Warhammer Total War is one of those perfect marriages. It combines Games Workshops megalomaniac fantasy world of Warhammer with Creative Assemblies sublime engine for recreating large scale historical set battles. It is a marriage fated to be and one that is looking to last. Whilst some sacrifices have been made to the overall Total War formula in terms of complexity it more than makes up for it with sheer variety and spectacle.
The premise of Total War is to combine a turn based strategy game with a real time battle simulator. On the campaign map you manage your settlements, their taxes, buildings , and army production and movement. While on the battlefield you individually control your armies units as they clash with your enemies . Both of these are serviceable games in of themselves and can be played independently. Custom games allow you to set up battles either against the AI or online with the games seven factions while you can automatically resolve battles on the campaign map. The real magic happens when they are merged together, your armies on a beautifully detailed map of Warhammer Old World setting clash with your enemies on the campaign map, the camera zooms in and you find yourself on an expansive battlefield. Each individual soldier is gorgeously detailed and animated from giants who pick up individual soldiers and eat them to crazed dwarf warriors who angrily leap up at their enemies with duel axes.
The strategy comes down to a messy and fast paced rock paper scissors. Your archer units are strong against slow moving infantry but weak against cavalry. Cavalry melts to infantry men with spears, as well as in slow protracted fights. Heavy cavalry beats light cavalry and heavy infantry beats light infantry and so on. Units will waver and run through a protracted fight and are more likely to do so when attacked in the sides or rear, or if they don’t have the support of their general nearby. Warhammer Total War mixes this up to be closer to Rock, Paper, Scissors, Troll, Wizard.
Heroic units in the form of Lords and Heroes have been added to the game from mighty Orc War bosses to Vampire Mages. Some of these units can happily wade into formations and wreak havoc, whilst others are best used as a distant to support your main line with spells. On the campaign map Lord units lead your armies whilst Hero units can either join your army and fight alongside them or be used on the campaign map to scout, destroy enemy walls and assassinate opposing Lords and Heroes.
Flying units are a further new addition which change the dynamics of the game. They tend to be fast and able to easily attack units in the rear or pick apart isolated units but are vulnerable to missile weapons and can be easily mobbed if isolated themselves. Monstrous units in the form of Giants and Trolls are huge, slow, hulking heavy hitters able to make a mess of tightly packed enemy formations but are weak to faster units, spears and artillery.
Magic is an iconic part of the Old World but a tricky thing to balance in game. Some of the canon magical effects in the game range from bringing down the giant foot of an Ork god on your opponents formations to leeching the soul of a target. Spells are broadly split into damage, buffs, de-buffs. Some of these spell effects look fantastic, such as the Greenskins mighty foot of Gork that smashes down on the enemies sending them flying. The buffs and de-buffs unfortunately don’t offer as much in the way of spectacle. In terms of gameplay the buffs and de-buffs tend to have the most actual utility. The damage spells have been toned down as not to make the gameplay too swingy although if you time them right they can still be devastating.
Currently the game offers seven diverse factions. The Greenskins comprise of hordes of football hooligan Orks and cowardly Goblins supported by beasts such as Wyverns, Trolls and Giants. The Vampire Counts have hordes of undead zombies, skeletons and monstrous horrors led by powerful vampires. The Empire are a recognisably human faction, men on foot and horse with swords, spears and gunpowder weapons from rudimentary handguns to cannons. Bretonnia offer another human faction with a focus on king arthur-esque knights supported by peasants and powerful grail magic. The Dwarves are a slow, defensive but hard hitting force of Dwarven warriors supported by cannons, flamethrowers and even flying gyrocopters that spew scalding steam. Chaos are the big baddies of the setting and offer powerful viking-esque warriors supported by horrendous daemonic beasts. Wood Elves are the glass cannon faction, an elite force with incredibly strong archers supported by somewhat sturdier tree men and ‘ents’ . Finally Beastmen offer another variety of Chaos in the form of hordes of mutated beast warriors, from ogre-centaur mash ups to hulking minotaurs and flocks of harpy’s.
These factions all feel truly unique, this is in contrast to previous Total War games where the silly constraint of historical realism meant many factions were much the same in unit composition. They also play differently in the games campaign mode, each having different goals and resources to manage. Dwarves are not a race to be crossed and hold grudges against those who slight them. If as a player you do not revenge these grudges then your people will become angry with you and more likely to rebel. Greenskins on the other hand need to constantly be fighting, if armies remain idle for too long they are liable to desert. However if you manage to get the units fightiness to a critical mass you call a giant ‘Waaagh!’ which gives you a large, free army to use until the value goes down. This results in each campaign feeling unique not only from the perspective of each armies wildly different roster and starting location on the map but through unique traits each army has.
Real time naval battles have now been removed in their entirety as have the majority of battles defending settlements on the campaign map. Sieges are reserved for attacking fortified settlements only. These are a lot more simple and fast, with most of your units being able to easily clamber over the walls and siege defences beefed up to compensate. These changes whilst arguably dumb down the strategy of the series I feel are fitting in a game with a clear focus on pitched battles between large armies.
And boy are these battles big, playing as the Greenskins in the campaign I was early on having huge battles where I was controlling 30+ units against a similar sized opponent equal to thousands of little soldiers on the battlefield something that I’ve found rare to experience in a Total War Campaign early on.
Multiplayer support is strong with the quick battle feature allowing you to hop into a ranked, competitive one on one match with a preset army limit. While custom games allow you to set up any variety of game from 2v2 team matches to massive sieges. Games play out a lot more quickly than in previous games and are a little more ‘arcady’ as a result. They are also far more micro intensive as there is much more to manage in regards to heroes, spells and the myriad of unique units the game has to offer. This means players familiar with twitch based games like Starcraft will be comfortable jumping in.
Games Workshop are the brainchild of the Warhammer franchise, which began its life as a tabletop miniature war game. They unfortunately decided to nuke the entire model range so Total War Warhammer is one of the few ways left. You can tell Creative Assembly are fans of the series themselves as they have put lavish detail into recreating the game as faithfully as possible, down to individual details such as the gobby cockney smack talk of the Orcs and the various spell effects each faction has being true in name and effect to the tabletop game. Any fan of Warhammer or fantasy games in general should have no reason but to enjoy what is on offer here. Fans of the old total war games may balk at the new fantasy setting but there is a lot to love here and I would heartily recommend immersing oneself in the bloody, brutal and bizarre world of Warhammer Total War.