Warhammer: Mark of Chaos Designer Diary #5 - Heroes and Champions

Producer Thomas Vu tells us how Warhammer: Mark of Chaos will blend role-playing into an epic real-time strategy game about armies clashing.

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The Warhammer tabletop game lets you collect hundreds of miniature figures, paint them, and then pit them against one another in gigantic battles. And when you get down to it, that's the idea behind Warhammer: Mark of Chaos, the upcoming real-time strategy game from Namco Bandai Games America and developer Black Hole Games. Thanks to the power of today's systems, those fantasy battlefields will come to virtual life, and you'll see your warriors fight it out before your eyes. There's more to Mark of Chaos than just strategy, though, as the game will feature a fair number of role-playing elements. Mark of Chaos is scheduled to ship later this year.

Heroes and Demons

By Thomas Vu
Producer, Namco Bandai Games America

Long before we had real-time strategy tournaments that could fill a stadium, the fictional battlefields of the ancient world already had their own. Names such as Achilles, Hercules, and Odysseus are as well known today as any celebrity. The moment these legends step onto the field of battle, the situation instantly improves, morale is restored, and the enemy is pushed back on its heels. Not lacking in gallantry, Warhammer fantasy is rife with heroes, champions, lords, and captains. The heroes of Warhammer encompass the full spectrum of personalities, from the virtuous knight to the most vile abomination. In Warhammer, the terms "hero" and "villain" are all a matter of perspective. There are no "good guys" if you will. There is only war, and the best one can hope for is an honorable death on the battlefield.

It'll be easy to tell who the heroes and champions are in this game.
It'll be easy to tell who the heroes and champions are in this game.

With the development of Warhammer: Mark of Chaos in full swing, we wanted to fully capture the element of heroism found in this dark and gritty world. The fiction offered so many champions to choose from that the designers had to tread carefully to pick the most unique and impactful heroes from each of the armies represented in the game. These characters needed to be both iconic and instantly recognizable by the legions of Warhammer fans. We also wanted a variety of hero archetypes that will fit the play styles of the different players. These include the heavy melee tanks such as the orc warboss, the daemon prince, skaven warlords, and the dwarf lord; the fragile magic users like the bright wizard, goblin shaman, Nurgle sorcerer, and grey seers; and finally, the agile hybrid and rogue classes represented by the skaven assassin, high elf prince, elector count, and vampire lords.

Each of these heroes comes with a detailed history that ultimately will play a significant role in the campaign story. For example, in the Empire army, one of the heroes we decided to include early on was the warrior priest of Sigmar. We choose him because of the nature of his role in the Empire army. Religion plays a significant role in the lives of Empire soldiers, and what better than to add a hero that is both holy man and warrior to lead them. His weapon of choice is also the iconic warhammer. A brief description of the warrior priest reads, "Sigmar is a warrior god, and his clergy are warrior priests. Sigmar, in his divine all-seeing wisdom, knows that there are many unseen and supernatural evils and horrors, which beset mankind, and so channels his own divine power through his chosen priests. The soldiers of the Empire, trusting in their faith, can withstand and turn back the tide of enemies that assail them, needing only to hear the priests reciting the Deus Sigmar to inspire them to heroism. But it befalls the priests to contend with the foe on the spiritual and magical planes and this they do with prayers and invocations, almost equal in potency to the spells of wizards, and with the strength of their unflinching minds."

Now would be a good time to call for reinforcements.
Now would be a good time to call for reinforcements.

The designers of Mark of Chaos want players to feel especially attached to their heroes during the single-player campaign and ultimately in multiplayer matchups. To achieve this, there was a strong emphasis put on the different types of hero progression that is unique to Mark of Chaos. One primary distinction is that all heroes will be able to gain experience and level up throughout the campaign story (up to 40 levels). With each advancement comes higher attributes like hit points and armor, thus adding an unprecedented role-playing progression to the real-time strategy elements. Furthermore, each level that the hero gains will award him points that can be distributed to skill trees, each of which contains skills unique to each hero in the game. There are three skill disciplines that are shared by all heroes, and each discipline was designed with a different type of player in mind. The combat skill tree is for the player who likes to use his hero as a solo class. This player likes the flexibility of running his hero in and out of battle quickly while striking with hit-and-run techniques. The duel skill tree is for the player who loves to get into fights with enemy champions.

Fight!

Duels in Mark of Chaos spectacularly pit one hero against another. When opposing heroes are in proximity to one another, the chaos energy abounds, making the heroes glow and stand out from the rest of the crowd, and it becomes very easy to notice a situation from across the battlefield in which two heroes are in close contact. When this occurs, you will be able to initiate a duel with the opposing champion. At this point, a dueling circle of fire appears around the two heroes, the heroes square off against one another, and any other units in the area will clear out of the dueling space to make room for the juggernauts to do battle.

Outfit your heroes from a large variety of weapons, armor, and equipment.
Outfit your heroes from a large variety of weapons, armor, and equipment.

If a hero should flee the duel, the army will take a morale hit. It is sometimes better for a hero to die in a glorious duel than to flee in shame. Players who put points in their duel skill tree will improve the individual skills (up to five points) that are available during duels. These skills are unique to the dueling experience and are not available when the hero isn't dueling. The third skill discipline is that of command skills. This tree is for the player who wants to best use his troops for combat. Heroes in Mark of Chaos will be able to attach themselves to a regiment of troops. This allows the hero to take charge of the regiment, boosting both the regiment's morale and its military prowess. A player with points in this tree will give the attached regiment many added bonuses that will allow the regiment to fight far beyond its normal capabilities.

The campaign story that these heroes play such a huge role in was jointly written with Games Workshop, the creator and lore-holder of Warhammer. The development team felt that to keep true to the fiction, heroes in Mark of Chaos should change over time in the story campaign mode and as they level. Heroes will typically come in two to three forms, with chaos heroes being the most prominent in their changed forms. Chaos heroes, such as the aspiring champion, will start like a chaos warrior on steroids. As the aspiring champion levels and progresses throughout the story, he is then blessed by the chaos gods for his deeds, and this blessing will often come in the form of mutations changing their appearance over time, making them more prominent on the battlefield as they grow in power. The aspiring champion of chaos will also be able to choose which gods to follow during the campaign, either Nurgle or Khorne, this too will impact his physical changes. Eventually, the aspiring champion mutates into an exalted champion and ultimately into a daemon prince, a form that does not resemble his early beginnings at all but is rather completely daemon in nature with almost no human attributes.

Both in the campaign mode and in multiplayer, players will have the option of equipping their heroes with hundreds of types of magical equipment, artifacts, and one-use items. Each hero will have eight slots that can be equipped. These include head, chest, main hand, off hand, foot, right ring finger, left ring finger, and neck. Most of the equipment and magical items seen in the game are taken right from the Warhammer tabletop game, thus adding to the hero customization and furthering the lore. For example, the sword of change will turn any enemy hero it kills into a chaos spawn. The amulet of challenge will prevent an enemy hero from fleeing a duel. And the storm ring will freeze flying units for 10 seconds when used. Additionally, one-use items such as potions, scrolls, and relics will add some flavor to the combat. For example, power familiar will divert the magic power of any enemy spellcaster within close proximity to a hero. The plague banner will project a plague aura around it, and the cripple peak trollheart will let the hero regenerate hit points.

The role-playing elements in the game also let you customize your hero's abilities.
The role-playing elements in the game also let you customize your hero's abilities.

Warhammer has proven to be an amazing backdrop to base a real-time strategy game against. The development team is extremely excited to bring all of this to life with all the flavor that comes with such a rich history. We hope that players reading this will be really excited to see all the work that we've put into the hero feature in Mark of Chaos--from hero leveling, to the three different skill trees to choose from, to the many hero types, hero dueling, hero attachment, and hero changing forms, along with all the magical equipment and items that heroes can attain. We've had only a little time to scratch the surface with this dev diary, and we hope that fans will join the Mark of Chaos community to find out more. In the next diary, we will explore regular units and customization and how they fit alongside the heroes to make Warhammer: Mark of Chaos an unprecedented real-time strategy experience.

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