Review: Total War: Warhammer
One of the largest licence Sega acquired in 2005 (after a brief time at both Electronic Arts and Activision), Total War was themed in all sorts of flavors of our history including Ancient Rome, the Medieval Era and even the Sengoku era of the Shoguns. So when you merge Total War gameplay with one of the largest fantasy franchise in the world – Warhammer – you would expect heresy and chaos, like the many Warhammer mods that came before. Except, that’s when things get interesting, and Total War: Warhammer is one of the best entry in the series.
Probably in search of new ideas, and influenced by the large modding community, developers Creative Assembly have chosen for this new Total War to abandon the historical world with the fantastic battles of Warhammer which brings more freedom, while staying true tho the lore of Games Workshop’s creation. Like all previous games, the game is played in the traditional formula of Total War alternating management phases, or turn-based phases, where you are given the time to recruit, build, manage public order and wealth, movements of armies, etc… Followed by real-time phases on the battlefield where you control your units. So the real innovation here in the series comes specifically to the lore and each faction in the game that significantly change the way you play.
In Total War: Warhammer, there’s 4 playable factions, known to all Games Workshop fans: The Dwarfs, The Empire of Man, the “Greenskins,” and The Vampire Counts. This is obviously less than what we are accustomed from Creative Assembly, considering the Total War: Attila had 16 playable factions, and the two different heroes offered within each camp differ only to what starting units and bonuses you receive (movement range, maintenance costs units, special power, etc). With a fifth faction available to those that preordered the game – The Chaos – might add replayability, but fans would quickly judge that the title is probably the first of the series to have such a small content. Nevertheless, this will not really alter the full quality of the game as I’ll explain later on.
In Total War: Warhammer, there’s 4 playable factions, known to all Games Workshop fans
Before I keep on going deeper in this review, I should note that my knowledge of Warhammer lore is as expansive as it is with quantum physics. For that, I personally started my first game with the Empire, which appeared to be the closest to what I was accustomed to in previous Total War. After a short tutorial, I quickly got the hang of this rather balanced faction which is pleasant to play with. Its main characteristic is its fragmentation into many imperial areas controlled by independent counts which can be both enemies and potential allies. Situated in a central position, it is impossible to attack them without risking to be surrounded from all sides. Which leaves only one option, and one that I’m acquainted and used to in previous games and the Civilization series: diplomacy. The goal is to pay tribute to each count by offering military assistance, and form a confederation signifying the total headcount of citizens and lands to the Empire. This is however easier said than done to the extent that the counts are not the easiest people to reason with, and in this context, to please one often means another count pissed. Although I must say that the AI does not always work, such as in some cases refusing a defensive alliance offer, before accepting a full military alliance with a small bonus payment. But overall this system is quite pleasant to play, especially as with the specifications of the Empire as a hierarchical tree giving the lords whose level is high enough and the rest nothing at all but protection of the crown.
The Vampire Counts are on the other hand unable to form a confederation, but have many other points in their favors. Master of magic, they do not rely on resources and material assets like money, but only Black Magic. However, the operation remains the same, and trade, even with humans, will feed and amass this precious resource. The buildings also, even with different name, are very close to one faction to another, yet the magic is not only cosmetic and offers many options. Thus, if a major battle took place in a region, it is possible to raise an impressive amount of zombies or skeletons from the left corpse, to complete your armies and sow terror among the enemy ranks. Lords and Heroes also have many powers in the heart of the battle allowing both to raise the dead and send fireball on the enemy. If humans are also able to wield magic, vampires are completely focused on this element and dependent of it. But they also have another weapon: Vampiric corruption. Indeed, their influence on neighboring regions is felt just as religion is in previous Total War and can launch uprisings if the opponent does not send its heroes (the new name for agents) on a “purification” mission.
Each faction brings a new way to play, and Dwarfs are characterized above all by their resentment. Indeed, Dwarfs are a race that was the most hurt by previous Warhammer battles, and are on a quest for revenge. Depending on its level, the resentment gauge will give you bonuses or penalties for public order and relationship with other Dwarf Kingdoms. In sum, the Dwarves are almost forced to perform various quests to simply make some money. This can flow quickly as you get the hang of it, but to truly thrive, Dwarves need to form a confederation, although it is less important than with the humans. In return, they are unable to train cavalry and use magic and must rely on very expensive but also very powerful units. Finally, their last big advantage is their ability to dig tunnels and thus travel underground within a single turn, avoiding obstacles and sometimes attack with the element of surprise.
Finally, the orcs and goblins (known as Greenskins) are faithful to what I can expect from them. They need to fight regularly to increase their fighting gauge and for good reason: if the level is low, clashes within your own ranks will break out and result in heavy losses. But on the other hand, when reaching maximum fight level, your Greenskins faction will activate WAAAGH! – An unstoppable Green tide that leaves nothing but ruin in its wake. Strangely though, and given the nature of their race, the Greenskins do not behave in hordes (that’s something found in the Chaos faction). They must therefore raid and loot colonies to survive, and their technology tree is extremely limited, as well as the economic buildings which are rare and quite ineffective. There’s no point trading, as raids are what they excel at, and have even the ability to travel underground. Even a small army can be capable of conducting a raid and then disappearing before everyone’s eyes. Add to that the possibility of confederations and units whose maintenance is quite low and you will get an all-out aggressive war faction.
With four completely different ways to play available to us, I must admit that this small number still makes battles interesting. The campaign scripted which in a way brings order to the previous games: quests that are more immersive, including legendary battles inspired by the Warhammer Fantasy Battles offer targets known to the fans. It leaves us the impression of playing a completely new title, which had not happened for a long time with a Total War.
On the topic of battles, the fantasy universe inevitably brings a lot of novelties. We already talked about magic and spells which can sweep the battlefield, but there is also the appearance of flying and steam units, offering even more flexibility than the cavalry. Between aerial assault, and the ability to move underground – for some factions – you have now three different layers to consider when attacking. These battles large in scale remain as spectacular and strategic as they ever been, although they may seem a bit safe, with no real graphical evolution since Total War: Rome 2. Nevertheless, Total War: Warhammer is still a gorgeous game, especially as the artistic direction is exceptional, especially in the cities, but technically there is no wow factor as it existed in the past transition between episode.
Final point before I wrap this review is on the multiplayer modes of the game. Total War: Warhammer is built on the same classic multiplayer mode, with the ability to create custom battles and online campaigns. No avatar like it was the case of Total War: Shogun 2, which would have been amazing considering the design of warlords in the Warhammer lore. Too bad, but that doesn’t spoil the fun, and despite some small flaws, this Total War: Warhammer is none the less a great opus, and certainly one of the most original in the series.
Total War: Warhammer was reviewed using an PC downloadable copy of the game provided by Sega. The game was tested on a PC running Windows 10 Pro, with a 4GB NVIDIA Geforce GTX 960 fitted on a 5th Generation Intel i7 4720HQ 3.2Ghz CPU and topped with 16GB of RAM. We don’t discuss review scores with publishers or developers prior to the review being published
• 4 factions with radically different gameplay
• A main campaign that is more scripted
• Trully immersive battles
• typical RPG management of Lords and Heroes
• Magic always brings more strategy
• Flying units offer good flexibility
• 4 Factions is the lowest amount in the Total War series
• Technically perfected but filled with regrettable crashes
• The Underground battles do not bring much layers to the war