Sometimes you don’t realize when two things are made for one other, but when the match finally happens, you can’t believe you hadn’t thought of it before. That’s exactly what happened to me when Creative Assembly announced Total War: Warhammer in the spring of 2015.
As a Warhammer player growing up, this news hit me with a wave of excitement. Combining the rich fantasy lore of Warhammer with Total War’s large-scale, real-time-strategy conflicts just made so much sense. Finally, the hundreds of tabletop Warhammer fantasy battles I’ve had over the years were going to be brought to life in a videogame. Over the roughly year-plus between its announcement in April 2015 and release on May 24, 2016, I watched almost every video that was released on Total War’s YouTube channel. I couldn’t help it. I just wanted the game to be out already.
After many hours playing it on release week, I’m happy to report to fans of both the Warhammer and Total War franchises that Creative Assembly has managed to merge them together with great success. They’ve kept what makes each series great, and have incorporated each other’s aspects into the final product almost seamlessly.
For example, the Total War series focused on historical events, people and conflicts in different parts of the real world. This is the first time they’re entering into the world of fantasy, therefore, some new unit types and battle mechanics needed to be introduced. Large beasts such as trolls and giant-spiders make their way onto the battlefield, along with Total War’s first ever flying units - in the form of chaos dragons, wyverns and more.
As Lead Battle Designer, Alisdair Jarrold explains in “The Making of Total War: Warhammer”, adding these new types of units to the battle was no easy task: “The unit balancing in Total War games has always been a pretty big challenge because there are so many different factors to take into account. Now we’ve gone and added so many different things and have expanded the game in every possible direction and dimension. For us, Warhammer was really known for its crazy units, crazy rules and crazy abilities.”
He then adds about flying creatures in particular: “When it comes to flying creatures, we had some special challenges (obviously). We’ve never done that in a Total War game before. It felt a bit as though using flying creatures was cheating, because you can attack anywhere on the battlefield. So one thing we decided early on was that when a flying unit does commit to land battle, we want it to be stuck there for a while. We didn’t want it to charge in, do some damage, and then get out of there again. We wanted the defenders to have a chance to do something against it.”
Another example comes in the form of Warhammer’s legendary lords and heroes. Some of these powerful leaders have a variety of magical abilities at their disposal - something the Total War series hasn’t had in their previous games. Balancing the use of magic was essential in order to maintain an even playing field during battles. Creative Assembly has done this in a few interesting and effective ways. To start, you only have a limited amount of magic reserve to draw from - depending on your hero, level and particular spells - in any given battle. Furthermore, some battle spells have a sense of randomness to them. Casting Vortex might not hit right in the middle of that unit of Ork Boyz like you had initially hoped. Instead, it may veer off course and even take out some of your own units in the process. These two balancing acts are essential, because due to the powerful nature of magic in Warhammer, battles could become unfair. Imagine putting your enemy on the brink of defeat through a perfectly implemented battle strategy, only to be outdone by one or two powerful spells from enemy lords. Limited spell casting and some randomness helps counteract this issue.
What’s most impressive is that each race looks, feels, and plays uniquely, and feels true to their tabletop counterparts. As Lead Campaign Designer, Jim Whitson puts it: “You’ll finish a game playing as the Empire, and then you’ll start a new game as the Vampire Counts. You’ll find yourself with an entirely different feature set that you’re playing with, and that really influences the way the game plays out.”
Dwarfs are resilient and have excellent artillery/projectiles to last in longer conflicts, but lack mobility with no cavalry units. I was able to set up a Dwarven gunline (yes, I was that guy) and pick apart my enemies as they marched towards me; just as I had done while playing the tabletop game in the back of my local Games Workshop. Contrary to them, the Greenskins thrive on attacking in mass numbers of bloodthirsty Orcs in melee combat. They’re also a little crazy, and don’t mind sacrificing lesser units to win the battle (poor goblins). This shows in their use of artillery, where they use Doom Diver Catapults to launch goblins with makeshift wings through the skies towards enemies. Also, you can’t forget about Greenskin shamans bringing the influence of the Da Big Waaagh! and Little Waaagh! to the battlefield either. The Vampire Counts have no ranged units in their army, instead relying on magic, raising units from the dead, strong cavalry and powerful monsters to spread their vampiric corruption across the Old World. Imbued with the strength of chaos, the Chaos Warriors are a strong army whose units can pack more of a punch than their mortal counterparts. Add in their devastating monstrous units such as the chaos dragon and dragon ogres and your hands will be quite full when dealing with this powerful army. Lastly, the Empire plays like a more standard type of fantasy army, using a little bit of everything (magic, artillery and infantry) to go with their excellent cavalry.
This makes Total War: Warhammer single player campaigns highly replayable, as you’ll have to change your tactics and playstyle depending on which army you decide to use. If you’ve had enough of single player, you could always hop online and play both the campaign and PVP with other players.
If you’ve read this far, you can probably tell that Total War: Warhammer has satisfied my year-long craving for fantasy warfare. As it turns out, I’m not alone. Sega announced that this has been the largest launch in the Total War's franchise history, selling 500,000 copies in a mere three days. Additionally, Sega has said that the game has been regularly topping 100,000 concurrent players. This comes as no surprise, as I’ve laid out in this article, Total War: Warhammer melds together two separate franchises very well. Its diverse races and replay-ability make it well worth the purchase.
Now if you'll excuse me, the Dwarven High King Thorgrim Gridgebearer has some grudges to settle with Greenskins in the Old World.
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