There was a horrific guttural scream as a pack of Savage Orc Boar Boyz smashed into my Empire Swordsmen, flinging a few luckless ones into the air.
The swordsmen tried hopelessly to defend themselves against the rage-fueled maniacs but were overwhelmed, broke, and fled. Seeing my flank crumbling, I quickly sent my Greatswords, Empire men in full plate, and giant swords to intercept the savages while also sending my Outriders, pistoliers on horseback, to soften them up. The plan worked, and the Boar Boyz were destroyed.
Creative Assembly’s Total War: Warhammer is my nerd dream come to fruition. It is the perfect marriage of two creative properties that have cornered their respective markets. Total War has, for years, been at the forefront of PC tactical strategy gaming, whereas Warhammer has created a densely narrated fantasy world which borrows, honors, and experiments with various fantasy properties such as Lord of the Rings.
The Total War games are turn based where each player, NPC or otherwise, takes their turn constructing new buildings, training units, engaging in diplomacy, assassinating generals, sabotaging cities and finally fighting real time massive battles with heroes, infantry, cavalry, artillery and monstrous units fielded on both sides.
Like other Total War games, TWW has both the grand map where empire building, army marching, and diplomacy take place; and the tactical battles where deploying your units, positioning them and fighting occur in real time. Your generals (lords and heroes) move about the campaign map with their unit stacks in tow. Some lords are better in battle with benefits to melee attack and defense whereas other lords and heroes are better while stationed in a city or settlement adding bonuses to income generated or keeping the area’s populace happy.
These heroes can also be used on their own to devious extents. For example, you can direct a hero to try and assassinate an enemy commander from the campaign map or sabotage a city’s building production. With the addition of magic and spells to the Total War franchise, you can also have particular hero units generate additional magic by having them channel the winds of magic on the campaign map.
The layout for the campaign map is beautiful with giant skull mountains, volcanoes oozing lava and haunted forests filling the map. The troop management and city building screens are very intuitive and the best that the Total War franchise has yet to offer. Sometimes, however, I did find myself having difficulties locating certain hero units who were embedded a city.
Starting out the grand campaign with the Undead Vampire Counts, I quickly felt how different TWW is from previous Total War iterations.
The Vampire’s corruption mechanics which color the map like the Zerg’s creep from Starcraft, aid the undead warriors. If your undead armies are not on corrupted ground, however, this leads to major attrition for your armies. In addition, some of their lord and hero units can summon entirely new units on to the battlefield itself creating unique opportunities for rear charges, flanking and attacking city walls.
In past Total War games, you had to raise your armies in your own territory and wait a set amount of turns. However, the Vampire Count’s ability to raise dead on the fly in and out of their territories without waiting a turn adds new life and a breath of fresh air from Creative Assembly’s previous titles.
There are four races to campaign with: Greenskins, Empire, Dwarfs, and Vampire Counts (five with the armies of Chaos if you preordered or buy within the first week). Each race has unique starting positions and comes with the choice of two (or three for Chaos) legendary lords who lead your armies, get into the fray, and can be customized with better weapons, armor, mounts, skills, and spells. These legendary lords are definitely not the generals of past Total War games - they usually lead from the front and can single-handedly wipe out entire units.
The economies for each race differ as well. Vampires use Dark Magic to build and summon whereas the Empire of men has an economy more closely in line with typical Total War games. Trade and diplomacy, an important aspect of any Total War game, can be used to greater or fewer extents depending on the race. For example, everyone pretty much detests Chaos, due to their desire to bring about the apocalypse, and would therefore rather not trade or engage in diplomacy with them, whereas the Empire can find many friends and allies nearby. In addition, the Chaos with their horde mentality akin to Total War: Attila cannot even build settlements or cities. Rather, they move through the campaign map sacking and razing other player’s cities leaving only destruction and dead bodies.
The battles themselves get better and better as the campaign goes on as each race upgrades to their higher tier units. I have to say, these higher tier units look fantastic! The Vampire’s Black Coach, for example, is a black gothic chariot complete with a coffin inside in which the lid opens to reveal an awakening vampire. On the other end of the spectrum, the Dwarf Slayers are also a sight to behold with their gleaming axes and strikingly large orange beards.
Siege battles are also incredible with the addition of unique animations for race specific siege towers, ladders and battering rams.
Monstrous creatures like the Varghulf, a huge savage vampire, and giants can also single-handedly take down city gates. This is a stark contrast to previous Total War titles where battering rams and artillery were the only way to take down gates and walls. This is a welcome and wonderful change as watching these towering monsters bash down gates and then charge into its defenders feels fantastic.
Total War battles are generally a hectic exercise of micro-managing dozens of units, but with the addition of Lord and Hero units, who have abilities that need to be activated to be used, Total War: Warhammer battles can get very chaotic; however, the animations of these lord and hero units are amazing. Watching a lord mounted on a griffon smash into a unit of troops, sending them flying in all directions, is a sight to behold - as is seeing a wizard send a giant fiery skull across the battlefield, consuming all in its wake.
The use of magic is key in TWW and dozens of different spells can be used to harass and destroy enemy troops or to support your own units. At the beginning of each battle, you have a meter telling you how much magic you have at your disposal. This meter depletes as you cast spells and recharges based on your lord and heroes unique abilities. When the first videos of TWW came out, magic seemed too powerful. Now, however, with the addition of a chance to miscast your spells and either have the spell not work at all or for it hit your own units evens the playing field and still keeps the core of the Total War franchise intact with its emphasis on troop battle management.
Total War: Warhammer’s launch went fairly smoothly although its multiplayer mode was having trouble on day one due to the servers being overloaded. Also, there were a few quests during the single player campaign that I received in which the objective section was blank. Other than that, Total War: Warhammer has been very stable, and I never had a crash or load issues with the single player campaign.
The Warhammer series is very dear to my family and me – we’ve collected the fantasy miniatures and have created sprawling campaigns, long battles where each player builds armies, grows their economy, begins quests, and battles against foes in the field and during sieges. It is quite extraordinary to see all of this faithfully recreated in a PC game considering how special it is to me.
My hope is that Creative Assembly will introduce the other armies of the Warhammer world such as Elves, Skaven (rat men), Ogres and Tomb Kings as the game could only benefit from a wealth of options. Until then, I will mine this game for everything that it is worth and relish each campaign, battle, and empire-building turn in all of its fantastical nature.