My review of Warhammer: Mark of Chaos is up at Xtreme Gamer. In it I refer to what I’ve decided to call the Law of Lego Star Wars – a game with a strong license plays by different rules than one without that license.
It cuts both ways. Mark of Chaos is a respectable game, but one that no one would even pay any attention to if it didn’t have the Warhammer name on it. Having the license gives it an instant world to build on to and it can rely on the echoes of familiarity in its audience. If Lego Star Wars was made as Lego Space Block War, it couldn’t have counted on all the A-HA moments that make it such a charmer. Even Battle for Middle Earth II works as brilliantly as it does because of how well it evokes the Peter Jackson movies (and, to a lesser extent, the Tolkien oeuvre). People bring expectations to games based on certain worlds they have come to know.
A license can’t cover for a bad game, of course. Star Trek Legacy is getting pounded with the review hammers of Ka’less, as has almost every Star Trek game of the last ten years. And you have to be careful not to defy the fans of the property. Imagine all of the ways that Knights of the Old Republic could have gone wrong and you end up with one of the prequel movies. But a license treated with respect will usually earn you better reviews than the same game without the license, I think.
As the above linked review notes, I’m kind of a newbie at the whole Warhammer thing. But the game comes with a compelling mythology that has been honed over the years to the point where it’s almost like Tolkien channeled through the Thirty Year’s War. Actually, the “taint” of Chaos isn’t a bad parallel to the religious wars of the period. It’s hard to create a unique and convincing game mythos – how many games have done it well? – so just plugging one in saves a lot of wear and tear on the brain stem.