synching were better timed then it would be perfect.

Mark of Chaos is a linear campaign experience, does this hurt? No. While itís no Total War or Lord of the Rings for freedom on the campaign map, this game is out to tell a story in its rich universe. It brings new features to an old style of storytelling RTS, the days of Command & Conquer for example. Non-linear isnít always better and often sacrifices a great story and experience for throwing countless options at players. Mark of Chaos is about blood drenched battle, and Iím glad that they get straight to it effectively.

For the dedicated Warhammer fans out there, the army creator awaits your command. Multiplayer is designed to cater for the true underlying flair of the Warhammer franchise, big armies in big battles, usually accompanied by big egos. You get to choose what units youíll have, their colour scheme, banner etc everything that will help you personalise an army.

Modes you can choose from are a death-match style where you simply bash each others troops till one emerges victorious. Reinforcement battles actually let you earn gold and then buy additional troops to call in, understandably these battles can last a while.

It would seem the practicality of an online match is disappointing with a number of hitches in the works; patches have been forth-coming so make sure to grab them as soon as you can. They also address a number of bugs and crashes.

Hero duel, with complimentary honour ring
Detailed units, especially the big ones!

There is so much going for Warhammer: Mark of Chaos and while itís beset with lingering technical woes, underneath it has the right stuff and would be well deserved of your attention.

Top Game Moment:
Inspecting the massacred remains of my fallen foes, bloodlust isnít a bad thing itís just been misinterpreted.



By herodotus (SI Herodotus) on Jun 04, 2009
At last a fair review that doesn't resort to just comparing this with DoW and M2TW. Perhaps not for the GW purists, but then what really would be? It is what it is; could've been better, but then what couldn't?