Total War: Warhammer Interview with Simon Mann

Sega Strategy RPG News E3 2015 Interviews Action

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Total War is the newest entry into the Total War series by Creative Assembly. The installment deviates from previous titles by being set in the fantasy Warhammer setting rather than a historical one. As a fan of both the Total War series and the Warhammer IP, I was very interested in seeing what I could about this new game at E3. After watching through the demo presentation, I was given the opportunity to have a sit down with the Total War: Warhammer Battle Designer, Simon Mann, to talk about all things grim and greenskinned.


With the announcement trailer you guys indicated that you guys would have four factions with the Empire, the Vampire Counts, the Dwarves and Orks making an appearance. How do the different armies play on the battlefield? 

Yup, that’s correct… we call them the ‘greenskins’ though.

A bloodthirsty rose by any other name…

So basically one of the big things we wanted to do with this is that we’re concentrating on a small number of factions and trying to bring them as much depth as we can. Every faction in Warhammer is very different to play and that’s part of the joy of playing the tabletop game. You pick your faction and they have a playstyle you can go with and we’ve really tried to take the spirit of that and this isn’t just in battle but in campaign as well, but I’ll go on to that in a sec. So through the battle side, as you saw in the demo, you have the Empire who are the bastion of humanity, as it were, in the Old World so you’d see lots of units that would be more recognizable to Total War players. You have things like Halberdiers, spearmen, swordsman, heavy cavalry, ranged cavalry, rifles… but then you’ve got some slightly unfamiliar units as well such as the Luminark of Hysh, the steam tank, and then you have the leader, Karl Franz, on a gryphon called Deathclaw which is his own special mount which he has unlocked through the campaign. So you see that they play kind of like a more traditional human faction and they’re very balanced so you can do quite good things with them. You can build lines, you can back them up and build multiple rows. You can then have your cavalry doing flanking charges. They engage in a more traditional approach- like a hammer and anvil- so they play in that style.

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Then you look across and you’ve got the Greenskins. They’re nothing like anything you’ve ever seen in a Total War game with different sizes of units, different heights, different numbers so you go from tiny little goblins to the orc boyz and you go all the way up to big trolls, who vomit acid up on people, and then giants! These are their more end-game units and this quite a late battle in terms of campaign. The Greenskins really rely on their big tough units who really hit hard but their main thing is sheer mass. They’re about being attacked by a HOST of Greenskins and once again this comes back to the difference in gameplay when you compare the factions on a campaign level as the Greenskins have something called the “WAAAAGH!”. Basically; greenskins don’t like losing battles and they hate it so much that they don’t want to follow anyone who loses. So as playing through a campaign and if you have a warboss who keeps winning battles then orcs will start coming to them and you end up having this giant host called a “WAAAAGH!”. Basically he’ll be really powerful and just have so many troops at their beck and call that they can kind of steamroll across the map. But on the downside is that they also have something called ‘animosity’ which that as well as not liking losing they hate each other. Greenskins if they’re not fighting someone else they’ll fight themselves as they just have to be hitting things constantly. So as I said if you slow down or start losing, the animosity starts to kick in and then suddenly you’re losing those units.

Well that’s very Greenskin of them… And with that in mind: in the tabletop version, Greenskins can also suffer from animosity in the middle of battle with regiments picking fights with each other and themselves, will this also be the case here?

Since we’re very much a Total War game we’re trying to take the spirit of the tabletop and that spirit we’re going to spread that across both the campaign and the battlefield. So animosity for us we’ve really portrayed as a more campaign specific mechanic in the same way that the “WAAAAGH!” is a campaign specific mechanic as opposed to a battlefield one. I think we’ve really taken a nice thing and taken the spirit and tried to spread it across the whole game. With Warhammer there are a couple of examples but it doesn’t really do campaigns strictly as a core feature so we’ve been able to take the spirit of it rather than directly copying and pasting. So we ask ourselves how do we make this just like it would in the game but fit it into the Total War medium.

So you guys have shown us the demo featuring the Empire and the Greenskins in the battle of Blackfire Pass, but can you tell us anything about the Vampire Counts and the Dwarves?

So I would love to tell you all about them but unfortunately we’ll be doing a seperate reveal for them at a later point, but I can say that they will be just as varied. Think of the demo being more of a statement of intent where we’re saying: look we’ve got this human faction and then you see the greenskins who are like nothing you’ve seen before. With the Dwarves and the Vampire Counts you’re gonna get that same difference and there’s gonna be that much juxtaposition between all the different races on both the campaign map and the battle map. If you imagine what the Vampire Counts are like in the tabletop game then you’re kinda starting to see what we’re going for.

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Well I certainly look forward to hearing more about them. We know that there are four races (so far) slated to be in this title, Chaos was strongly suggested as having a presence in the game in the announcement trailer. Can you tell us a bit more about that?

I think you can’t make a Warhammer game without Chaos being involved somehow but once again we’re keeping things under wraps for now.

Dang, another locked door. You mentioned before that the Greenskins have the “WAAAAGH!” as a special resource. Will the Empire and the other races have similar unique mechanics when it comes to the campaign?

They’re all different. We’ve got lots of mechanics that Total War players will recognise certainly and they’ll be really familiar with things like diplomacy, politics, etc. They’re all going to be making comebacks in certain forms but different races have different levels of these. The Empire is very much a courtly- princely haven for intrigue with Karl Franz himself not being the first choice to be Emperor and not everyone is particularly happy that he’s landed the title. He has to deal with the internal politics and the struggle in the Empire. This is kind of where the Empire’s core comes from and they’re very much a more traditional style which is more in keeping with a Total War faction.

Whereas Greenskins of course, as I was saying, they don’t care about stuff like taxation. They are all about raiding cities, destroying their enemies and fighting battles. That’s how they keep themselves going and that’s how they progress and start to kind of expand their holdings as it were to become a larger faction. Whereas the Empire would be a lot more traditional where you’re building up your infrastructure and researching through your tech tree and then expanding outwards.

Also, this is the first game in a trilogy and we’re going to be expanding out with multiple expansions, DLCs, Free-LCs and all that coming along.

So the two other titles in this trilogy will be expansions?

Yup. So basically the idea is that they will be standalone so you can just buy one of the three but if you bring them together they kind of form up. The world and the things in it start expanding massively which is something we’ve never done before and is totally new for us.

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So where will the map be focused in the base game?

So, since we’re starting off with the four core factions, we’re going to start off with the Old World and that’s kind of the traditional core of the Warhammer world. So you’ll have the Vampires, the Dwarves, the Empire, and the Greenskins all fighting for dominance in that space. It’s kind of like a melting pot where everything begins and as the expansions start to come out, we’ll start to spread our wings, as it were, geographically and increase the map size.

So with the expansions and the base game, the map should become pretty huge?

Absolutely. These aren’t just seperate maps, they link together.

So how will diplomacy function between the races considering vast differences between them? Will certain races negotiate better with others like the Dwarves and the Empire? Can one reason with an orc?

Yeah, yeah! There’s going to be diplomacy between factions to a certain extent and we’re setting it up. The Empire and the Greenskins- they do talk, this isn’t something that’s totally not allowed… but they do hate each other. So if you really want to put in the quite punitive resources to broker a peace agreement between the Empire and the Greenskins but… Orcs are orcs man, they’ll be like “yeah we’ll take that money” and in a couple of turns they’ll be back for you.

So yeah, if you want to do, you can. We are at heart a Total War sandbox and we’re really trying to push that. So we don’t really want to cut options away from players and we want to add as many as we can and then add the flavour of the Warhammer lore to go along with that.

Well, I guess it’ll be interesting to see if I can talk my way out of an Greenskin invasion during a full-blown “WAAAAGH!”. You guys have stated that in addition to the named heroes like Karl Franz and Grimgor Ironhide that the player will be able to recruit minor heroes as well. I’m guessing these heroes aren’t going to be as powerful as the big guys-

Ooooh no. Karl Franz is pretty dominant on a gryphon…

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Well, putting the flying death mount in the corner for a moment, how would they rank up against them? How do they rank up against the rank-and-file trooper?

So you’ll have the traditional ability to see their unit stats and gauge them that way. That’s a given. These guys are your agents on the campaign. These heroes are doing missions for you on the campaign similar to the way you would have had spies and stuff in previous Total War games. So like wizards, the witchhunters, and the warrior priests are all your campaign undertakers basically. They’re not strictly a military unit and they can going off to perform their own things. They’re in an individual in themselves but when they’re attached to the army they come into battle and all of these characters have their own skill trees and it’s probably the most exhaustive skill tree that we’ve done to date.

So you’re getting a very light RPG feel to it so you’re expanding their skill trees to expand their campaign efficacy or you can go down the route of expanding their battle efficacy. So they can start out quite vulnerable in battle but through your choices of what skills to level up maybe they become not quite the best at all their campaign things but are really amazing in battle. And you can bring them and they will be able to have a greater effect with unlocked skills. This includes things like mounts and special attacks.

So I was able to spot a warrior priest of Sigmar and a Witch Hunter in the demo, and I’m guessing that these guys will be spreading the word of Sigmar and fighting back the corruption of Chaos, as Witch Hunters do, can you tell us a bit more about that?

They’ll be doing lots of different actions and will definitely be very different for each character type. We’ll be doing campaign reveals as we go and you’ll be able to see what they do. Each one of them has a very specific role in the campaign and every faction will have different numbers of these kinds of hero type units which they’ll be able to utilise. Like for example with the Greenskins who had two shamans shown in the demo. They’re heros on the campaign map and they bring lots of new abilities like the spells and stuff like that. Each one fulfils a very specific role in there and it’s another way we’ve been able to take the Warhammer lore set and actually bring it into the gameplay.

I think this is another thing as well where we’re kind of merging the line between campaign and battles a bit more. With things like the quest battles, this is something you take on the campaign map and you undertake a quest where you have to complete a number of missions. It’s another great way that we can let you know about Karl Franz’s history or Grimgor and his narrative. As you play through though, they always culminate in one of these major quest battles. In the demo, the battle is for Ghal Maraz, the warhammer, which is the whole game basically. So if he wins, Karl Franz will get this unique weapon which is just for him so it’s a way for us to tell stories but it’s also a way for us to merge campaign and battle. Blur the boundary between the two of them a bit more.

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Will others heroes also be able to acquire powerful weaponry and equipment?

Totally, when you’re fighting and winning battles you’ll start unlocking loot and magic items. Completing other objectives on the campaign map will give you items. These can be traded between your heroes and lords and given or equipped. You’ll very much be equipping your lords and heroes as well as upgrading their skill trees and that way you’ll be crafting your own character. But the interesting thing is of course that these characters are also vulnerable, they can die.

The named lords like Karl Franz and Grimgor are immortal characters, they simply get wounded and come back since we really think they’re core to what makes the world the world. The heroes that you recruit they’re totally perishable. So using your celestial wizard goes into a bit of a risk reward management. If you bring them into battle and they somehow die, you’ve lost a character which you’ve spent maybe fifty to sixty turns on the campaign map building up and expanding. But to balance this out they’re really powerful and you want to bring them in and use them.

So we keep coming back to the Celestial wizard, but are there going to be any other schools of magic present in the game?

Yup. We’re gonna have lots of spell lores, all of which come from the Warhammer universe so we’ll be bringing them in. Races will have multiple spell lores available to them and multiple spell casters that can cast in those spell lores. So it’s definitely something that we’re going to have.

Can you tell us about any of the other unique heroes which will be present in the game?

I think the game is set around the year 2025 so it’s just after Karl Franz has become Emperor. So you’ll be seeing characters from around that time period. Mannfred Von Carstein will be leading the Vampire Counts, Thorgrim Grudge Bearer will be leading the Dwarves and there will be more characters coming out as go.

Sweet. Thank you very much for your time.

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If you want to read more about Total War: Warhammer, feel free to have a look at my recount of their presentation here. You can also find a review of the recent installment in the Total War series here.

For more of our E3 coverage, click here.

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