Warhammer: Mark of Chaos
My Visit To Games Workshop HQ a few months back left me with a teenage thrill more persistent than I'd have liked. I daresay it's this thrill that's dogged my attempts to find a sensible world-shaping career, and finds me writing about videogames as a 32-year-old. But sitting here now, I can't say I'd feel happier without it Richer, better-dressed, yes. More capable of handling myself in diplomatic situations, certainly. But happier? My defiant laugh fades to a thousand-yard stare.
The first moments of Mark Of Chaos brought back that surge. The movie that kicks it all off sets the tone. Earnest, relentless battle to the point of absurdity. Yes, it's an RTS, but putting my units on the table, 1 mean map, meticulously facing them the right way and getting ready to start the battle, I noticed with a clench that Mark Of Chaos feels much truer to its table-based roots than that notable Warhammer 40K strategy game, Dawn Of War. No resource management.
no base-building, and you can't top up your units during a scenario - you decide on your army before the battle begins, and guide them to death or victory and the next camp, where you can rebuild your troops before packing them off again without so much as a thank you.
Isn't She Lovely?
Developers Black Hole haven't been slaves to the tabletop formula, though -there's a semi-traditional RPG element with heroes, skill trees, inventories and dressing up. For an easy comparison, saying Rome: Total War will create a mental picture worth a couple of hundred words. The game looks lovely, with a satisfying zoom (useful for taking screenshots) and good, intuitive controls. With hundreds of troops on-screen at the later levels, we'll just wait to see how smoothly the old girl runs, and whether you'll need a troll of a PC to deal with the action. As well as the human Empire and the Chaos hordes, you can play as the moon worshipping sub-subculture of cheese-addicted Skaven, or entertain the ambitions of the pompous, isolationist self-regarding High Elves. Well, we say isolationist; there's the traditional loose alliance between the the High Elves, then Humans and Dwarves, but you know it wouldn't last if there was nothing else to fight.
If you're breathlessly protesting the lack of orcs, dwarves, snotlings and the oft-neglected vampires in that list, don't worry; they're all there as dogs of war, the mercenary units available to compensate for your army's deficiencies.
Games Workshop are all for games developers interpreting the Warhammer universes away from their dice-rolling origins, and Dawn Of War was an excellent take on the futuristic Warhammer licence that provided the gameplay roots for the even more excellent Company Of Heroes. The apple's fallen a little closer to the tree with Mark Of Chaos, but when your tree is Warhammer, that's no bad thing.
Why Are They always Scottish? Dwarves, that is. I've often wondered who it was that originally decreed that these stunted beardy hedonists should speak with a Glaswegian twang? Same goes for elves -pompous, meticulously spoken, stupid feather caps; and what about humans -unreliable weak-minded fools who unwittingly find themselves as the only race capable of opposing a darkness that threatens to enslave the world.
As you've probably already guessed -and if you're already a Warhammer fan, you'll already know - Mark Of Chaos is an RTS that indulges these fantasy mainstays in a world where humanity, elves and dwarfs must hold back the tide of the rampaging Hordes Of Chaos -or monstrous, gravelly-voiced bad people with large axes for the uninitiated.
Despite its somewhat predictable premise, Mark Of Chaos proves itself to be a deep and compelling romp through a world ravaged by war, perfectly complemented by an excellent plot and two semi open-ended campaigns utilising rolling resources and offering both optional and story-essential missions. So, we're off to a pretty good start. Which is always nice.
War's A Brewin'
Mark Of Chaos kicks off just months after Emperor Magnus's victory against the Hordes, plopping you into the conflict-ravaged Warhammer universe and instantly immersing you in a world where diametrically opposed factions attempt to cleave each other into submission.
With two campaigns on offer, you can choose to guide either the Empire or the Hordes Of Chaos to glory. Playing as the Empire sees you assuming the mantle of Stefan von Kessel, a commander in the Empire's army, branded with the Mark Of Chaos as a child due to his daddy and grandpappy's dabblings with the dark side. As the campaign progresses, you'll discover the truth behind your family's past, one that will ultimately forge your destiny -and that of your people - and see you uniting with (and commanding) both elves and dwarves.
If that's all sounding a bit too namby-pamby and you fancy ripping out some entrails while sacking villages instead, then you'll probably be wanting to head straight for the Hordes Of Chaos (backed up by the Greenskins and the Skaven) campaign, a rampaging romp of destruction and death that sees you attempting to wipe out the Empire and install yourself as the new champion of the Chaos gods.
A New Chapter
Whichever side you end up opting for, the campaign's format remains unchanged. Divided into chapters, each segment presents you with a map dotted with towns, caves and enemy strongholds, which must be liberated from your foe. In this sense, Mark Of Chaos bears more than a passing resemblance to Rise Of Nations: Rise Of Legends, tasking you with moving your army through the land with the chance to deviate from your main objective via optional side quests.
Though Mark Of Chaos never quite manages to hit the same ethereal heights as Big Huge Game's closet classic, and while the campaign map is so ugly that the likes of Medieval II would only ask it out as part of a pig-orientated dare, there's still a game of genuine intelligence to be found here, an RTS bristling with ideas and hours of slaughtering entertainment.
Think About It
While your army's starting position often proves unimportant to a level's outcome, the same certainly can't be said for the strategies you employ during skirmishes. Forced to think tactically at every turn, there's a genuine sense of strategy from the moment you advance to the moment the final foe falls.
Missile troops are deadly when raining down volleys on your foes, but leave them isolated and they'll be flanked faster than Daniel O'Donnell in an old people's home. Maybe faster. What's more, with the game thankfully shying away from the build-and-rush mechanic still employed by so many modern-day RTS games - instead opting for a more mature, rolling resource model, which sees you retaining your armies from one battle to the next -you can never just send your troops into a mass brawl and hope for the best.
Utilising height advantage, line of sight, flanking manoeuvres and combined arms are skills you'll need to call upon if you're to walk away grasping victory in your blood-caked fist.
You'll develop genuine attachments to your regiments as they survive to fight another day alongside you. You'll also beam proudly as they gain experience and skill, bask in the glow of smug self-satisfaction when they emerge victorious from a battle with minimum casualties, and shed a tear as you pack them off to college with only your old black-and-white TV set for company and a pocket full of $20s to spend on piss-weak booze. Actually, ignore that last one. Maybe in the expansion pack, eh?
Watch Your Head
Preserving your troops doesn't only involve preventing the enemy from cleaving them up, as your men can also take damage from your own weapons. Pounding massed enemy ranks with roaring cannons may be a devastating tactic, but neglect to cancel their attack orders in time and they'll do just as much damage to your forces as they engage the enemy.
There's also an excellent morale system - which sees decimated regiments turn and run for their lives - that further swells the game's tactical core and several top-notch missions that allow you to work in unison with an Al ally. All of which means it doesn't take a level-99 mage with +100 Wisdom and an amulet of Perspicacity to work out that Mark Of Chaos is an RTS brimming with tactical substance and brutal, unforgiving realism.
Mark Of Quality
So as you can see, Mark Of Chaos isn't without its problems. So why should you buy it? Well, for starters, it faithfully and competently milks the Warhammer licence like an ambidextrous farmhand, providing an entertaining and twisting tale of conquest and redemption.
What's more, despite its shortfalls, it's actually a damn fine RTS and while not quite fit to frequent the hangouts of the upper echelons of the genre, it still more tlian warrants a long, hard stare, followed by a thoughtful exclamation of excitement and a rifle through the wallet for a cluster of crispy notes.
Sure, we've seen much of this sort of thing Iwfore - in some cases done better it if you're happy to ignore its smattering of shortcomings and patiently sit through loading times that can be measured in ice ages rather than in seconds, then you'll find tint Mark Of Chaos is more than worthy of championing. Or as our Glaswegian-twang.ng dwarven friends might say: "Och aye, it's grand, laddie," or some such cliched, racially stereotypical bollocks.
We Were Quick to award Mark Of Chaos a recommended award but it certainly wasn't without its faults. However, one accusation you couldn't lay at its door was a lack of respect for its tabletop origins - of all the games so far, Mark Of Chaos seems to tip most hats towards the universe's hobbyist core. From painting' your troops, to the game novelisation and colour-your-own-standard that comes with the Collector's edition, Mark Of Chaos takes the Warhammer universe very seriously. We spoke to Black Hole Entertainment's creative director Istvan Zsuffa and senior project manager Gabor Illes about the process that took them from having a scant acquaintance with the Warhammer universe to becoming fully immersed in the bloody heart of it all...
Hungary For Blood:
Illes: "Warhammer isn't that popular in Hungary, so only a few of us had played the Warhammer tabletop game before starting work on Mark Of Chaos. However, most of us knew about the Warhammer universe in another way. The Fighting Fantasy series of books, created by the founder of Games Workshop, were really popular in Hungary back in the 1980s. After that, we started to learn more about the Warhammer universe and our artists spent a lot of time with Warhammer art and played with the miniatures too."
Warlock Of Tabletop Mountain:
Illes: "The guys at Games Workshop told us they didn't want to make a computer version of the tabletop game, because they just wanted us to make a good computer game with their world. But we wanted to use as much of the origin of the Warhammer game as we could. Painting the miniatures and making the different armies is a lot of fun and what the tabletop game is all about. Reproducing that fun was our goal." Zsuffa: "Games Workshop really feel their universe is real, and that they're just dealing with one possible interpretation of that universe. They just said that we had to come up with another possible interpretation of that universe. So we didn't have to use the values they have in their manuals, we just had to make sure the characters and historical stuff was true to their world."
Licence To Kill Everything:
Illes: "Namco bought the licence from Games Workshop, so we werent involved in that part of getting the licence. But Games Workshop came to Hungary when Namco told them that Black Hole Entertainment were making the game. The producers came to make sure we had the experience and the knowledge of the Warhammer universe to make the game. As 1 said, we had some experience of the Warhammer world, but by the time Games Workshop came to visit us we knew almost everything about it.
Games Workshop HQ:
Zsuffa: "The company is very different to any other we've ever seen. As we said before, the world is completely real to the people at Games Workshop. They talk about the history like its real, they know every single aspect of it - it's a great place. We saw the museum (where every Warhammer figure is professionally painted in glass cases) and we met some great guys. We also visited Bugman's bar, the dwarven bar in the Nottingham offices. It was a really interesting experience - it sounds like I'm just being polite, but Im not. The only thing we had problems with was the huge amount of beer they could drink. Well, it wasnt a problem, but we were amazed that there are people in the world who can drink that much..."
Zsuffa: "It was very easy to make a game in this world, because Games Workshop are very open. We could create our own characters and stories, we could even change the world; the core world of the Warhammer universe - especially the old fantasy universe - is very flexible with its facts. We could even change the world maps - not to make serious changes, but in their world slight changes are OK. Warhammer maps are notoriously subjective to the person making the map. The only bottleneck was the time involved. We only had 18 months to make the game, which is really short for a game of this type." Illes: "When we say they were open, we mean they were open to discussion. We had to get approval for every single aspect still, and there was a complex approval process - each character had to be approved by Games Workshop."
Zsuffa: "We know there's an expansion pack planned, but we don't know yet if we'll be working on it Of course, we'd hope to be able to work on the pack. For example, four armies is enough for a normal PC game, but the Warhammer universe has many more. We'd definitely want to add two or three more armies, as a minimum." Illes: "We also wanted to make the game more bloody. We wanted to implement decapitations and put real gore on the battlefield. We wanted a lot of blood, with body parts falling away. However, because of the short development time, we didn't have a chance to do this. Because it's a mature game, we'd be able to do everything we wanted to do with more time."
Qo Dawn Of War:
Illes: "We wanted to make a totally different game to Relic. Dawn Of War was a base-building game, and all the old Warhammer fans we talked with told us that they wouldn't want to see another base-building game. Fantasy Warhammer is totally different, it isn't about that. It's about huge armies fighting on an open battlefield, so that's why we decided to make it this way. It wasnt an easy decision for us, because Armies Of Exigo was a base-building game and that's yvhere our experience is. We had to write a lot of new code and a lot of new Al, but I think it was all worth it."
Processor: PC compatible,
OS: Windows 9x, Windows 2000 Windows XP, Vista, Win 7, Win 8, Win 10.
Game Features:Single game mode