Here’s a scenario for you: you’re about to publish a well-designed, if somewhat glitched RTS set in one of the most successful fantasy universes of all time. You feel pleased with yourself. You’re happy. Maybe you even smile. Now, for some reason you decide not to bother marketing your game much. After all, who needs exposure? You release the game. It scores moderately well, sells a few copies, and then disappears. You’re no longer pleased with yourself. You’re unhappy. Maybe you cry.
Fifteen months later, the game’s first expansion pack arrives. To your surprise, it’s actually half-decent. You now have a choice. Make the expansion available only to the handful of people who bought the original (or the palm-full willing to buy the original), or bundle it together with the main game and release it as a standalone package for less than full price, market it properly and hope you sell more copies the second time around. What’s it gonna be? Well, if you’re Deep Silver and your expansion pack is Warhammer: Mark of Chaos - Battle March, you go for option one. Why? Beats us, but it’s probably something to do with squiggly lines on charts, profit yields and long sentences containing words like ‘fiscal’. Maybe.
That Battle March hasn’t been given more marketing oomph behind it is actually a travesty, because as RTS add-ons go, it’s one of the better titles. The package’s main feature is an all-new campaign featuring two new forces: the Greenskins (Orcs and Goblins) and the Dark Elves.
With the battle between the Empire and the Hordes of Chaos having taken a heavy toll on both sides, a powerful Orc Warboss called Gorbash gathers a mighty army of Orcs and Goblins in an attempt to seize power. These pea-coloured oafs - whose cockney accents are so meaty you could make a hearty sandwich out of them, “Yeeeaaaar, we gonna rip ‘em spikee ooomans ta sherheads!” - are considerably more robust (and in some cases, exponentially larger) than the comparatively puny Empire and Chaos units from the original game’s two campaigns, exuding fearsome power as they wade into battle, scattering foes in all directions with the ferocity of their charges. The majority of the Greenskin levels involve large-scale battles, many infused with a steeliness that’ll challenge you to the max, forcing you to approach each encounter with forethought and tactical planning.
Allied with the Greenskins are the Dark Elves. These creepy, whispering masters of magic with a penchant for smug self-satisfaction are the perfect counterpoint for the visceral Orc and Goblin slugfests, and their missions often require subterfuge and stealth rather than brute force. Both sides’ collection of Hero units are solid if hardly jaw-dislocatingly impressive, though intelligent use of these super slayers is even more paramount here than it was in Mark of Chaos.
Battle March’s levels are generally well designed if somewhat linear, packed with pockets of skirmishing enemies that you can choose to join or ignore. Some missions see you working with an AI force, which adds a second variable to the outcome of the level and makes for some interesting strategic situations. Attempting to bring opposing AI-controlled enemy factions into conflict with each other is also a hoot.
Sadly, many of the problems that marred the original game remain. The camera is still inept during siege missions, often leaving you staring at castle walls while your troops are massacred somewhere behind the slabs of stone you’re gazing at, and you can still grow a beard that a Dwarf would be proud of in the time it takes to load a level. Even if you’re a girl. What’s more, combat animations are still weak, the deployment phase at the inception of each level is about as useful as a light bulb on the sun, and a few missions feel a little too obviously tacked on, like a gratuitous, dark alley fight scene in a B-grade martial arts movie.
While Battle March is no Medieval II: Total War - Kingdoms, it’s still a competent expansion, which despite being similar to the main game, offers just about enough faction variety to satisfy. However, it’s just not good enough to warrant shelling out for both this and the original. And that is the real problem.
May 16, 2008