Warhammer: Battle March Review

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Warhammer: Battle March Publisher: Namco Bandai Games
Developer: Black Hole Entertainment

Platforms: Xbox 360 and PC
Reviewed on Xbox 360

Whether by the Hordes of Chaos or the Empire, villages and cities in the world of Games Workshop's Warhammer are always being ravaged by one force or another. In this real-time strategy adaptation of the turn-based tabletop strategy game, you can maraud as an Imperial army or orcish horde in the seemingly eternal war that plagues the Old World.

Kyle Ackerman

Warhammer: Battle March on the Xbox 360 makes me feel old. I love real-time strategy games, I love the Warhammer universe and I love my Xbox 360, but trying to play Warhammer: Battle March on the Xbox 360 makes me feel stupid and ambisinestrous. Just trying to complete the game's tutorials, I found myself thinking that this must be what my brother-in-law felt like when I tried to convince him that Bioshock would be easy after his experience on the Atari 2600. All the commands I use on the PC are here, but involve combinations of button presses like simultaneously holding down the right trigger, the left side of the D-Pad and the "B" button. It works, but it's not easy. I find it impossible to remember in the heat of battle. I suppose that Warhammer: Battle March is penance for that time I encountered a piteous fellow begging for items in the early days of Diablo II and told him to hit Alt-F4 to open up the trade window. He did, and now I'm paying for it by trying to learn the controls in Warhammer: Battle March for the Xbox 360.

In Need of a Better Interface

Warhammer: Battle MarchFortunately, the game's tactical depth is shallow enough that it's possible to muddle through with a few of the basic commands the same way that one can often perform adequately (but not well) by mashing buttons in a fighting game. Most battles have a nasty surprise that forced a second attempt at the mission, but that second try was usually a breeze. The biggest problem with Warhammer: Battle March is that I feel out-of-control when playing. Controls that require an intensive course of study to learn alienate players. Every control scheme has a learning curve, but when that curve is too steep, players give up.

The controls made it really challenging to do more than simply send my forces at the enemy, and occasionally hurl a fireball at enemy troops. What makes Warhammer: Battle March so frustrating is that it creates the impression that further depth is just out of reach, with impenetrable controls standing guard in front of the threshold of fun.

An Incomplete Real-Time Transformation

The other thing that made Warhammer: Battle March fall far short of its potential was its execution as a real-time strategy game. Yes, the game is largely an adaptation of the previously released PC game, but the Warhammer tabletop game is so much fun because it is an incredibly detailed turn-based strategy game. As a real-time strategy game, Warhammer: Battle March loses much of the charm of the hobby game on which the RTS is based. If this were an incredible RTS, that might make up for it, but the real-time strategy component is simplistic and lacking in depth.

Warhammer: Battle MarchThere's no resource management within individual matches, and the resource management in the campaign basically comes down to making sure enough of your experienced units survive so that you don't run out of funds. Much of the exciting strategy in the tabletop game involves positioning individual figures in a unit to flank and outmaneuver opposing units. The controls in Warhammer: Battle March are problematic enough that it's difficult to control formations and positions in a timely fashion. I found controlling my units even more difficult during siege warfare, requiring multiple restarts before I could make everything work out. It often felt like I was controlling three or four large creatures in battle with individual soldiers as parts, rather than armies of individual soldiers.

As far as elements of Warhammer: Battle March go, it does a decent job of implementing heroes. Heroes can be joined with units or wander on their own, collecting items to make them more powerful, casting spells, buffing troops or dueling enemy heroes. But, as with everything else, doing much with those heroes requires mastering a complex series of button combinations that ultimately feels like more work than it's worth.

A Battle of Last Resort

The single-player campaigns are extensive, offering campaigns for the Empire, Orcs and Hordes of Chaos. Like the individual missions, the campaigns are linear, allowing players to pursue the occasional optional side-mission, but running through a series of battles that are as much puzzles as tactical exercises.

If only the game could be as cool as the cinematic cut-scenes, it might be truly satisfying – but the graphics are mediocre at best. While the graphics do a good job of rendering units from the tabletop game, what seems charming as a collection of hand-painted miniatures comes off as primitive and repetitive in a computer game when populating a drab, war-torn landscape.

Warhammer: Battle March was at its best in the multiplayer skirmishes, because I could create my own custom army. It felt more like the tabletop game in that I was trying to put together the most useful, synergistic force with which to dispatch my foes. Unfortunately, the fun was largely in constructing the army, not in battling with it. When I could find a match against a human opponent (which was rare), the aforementioned control issues made battle feel more like a game of electric football than real-time strategy.

I find it hard to recommend Warhammer: Battle March, not just for real-time strategy fans, but particularly for fans of the tabletop strategy game. This may look like the game you love, but it's an entirely different beast, swapping mushy button-mashing for tabletop tactics.

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This page contains a single entry by Editor published on December 17, 2008 7:01 PM.

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