Total War: Warhammer Preview


Creative Assembly's Total War franchise is so well-known for its authenticity to the time period and the detail of its units that The History Channel used the Rome: Total War engine to simulate actual historical Roman battles in some programs. Games Workshop's Warhammer tabletop game is known for the obsessive level of care and detail that players put into painting the miniatures for the strategic battle game set in a kind of dystopian Middle Earth-like setting. Putting the two together seems as promising as something like putting Hideo Kojima in charge of Silent Hill—can you tell I'm bitter about the cancelation?—it feels invigorating for both parties.  

Creative Assembly has stepped out of their historical period mainstay infrequently… to limited success. More recently they excelled with a completely different genre and franchise, helming the excellent Aliens: Isolation, holding true to the franchise' horror roots. Total War: Warhammer is the first non-historical Total War, though, but it's probably the best possible franchise they could lend their brand to—though they're not abandoning their traditional title; they're still working on upcoming Total War: Atilla titles simultaneously. 

I got to sit down and get some hand-on with the Dwarven faction of the game. It's fitting that the Dwarven king, who sits on a golden palanquin paging though the Book of Grudges, is named Thorgrim Grudgebearer. The book, which if zoomed in close enough on the character, has individual runes that can be seen and holds the names of those the Dwarves mean to make pay for what they've done. 

It's one thing that sets the Dwarves aside from other factions in the game. Other factions may form grudges over time as a part of the game mechanic, but the Dwarves come with them built into their history. In addition to the regular units, Creative Assembly is introducing Agents as playable characters into the game, making them much like Warcraft III's heroes, powerful individual figures with MOBA-like combat abilities in the heart of battle.

The grudge that was being played out was with the Greenskins—orcs, goblins, trolls, and other units who are typically on the wrong side of fantasy. However, in Warhammer it might be good to point out that there is no real "wrong side" because each faction tends to be as nasty as another. Imagine if every group in Lord of the Rings were as bad as Sauron or Saruman; you don't feel bad about clubbing any particular group into submission. 

Balance is an interesting thing in the game, as the factions have different strengths. Dwarves, I was advised by Creative Assembly Games Designer Richard Aldridge, are best used defensively (as Dwarves are entirely lacking in cavalry) and he suggested dense formations of the axe-wielding infantry to funnel the rushing hoard into a kill zone of Dwarven Irondrake flamethrowers, Thunderer musketeers, and Organ Gun cannonade. Different greenskin enemies had different affiliated attributes, which required sending the right units at the right time, like the carapaces of the enemy's giant spiders being armored and requiring piercing weapons to do the most damage or certain infantry being effective against giant enemies.

The force Creative Assembly let me play with was cobbled together from units unlocked from different periods throughout the campaign. Some of the infantry units were from early in the game, while others, particularly the artillery and a set of flying units, were from much later. The battle I played was set to easy mode and I still survived by the skin of my teeth. 

Setting it to hard mode, Aldridge and I restarted the encounter, pausing to zoom in on the individual units. In a group of dual axe-wielding, fight-to-the-death commandos known as Slayers, you could see differences in Dwarven beard and mohawk styles. Aldridge told me that leveled-up Dwarven artillery would have runes on the side of the cannons that invoked specific grudges, and some of these might even be written on the cannonballs themselves, to match the progression in armor and weapons from chainmail to the articulated plate I saw in other units (including platemail beard coverings).

When we started the game up again on hard mode, I was defeated in a fraction of the time it took to play through the level on easy—Total War: Warhammer does not skimp away from a challenge. As with the Warhammer miniature tabletop game from Games Workshop itself, the game ostensibly does a better job of simulating giant scale Middle-Earth battles than actual Middle Earth-set games. For RTS fans—and fans of giant fantasy battles—it promises to be a real treat.

If you're curious about the Total War franchise, there's currently a Humble Bundle of the series through the 28th. If you're curious about Warhammer's tabletop game, may God-have-mercy-on-your-soul, because the incredibly addictive collecting, painting, and care of the miniatures will consume your entire life (and paychecks). Total War: Warhammer is slated to release on PC and Mac in 2016.