Warhammer: Battle March
- Publisher: Deep Silver
- Developer: Black Hole Entertainment
If the control scheme is the front door through which a player enters the gaming experience, then this adaptation of Games Workshop's beloved tabletop game is a dead-bolted steel door, three inches thick. And it's covered in spikes. With poison on them. And when you open the door an angry bear pops out and punches you in the kidneys.
Wearing its traditional role-playing roots like a badge of pride, Battle March has a control scheme so daunting and convoluted that it's almost as if the game is daring you to come any closer. While every other RTS game is trying to find ways to simplify things for consoles, this goes the other way and forces you to hold down three buttons while doing a handstand just to use rudimentary features. And that's the Basic system. There's also an Advanced option that seems to require a blood sacrifice before it'll even let you start.
None of this is helped by a wilfully opaque tutorial that explains roughly one quarter of the numerous icons cluttering the various menus, which you conjure up with different combinations of triggers and d-pad. The manual, usually the bulging thick repository of all the additional info, is but a slim pamphlet more interested in filling you in on Warhammer's dense back-story than explaining the difference between four apparently identical icons with grey arrows on them. Even the buttons to advance or select menu options change with each screen, leaving you to exit when you meant to continue, or start a battle when you meant to apply your experience points.
It's a shame, because once you batter your way through the aggressively unfriendly structure there's actually a very satisfying strategy game cowering inside. There are few of the traditional videogame RTS trimmings - no resource harvesting, no factories to keep spitting out new units. You just have a small army, and an objective to achieve. New units can be hired, and occasionally acquired through the game's three campaigns, but for the most part it's all about keeping your men alive to fight another day, not just tank-rushing the enemy to swarm them with sheer numbers.
The campaigns aren't huge, however, so it won't last a dedicated strategist more than a weekend or so. You do get a sizable cast of fantasy races to mix and match, along with a pleasing array of unit types, from simple archers and swordsmen, to siege cannons, giant eagles and dragons. There are also Hero units, whose RPG levelling system allows you to pass their status effects on to normal soldiers by attaching them to other units. Should one of your heroes encounter an enemy champion on the battlefield, they enter a duel, during which specific attacks and abilities can be used to ensure a moral-boosting victory.
There's loads of depth here and, controls aside, it's all surprisingly accessible to novice players on the lower difficulty settings. Ramp things up a notch and it provides a fearsome challenge, but the online play is where the real longevity lies. Creating your own army, and then constantly improving it with the spoils of skirmishes against live foes, is what will keep players coming back for more. With a more streamlined control system, and some tidier graphics, Battle March could be one of the best console strategy games. As it stands, it's strictly for the hardcore.