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Warhammer Battle March


Featuring controls more frustrating than the Ninja Gaiden camera system!
The Premise

The real time strategy (RTS) game is staple of the computer gaming world. Blizzard was made famous with two franchises that defined the genre for years, Warcraft and Starcraft. It’s a safe bet you could throw a stone at a shelf of PC games now and have a good chance of hitting a RTS title. However, like most popular genres, you get your bad along with your good. In the console gaming world, the RTS game rarely translates well, largely due to taking a control scheme that utilizes a mouse and full keyboard and trying to condense it to a controller that has around eight buttons. “Warhammer: Battle March” had a fairly positive run on the PC a few years back, and in late 2008, one of these older titles was ported to the X-Box 360. The result is not pretty for more than one reason.

Gameplay

Unlike standards like Warcraft, “Warhammer: Battle March” isn’t nearly as complex in terms of game play. It’s 100% combat oriented. This means, no collecting resources, training builders, constructing buildings, or other micro-management tasks. The core game play is simple: build your army, win the battle, and spend your gold to give some minor upgrades to your units. This simplicity is understandable, if you are familiar with the Warhammer franchise, which is a well beloved, tabletop, turn-based strategy game. While I am no stranger to turn-based tabletop games, I have never really played Warhammer, specifically. I do know much of the fun consists of players constructing their armies from a menagerie of choices, so when I saw that this game has taken things into real-time and stripped away the heart of customization, I approached it with skepticism.

The battles in Warhammer put you in charge of managing troops (entire groups as opposed to making your own groups of individual characters, ala Warcraft or Starcraft) and heroes, core storyline characters who possess a wide range of magical enhancements, can lead a group and enhance that group’s effectiveness, and also engage in duel missions against the heroes of opposing foes. I enjoyed not having to micromanage individual soldiers as it allowed me to keep group classes separate. The groups at your disposal range from the lowly swordsman, to sharp shooting riflemen, all the way to elite cavalry units. These groups have their own advantages and disadvantages. For instance, if the enemy is sending a horde of their own melee minions towards you, a group or two sharpshooters can quickly drop those troops before they’re within a stone’s throw.

Assigning your hero to a well upgraded group can often mean the difference between victory and crushing defeat, as the hero can keep morale up (morale is a game play element that is one of the more unique elements of this game), cast a spell to raise defenses, or charge right in the battle and slaughter the outmatched enemy group. At various points in the game you will get the opportunity to engage in a one-on-one duel with an opposing hero. This ends up being little more than casting the right spells at the right time though. It’s a nice thought and most likely something pulled from the tabletop game, but it just doesn’t feel that engaging in real-time, as you mostly watch the combatants hack and slash at each other with the same repetitive animations.

The single player game is based on a campaign mode, which allows you take to control of one of three factions: Empire, Chaos, or Orcs and Goblins. The core game play for each is the same and each campaign will keep you going for several hours. Unfortunately, you’ll find very quickly those hours will become very dull as the game play doesn’t change at all. You select what groups will make up your army, assign heroes to groups if wanted, and then march forth into battle. You do encounter new groups of soldiers and a ‘siege’ mechanic, but the latter has very shallow implementation and you are given no explanation of how to effectively use it.

While dull game design doesn’t do much to hold the player’s interest through the repetitive campaigns, the biggest adversary the player will encounter is not the penultimate missions, but the game’s control scheme. As I mentioned above, the biggest hurdle for RTS games, especially those designed on the PC, is taking a full keyboard of possible commands and cramming them onto eight buttons. While the game does give you a rudimentary tutorial, the sheer number of commands are too intricate (i.e. hold right trigger, press left, press A, click hero, click group; all to assign a hero to a group) or not explained at all. The game manual itself is a joke. There is no reason a detailed command list could not be included, especially considering there are extensive game manuals out there, like the one for “Oblivion.” I found myself hating the game more around the middle of the second chapter of the Empire campaign as I would lose a battle due to a botched command entry. Add this to my growing boredom and the trek through the other campaigns was torture.

The one bright spot I did look forward to was online play. Here I was able to customize my army in a way I might with the tabletop game, although my options were still vastly limited. I spent a bit of time constructing an army and went to find an online game. I figured, that despite the boring single player campaign, at least a group of human foes would lead to some variety in tactics and strategy. Unfortunately, not once in the numerous times did I try to find a match, was I successful in encountering a single other online player. This lack of online community is the final deathblow in terms of the game having any selling point.

Lastly, the achievements available in the game range from simple tasks such as killing three foes with one spell to the arduous of beating all the campaigns on the hardest difficulty. A few of them, at this point, will be nearly impossible to complete as they involve playing and winning online matches.

Graphics and Sound

The first thing I was treated to upon firing up the campaign mode was a beautiful cinematic that featured some truly striking graphics. After this intro movie, I was thrust into the game engine itself and treated to graphics that would have been considered sub par on last generation's consoles. The in game cut scenes feature very rough looking character designs, which lack any fluid movement. My suspicion is the into movie may have been a 360 addition for the pure purpose of being used for marketing purposes. The game play graphics themselves are far less impressive. For most of the battles you’re looking at a zoomed out view of your troops and more or less paying attention to the indicator flags above their heads. You have the option to zoom in, but the character models are some generic and bland, that you’re better off with the “eye in the sky” view so you don’t get bushwhacked my a flanking enemy. The battlefields themselves are drab and generic. Nothing here draws me into this universe, and that’s a shame as the Warhammer franchise has a strong background.

Sound design is average, to put it kindly. You get your standard battle sounds, but these become as repetitive as the game play itself. The voice acting ranges from tolerable to laughable and again, does nothing but prevent me from staying engaged in the rough plotline that makes up the campaigns. There is a score, but I hardly noticed it.


Closing Thoughts

”Warhammer: Battle March” doesn’t come close to being an enjoyable game. The core game play while basic is too repetitive, and the wonky controls will test your patience quickly. Add to that graphics and sound that have no place being on a game for any of this generation’s consoles (well, maybe they’d fly on the Wii) and an online component with no community and you have no reason to spend any time with this game. Warhammer fans will obviously be intrigued, but I’d suggest they seek out the PC version if they must give this RTS adaptation of the game a try. I would have most likely had a bit more fun with this game with a keyboard and mouse at my disposal. That’s not to say RTS games have no place in the console market. “Lord of the Rings: Battle for Middle Earth” was effectively translated to the 360, and “Halo Wars” was an RTS designed specifically for the console itself. If you need to get your RTS fix on the 360 check one of these games out instead. Skip It.