There's nothing like a game that opens with a bang. It can get the adrenaline pumping, get your heart racing, and take your breath away all at once. Warhammer: Mark of Chaos' badass opening cinematic pulls off that feat with. I don't know much about the Warhammer universe, so I didn't quite know what to expect from this new strategy title, but that opening sucked me right into the universe. Unfortunately, it set my expectations a bit too high. The in-game cutscenes used to tell the story of this title pale in comparison to that opening, looking like they were made with last generation's tech and then dragged through some sort of mud filter. While the gameplay itself is good, it ultimately suffers from that same letdown.
Mark of Chaos is a strategy game set in the universe of the Warhammer miniatures, meaning you'll see plenty of the usual fantasy ilk: orcs, goblins, trolls, dwarves, elves and humans. Oh, and some rats thrown in there for good measure. It features two separate single player campaigns, one with you guiding the Empire against the minions of Chaos and the other assuming the role those very minions in their struggle for domination. Each campaign is comprised of four separate chapters, with several battles in each. The tale of each campaign is interesting, but you will have to watch those in-game cinematics to catch the just of it.
A good deal of the difficulty is that the game doesn't do a good job letting you know which of your units have a tactical advantage over your enemies.
The missions of each chapter are laid out in an area map, in which you move your army from territory to territory. You won't face battles in all your stops though. Some are crossroads, allowing you to tackle optional missions if you desire. The optional missions range from full out battles to duels between your hero and the enemy faction leader. The optional missions are nice when they come up, as they present some variety to the gameplay and some good rewards as well.
Battles begin with a deployment phase, which allows you to organize your units for the oncoming onslaught. The problem is that deployment doesn't really have that much of an effect on the gameplay. Certainly, there are advantages to having your archers behind your swordsmen and other straightforward simplicities, but most of the battles become a contest based on sheer number supremacy. A good deal of the difficulty is that the game doesn't do a good job letting you know which of your units have a tactical advantage over your enemies. Outside of knowing that guys with spears or swords can't hit flying creatures, the rest is pretty much guesswork. For the most part, you'll usually end up throwing your troops en masse in the direction of the enemy forces. Without resources to worry about managing, you can at least keep a close eye on the battle.
The major exception to the game's somewhat weak implementation of unit strategy is your hero. Leveling your heroes and utilizing their abilities can turn the tide of a battle. Your heroes gain experience as they battle, which enables them to level all the way 40. As they level, they gain access to new and powerful skills in three separate disciplines handpicked by you. As your hero reaches the higher levels, he can become an almost unstoppable force, killing all in his path. More than once the strength of one of my heroes turned a complete train wreck of a mission into a resounding success. Zooming the camera in and watching your heroes reek havoc is one the best parts of the game, and highlights the impressive visuals.
You'll also want to take a step back and enjoy watching two armies battle for supremacy of that ever important medieval landmark, a castle. The castle siege battles have a uniquely epic feel to them that nothing can tarnish. There's something really cool about marching your troops toward a castle, weathering the giant balls of the flame catapulted from the high tower walls, praying they don't decimate a division of your troops. Sieges are intense and often come down to the wire. You'll usually win these struggles by only a few units.
Thankfully, in between battles you'll have the opportunity to make camp use some of the gold you won on the battlefield to replenish the men in your units. If you hit a town on your travels, you'll have the opportunity to buy better equipment, recruit new divisions, purchase potions or even resurrect a fallen hero. The problem is that just as with troop supremacy, it's difficult to determine if weapon upgrades and the like are really worth the cash.
You have to be careful with your spending though, because you can get yourself stuck like I did. I needed some siege units and/or siege equipment (ladders) to storm an enemy castle, but found myself without the requisite units and only my option was to make camp. There was no town available, so I had no chance of obtaining any of the necessary equipment. Needless to say, I had to reload an old save.
The game offers some extras for fans of the miniature game, like the ability to paint your own army and take it online to battle friends and strangers alike. It allows you to customize not only the color palette of your army, but their overall look by swapping out various different body parts types. Jumping online will allow you to play out battles in several multiplayer modes including deathmatch, siege battles, and reinforcement battles. Despite a number of lengthy patches necessary for online play, there are still a decent amount of people duking it out online, so you won't always have to skirmish against computer AI. With support for up to six players, there's definite potential for intense online battles.
Despite numerous patches and some design flaws, Mark of Chaos is a solid strategy title, particularly for fans of the universe. It's just a shame that it doesn't live up to the breathtaking glory of that opening cinematic.