The war of four (five with DLC) factions.
Total War: Warhammer is the latest iteration of the Total War franchise. This means that it's a deep strategy game, one that requires your undivided attention and leadership skills. The main selling point is its combat that can accommodate impactful large-scale encounters with thousands of units as well as small skirmishes. In this regard, Total War: Warhammer hits the nail on the head once again; what's here is familiarly exciting, but with a dose of well-represented Warhammer fantasy that strays from the Medieval style of most releases in the franchise.
Total War: Warhammer’s accurate and thorough depiction of the Warhammer IP is first put on display during the Campaign start menu. You’ll be able to select from one of several factions, each with their own mechanics and units. As equally important as the faction you select is the leader you choose to assume control of. Each faction has two selectable leaders, and they are very different from one another; while the Empire leader Emperor Karl Franz may specialize in melee battle and leadership, Balthazar Gelt is a master of metal magics. It’s important to note that if you have any interest in playing Chaos, you’ll need to have either purchased the game during week one or be willing to cough up a few extra bucks for DLC. It’s certainly not the most consumer-friendly employment of post-purchase content the industry has ever seen.
Upon making a faction and leader selection, you are immediately thrust into a small but ambitious territory on the world map. This map, similar to the combat, is defined strictly by Warhammer lore. Empire leaders are surrounded by a large number of provinces including Brettonia and Middenland. In the case of the Greenskins, Dwarf and Empire states provide strong pressure to the East. The Vampire Counts are nestled comfortably in the hills where they wage eternal war amongst themselves. Meanwhile, the Chaos dwell in their snow-laden territory to the North where they seek to expand aggressively.
Growth and management of a faction are not easy tasks. The first goal is to expand by conquering territory through warfare and diplomacy. Both of these elements are executed well and become the primary drivers of play.
What you’ll find in warfare is that there’s a steep and lengthy learning curve that pays off with increased odds of success and lessened frustration. During battles you’ll manipulate groups of units, instructing them specifically where to go and whom to attack. Every unit type has strengths and weaknesses, meaning that skill and knowledge are equal factors. You’ll want to ward off charges with anti-cavalry units, soften the front line with your most expendable units, and flank when possible to overwhelm the opposition. Positioning bears great importance, so you'll be pressured to constantly evaluate the location of your units and react to enemy movements accordingly.
Also Read: A Guide to Total War: Warhammer's Factions
As much as Warhammer ushers a new atmosphere to Total War, not much has changed since Attila and Rome 2. Commands and overall combat structure are just as you remember it. That said, Creative Assembly has made minor adjustments, including the alteration of sieges where a physical attack on a city is only required in the event that the city has a wall constructed. You'll spend most of your time battling out in the countryside and other thematic locales representative of Warhammer's world, which is a good thing.
There is a strong presence of micro-management through abilities and magic, which are potent and require deliberate usage. As you build up your army and obtain notable (and expensive) units such as giants and dragons, micro-management becomes far more integral to success, and can mean the difference between an advantage or a disadvantage. You'll also want to pay attention to Winds of Magic, which are locations marked on the map that quickly accelerate magic availability. This magic has a profound impact on the battlefield, so you'd be wise to incorporate it into your thought process.
Diplomacy is interjected often to ensure that it plays a factor in every player’s campaign. You’ll have other provinces and factions approach you for various reasons, whether it be of peaceful or violent orientation. There is the ability to trade resources, negotiate alliances, and even bribe. The A.I. functions unpredictably, providing welcomed deviation between the personalities and actions of the other factions.
Beyond combat and diplomacy, Total War: Warhammer’s campaign isn’t well composed. The issues begin with its quest system, which appears to have randomized allotment. Many of the granted quests simply aren’t feasible, such as requesting you to head thousands of miles away to tear down a heavily fortified city. Since early on these quests help provide useful rewards and a sense of guidance, which is particularly important in the case of the Empire and Dwarf factions since they are surrounded by enemy territory, the gameplay flow suffers during the middle to late game. You'll find yourself questioning where to go, only to find yourself face first with a massive castle that you are ill-equipped to take head-on.
The way that siege equipment has been devised makes it very difficult to make progress for several hours of the campaign. Although small villages can be found near your starting point, they only make up a small number of locales. You’ll need to invest several hours into growing your population so that you can gain access to mid-tier and high-tier buildings, which are required for creation of valuable units such as siege equipment. Thus, you're stuck with a relatively boring army for a sizable portion of your ventures.
Speaking of buildings, the building management is convoluted and in some cases a bit of a mess. Do you want +20 growth, +4 public order, or additional income? Where did you build your stable, and was it in a location that is readily accessible for the reinforcement of your offensive army?
You definitely want to avoid building several copies of the same military building throughout your empire for the sake of efficiency as there are a small number of building slots at each city. At some point you’ll desire to just go out and battle, but in the back of your mind you’ll wish that city management wasn’t such as bottleneck so you could more easily gain access to the units that you desire. This part of the campaign is functionally unenjoyable and inhibits the experience.
The visual presentation of the last two Total War titles has largely gone unchanged with Total War: Warhammer. What you’ll experience here is representative of both of these games, albeit with a true-to-IP, violent Warhammer skin wrapped around it. That isn’t necessarily a bad thing, and gamers with less-than-average PC hardware will at least have a shot at running the game with sufficient framerate. That said, what’s here isn’t visually spectacular or ambitious. Any strong impression is derived from the sheer scale of some combat scenarios, which is a leg up above just about anything else you can find on the market.
Total War: Warhammer includes a Multiplayer mode that is well worth investing time into if you have a friend to play with. There are also Quest Battles and Custom Games to help diversify the content offerings for those who want to enjoy the game outside of Campaign.
The marriage between Total War and Warhammer is one with its ups and downs, victories and compromises. For Warhammer fans, it's a treat to see thousands of recognizable forces converge on the battlefield. For everyone else, it represents something exciting but incapable of exceeding the franchise's status quo.
When you walk away from Total War: Warhammer, you’ll feel like you’ve played yet another decent Warhammer game. It has the attention to detail and adherence to lore that fans of the IP look for, but without many of the compelling qualities that are needed to substantiate AAA games in a release-heavy year like 2016.