Skulls for the Skull Throne!
HIGH: Perfectly captures the feel of massive battles.
LOW: Chaos Warriors locked behind a pre-order paywall.
WTF: Why are my allies fighting each other instead of the giant bird army?
The Warhammer license is hit-or-miss when it comes to videogames. For every excellent Vermintide or Dawn of War, there’s a mediocre Fire Warrior. While Games Workshop don’t seem to care who uses their IP as long as it can turn a buck, Total War developers Creative Assembly certainly do, and it shows with the fantastic Total War: Warhammer.
While the Total War series is typically grounded in historical fact, TW: Warhammer tosses all that out the window with its fantasy setting. This allows its real-time strategy gameplay to dramatically diverge from the traditional formula — giant bat creatures attack hordes of greenskinned orcs, while massive steam tanks blast daemons of chaos across the battlefields.
The rock-paper-scissors mechanics of the previous Total War games are still in play, but abandoning reality breathes life into what was becoming a stale franchise. In the previous titles, each faction would play near-identically to each other with just a few small differences. Here, the variety of units in each faction sets them radically apart from one another.
The Empire is the most traditional of the four base factions, not counting the Chaos Warriors who are inexplicably locked behind a pre-order wall. Veterans of the Total War games will feel most at home with them as they focus on blocks of infantry backed up by cavalry and missile weapons, with a bit of magic thrown in for good measure. Greenskins rely on massive hordes and lose their effectiveness when not fighting. The Vampire Counts drain life from nearby lands and can replenish on the move by raising the dead. Finally, the dwarfs lack in magic but make up for it in extreme firepower and heavy armor.
By having such vastly differing factions, I was forced to change my tactics depending on who my current target was. Gone were the days of building up two or three giant armies and marching them off to war — while that might work against the Greenskins, doing so against the Vampire Counts will result in massive losses because the very ground in their lands sucks the life out of troops. For the first time in a long while, Total War feels new game instead of just a skin slapped over the same old thing.
Hammering home just how different TW:Warhammer is from Creative Assembly’s other games are the lords. Lords act as generals did in previous games, serving as morale boosters and anchors to keep armies from breaking when they engage the enemy. Previously, the general was best left behind the front lines. They were typically fragile and easily killed if caught, which in turn would demoralize an army and lead to being routed even with superior numbers. Here, lords are supremely powerful with a variety of magic spells and abilities to bolster their ranks. In fact, I rarely had my lords away from the front lines, each one capable of holding off multiple units on their own. While their offensive spells don’t pack the punch I would expect, the ability to hold against waves of troops makes them extremely valuable fighters. A fully-leveled lord with their skill tree filled in might not wipe out whole units on his own, but he won’t be going anywhere.
Legendary Lords are named characters from the Warhammer universe. Mannfred Von Carstein, Karl Franz, and other big names are all playable, and each also comes with their own quest battles to complete. These battles recreate memorable conflicts in the Warhammer world and are the best parts of the game, showcasing just how many units can be crammed onto a single map. However, these special skirmishes also tended to be farther away from the front lines, forcing me to delay my offensive as I sent my most powerful troops to deal with them. Doing so wasn’t much of a strategic problem, it just added five or six extra turns to an already drawn-out campaign. It needs to be addressed in the future because the battles themselves are excellent, but their locations slow the game down.
Another area that needs work is that while each faction plays differently, all the campaigns come down to taking over as much territory as possible. While some timed events help differentiate them, the formula felt too similar no matter which army I was using. While still enjoyable, this is where TW: Warhammer feels like most of the other Total War entries.
In addition, the timing of major events is poorly thought out. Most of the time these world-changing situations happen too soon in a campaign, usually throwing the hardest challenges at me within the first 30 turns. It’s not the difficulty that’s the problem, though – it’s the pacing. Once I was able to deal with the task that popped up, the main goal of a campaign was complete. The rest of the objectives were just to muscle my way through whatever regions I had left to finish the game. By heavily front-loading the campaigns, the second halves become a boring slog of auto-battles.
Total War: Warhammer is a great addition to the Total War formula and the most radical departure from the series yet, and the differences between each group offer more replay than anyTotal War before it. Unfortunately, a tiresome endgame comes too early and kills the pace of each campaign. If Creative Assembly can find a way to deal with that issue, this entertaining entry will be truly outstanding. Rating 8.0 out of 10
Disclosures: This game is developed by Creative Assembly and published by SEGA. It is currently available on PC only. This copy was obtained via publisher.
Approximately 50 hours of play were devoted to the single-player mode, and the game was completed with both the Vampire Counts and Empire factions. About four hours of time was spent with the remaining factions to get a feel for how they operate.
Parents: According to the ESRB, this game is rated T and contains mild blood, mild language, violence, cockney orks, and Frank Frazetta knock-offs. As a Warhammer game goes, it’s rather tame, but it does deal with a lot of death and mentions human sacrifice, daemonic rituals, and other dark themes. Although these are not shown, you might want to talk with your kids about it.
Deaf & Hard of Hearing Gamers: The game does have a few audible cues such as notifying the player when units break and start to run. This information, however, is also shown on the unit cards at the bottom of the interface. Extra effort will be needed for micromanagement but it can be done. All dialog in the game is subtitled.
Remappable Controls: The game is fully remappable on a mouse and keyboard set-up. There is no controller support.
Colorblind Modes: There are no colorblind modes available in the options. The game does have mod support and there are requests for a colorblind mod to be added, but there is not one as of this time.