Warhammer: Mark of Chaos Exclusive Q&A - Details, Factions, Gameplay, Setting

Senior producer Chris Wren gives us the first details on this jaw-dropping real-time strategy game set in the popular Warhammer universe.

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As the real-time strategy genre matures, developers are trying to figure out ways to evolve past the genre's formulaic gameplay of gathering resources, building a base, and enlisting a huge army to crush the other guy. Enter Warhammer: Mark of Chaos, a brand-new real-time strategy game from Namco that looks to advance the gameplay and graphics of real-time strategy to a whole new level. Based on the iconic Warhammer miniatures game, Mark of Chaos will let you take control of various fantasy-themed factions as they vie for supremacy. Due out next year, Mark of Chaos is being developed by Black Hole Games, the studio responsible for last year's beautiful real-time strategy game Armies of Exigo. Judging from the first screenshots of Mark of Chaos, it appears that Black Hole is upping the graphical ante even higher. Intrigued by what we've seen, we caught up with Namco senior producer Chris Wren to get the first details.

Get ready for some amazing-looking Warhammer battles.
Get ready for some amazing-looking Warhammer battles.

GameSpot: Can you give us an overview of Mark of Chaos? So far, we've only seen a brief tech demonstration of the game and its playable sides. Will the game focus on resource-gathering and battles with good-sized armies, like Armies of Exigo? Is it a smaller-scale, micromanagement-heavy game, or a larger-scale, "epic" strategy game with thousands of units onscreen?

Chris Wren: Unlike a traditional RTS, Mark of Chaos puts the focus squarely on the battlefield. We are not encouraging players to "skip" battles or "win" the resource game. To succeed in Mark of Chaos, you must learn to command your army and defeat your enemies. Gameplay centers on taking territory, developing your army, strengthening the territories you have, and, if needed, defending them. In short, Mark of Chaos is all about war and giving you more control over the actual battling and not just the decisions that lead up to it.

There are no peons to mine gold or harvest crops in this game. Imagine if people were trying to do this sort of thing on a modern battlefield. It is a war zone, and there is no room for day-to-day errands and resource allocation. You will, however, have a capital that is the hub for all of your campaigning. Your capital can be expanded and upgraded with various technologies and defensive structures. Most of your capital management will be addressed outside of battle in our tactical mode. You won't build a blacksmith shop while your capital is under siege. You'll instead need to defend the walls with your army. That is not to say that there won't be anything to build or upgrade. You will be able to put up various structures on the battlefield to support the immediate effort, such as reinforcement camps and defensive structures, like towers. Existing structures can be garrisoned, modified, and repaired in real time as well. For example, a bridge may need to be repaired before your army can advance, or a small farm may provide a nice defensive bonus if occupied. Some of the regions of the game will have even larger structures, like keeps, which can be taken and reinforced. To support this, we have an entire siege game mechanic in the works, complete with catapults, ladders, and battering rams.

The scale of the army you take to battle will vary over time depending on the scenario at hand. In some cases, you may take a small force into a forest to recover an ancient artifact, or, if the battle calls for it, you might bring an army of a thousand or more. The campaign provides a lot of avenues to explore all of these different scales, and we think that for multiplayer, different players will all have their own preference for how they like to fight. You can expect the smaller-scaled combat to be much more about micromanaging each unit and giving them specific instructions, whereas the epic battles will involve giving more army-level commands. We are providing both a "general's" and a "sergeant's" toolbox to allow the player to wage war effectively at all scales.

GS: How many playable factions are there (and how many unplayable)? Can you list them and give us a brief overview of the different sides, as well as their motivations for appearing in the game? For instance, are the orks looking to accomplish a specific goal, or just to pillage everything?

CW: Mark of Chaos will include four of the 17 armies found in the Warhammer universe. These include the empire, high elves, skaven, and chaos, along with several units from other Warhammer armies, introduced as "mercenaries" that you can add to your ranks.

The empire is the most human faction in the game. The armies of men in the Old World are the frontline defenders against the chaos invaders from the north. They have a rudimentary form of magic taught to them by the high elves after the first Great Chaos War, and a faith in their ancient god, Sigmar, whom they worship devoutly. The empire has found that its ingenuity and ability to adapt is its greatest weapon against a world filled with monstrous beasts and supernatural evils. Their steel armor and swords, combined with their black powder and advanced tactics, allow them to stand toe-to-toe with some of the nastiest things in the Warhammer world. Politically, the empire is led by (you guessed it) an emperor, and beneath him are a collection of loose states, each under the command of an elector count. In times of peace (which never seem to happen in Warhammer), these states are political rivals fighting over trade routes or land rights. But when threatened, the emperor unites the counts to defend the empire.

The combat is visceral and downright gorgeous.
The combat is visceral and downright gorgeous.

High elves are an ancient, magical race that left the Old World many centuries ago, retreating to the hidden island of Ulthuan. They returned to the Old World during the Great War, lending their magic and skill to the human ranks to push the chaos invasion back. After the war, many elves stayed in the Old World and taught the realm of men some of their magic. The elves see themselves as protectors of the world, and if the need arises they will go to war again alongside the ranks of humans to thwart chaos again. Elven magic derives from a pure form of chaos energy and is far more powerful than the magic used by men. An elven mage on the battlefield is a powerful ally, and it's truly an awesome spectacle when he is wielding his spells. In addition to magic, the high elves are surgical warriors, whose orderly ranks and precise attacks make them deadly even in small numbers.

Dogs of War

CW cont'd: The skaven are best described as the evil rat-men of the underworld. They live and travel underground in a vast network of tunnels that stretches across much of the Warhammer world. Although it may be difficult to imagine a rat being a worthy adversary, it's a different story when they are six feet tall, clad in armor, wielding diseased weapons, and attacking by the hundreds. The skaven are made up of numerous clans that fight each other for power. The most powerful skaven are part of the Thirteen Lords of Decay, which is a council formed by the most powerful warlords of skaven clans. It's generally known that the skaven numbers are so great that if they united to swarm the surface, they would be unmatched. However, their constant infighting and backstabbing make this unlikely to ever occur.

The ratlike skaven are easy to tell apart from the other races.
The ratlike skaven are easy to tell apart from the other races.

While the skaven do have champions, the majority of their ranks are made up of units of average abilities, and they succeed with a morale bolstered by their extreme numbers. Usually leading the rat armies are the gray seers, wizards that are living prophets of the twisted skaven deity--the Horned Rat. Skaven magic and weaponry is based on warpstone, a magical substance found underground. The skaven use its mutating effects to experiment on their own race, creating monstrous rat ogres and the like. They also use the stone to power large war machines, such as warp cannons.

In the Northern Wastes lies the Realm of Chaos. This is the home to the four chaos gods: Tzeentch, changer of the ways; Khorne, the blood god; Nurgle, lord of decay; and Slaanesh, the dark prince. In the Northern Wastes, chaos seeps into the world, causing the environment and inhabitants to become tainted and mutated by it. The inhabitants of Chaos worship the chaos gods, and thus the warriors that arise here are known as the hordes of chaos. Generally, the northern tribes of men fight amongst themselves for their specific gods, but every so often, a champion arises and unites the tribes, spreading chaos into the Old World, usually starting with the empire to the south. As the power of chaos spreads, the chaos army will continue to mutate and be "blessed" with new powers from the chaos gods. Hence, units which were basic foot soldiers at the start may take on more powers and dark forms as the game progresses.

Factions that appear in Mark of Chaos outside of the four primary races are known as "Dogs of War." These factions will play a large role in both the single-player campaign and online. Although the complete list is not final, some of the races you can expect to see include orks, goblins, vampires, dwarfs, undead, and trolls. What is unique to this game is the ability to add these factions to the four main armies. Therefore, a high elf army accented with dwarf mercenaries will look and play very differently from a high elf army with human mercenaries. This feature will allow players to customize their armies and develop vastly different strategies when taking their armies online for head-to-head or cooperative play.

GS: As a follow-up, can you briefly summarize the strengths and weaknesses of the playable sides? Are the game and its factions being designed around different archetypes of strategy player, such as aggressive players who "rush," defensive players who "turtle," and so on? Would you say that the game will favor aggressive play or defensive play? Can you give us some examples?

CW: Factions in Warhammer have their own sets of strengths and weaknesses, but they are always balanced so that any faction has the potential of beating any other faction. RTS players will instantly recognize the different archetypes that are depicted within each of the factions.

The skaven are a race of rat-men; they find strength in great numbers but are disorganized and extremely skittish. They attack in droves, oftentimes out of formation and generally in such numbers that would easily overwhelm any player. Their great downfall is that they are exceptionally prone to fear on the battlefield. Keeping the skaven morale up is crucial to their success--a regiment that succumbs to fear might turn tail and run. The "science" of the skaven has yielded powerful biological weapons, as well as warpstone-powered weaponry that give them some good heavy-hitting power to complement their great numbers.

The high elves are fewer in number but are deadly organized. Their formations and marching are structured in centuries of practice. The high elves also have the luxury of crafting some of the most elegant and deadly magical weapons, with the focus on range attacks and swift delivery. Their most lethal weapon is their use of magic. High elf magic is extremely powerful and terrifying to all who bear witness to its destructive powers.

The chaos hordes have the strongest armor in the game, a gift from their gods. A single chaos warrior is a fearsome opponent on the battlefield and is capable of routing an entire squadron of men or elves. In addition to this, the chaos army employs some of the most horrific beasts and demons in the land. The chaos hordes are generally immune to fear and morale, so there is no use trying to scare them off. Chaos magic and the blessings of their gods play a huge role in the way chaos armies are taken into battle.

The empire is the most balanced of the four races. They lack the organization of the high elves, but definitely are more organized than the skaven. Their weapons are not of the same class as the high elves and their armor strength cannot compete with chaos armor, but the empire makes up for this with strength in size and versatility. They outnumber the high elves and can outmaneuver most enemies. They have their own gods to answer their prayers, similar to the chaos army, and they have the engineering prowess to create giant war machines to match the skaven ingenuity. Finally, their mastery of black powder yields mortars and rifles, making the empire equally devastating from afar.

Elves are always formal and stately, but they're also tough.
Elves are always formal and stately, but they're also tough.

GS: How closely is the game being tied to the Warhammer Fantasy Role-Play license? Will the game's plot be derived from any specific story from that universe?

CW: The heroes and champions in the game will have a lot of RPG-like elements; they will level up and have statistics and abilities that develop over time. At its core this is an RTS game, though, so while it will have some nice complexity surrounding the more prominent figures, it's still about battling with big armies. The story is unique, but founded completely within the existing timeline and events of the Warhammer universe. Champions in Warhammer will have not only the special abilities in commanding your army, but will also take an active role in challenging the opposing army's champions in a more mano-a-mano, winner-take-all battlefield situation.

The Empire Strikes Back

GS: What can you tell us about the single-player campaign, otherwise? Will there be multiple campaigns for the different playable races? Is the campaign being designed to focus on getting players trained up and ready for online multiplayer, or to tell an engrossing story (or both)?

Did we mention that the gameplay looks amazing?
Did we mention that the gameplay looks amazing?

CW: The campaign is a large-scale war, taking place between the empire and the hordes of chaos. You begin the game by choosing to play either as chaos or the empire. The scenario itself is a war told from two different perspectives. There are several events, which overlap and will be experienced in both campaigns, and likewise there are events that are unique to each campaign. As the war progresses, the high elves and skaven are introduced, and it is up to the player to decide how much time they want to spend with either of these races. They may take up the skaven as their main army.

The campaign also has some nice dynamic elements, giving the player a lot of choices about where to take his army and how to best advance the war. You might be given the opportunity to take a small force into a mountain enclave to retrieve a magical sword, and in so doing might ignore one of your outposts, which is then sacked by the enemy. Territory ownership is very flexible in the campaign, and if you do not properly garrison a region you once took, it might be taken back by the enemy later in the war.

As far as the story, we have employed a Black Library writer from Games Workshop to work with our development team to develop our dialogue and campaign story. We felt this was the only way to really capture the essence of Warhammer and take it to a new place properly. We don't want to give away too much of the story this early, but we can say that we are telling a new story in Warhammer, it is based within the historical Warhammer timeline, and that it involves a key figures from the known universe.

The campaign does train the player over time by unlocking new units and technology, discovering new lands, and encountering new challenges. We also have a lot of early tutorials, which will get the player into the basics. One of the main goals of the campaign is to provide a solid lesson in how to best use each of the armies. The campaign story is also about immersing the player in the Warhammer universe. We want Warhammer fans to feel at home, and gamers new to Warhammer to see how great it all is. The lessons you learn in single-player will definitely translate to multiplayer, and we're supporting the community online in a big way.

GS: You've indicated that there isn't going to be traditional resource-gathering in Mark of Chaos. Can you tell us about the game's resource-management system and how it will work?

CW: Resource allocation is a new concept to Warhammer. The tabletop game really focused its rules around combat, and anything related to resources was more for historical reference than actually part of the game. We recognize that this can be a really fun part of RTS gaming and we don't plan on removing it. What we've done is made it less a part of the battling and more something you do when you are not battling. For example, you will not send a serf off to chop a tree and take it to a mill, but you might capture a region with some resources, and use those resources to upgrade your capital or build some battlefield structures. In other words, you are not founding cities and building libraries along the warpath, but you might erect some defenses there. The capital is where the more traditional base-building and resource allocation is managed, and we've just made it more of a real-time tactical mechanic rather than a battlefield mechanic.

GS: How will base-building and exploration be handled in the game? Will players, depending on which faction they play as, operate from a central base, or will they be looking to push outward and create forward bases? Any plans to introduce expanded territories or additional landmass, for example, with multilevel terrain like in Armies of Exigo?

CW: The campaign is played on two maps, the tactical map and the battle map. The tactical map will handle the bulk of the high-level strategies involved with the game. This includes moving armies from one region to the next, base-building, resource management, and research. You can expand your territory by taking over additional regions, moving your army into a region, and telling your troops to attack the enemy. By the same account, a region that has been won can be lost if not properly defended.

The battle map is where you do your fighting and local resource management. You may just show up to fight or you might stick around to fix up the place, put in a few defensive structures, burn a bridge, and leave a garrison behind. The capital is your main base, and the campaign trail being where you create forward bases is a great way to think of it. The enemy is always moving, so if you stick around on the battle map long enough, the enemy will likely show up, since there are events occurring throughout the campaign while you are in battle. It's probably best to do what you need to do and get back to the war at large. Putting all of your focus into one region means that you are probably ignoring another problem somewhere else.

The skaven army introduced a great underground system to our game. We can't say if this will exist on the same battle map as the over-ground battling, but we definitely have some underground missions planned.

GS: We realize it may be early to ask about this, but what can you tell us about the game's multiplayer? Any plans for specific game modes, beyond head-to-head competition, you'd like to share with us?

CW: Players can expect the multiplayer mode to have a ladder system and the standard game types, such as head-to-head, team play, and free-for-all, along with several custom game types. We are also planning new and innovative multiplayer game modes that cannot be announced yet because they are still too early in the design. What we can say is that we want your single-player campaign army and your accomplishments to persist and be something that you continue to build on in multiplayer.

Customization of your armies is one multiplayer feature we can talk about. This will be available in the single-player campaign as well, but it really shines in multiplayer. Players can really make unique-looking armies with the tools we are providing. From painting individual units, to outfitting the troops with unique weapons and armor, to designing the battle standard for a regiment, we expect to see a lot of creativity and variety in the look of online players.

Mark of Chaos is due out next year. We can't wait.
Mark of Chaos is due out next year. We can't wait.

GS: Finally, is there anything else you'd like to add about the game?

CW: The Black Hole group has been amazing in every respect while making this game. They took to it like fish to water when we proposed the idea, coming up with gorgeous concept art, great design ideas, and a really powerful engine to pull it all together. We still have quite a bit of time to refine the concepts we're working on, and a lot of both single-player and multiplayer balancing to do. But we've got the team to do it and the vision to make this a game we all want to play.

GS: Thanks, Chris.

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