Warhammer: Battle March Review - The Next Level

Game Profile

Xbox 360
Release date:
September 2nd, 2008
Namco Bandai
Black Hole Games
1 - 4
Real-Time Strategy

Warhammer: Battle March

Command an army with skill and guts.

Review by Aaron Drewniak (Email)
September 29th 2008

The ground shakes from the thunderous footsteps of a thousand scarred soldiers. They stride out with their heads high and their eyes fierce as they regard each other from across the ruined field. Tensely, they grip their swords and notch their first arrows, waiting for the order to be given. The commanders are grim as they study their opposites, wondering what surprises hide behind the ranks of restless fiends, until the drums sound and the enemies roar as they march off to battle.

The original Warcraft borrowed extensively from the tabletop war game Warhammer, so I think it's only fair that a Real Time Strategy title based on same would take a bit from Warcraft 3. Specifically the heroes. Battle March is built around these badasses of the battlefield, giving them eight equipment slots to fill and three skill trees worth of abilities to pump points into. These can either boost up your hero alone, get him ready for duels, or boost the strength of whatever squad he's paired with. They'll be able to smash through enemy forces, hurl fireballs, and raise the dead, but they can't cut down five hundred enemies alone.

The controls are great, a true leap from every other RTS console games, but they are complex.

Battle March isn't your typical RTS of base building, resource harvesting, and mass produced cannon fodder marching off to die. Each battle begins in a safe staging area where you assemble whatever troops you have at hand, whether they be swordsmen, handgunners, cavalry, or artillery. Link your heroes with your chosen forces, set up your four control groups to manage your army properly, and start the mission. Battles can be everything from a slow march through enemy territory killing everything that moves, to tearing down an enemy's fortress, to Diablo-esque hero-only battles. Whatever the case, you need to guard your own army well, since you'll be carrying them off into the next battle, and have to pay for any harm they suffer with hard-earned gold. In towns, you'll be able to heal, upgrade your units, buy more units, and even pick up some gear for your heroes if you have the spare cash. The game keeps a unique save after each mission, so you can always go back if you didn't do so well.

Three extensive campaigns involving the six playable races means about thirty or so hours of game time, depending on your skill, interest in optional quests, and desire to hear more of the voiced storyline. The stories themselves are gritty, Lord of the Rings style affairs of betrayal and hopeless odds against an unstoppable enemy... and then you get to play that enemy. I would have actually enjoyed it more if it had been told almost entirely through voiced over text on the overworld screen. Instead, the game occasionally sticks in these oddly cropped and poorly rendered cut-scenes for the more dramatic moments, which are only undercut by the lack of lip-sync. The voice acting at least is for the most part well done, while the battle music is stirring, and the sound effects full of crunchy ambiance filled with shouts and explosions. The visuals are almost defeated by the very structure of the game. While the units are all well detailed and their animations, particularly getting knocked in the air from an explosion, are well done, most of the time you'll be too zoomed out to appreciate them.

The controls are great, a true leap from every other RTS console games, but they are complex. You might have to run through the in-game tutorial a second time and play a few early battles before you come to grips with them, but once you get over that hump, you'll be able to command multiple battalions stretched out all over the map with ease. The only nitpick I'd have is it's sometimes hard to select single heroes or small items on the field, especially when they're in motion, but it's really just a matter of zooming in real quick, and snapping back to take in the whole battle. There's an interactive in-game control listing in the options menu to make everything clear, though don't expect much help from the manual. It's pretty piss poor and even ignores essential information like the properties of the different units, mentioned only in loading screens. Though most of that you can figure out on your own.

There's also an extensive online mode that sadly almost no one is playing. Here you can customize a complete army, from choosing your forces, to upgrading them, to designing their banners, and even outfitting your foot soldiers with their own unique helmets, armor, and other assorted bling. Then you can set up a match with up to four opponents, free for all or team, in a variety of different modes, from straight up killing, to control point capturing, to large scale sieges. It's a good thing you can also play this against the AI in Skirmish mode, though sadly there's no way of mixing this with online, so you can't take on the computer aided by a friend's army. What would have been even better is some kind of scenario editor, allowing you to set up your own dream battles, but what's here will still hold your interest for a long time to come.

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