E3 06: Warhammer: Mark of Chaos Hands-on

We get our hands on this massive strategy game based on the classic tabletop fantasy series.

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LOS ANGELES--We're on hand at E3 with a hands-on look at Warhammer: Mark of Chaos, the upcoming real-time strategy game from Black Hole Games and Namco Bandai. The primary attraction at E3 is a single-player demonstration of the game's siege-based combat, which can take place at players' stronghold castles. In the single-player campaign, each of the four playable races (Empire, Chaos, Skaven, and Elves), will begin at opposite corners of a continental map, and each faction will have a stronghold of some kind that will act as a permanent base. Strongholds will be huge, persistent locations that players will be able to upgrade, repair, and improve over the course of the campaign, though they can also be besieged.

We got a chance to try a siege battle from the perspective of the forces of Chaos, fending off an attack by troops from the human Empire. For those unfamiliar with the Warhammer universe, the Empire consists of human forces who dabble in sorcery and technology, while the forces of Chaos are normal living beings corrupted by demonic influence (so that Chaos troops commonly have such interesting attributes as scaly skin, additional heads, tentacles, batlike wings, and in the case of the demon prince of Khorne hero unit, a height of about eight feet).

Though the single-player game will let you manage the war effort from the perspective of a huge continental map, the real-time battle system will let you make many strategic preparations in advance, including queuing up specific battalions in your army and choosing your units' designated champion, musician, and standard-bearer units, which provide special bonuses to your troops in battle, similar to battles in the tabletop game.

We began our battle with chaos sorcerer and demon prince hero units, as well as several companies of footmen, axe throwers, and a contingent of cavalry. We began our defense by ordering our axe throwers onto the high walls of the castle to rain death from above on the foolish humans. Also, we trained our cannons on the few human skirmishers that dared to come into range, while lining up our heroes and cavalry to charge out of the front gates. Mark of Chaos' technology is powered entirely by a game engine built by Black Hole Games, including the way it handles physics--and interestingly enough, the game even models physics for intuitive tactical gameplay, such as how cavalry must be standing in a straight line and must have at least some distance between their enemies to mount a proper charge (but when they do, they can smash through weak infantry soldiers with ease). Fortunately, we also had a "temple of Khorne" structure at the center of our castle keep that we could have used to recruit additional troops if we had needed them, since we had already sent out ground forces.

However, even though the humans used their own cannons to smash a hole through our castle wall, we were already upon them and slaughtered them using both the massive numbers of our infantry and charging cavalry, as well as the powerful area-effect blast abilities of our sorcerer and demon-prince heroes. We even challenged the humans' feeble warrior-priest hero to a duel by double-clicking him with our own demon-prince selected--the game's single-hero combat that isolates the two battling characters from outside interference. By continually pummeling the enemy hero with duel-specific abilities, we were able to cut him down and steal the treasure he was carrying (in this case, a mere healing potion). Apparently, Mark of Chaos' heroes will have three different "skill trees" that can be developed by spending skill points as heroes gain levels over time: combat (general battle skills), dueling (skills specifically for one-on-one hero battles), and command (skills designed for heroes to attach themselves to companies of other units and enhance their power and morale). Fortunately, you can have four different hero units for each massive army you command, and over the course of the game, you'll take command of more than one army, so you'll have ample opportunity to create a contingent of highly customized hero units.

The tremendous scale of Warhammer: Mark of Chaos alone is impressive enough, though the game's unique hero dynamics and large-scale sieges definitely help make an already-interesting game that much more intriguing. This epic strategy game is scheduled for release later this year for the PC.

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