Warhammer has proved to be a well-traveled franchise, from its origins as a tabletop war game to the numerous strategic and role-playing games released on every system from the PC to Nintendo DS. But up until this point, the gritty fantasy series had yet to appear on the latest generation of home consoles. That will change this fall when Namco Bandai releases Warhammer: Battle March for the Xbox 360. This tactical strategy game will include both the original Warhammer: Mark of Chaos, released in late 2006 for the PC, and the upcoming expansion from which it draws its name.
Warhammer: Mark of Chaos shifted the traditional real-time strategy focus from resource management to tactical formations and large-scale battle strategies. This style of play will continue with Battle March. There are no troop units to produce, bases to build, or construction materials on which to keep a watchful eye. Instead, like the Total War series, you act as the general of a large number of troops marching through the medieval countryside. The way these troops are organized plays a critical role in battle; ranged classes such as archers are best kept at the rear, whereas swordsmen will generally act as the first wave when enemy armies meet head-on.
The move from a mouse and keyboard to the standard 360 controller will result in a pair of control schemes that can be used in the game. You'll be able to choose from basic and advanced controls. Basic distills the gameplay to a few critical actions, mostly context-sensitive commands that deal with troop movement and attacks. In advanced mode, you're given more control over the battle. Some of the benefits of advanced mode (if you're up to the challenge of learning a few more buttons) include the ability to see other armies while commanding your own, greater control over individual portions of your army, faster selection of your troops, and other means of micromanaging your soldiers. We talked with the game's senior producer, Mike Kawahara, and he told us that he actually prefers to use basic mode despite his intimate knowledge of the game
The original Mark of Chaos featured three distinct armies. That number will be upped to five with Battle March. The new pair of armies will be the Orcs and Goblins (fighting as one side in what may or may not be perfect harmony), and the Dark Elves. The game's campaign will also be enhanced, with the number of scenarios increasing from two to three to accommodate these new armies.
From a visual perspective, Namco Bandai will be looking to spruce up the game as well. To offset the reduced resolution in moving from a PC monitor to a television, new troop animations will be added to the game. As you might expect, these are most noticeable when fully zoomed in on the soldiers. Among the new hand-to-hand combat animations is a beheading sequence befitting Warhammer's reputation as one of the darker and more brutal fantasy settings. In addition to the animations added to basic troops, there will be new animations for the champion battles, which are one-on-one duels between the top fighters from each army. We're told that this is where the bulk of the new animations will go.
Finally, Battle March will support four-player battles via Xbox Live. You can team up or fend for yourself in an every-army-for-itself skirmish battle. One of the primary complaints against Mark of Chaos when it was first released for the PC was the number of connection issues that plagued its online multiplayer, so hopefully these won't resurface with the move to a new online service.
In our conversation with Mike Kawahara, he made no bones about calling Battle March a real-time strategy game geared toward the more casual strategy player. If the idea of micromanaging resources scares you to no end, Battle March might just offer a welcome reprieve. You can expect it to arrive this fall.