Warhammer: Battle March has received little press coverage in the run-up to launch. While today’s Warhammer videogames attract significant attention on both sides of the coin, this 2008 release was rarely seen in either videogames press or Game Workshop’s own publications. Instead, most of the attention was lavished upon the online offering, Warhammer: Age of Reckoning. This, typically, is not a good sign. However, from the very first time you press start – the moment that first cutscene begins – Warhammer: Battle March demonstrates its significance as a high-quality product.

Based on the 2006 PC game Warhammer: Mark of Chaos and its subsequent expansion, Warhammer: Battle March is an RTS game based in the phenomenally popular fantasy world of Warhammer. After this first cutscene, the quality of the title’s graphics do suffer somewhat, but does the gameplay follow suit?

Warhammer: Battle March screenshot

Classic Warhammer, Innovative RTS

The game functions with typical of the genre, but with a rather distinct difference. Being based on the table-top game, the resource management of the title happens between stages in the single-player campaign, or before the battle when fielding an army in skirmish matches. The default perspective is top-down, and while the player has an avatar on the battlefield for the character who’s shoes they fill in the campaign, they have a commanding control over the whole army rather than direct control over their commander as with BladeStorm: The Hundred Year’s War.

The game features a multitude of gameplay options, most of which would be expected with an RTS game. Campaign and skirmish gameplay modes, playable against AI opponents, online multiplayer, a tutorial and the option to create an army. The campaign gives the player the option to play one of three races – Chaos, Orcs and Goblins or Empire – through four chapters of varying length. Stages in the campaign feature objectives based largely on the multiplayer gameplay modes. These vary between simply smashing the opponent’s army to taking control of a tower.

A campaign map details your progress between stages, and gives you a variety of options for your army. The regiments and units a player has available remain throughout the campaign. However, as with the Fire Emblem series any damage sustained in battle continues on to the next. Should your allies fall, they remain dead. The options available include healing wounded allies, upgrading armour and weaponry, purchasing new troops and items for Heroes.

Warhammer: Battle March screenshot

Warhammer Heroes are Savages

The use of Heroes is not new for the RTS genre, but is especially prevalent in Warhammer: Battle March. Each army has a unique selection available, each with three distinct skill trees. Combat, Duel and Command are the three areas under which you may gain special abilities for characters when levelling up. Some of which are automatic, while others can be used at will with a cooldown for regeneration. Varying abilities are available depending on race, level and the type of character. You’ll be throwing fireballs or entering a frenzy with the attached regiment, and charging the enemy with increased vigour.

The game’s controls have been a sticking-point for many. The game refuses to follow the console inputs system established with Lord Of The Rings: Battle For MiddleEarth II. Instead of utilising pop-up menus on the console controller triggers, Warhammer: Battle March aligns every action around a single button. The A button selects a unit, and each subsequent press will enable a more complex action. Press again and the unit will move to or attack that location. Holding the L trigger while pressing the A button will order to the units to move to a location, but attack any enemies within range on their journey. Selecting another regiment or unit will allow you to divide your army into groups and assign a quick-select option (later accessible through the R trigger). Finally, pressing right on the D-Pad will allow for changes in formation, or a Hero to join the regiment.

Warhammer: Battle March screenshot

Warhammer: Battle March Puts the Warhammer Above the RTS

Although the single-player is entertaining, it’s clear the game has been built to act more as a simulation of the table-top game than a competitor in the RTS genre. For which, it’s all the better. The multiplayer options are fantastic, featuring no distinguishable lag and the true feeling that this is Warhammer. The game itself even goes as far as to often refer to units as “models” and includes a welcome – yet not overbearing – amount of information on all of the available races. While fans of the table-top may be disappointed their chosen army isn’t available, the player is not limited for choice.

Eschewing many RTS conventions in favour of coherence within the world Warhammer, special abilities often cross races. However many items remain unique. Resource management is a calculated balancing act of avoiding holes in your lines and recognising your chosen army’s weaknesses. You’re not making mid-battle decisions with the funds you have collected. The deployment phase will be familiar to players of the table-top game, but may be quite jarring for newcomers.

Certain concessions have had to be made to the traditional rules of the Warhammer game to maintain balance. For example, such as the skirmish attribute. Troops with this attribute no longer get a dedicated deployment process, but instead move unhindered across all terrain types and suffer no weakness when attacked from the rear. It’s a welcome alteration, but one which may take some time to adapt to.

Warhammer: Battle March screenshot

Painterly Models March for Battle

Graphically the game stutters a little. While that first cutscene is simply astounding, never again is such polish repeated on the disc. The in-game cutscenes look tired, and the colour palette is rather dull. The character models however, are fantastic. Clearly based on miniatures painted in-house at the Games Workshop, many use the same highlighting and shading techniques as their table-top counter-parts, and are often animated beautifully. Given the modern demand that RTS titles allow a player to zoom-in on a single unit, it’s a real pleasure in Warhammer: Battle March to see a horde of rat-man charging across the battlefield at pace, only to be blown apart by a Hellcannon inches from your units.

The game also allows players to customise models to a limited extent. Changing colour schemes and occasionally some smaller details can be done when building an army (all of which, of course, players can save), and, more openly, design their own banner, which every unit in their army will fly on the battlefield. The system certainly isn’t as welcoming as in Warhammer: Age of Sigmar – Realms of Ruin, but is fairly intuitive nonetheless.

Warhammer: Battle March was overshadowed by Warhammer: Age of Reckoning, of that there is no doubt. However, Black Hole Entertainment managed to squeeze the essence of the table-top game onto a disc, and its release on console only allows a wider audience to appreciate it. It was never set to dominate the charts, but with Warhammer fans and die-hard real-time strategists, it’s a game worth revisiting even today.

Categories: Games