Total War: Warhammer is Creative Assembly’s latest Total War game which utilises Sega’s Warhammer licence for the first time. For those unfamiliar with the Total War format it comprises of real time strategy battles tied together by a Risk style turn based campaign map. Whilst there is a multiplayer element, and you can even play through co-operatively, we will be reviewing the single player game here.
Games Workshop have recently rebooted their fantasy battle game with the launch of Warhammer: Age of Sigmar. The new version is a much simplified game but it has been widely criticised by GW fans for oversimplification and an effective reset of the lore. Perhaps unfortunate timing for Total War: Warhammer to be released then as it is based on the previous version - although this is probably in the game’s favour - with characterful, fun armies and no Stormcast Eternals which are a rather lame attempt to make a “space marine” army for fantasy Warhammer.
There are four playable races in the game at launch - Empire, Dwarves, Orcs and Vampire Counts. (plus a fifth playable race in the Chaos Warriors DLC). Each race have a sufficiently different play-style and units in both the campaign and battle parts of the game.
Dwarves are slow with no cavalry units but have solid infantry and some very good shooty units, particularly crossbowmen and artillery, I found they were better to turtle at the beginning. Their main enemy, the Orcs, benefit from strength of numbers and to maintain a winning momentum of fighting and beating enemies in order to maintain public order and stop infighting (animosity in the tabletop rules). The Empire (Humans) are probably the standard all-rounders. They have some great artillery - great cannons, hellblaster volley guns, and the mighty steam tank. Plus effectively cavalry and shooty horseback riders to harass and flank enemies. Lastly Vampire Counts are a tricky bunch to play - they are the only race I haven’t really got stuck into on a campaign yet, they seem to have a good raising the dead power where you can recycle dead armies to replenish your own, plus you can corrupt enemy territories with vampiric presence, which effectively boosts your army when they move into enemy territory and harms theirs.
There’s lots of Total War mechanics - different army stances - march/raid/encamp/ambush/race specific - these provide different bonuses for your army on that campaign game turn, from increasing movement range at the expense of having your troops fight if attacked, to stealing money from your opponent and causing unrest in their territory.
Thankfully this Total War game feels massively more streamlined than the last few from the series that I have played, which I think is a positive for it. I very much enjoyed the first few games of the series - Shogun, Rome, Medieval, but felt the Campaign part of the game became way too fiddly and took away a lot of the enjoyment and fun of the game with all the micromanagement that had to be carried out on one’s territory. Now in TW:Warhammer the game is much more focused on combat and getting your armies into it. There is still a territory management aspect but this is limited to choosing buildings to build in your cities and towns and if you own all the towns in a region, choosing an order to apply throughout the region, effectively a bonus of +public order/+money/-vampire & chaos corruption/+growth.
There’s still the envoys/assassins that have been in since Shogun, these are called heroes in TW:Warhammer - think Wizard, Shamans, Master Engineers, Banshee level characters in the tabletop game, On launch the end game of the campaign became incredibly annoying due to the AI spam of high level heroes and constant attempts to assassinate your army generals. In my Dwarf campaign, I pretty much lost 8 generals in 3 turns due to the Vampire Counts and Chaos agent spamming assassinations. However, I believe this gripe is being addressed in a recently released patch (30th June).
The bits I love the most in Total War games are the real time battles. They’re just really good when you’re either fighting a fairly balanced battle or the odds are against you. Pulling out an upset just feels fantastic. Or bravely whittling away as much of the huge enemy hordes as you can with your small army in an attempt to weaken the horde before your main armies can intercept. I’ve seen complaints about the camera in this section but I never found it to be an issue. Creative Assembly have suitable tooled up the Warhammer generals and heroes to be incredibly strong - in some cases such as the Chaos Warlord Archaon - you can tool him up with skill bonuses and magical items to take on whole armies on his own. Some heroes are more support roles, such as the master engineer for Dwarves, who provides bonuses to artillery units close by.
Of course, the game’s challenge is only as good as the artificial intelligence that Creative Assembly have built for the game. This will only improve over time throughout patches, but I didn’t find it ridiculously easy, nor too hard to defeat, so apart from the agents problem I’m pretty happy with it. However, once you’ve managed to defeat the big bad, Chaos, to finish a campaign you have to complete all of the short or long victory conditions, some of which can be a complete pain in the arse to do. This isn’t helped that you eventually gain critical mass and just steamroll all opponents, where you end up feeling like you’re that guy that fine tunes your tabletop army to be Games Workshop tournament level gittery and the other guy has brought his 5 units that looked nice. I guess that’s realistic (yes I know realism is stupid in a world of magic and orcs but realism within that world…) but it would be nice for it to remain a challenge until the end, instead of a sense of going through the motions to mop up the remaining stragglers. It is only a minor gripe really.
I had been looking forward to a Total Warhammer game for a long time - since the first Shogun and Rome made me believe that there could be a better Warhammer game than Shadow of the Horned Rat and Dark Omen, which were both fantastic games back in their day. I’ve clocked up 58 hours so far on Totally War Hammery, which is a significant amount of my spare time which has been quite limited recently. It is so very engrossing and rewarding and respects the Warhammer lore very well. Each race plays differently, and feels enough like their tabletop armies that I think it will please fans.
Whilst I didn’t encounter any bugs, Jason has complained about poor performance with Warhammer on his rig. Looking back at my screenshots I realised that my fps was hovering around 25+fps in battles and higher in Campaign mode, but I really didn’t notice this during play. The game still felt very smooth to me with no judders at 2560 x 1440. As I alluded to earlier, Creative Assembly have just released a new patch with supposed performance and game balance improvements.
In summary, even with its negatives, Total Warhammer (how it should have been titled) is a bloody brilliant game, I recommend you try it out.