Genre: Real-Time Strategy
Publisher: Namco Bandai
Developer: Black Hole Entertainment
Release Date: September 2008
Set for release this fall, Warhammer: Battle March for the Xbox 360 combines the original PC version of Warhammer: Mark of Chaos and its upcoming expansion pack (also titled Battle March) into one package. With a heavy focus on combat and tactics, Warhammer eschews the traditional RTS elements of building troops, maintaining bases and farming materials. Instead, your ability to succeed is based heavily on battle formation and proper use of your army's assets.
There are two basic control setups within Warhammer. The default is a context-sensitive mode that focuses on key actions and allows new players to jump right into the action. Here, you only have to worry about moving your army and attacking your opponent. More advanced players can enable an optional control scheme that allows for tighter control and a bit more micromanagement. Either way, you never take control of individual units save for the hero characters. You're always selecting and moving like groups of troops.
Arranging your troops can be done at any time, both before the level begins and while you are in the midst of combat. This is a core element of play because enemy troops will always focus on your weakest point. Going into battle with your grunts up front and archers providing support from behind is a sound strategy, but if you then turn to face another opponent and end up absentmindedly leaving your archers exposed on the front lines, they're going to get slaughtered. Individual groups of troops can change formation as well as location, allowing for more complex tactical moves.
Unit variety is one of the game's strengths, with more than 100 different unit types available for use across six different armies and three different campaigns. The Empire, High Elves, the Hordes of Chaos and the Skaven from Mark of Chaos are all here, along with the new armies of the Dark Elves, Goblins and Orcs. Along with archers and grunts, expect to see cavalry, siege weapons, heroes and mercenaries. Hero units have the ability to cast spells, can be used to temporarily boost offensive and defensive skills of standard troops, and can duel one-on-one with enemy hero units.
Keeping your hero alive is important, but so is maintaining your existing troops. As you progress through the game, all surviving troops earn experience from every battle. More experienced troops gain a stat increase, which helps keep up morale as well as improve their ability to fight effectively.
Movement with the Xbox 360 controller was surprisingly intuitive for the most part, though quickly switching between unit types in the heat of battle could get a little overwhelming. Because of the vast amount of on-screen action, it was also easy to temporarily lose track of enemy forces as your troops surrounded them. This could be alleviated somewhat by zooming in, though more than once, we inadvertently ordered our troops to move on, only to realize that a handful of opposing fighters were still left alive and kicking.
Because of all the action, we can't imagine trying to play Warhammer: Battle March on a standard-definition TV screen. Sure, it looks great on an HDTV, but force it into a standard-def 480i composite or S-Video out, and the end result is likely going to be a blurry mess. This is one title that may require a HD display out of simple necessity.
We weren't able to fire up any of the multiplayer modes, but Warhammer: Battle March will support up to four-player combat via Xbox Live. Options will include team-based play as well as standard free-for-all modes.
Trying to cram a real time strategy game onto a console can often be an exercise in futility (Starcraft 64, anyone?), but from the looks of things, Warhammer: Battle March appears to have made the jump without too much being lost in translation. Given that it offers up both the original game and the brand-new expansion pack, Warhammer: Battle March also strikes a chord with the value-minded gamers out there.
Historically, Warhammer games have always been more popular in Europe than in the U.S., but both Namco and THQ (with its excellent Dawn of War series) have been doing their part to make sure stateside gamers feel the Orc love. We'll have the final word next month, when Warhammer: Battle March hits store shelves.
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