Being a truly dedicated Warhammer fan takes time. Painting the countless miniatures, brushing up on rules for the latest expansion pack, and reading the various novels tying into the overall mythology – the franchise has plenty to offer those with enough hours to invest.
Now, there’s another time-consuming Warhammer product on the market: Total War: Warhammer.
A dream game for hardcore fans of both franchises, this is a strategy title that mixes in-depth management with intense battles – but is it everything it should be?
Previous Total War games have taken place in such real-world eras as Ancient Rome, Europe’s Medieval years, and the Napoleonic Wars. As these were set in times and places that actually existed, the Creative Assembly took few liberties with history – had Admiral Nelson ridden into battle on a dragon and sliced Napoleon’s head clean off with a flaming sword, purists might have had good reason to complain.
However, with the Warhammer license at their disposal, Creative Assembly has thrown themselves into all the OTT potential on offer. Like previous games, Total War: Warhammer puts players in charge of an army as they battle their way through one epic skirmish after another. The turn-based campaign sees you sending your people across the well-sized map, expanding and refining through various complex upgrade-techniques. Building, taxing, and researching is all part and parcel of the non-battle gameplay, with maintaining a solid economy and satisfied followers key.
When two armies meet on the battlefield, though, the campaign becomes a real-time explosion of trolls, heroes, and flying beasts. Both elements of the game are well-made, but it’s fair to say that this latter area will be of most interest to Warhammer fans; seeing such familiar figures from the world of Games Workshop’s dark fantasy universe go head to head will allow fans to enjoy virtual simulations of their favourite table-top hobby again and again. The range of factions to take charge of is impressive: Dwarves; Greenskins; the Empire; and the Vampire Counts.
Each of these factions has its own strengths and weaknesses. Armies within the Greenskins, for example, have their own ‘fightiness’ rating dependent on the degree of chaos and destruction they have caused. If this value is lower than it should be, the Greenskins will start to fight amongst themselves, but if it peaks, you access a new AI-based army titled a WAAAGH! This group takes part in fights and helps to even the odds against enemies. This really helps you to feel like a brutal, marauding force taking control of the map one bit at a time.
The Vampire Counts, on the other hand, have to send out their Vampiric Corruption across areas they’re due to arrive at in the near future. These corrupted zones appear as freaky grey patches on the map, handily showing the dark influence the faction has whilst intimidating emery forces; it even leads to attrition as they cross these areas. The Counts also have the power to add numbers to their armies by raising the dead – a nice little touch that brings more welcome ghoulishness to the game.
On the battlefield, Dwarves are lacking wizards in their line-up (unlike others), but they do have plenty of heavy weaponry and a tough attitude to go with it. The Empire faction is likely to be the most familiar to those with more experience of previous Total War games than Warhammer itself: made up of humans, fighting units include knights, spearmen, and varying types of technology. Throughout the campaign, the Empire will access Steam Tanks and flying creatures, making them more of a formidable force than they appear at first.
As you might have gathered by now, the experience of playing as the various factions will feel close to playing a different game altogether. This helps to boost the game’s value for money, and keeps you coming back for more to see the campaign through the eyes of the other factions.
It’s A Kind of Magic
Just as in the tabletop version of Warhammer, here magic plays a role in battles – but it’s not a shortcut to an easy victory. While the rules of how powerful spellcasting is has varied in the past, Total War’s version of Warhammer magic is toned down to make a modest impact.
This helps the game to feel well-balanced, and neither side in a fight is over-powered with game-changing spells. Some of the magic itself is pretty dark, with Necromancers able to cause extreme ageing in enemies, while Goblin Shamans have the power to inflict itchiness on others to divert their attention. Having such a wide range of spells keeps things fresh and diverse, and gives you a decent amount to master.
Another important aspect of battle is the role heroes play. When you launch a campaign and choose your faction, you also get to select which of two available Legendary Lords will take charge of your forces; fans will recognise such well-known figures as the brilliantly-named High Wizard Balthasar Gelt and Grimgor Ironhide.
During the campaign, your heroes have specific storylines to follow, and accomplishing certain goals in each unlocks unique items. Creative Assembly has taken a smart approach here, as these quest fights can either be played inside the campaign or in their own separate mode. Your heroes can also act as part of your forces or venture across the map to undertake specific tasks, such as performing assassinations or cutting enemy-income.
Without going into too much detail, the campaign changes when the Chaos forces – an enemy to be reckoned with – appear. Their impact on the map, and the epic feeling, is definitely noticeable, and shifts the dynamic significantly, with a dark corruption covering more and more of the game’s world. Long-time fans of Warhammer are likely to find their arrival thrilling.
Outside of battles, you have to pay attention to developing upgrades and engaging in pretty mundane areas of daily life – researching tech trees, creating buildings, and keeping your rabble under control. Enemy forces can be paid off to avoid battles and buy peace, or offers can be thrown back in their faces if you’d rather fight. Navigating the various screens is handled pretty well, and the interface is set-up to make newcomers to the Total War series feel welcome. There is a learning curve, but once you get used to the routine and feel more comfortable, you’ll start to have a blast.
As well as the single-player campaign, there is a multiplayer mode, which provides access to a fifth faction: the knights of Bretonnia. There are dozens of maps open for custom matches, and players can spend hours and hours honing their skills against each other. While the campaign is likely to hold your attention until you’ve finished it with all four factions, the multiplayer is sure to be a welcome reason to return.
As the first crossover between Total War and a fictional franchise, Total War: Warhammer is a great success, capturing the essence of both beautifully. Hopefully, we’ll get to see more in the future – there’s plenty of potential out there waiting to be tapped.
What do you think of Total War: Warhammer? Let us know!