It has been almost a year since Total War: Warhammer was announced to the world and fanboys everyone cried out with joy in unison. Total War, a game known for its simulation of historical battles and warfare, would be exploring the setting of Games Workshop’s Warhammer Fantasy Battle. This was, and still is, for many; a match made in heaven and a fantasy made manifest. Now that the game is out, we can ascertain whether this this title is the game which fulfils those fantasies or has Creative Assembly missed the mark on this one? Read on to find out.
The game is set in the Warhammer universe just before the arrival of Archaon and the end times. Basically; imagine a Tolkienesque fantasy universe with Dwarfs, Orcs and Humans and turn up the grim factor by 1000 percent and you wouldn’t be far wrong. Out of the factions available to the player upon release, there are five options: the Empire, the Greenskins, the Vampire Counts, the Warriors of Chaos, and the Dwarves. Each of the factions and races are stuck in an almost endless cycle of violence with their neighbours as they vie for dominance. Up in the far North, the Gods of Chaos anoint their chosen champion who will unite their forces and invade the Old World on a tide of the apocalypse.
There are two halves to the game; the grand strategy and the tactical battle aspects. In the grand strategy half of the game, you will manage your empire and lead armies around the map. You’ll build up settlements with various improvements for increasing your income or recruiting bigger and better units. Settlements are grouped together into provinces, which were a new feature added in recently with Total War: Rome II to streamline territory management, and it is possible for multiple factions to have territory in a single province. This largely hasn’t changed too much from more recent instalments of the series but Warhammer now has territory which can only be occupied by specific races. Humans, for example, can’t occupy Dwarven Karaks (mountain holds) and vice versa but Vampires can take over human settlements and Orcs are partial to mountainous halls of the dwarves.
In effect this allows for new diplomatic options for a player to consider during their campaign. Rather than being able to simply kill every enemy and take their territory, you’re now encouraged to deal with factions who can find no value in your settlements. For the Empire, this naturally leads them to forming an alliance and trade deals with Dwarven factions. There is nothing stopping the Vampire Counts from pursuing similar defensive arrangements with Dwarven neighbours to help secure the borders of their home territory. The campaign AI seem to quite adept in its calculations as it will attempt to pre-empt your attacks and circumvent your defences as it moves its armies around. I learned this the hard way when the forces of Chaos invaded and laid waste to my territory by choosing to ignore my carefully built defensive settlements and instead pillage the villages behind my line.
When two armies clash on the campaign map, you enter into the tactical half of the game as you take direct control of your forces and fight the enemy. Each unit fits into a system similar to ‘rock, paper, scissors’ whereby certain types counter other types which are in turn countered by others. Spear infantry counter cavalry, cavalry counter ranged units, ranged units counter melee infantry, and melee infantry counter spear infantry. It’s a staple design of the series with a new addition in the form of monstrous units in this game. This new unit type is essentially its own powerful class which requires either another monstrous unit to take down or units that are specialised in fighting such beasts. They are extremely fun to use in battle as you send them charging into the enemy’s battle line and they’re quite the source of anxiety when they’re deployed against you. As these units fight each other during a battle and take damage, they suffer morale loss and when morale is low enough; they turn tail and run.
In addition to the regular troops, the player will also be able to field special hero and lord units. In their own rights, these units are fairly powerful with most of them providing a boost to unit morale in their immediate vicinities. Quite a few are also quite powerful combatants and a significant proportion of them also have magical abilities which can help turn the tide of battle. Outside of direct combat, lords are the generals which lead armies around the map while heroes can act as individual agents on the campaign map and perform special actions like assassinations or helping a province grow.
These new elements come together into the tactical gameplay to great effect and the formula of the Total War series has been perfected here. The deadly ballet of battlefield manoeuvring remains the same as always as the two sides jostle to find a more advantageous position from which to attack and the AI does put up a good fight by exploiting whatever weakness you present it. The impact of the two lines finally clashing into each other is heightened now with the addition of the new monstrous units who add even more weight to the charge. The positioning of heroes becomes especially important for helping maintain morale in the line as well as deal with high threat targets that regular line infantry couldn’t otherwise handle. It’s a refreshing change which certainly adds fun new variables to the tried-and-true formula of the Total War series. Although I had to auto-resolve battles to rush this review out, I wish had not as they were extremely fun to play out every time.
Legendary Lords stand head and shoulders above the other named character both in terms of their campaign and combat abilities. The player starts off in control of one legendary lord at the start of the campaign but by completing the right buildings they can unlock the other lords as well. Each lord has powerful unique equipment which have an associated quest line that you will need to complete before they obtain the new gear. These all culminate in a scripted scenario battle which your legendary lord and accompanying army must travel to on the campaign map. These quest battles can take you to areas in far-flung reaches of the map, which can be somewhat inconvenient at times. In one Vampire Counts campaign, two of Mannfred’s questlines have battles which occur in the Greenskin Badlands, far to the south of my territory and requiring many turns of movement to get to. I timed his questing quite badly as after acquiring a shiny new sword I needed him to race back home as quickly as possible to fend off hordes of Chaos coming down from the wastes to pillage Sylvania.
The 4 main factions (5 if you get the Warriors of Chaos DLC) that come with the game are each distinct in their own particular playstyle both on the battlefield and on the campaign map. They each have their own unique mechanics and playstyle in both the grand campaign and the battlefield. The distinct differences between the different factions ensure that there is plenty of replayability as each of them is markedly different to play. I haven’t been able to play enough to be able to tell you whether these factions are completely balanced against each other, but I can tell you that they are certainly fun to play.
The Empire of man is the most human of all the (currently available) factions with their ranks sporting everything from knights riding ferocious gryphons to regular guys with pointy sticks and bad attitudes. They’re the closest approximate to the regular Total War experience as you’ll be able to recognise the army composition to previous titles. They have a balanced army roster which has more mundane units like regular infantry, cavalry, and artillery alongside more out-there entries like magical artillery and wizards. They’re basically just regular humans trying to survive in a fantasy world where everything has the capability to kill you.
The Greenskins are pretty much a roving horde with a wide scope of units from huge giants to tiny goblins. Their armies are a diverse composition with fairly cheap but powerful orc melee units and goblins who bolt at the first sign of danger, alongside more monstrous units like trolls. Their armies generally have a low morale threshold with units breaking quickly if things aren’t going their way but then rallying quite quickly as well to return to the fight. The Greenskins are basically sports hooligans in a fantasy setting; loud, brutish, and looking to get into a scrap which is represented by their unique “Fightiness” mechanic. If a Greenskin army keeps fighting and winning; it can spawn an extra allied army to help out in future fights… but if it gets too low, the various mobs start fighting each other instead and the army suffers attrition.
The Vampire Counts consider themselves true heirs to the Empire and are willing to back up their claim with a powerful selection of magic and monsters. Their forces are largely reliant upon having monstrous units to help carry the day while cheaper blocks of infantry such as zombies hold the enemy in place. The vampires counts themselves don’t do well in direct sunlight and so must use their nefarious magical influence to prepare surrounding territory for their arrival by corrupting it with necromantic magic. Vampires rely upon heroes and special buildings to spread their vampiric corruption in order to prevent their armies suffering attrition in enemy territory. Not only those this corruptions slowly change the look of the map in a quite distinct way, as the land gets marshy and creepy; it also has the added bonus of causing living armies to suffer attrition once the corruption reaches a certain threshold.
The Dwarves are mountain dwellers largely focused upon maintaining a strong infantry battleline while attacking the enemy from afar with artillery. Their options for artillery are extensive with strong infantry to support and pin the enemy. They have a penchant for holding grudges against those who do them wrong… which at this point has become pretty much everyone and this is key aspect of their campaign gameplay. As the ruler of the Dwarves, you are expected to ensure that no slight goes unavenged and that every wrong will be set right, which earns you a reward in a manner similar to mission objectives. If these grudges aren’t sorted in a timely manner, your dwarven subjects begin to question your right to rule them which causes problems with public order.
The Warriors of Chaos are murderous marauders ripped straight from heavy metal album covers and are a strong but balanced melee heavy force. In terms of raw stopping power, the warriors of chaos certainly have some of the strongest melee line infantry in the game which are then backed up some very powerful monstrous units. The limiting factor for them in the campaign is their limited source of income which is relegated to fighting and looting. They’re quite different to the rest of the factions in the campaign as they start off at war with everyone and they do not develop settlements. Instead, their armies function as settlements with their buildings and recruitment available when the army sets up a temporary camp. Due to their starting position and mechanics, I found this faction to be the hardest to play.
Each of these factions incited an intense excitement with me to play. Each presented new and different and challenges right from the start, and I enjoyed learning the ins and outs of each faction. They each have their own approaches to expansion, diplomacy and fighting on the field of battle. Climbing up the tech tree and unlocking new units was a joy as each new addition was another tool to deploy upon the battlefield. I look forward to returning to play this game much more and finish a campaign with each of the factions currently on offer.
The game is not without its shortcomings, as although the unique race mechanics for each of the factions help to create some sense of variety; by and large the grand strategy aspect of the gameplay is underdeveloped. This, I feel, is a large part due to its extremely simplified economic system. The simplification of this aspect of the gameplay has been an ongoing development in the series from Medieval: Total War II onwards. The system in that game was dynamic and chaotic in how the economy simulated the populations of individual provinces and the flow of trade internally over land and sea. It was at times finicky and chaotic, but it also felt dynamic and alive as your grew cities and trade networks across your empire. Although this recommendation is more to my personal taste, I do believe the mechanics on the campaign map can be made deeper and I still found the overall campaign management to be immensely fun.
The visuals are superb with the models for each of the different units holding true to their representation upon the tabletop. The level of detail each individual models is given with their armour and equipment is quite extraordinary as you zoom in to see them quite close on the battlefield. It’s a pleasure to see these units come to life on the screen and reproduced in such loving detail.
One nice detail I quite enjoyed was the deliberate (I assume) animation of the skeleton units to move in unison with stilted halting movements as though they were stop-motion animated. It’s a nice touch and evoked a very Army of Darkness feel to their movement whenever I played as or fought against the Vampire Counts.
I didn’t encounter any problems with the performance of the game, no matter how high I set the options or how many units I had on the screen. My computer is fairly top-of-the-line however so I’d recommend you check whether you are able to meet the requirements this game has before buying. I did encounter some strange lighting glitches on a few mountainous maps here and there but most of the time, everything ran smoothly.
The orchestral soundtrack suits the gameplay perfectly as you plot on the campaign map and lead troops in battle. There are plenty of deep wardrums keeping a slow beat as your armies march to war. During battle, the music dynamically swells and wanes as the formations move across the battlefield towards each. As the lines finally come together and clash, the music crescendos with plenty from the horn section kicking in. It’s a perfect accompaniment which won’t intrude on your plotting, planning, and fighting for the Old World.
I have very much enjoyed my time with this game as it applies the structure of Total War to a fantasy setting. The factions are each diverse and unique in their playstyle both on and off the field of battle. The visuals are top knotch with some nice design choices thrown in here and there for the observant while the soundtrack plays as aural companion for your play. This is a return to form for the Total War series and I have no qualms with recommending this game to both fans of the series and fans of Warhammer Fantasy. This is pretty much the realisation of the dream combination many fans of both have dreaming of for years. Kudos to Creative Assembly for getting this so right! I look forward to further expansions which will increase the scope of the map and add even more factions to the game.
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