Warhammer: Mark of Chaos
Of late, futuristic or fantasy, the Warhammer series has struck a dark and forboding tone. The world that the series is set in has always been torn by war between the alliance and horde races, but the fate of mankind and goodness is coming to a chaotic end. Warhammer: Mark of Chaos is similar to previous strategy instalments in the series but differs in the fact that you can take part in two campaigns; the first is to play as the Empire and defeat the hordes of Chaos that plague the land, the second vice-versa.
The preview code we received included many elements that will be present in the final game, giving us a very good overall hands-on look at the title. Of course there are a few problems that have surfaced throughout, but developer Black Hole still have plenty of time to smoothen things out. As said, the core basics are present but there are a few things missing. However, all will be included in the final version and so our hands-on preview is based on what we have had access to.
First and foremost, although these days opening cinematic sequences are impressive, the one for Mark of Chaos is fantastic and perfectly sets the tone of the game. An Empire patrol is ambushed by the hordes of Chaos and a ferocious skirmish ensues. The patrol is slaughtered. The captain is the only one to survive. This is thanks to the help of an Elf ranger who leaps in amidst the hordes of Chaos to save the captain from his death. The captain then rises to his feet and with an earth shuddering spell destroys the hordes.
The cinematic direction, camera work and art are of a very high quality and set a benchmark for the rest of the game. You now know battle rages and that only one side can win. Will it be the Empire or the hordes of Chaos? The two main leaders for each campaign are Stefan, a captain fighting for the Empire and Torgar, a chaos champion leading the hordes of Chaos. Heroes and leaders within Mark of Chaos are very important throughout the entire game. They are very powerful warriors and spell casters themselves but when they are attached to certain units they will do various things such as increase morale and abilities. A unique and excellent addition is being able to duel heroes against enemy heroes; when you select to do this, it will clear an area around them on the battlefield for them to fight to the death.
Controlling either of the leader's units is very simple and similar to all strategy games in the genre. Each unit consists of individual soldiers that can be selected and controlled on their own or highlighted en masse to move and attack. The maps in Mark of Chaos are expansive and in order to manoeuvre all of your units quickly and effectively, highlighting them as a whole is the easiest way to do so. Towards the end of either campaign you will be in control of a vast number of units and controlling them in this way is the most effective.
Moving on from basic unit movement and attack, you can also arrange each grouping into different formations for them to be more effective in defensive or offensive situations. You can spread units into out thin in a line to protect yourself from a volley attack or form a tight square to drive through enemy defences. The direction a unit is facing is also very important and will have a large effect on their survival; you will need to make sure that your flank is protected if your back is faced toward an enemy force, otherwise you will take heavy damage.
Keeping check on all of your units is also made very simple using the army interface or by looking at a unit's banner. Either will clearly show both the health and morale of a unit so you can easily assess your current situation against the enemy. Morale is a very important aspect of Mark of Chaos and its status will depend both on the current type and health of a unit and also its race; goblins or lower Skaven will only attack in large numbers and flee if they are alone or in small groups but powerful Undead or the hordes of Chaos will stand up against you. The same goes for the infantry and cavalry of the Empire. It will also be determined by the number in yours and the enemies units; if you go up against higher numbers then your unit will most likely break off in fear and be defeated.
No matter which campaign you choose to play, the enemy units you first come up against will be great in number but very easy to defeat. You will also begin with a small amount of units, only one or two for each leader, but it is more than enough to defeat the patrols of either army scattered throughout the opening levels. Easing players into the game in this way allows them to become familiar with the controls if they are not players of the genre or even for veterans to adjust and familiarise themselves with the new layout and features.
Moving from battle to battle has also been made easier. Mark of Chaos follows a very linear path with some forks for players to choose between that will set them off in different directions and provide them with a varied plot. Though it does not allow for much freedom, it is helpful in the fact that you do not have so many extraneous factors to worry yourself with. Instead you can concentrate on your units and each battle you engage in, in order to be victorious.
Placed in between battle 'events' will be towns. Here you can use the gold earned in battles to purchase new units and items as well as revive old units lost in previous battles. You can also take the opportunity to customise and arrange all of your units, merging some together when they increase in level or thinning some out to cover more ground. If there is not a town nearby then you can also camp. In doing so you will be able to buy lost units from previous battles but these come at a price so spend your gold wisely.
Most battle events will require you to drive off enemy units from your camp and then defend it when they return with higher numbers and reinforcements. You will have to keep an eye out on your flank though, as the enemy can easily surround you if you are paying too much attention to enemy units in front of you. As said, the beginning levels are easy but it is not a simple case of pointing and clicking to defeat the enemy. You will have to arrange your units wisely, paying attention to their stats and then, in battle, manoeuvre them effectively in order to succeed. However, not all battles will take place on the field, men against men. Mark of Chaos also includes a lot of siege battles against castle and fortress walls. In this situation you will be able to use various siege engines, which are a very important aspect of this type of battle. You will be able to use various tools such as towers and ladders to scale walls and cannons and catapults to destroy them. These battle events can become very hectic and require even more thought and strategy than the skirmishes that take place on the battlefield.
Graphically Mark of Chaos is on par with today's highest standards. Zooming in to watch units slaughter each other or cannon blasts smash through castle walls is impressive and highly immersive. The terrain and world itself meanwhile is very barren. Although this does fit in with the events of the game and state of the world, it does make the levels very tedious on the eye and creates a feeling of gloom that goes beyond setting a dark tone, it makes the player bored. However, all of the character models are of a fantastic quality and detail, creating varied units and unique soldiers. You will also be able to create your own units in the final version of the game including different armour, weapon and even colour scheme selections.
The final version of Warhammer: Mark of Chaos is going to be captivating, placing the player within a world that they will become lost in. It pushes the bar higher for strategy games, adding a strong element of plot as well as detailed customisation and new, experimental features. Hopefully, come release, the game will be perfected, and inspire a whole new generation of blood-letting. More on this soon, then.