September must be Warhammer month as Warhammer Online is launched along side the Xbox 360 RTS Warhammer: Battle March. In this review we will take a look at Black Hole's attempt at bridging a PC styled RTS game to the Xbox 360 console. A number of games have come up against the big bad consoles, but only a few have succeeded in a flawless translation. We’ll check in with the hammer to see if it has enough power to win this war.
Namco Bandai takes a chance by publishing Black Hole Entertainments first console release, Warhammer: Battle March. It has been a busy year for real-time strategy games (RTS) trying to advance over from the PC into the console world, however few have succeeded. Command & Conquer couldn’t do it, Universe at War didn’t manage to pull enough resources to win their war, and sequentially Warhammer: Battle March heads down the same path of failure. They can’t all be Civilization babies after all.
The blame for underachieving can’t be laid on the Warhammer franchise. Warhammer is a rich fantasy universe that has been a long running successful commodity that has tiversed across multiple fascists of entertainment. Warhammer might not carry the mass popularity of a similar themed properties like Lord of the Rings or Warcraft, but what Warhammer has on its side is their own pack of die-hard followers that will bite into the hammer’s apple.
In Battle March the game you get to use the Warhammer characters and jump into large scale battles using RTS game mechanics. Battle March kicks off with a super impressive CGI opener that makes Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings look like a joke. This does nothing but inflate our expectations. If Battle March could have been half as cool as the opening movie then we would be looking at one impressive game. Shamefully, Battle March doesn’t match the intensity of the opening movie which is the start of its downward landslide.
The major problem with Battle March are the controls. Translating RTS games from the PC is a tough job. On the PC you have unlimited amounts of customization with the ability to use a full keyboard and mouse. On the consoles you have to optimize your keys to a limited controller pad with a few buttons. This is one of the biggest challenges we have seen with RTS and RPGs coming over to the consoles that have been primary based on the PC. It is a core to get this right, and in Battle March we have nothing but a number of complex button presses that becomes a chore to memorize and a pain to learn.
Nothing about Battle March is intuitive which really hurts the gameplay and reduces the fun you could have with the scenarios presented. A tutorial is an option off the main menu and I suggest you hit it up first if you want to make any progress. I tried going right into the action and even though I made it through the first few missions I had no clue what I was doing. After I searched out the tutorial I felt more comfortable in Battle March, but even with a few battles in my win column and the tutorial complete I never felt like I had a total grip on the game. The way they designed the interface still make me question myself as I fumbled through a few more missions.
In the main campaign you will follow a path that brings you in and out of the action. When you’re not fighting a skirmish you can upgrade you army and customize them from head to toe. The main forces are divided up between ranged and melee fighters along with special hero characters that have unique abilities. They abilities can not only be used in addition to helping your armies, you empower them with special abilities to get an advantage on the battlefield. Hero’s can also engage enemy heroes in uninterrupted one-on-one battles. These battles place the heroes in a ring of combat doing battle until one hero is victorious, or the opponent retreats in shame. Moral plays a large part in the game, so retreating should never be an option unless you are down to wire and staring death in the eye.
Warhammer: Battle March might have been a little easier to swallow if it was easier on the eyes. Unfortunately, the graphics don’t cut the mustard and look a little dated. Going from the marvellous intro movie to the low resolution character models and static images really drive the aesthetics down. The graphics are so unattractive it actually hinders the amount you want to play the game. Since the gameplay mechanics don’t do, graphics could keep you in the battle a little longer to learn to love it, but that’s not the case. The framerate chugs with out-dated graphics pouring out over unimpressive backgrounds of browns and greys. Graphically Warhammer can not pull it together and ends up being a drag.
Putting the graphics aside and marching ahead past the controls you will find a heavy duty strategy element in Warhammer: Battle March which mainly relays on origination and micro management. All these little troopers can be hard to handle at once, so a clear plan is needed when dealing with large groups of enemies later in the game. Like all RTS, Battle March eases the player into the action before bringing in the big guns. The difficulty is moderate for most of your time in Battle March, but there are a few times when the difficulty spikes unexpectedly making you replay a few scenarios.
One aspect that doesn’t come into play in Battle March is resource management. Farming gold and other resources are usually a staple feature in most RTS games. In Warhammer’s case you will only need to worry about marching into battle. This is all fine and dandy, however I still found Warhammer to be overwhelming and confusing at times even without worrying about building foundries and cutting down lumber. Battle March is definitely a game designed for the hardcore RTS fans who want to bust into the action more than puttering around in a home base for hours.
The spot that helps Warhammer feel a little more in touch with its goal is the skirmish mode, or online in the multiplayer. In skirmish you can take you personalized warmongers into a custom made battle that allows you to tweak the armies how you want to play. Online its time to put up or shut up. Since I couldn’t really master the controls in the single player game, I was instantly slaughtered online. The good thing about all this is that you can find some excellent competition if you’re willing to stick it out. If you can look past all the faults in Warhammer: Battle March then you might be able to hook up online for some smash down wars.
Warhammer: Battle March alienates mainstream gamers with its unfriendly mission structure, drab graphics and confusing control scheme. Warhammer: Battle March is a straight PC port that is leaning towards die-hard Warhammer fans and hardcore strategy gamers. Warhammer’s saving grace is the opportunity to play online in large battles with highly customizable armies. Before you get to that point you’ll have to have a strong will and a dedication to the game to pull through the steep learning curve and impossible controls. Even with the controls mastered it takes it will take a before Battle March starts to feel smooth. Warhammer: Battle March marches to its own drum and is set to please gamers who have already done battle on the PC. If it’s a console RTS you’re looking for, there are other plenty of other options you should consider before jumping into the desolate battles in Warhammer: Battle March.
Gameplay:4.5, Graphics:4, Sound:5.5, Innovation:4, Mojo:5 Final: 4.8 / 10
Reviewed by Downtown Jimmy | 09.24.08