Forewarned is forearmed.
Before I can begin, I need to confess. During my high school years and for some time after I was one of ‘those’ kids, you know the ones.. They never have any money because they have been buying what those involved in ‘The Hobby’ refer to as ‘Plastic Crack’ Their hands are constantly covered in splatters of odd coloured paint. They sit in the back of the classroom reading arcane looking rule books and can sometimes be heard murmuring words and phrases like ‘I need to roll how many D6 to make this attack work?’ or ‘Blood for the blood god, skulls for the throne of Khorne!’ So when I heard that Creative Assembly had plans to release a Total War game set in the Old World of Warhammer, you can damned well bet I was excited. It helped that I am also a long standing fan of Creative Assemblies Total War franchise. Sinking more hours than I care to really think about into the various releases.. Though I was growing a little weary of some of the more recent additions, while still enjoyable to a degree, they felt lacking when compared to the earlier games. However, since as mentioned the more recent titles in the franchise have felt a little lackluster to me and from previous experience with other PC games set in Games Workshops dark fantasy franchise, my excitement while palpable, was lined with a very huge amount of caution.
There was a lot of potential for missteps to be made in converting this much loved franchise to the PC again, but I had hope that Creative Assembly could work the magic they once worked on other titles in the Total War series such as Medieval and Empire.
With this in mind, I am entirely unapologetic for any fan-boying over the Warhammer IP that I may do in this review, it speaks to the excitable 12 year old in me in ways that little else can.
A sigh of relief
I’m barely an hour into the game and already I’m starting to feel that caution slipping away as I lead my band of savage Greenskins on a conquest of my surroundings. After several hours I’m convinced that this is potentially singularly the best title in the Total War series to date. The features it brings, the new game play potential it adds and the ability to find an army that suits your mood or play style all come together in a way that feels perfect in the franchise; more so than historic battles ever could. It seems I may not be alone in thinking this either since to date this is the best selling release of the series, with more than half a million copies sold since release and just shy of 105,000 concurrent users on Steam at peak levels since release.
This is definitely feeling like a return to form for Creative Assembly sure, the fundamental mechanics that Total War veterans are long familiar with remain. There is a campaign map where you control your economy, direct troops and conduct politics with the rival factions. There is still the top down battlefield where you take control of your troops and lead them to victory or be crushed in defeat. Ultimately it makes zero sense to change much here since this is a tried, tested and proven formula for the series and has worked well time and time again even in some of the weaker games of the series. The fact that this formula works so well is exactly why I felt my caution dissipate. It left CA free to focus on the IP that Games Workshop has built up over the years, it gave them a chance to sit and craft a representation of the Old World, which while only being a tiny portion of it, felt utterly huge. The landscape is wide and varied, from the mountainous terrain of the Worlds Edge Mountains to the more civilised, Germanic feeling cities of the empire which keeps the campaign map feeling fresh and interesting, which is where some of the more recent titles have felt a bit lackluster, I’m looking at you Rome 2!
I believe a huge part of why this title works so well when compared to recent outings in the Total War franchise is that for the first time CA have much more room to manoeuvre than they would otherwise be allowed. While a huge part of the Total War franchises appeal is that its deeply seated in real history, this is also one of its biggest shackles forcing factions to be fairly similar in all but one or two faction specific units or tech trees. This is where the Warhammer franchise really lets the game come into its own since in all bar two cases the factions are entirely different species, allowing for a diversity of choice never really seen in any of the franchises previous titles. Even looking at the two human factions shows a vast difference between both armies. This also means that factions can be more tailored for different play styles too, allowing for a more blunt, brute force approach such as that used by the Greenskins, or more refined tactics favored by the likes of say the Bretonians (a multiplayer only faction currently) who are reminiscent of a mix of the feudal armies of France and Europe and something right out of the pages of Arthurian Legend. It does go much further than how you approach battles too, each army has its own little quirks, for example each of the Greenskins armies have a stat called ‘fightiness’ which is pretty much what it sounds like. As long as you keep fighting and pressing onto the enemy, the fightiness stat will stay high and increase overtime, eventually allowing you to spawn a second AI controlled follower army called a WAAAGH! which joins you in battles. Let the fightiness value drop too much and the army turns on itself, this means that as a greenskin player you can’t afford to focus on static defense of towns and cities, since it will gradually tear your army apart via infighting. Its quirks like this that really show the level of attention and care that Creative Assembly are showing to the IP, since this is incredibly fitting with the lore and ‘fluff’ of Games Workshops dark fantasy.
Another departure that the fantasy setting allows for is the introduction of magic users. Magic in the Warhammer world is a wild and varied thing, with magic users drawing on the aptly named ‘Winds of Magic’ to power their spell casting abilities. When the winds are ebbing, so too does a magic users power, when they are at full force however Magic users become terrors in battle, throwing fireballs, or summoning incarnations of death and destruction to do their bidding. Again, this has been handled in a manner that is incredibly sympathetic to the table top version of the game and the lore provided by GW. Magic adds an extra phase to the start of a battle, allowing for you to ‘re-roll’ your magic power result, the higher value the better, since it means your magic users can do more.
The unique races also have some interesting additions that have never been seen in the previous games, giant monsters and flying units, Bats, Giants, Trolls, Gyrocopters and similar all add a huge boost into the battlefield and allow for more nuanced game play styles and challenging combats, as suddenly a unit of flyers can drop out of nowhere into the middle of your armies.
Heroes get given a serious look with progression paths that can be quite in depth, allowing for different combat styles which can eventually allow them to become a force to be reckoned with on their own, able to crush units almost single handedly. In addition characters can be given different race specific mounts, such as horses or boars, through to mythical creatures like Wyverns and such, I found this level of development made me become a lot more attached to the heroes than I had in previous games, almost to the same level of attachment I and I suspect many others felt to their squad in the recent Xcom series. Their is also a focus on character quests, essentially scripted battles featuring some fairly high quality voice acting, twisting story lines and multiple phases to how the mission plays out. These allow for an interesting and fun break from the normal faction management and simple head on battles.
I’ve only really dabbled with the other forces available to play upto now, spending most of my time with the greenskins, my first love of the original table top version of the game. However, their is a lack of factions at the moment, which may leave players feeling a little flat once they have spent a while with each of them, hopefully expansions will allow for other forces, such as the Wood Elves, High Elves and Dark Elves. Or perhaps the Skaven, a race of ratmen who scurry beneath the feat of their enemies.. Or even, the Lizard men or Chaos Dwarfs, their are certainly enough other races to work with that Creative Assembly should be able to churn out expansions and race packs for a while to come.
During my play time I ran into a few minor AI bugs, but nothing that veterans of the series shouldn’t be used to by now. Units seemingly ignoring orders after they initially marched off in the direction they were told to and such. The other major problem I found was that for new players to the series, there were times, where it wasn’t always obvious what all the menu options did, or how to go about doing certain things, like quelling uprisings in cities and such.. Some time in the in game lore guides will help, but their is certainly going to be a bit of a curve to the game for newcomers.
As a long standing fan of the Total War series up until this point, I have to be honest.. It felt like it was starting to stagnate for me… The lust for leading my armies into combat to crush my enemies and drive them before me was starting to fade.. Total War: Warhammer changes all that, does it help that I have a deep seated long standing love with Games Workshop and their products? Sure.. But I can honestly say that this is more than simple fanboying over the IP in use. Moving from a historical context, into a fantasy one has allowed Creative Assembly a significant and previously impossible of level of freedom in the series. Sure, they were constrained by Games Workshops IP and how GW felt things should be in terms of map layout, faction design and so on, but TWW is much more than just the underlying IP.
Creative Assembly have been able to add some new ideas and implement them in ways that until you encounter them, you had no idea you were missing from the series. I honestly suspect it will be hard for me to return to some of the more mature games in the franchise. Sure the game is lacking in factions and yes, their was a bit of controversy surrounding pre-orders and faction exclusivity, but all of this is quickly forgotten as you are leading your force of greenskins, while your leader is stomping around on the back of wyvern, tearing through enemies like a a hot knife through butter. The races are few currently, but they have certainly been well developed and feel rounded and complete, offering different experiences and vastly different play styles depending on which you choose to run with.
Total War: Warhammer37.99
- Very sympathetic to its source
- A rejuvination of a much beloved series
- Vast, expansive battles
- New factions and unit types, meaning a whole new meta game
- Some AI issues that long standing fans will be familier with
- BIt of a steep curve for newer players to the series
- Limited starting factions