Total War: Warhammer Preview

It's Total Warhammer—minus the 40K, of course.

At the Total War: Warhammer event, I heard not just one, but several journalists ask why the game wasn't simply titled "Total Warhammer." So far as portmanteaus go, it's nice, but the combination would both obstruct the silhouettes of each franchise's logos (a general PR problem) and could also be misconstrued by fans of either. As one PR exec put it, "Total Warhammer sounds like everything Warhammer, so you'd have to have 40K in there also.” This game does not have Space Marines.

I am neither a Warhammer nor a Total War aficionado, and​ I have been yelled at in the past for referring to Dwarfs as Dwarves, and I had to be shown at a previous event how to appropriately place my troops in order to funnel the enemy into a zone of cannonade fire to do maximum damage. This was not a particularly helpful tactic in the extended demo we we're treated to playing as The Vampire Count Manfred Von Carstein (whose name I thankfully looked up since I was about to misspell it as Cursestein based on how it as pronounced at the media event).

Unlike the Dwarfs that I'd played with previously where we had a specific quest mission, pairing a legendary Warhammer leader with a hero who showed off their legendary weapons in an extended scripted battle, this demo dropped us right into the game, presumably after an initial tutorial combat mission. This meant not having the resources, the units, and the upgrades that would come later in the game.

Having made my way through the previous demo by the skin of my teeth, I was completely unprepared to drop into the main game proper as a completely different race, providing massively different gameplay. One of the values of the Dwarfs is their engineering prowess, producing flying units, firearms, flame cannons, and other highly effective ranged weapons. The undead under the control of the Vampire Counts lack any ranged attack ability, but large numbers of units can be raised—literally from the dead—every turn, in addition to recruited units from towns.

These abilities can be augmented after successful battles through upgrading Carstein's abilities, directly affecting how many dead he can raise, and how many allies he can recruit in areas he controls. The dead can also be raised from the corpses of slain enemies in battle, once that upgrade path has been fulfilled in Carstein's upgrade tree, making for a reduction in loss of numbers during battle as they can be partially replenished.

These low-level but highly numerous armies make playing as the Vampire Count a battle of attrition, as you throw wave after wave of low-level enemies against your foes, while whittling them down to nothing. As I played, and mostly found myself being whittled into dust, I slowly began to learn how to play; sadly too little too late, as I found my army ground down to nearly nothing and my towns taken by rival Counts. It got a little better at the end, due to judicious use of flanking maneuvers and grouping my units for maximum effectiveness against single companies of foes.

The asymmetry of the Warhammer races means brand new opportunities for Creative Assembly, since its historical games usually rely on combat between forces with relatively the same equipment. They've embraced this asymetry as a part of creating a new method of balancing, as well as a new approach to the endgame.

In a normal Total War game, the end of the game is usually a slow burn as the player makes their way through areas, conquering everything until they've achieved total conquest over the enemy forces. In Total War Warhammer, things proceed differently, because there are territories that certain races are uninterested in or cannot exist in—as a Vampire Count, if you move into territory you haven't conquered and corrupted you take damage—making alliances and diplomacy a structured part of the late-game, as the races jockey for dominance but must make concessions for alliances. Additionally, you also have to keep an eye on the happiness of your territories or other notable characters or allies may rebel, making the endgame more tense.

Total War: Warhammer will bring this combination of the two franchises to life—or in the case of the Vampire Counts, undeath—on May 24, 2016 on Windows, Mac, and Linux platforms.