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6/17/2016

Xathrodox86 reviews: "Warhammer: Mark of Chaos"

It turned out that "Total War: Warhammer" became a huge success, recieving generally positive reviews worldwide and becoming one of the best WFB games ever made.

It was always funny to me, that a very popular tabletop franchise like Warhammer Fantasy, never got enough good video games, and so few of them in fact. There was of course "Shadow of the Horned Rat", a retro, ultra hard title, that was very good for its time, but also punishingly hard and definetly not for everyone. Then there was the sequel to that game, called "Dark Omen", which many people consider to be the best Warhammer Fantasy game ever made. While it was also incredibly hard and brutal, at least its mechanics were much better made, then those of its predecessor. After its premiere in 1998, fans of Old World had to wait nearly 8 years for the next game, set in the universe of WFB. In 2006 "Warhammer: Mark of Chaos" made its debut. Was it worth the wait?

This cover looks pretty metal

"Mark of Chaos" is a title developed by Black Hole Entertainment and published by Namco Bandai Games and Deep Silver. Advertised as a title faithful to its original source material, it turned out to be a completely different kind of game, than what its devs actually claimed it would be. First of all, there wasn't any coop in the campaign. Then there were claims of thousands of units on the battlefield, while in reality only a few hundred would be present during major engagements, and only rarely. The units available to players, have been taken straight from the pages of various, WFB Army Books, and the attention to their stats, abilities and general details is impressive, to say the least.

The battles themselves are... average, to say the least. While controls for the troops are decently made, problems with A.I. can make the game a real chore. From your troops not reacting to commands, to the enemy always charging straight forward (Flanking? What's that?), the opposing forces can really only make a challenge, when the game activates one of its infuriating ambush scenarios. Why are they so damn irritating? You see, the Fog of War in this game is quite a funny thing. While you don't see the enemies that often, until they're on top of you, brandishing their axes and swords, the enemy can see you from miles away and will act accordingly. With warmachines, which, I swear to God, have laser guided ordnance. Usually my biggest casualties resulted from a "lucky" hit from a Hellcannon, that was out of sight of my guys. Storming a castle, or battling a giant in the open field wasn't that hard. However the damn warmachines really made my gaming sessions a hell of a lot harder and nastier.


That's a shame, because the missions themselves are, in theory, very interesting. They're "warhammery" enough, with tidbits of lore here and there, presenting interesting scenarios, like capturing a bridge from the horde of Chaos Warriors or destroying an Orc shanty town. There are even optional missions, in which you can only deploy 2 or 3 heroes, who have to complete a sort of a quest, usually a very hard one. These missions were really my favorite, as they've reminded me greatly of an actual RPG game, set in the Old World. This was before Mordheim, mind you, and Mordheim itself can't really be considered a classic RPG, right? Anyway - while possessing a great deal more of a challenge, each of these assignments granted some nice, magical bonus to your heroes, not to mention a load of XP. Besides the one where you had to defeat an ancient Vampire, by destroying his tombs will always be remembered by me, as one of the coolest quests in any game that I've ever played.

"Hold up, I smell heresy"

There are also unique opportunities for your heroes to challenge some powerful, enemy warlord. This is probably one of the weakest parts of the game, as it is essentialy a QTE where you'll have to click the right set of your dude's skills to counter the other dude's skills, occassionaly healing him with a health potion or restoring his mana with a magical one. These missions are boring, dull and uninspiring, and are basically a whack-a-molle kinda quests. Still, they gives you XP and some cool stuff, so you're practically obliged to play them anyway.

I know what you're thinking, but they've actually managed to make a duel between an Orc Warboss and a Daemon Prince, dull as hell

While the heroes work great in these "solo" type missions, they can be quite a nuisance during normal engagements. You see, they can actually level up, learn new skills and abilities. The thing is, that all of these powers need to be manually triggered, and during any single battle, you often deploy two heroes, each with distinct skills and abilities. Then there are magical items, potions, scrolls and your troops' abilities, such as imperial Handgunners volley fire. Good luck managing all that stuff during an intense pitch, when a band of Chaos Knights are charging right upon you, supported by a merry band of Nurgle Plaguebearers. Heaps of fun, let me tell you.

I couldn't click fast enough. Now it's all over

The game, just like "SotHR" and "Dark Omen" dispersed with the classic RTS economy, instead allowing players to purchase units and upgrades between battles, in towns and camps. Of course preserving your units is mandatory, since they learn experience and gradually become better and better throughout the game. You can also upgrade the armour and weapons of almost every unit and buy magical standards for most of them. These can be a real lifesavers, boosting your troops morale, augmenting their combat prowess and such. Your heroes can get lots of cool, magical bling. Swords, armour, necklaces, boots - all with appropriate flavor text, which really helps in building the right kind of atmosphere. Clearly this game was made by people who knew their source material.

So much for mechanics, but what about the campaigns? In the core game you can either play as Empire or the Hordes of Chaos. I've only played the Order campaign and it was decently made. While the voice acting was horrendous (seriously, no one in the Old World cannot utter a phrase without screaming it at the top of their lungs?) and occasional mission could be quite silly (a single Warrior Priest defends an entire town against a Skaven ARMY and then drops a plot exposition the size of Lustria? No thanks), that unique kind of Warhammer atmosphere was strong throughout the whole game. Ok, maybe the reveal of the main bad guy was not so much of a shocker to me, since it was really, damn obvious, but other than that it was a decent story, with a nice ending to it.

That Warrior Priest was still one of the coolest characters in the game, tough

The premise of the campaign itself was a bit cliche. You play as Stefan von Kessel, a young Ostermark captain, under the command of Count Otto Gruber. Your father and grandfather were dirty heretics, and you carry the titular "Mark of Chaos", a brand of one, whose family has been tainted by the Dark Gods. During the course of the game, which takes place right after the Great War against Chaos, you will have to stop a huge invasion of Northmen and their Skaven allies, as well as find out the truth behind your family's dark past.

Generally the story is kinda cliche, like I've said before, but in a good way. It's  nothing special, but it dosen't suck and that's what is important. I didn't play either the Chaos campaign, nor the Dark Elves/Greenskins campaign from the game's expansion, called "Battle March", so no info on those. However if they're on the level of the Order's storyline, then I can safely say that they're worth checking out.

While we're at the campaign part, I just wanted to say that I really liked the portrayal of High Elves in "Mark of Chaos". Arrogant, proud and utterly infurating, the Asur are simply done right. The campaign of Order even lets the player take care of their forces, once in a while and their playstyle is marginally different to the Empire. Their forces are more elite, but also less numerous, while their magic is incredibly strong and can really change the course of battle. I liked the transisions between the Elves and Imperials, since it made a very nice change in pace and atmosphere, as well as making an otherwise decent campaign, really good during certain moments.

Aside from the three campaigns, players can also enjoy some skirmish and multiplayer. I've skipped the online games completely, since playing RTS games over internet is not really my thing, but I did enjoyed a few battles in skirmish mode, playing with the army editor and really liking the points system that they've employed in "Mark of Chaos". It really reminded me of the classic tabletop game, and it was good to shoot some Skaven peasants as a glorious Nuln Master Race. Good times.

Altough playing as the "bad guys" was also quite fun

When it comes to graphics and sound, "Mark of Chaos" delivers fully. Of course nowadays the graphical overlay can be considered dated a bit, but in my opinion it still holds. The models look good, the lightning is superb and really, the only thing that I didn't liked was when I've armed my men in different sets of armour, which did not changed on the models in game. So you're telling me that "Rage of Dark Gods", a mod for "TW: Medieval 2", shows when my Pikemen don a set of heavy armour, but commercialy made Warhammer Fantasy game can't? That's weak.

Sound and music wise, this game's awesome. It's a universal truth, that even bad or medicore Warhammer games, have always great music, and "Mark of Chaos" is no exception. Needless to say, I've used the soundtrack of this game in my WFRP sessions many, many times. The sounds of the Old World and brutal battles waged on its soil, are also great, conferring the right ammount of desperation, bloodlust and brutality, that Warhammer Fantasy is so known for.

Pretty brutal

Overall I've found the "Mark of Chaos" to be a good, decently made Warhammer Fantasy game. It's nothing special and in the end I don't think that in the end its replayability is especially high. With "TW: Warhammer" being already a huge success and "Rage of Dark Gods" still being one of the most ambitious Warhammer mods ever made, there's really no point in playing this title, unless you're a huge WFB nerd and want to check out every, single game set in the Old World. Yeah, it's decent and made true to its source material, but in the end I think it'd be better to check out the original video game adaptations of Warhammer Fantasy Battle, especially the always excellent "Dark Omen". Now that's a game that is truly immortal, and can be played with fun and joy, even after 18 years since its premiere.

Assuming, of course, that you're not some kind of graphics purist. In that case just stick with "TW: Warhammer". Shit's looking good, yo.

Pros:

-The portrayal of Old World, as well as the armies that battle throughout it.
-Sounds and music.
-Graphics are nice.
-Battles can be challenging. Solo missions are great and have that nice RPG feeling to them.
-Three narrative campaigns, with many missions and various plots.
-Skirmish mode is great.

Cons:

-Completely forgetable in the long run.
-A.I. cheats
-A.I. dosen't really use any advanced strategy, like flanking or feigning retreat.
-You troops sometimes have trouble with following given orders.
-Micromanagement can be horrible at times.
-Everyone shouts and it gets incredibly annoying, incredibly fast.
-Duels between heroes are dull and uninspiring.

Until next time, when we'll delve once more into a grim and dark future.

Xathrodox86