Only a few turns into my Total War: Warhammer campaign, and I quickly realized that this campaign was going to be different than even the most recent Total War games before it. Warhammer is a totally different animal, combining some of the great mechanics from Total War: Rome 2 and Total War: Atilla, while adding wholly new battlefield mechanics to the series such as magic to essentially revitalize the game.
The Total War series has taken a hit since Rome 2‘s extremely lukewarm reception following a buggy launch. Warhammer has been a breath of fresh air for the series, in terms of stability as well as adding much-needed variation to the battlefield. Warhammer brings the lore and units from Game Workshop’s Warhammer series, pitting the Empire, Vampire Counts, Chaos Warriors, Dwarfs, and Greenskins, and many more against each other in the traditional Total War fashion.
Playing the campaign with someone who has never played a Total War game, however, has made this playthrough the most interesting one I’ve done so far. About 60 turns have passed since we began 17 gameplay-hours ago, and both of us have been pushed by the AI controlled factions around us. Neither of us have broken either, but most crucially – Total War: Warhammer hasn’t driven away my friend who was wary of starting a game to begin with thanks to the series’ reputation for complexity.
We’re separated by mountains and plains, as well as some of the game’s AI controlled factions, yet our strategies have been working in tandem to eventually link our factions together. I’m playing The Empire, led by the newly elected Karl Franz, while my friend is controlling the Dwarfs with Thorgrim Grudgebearer at the helm. And early on, it seemed the Total War newbie had the upper hand over the grisled Total War veteran.
Within the first five or so turns, he had shored up his hold on the Dwarf faction’s home province, easily taking out the Greenskin and Bloody Spearz armies to his Eastern flank. I, however, was still struggling in the field against the Empire Secessionists, the faction which represents the opposition to Karl Franz’s tenuous hold on The Empire. Having finally captured two of the three Successionist strongholds in the Reikland, Eilhart and Grunburg, I turned my focus to the strategic stronghold of Helmgart to the south.
Total War: Warhammer quickly reminded me that I could not take my previous experience in the series for granted. An army rushing from Helmgart, whom I affectionately started calling Hans Gruber, after my favorite movie villain, alleviated my hold on Grunburg, moving with the speed that Julius Caesar exhibited when he waged war on his fellow Romans 2,000 years ago. My armies could not keep up with Hans’ speed, and a 10-turn long dance of death played out in the Reikland.
Public order, a stat that is extremely important for staving off revolts in Total War: Warhammer, plummeted. My cash reserves were dry. Income was nonexistent. All the while, my friend experienced high growth, wealth, and success on the battlefield. As I was frustratingly harried by Hanz on the battlefield, him nimbly dodging my armies advance and pillaging the countryside, my Dwarf ally was able to destroy the Bloody Spearz armies in front of him and started to set his sights to the province to the south. His armies stood tall, strong against the Greenskin foes he faced, deftly showcasing some natural chops in Total War, especially for a newcomer.
It’s worth noting that Total War: Warhammer has performed, for the most part, solidly during our multiplayer campaign. We are both using Nvidia graphics cards, and while Nvidia hasn’t released any official drivers just yet, we aren’t having too many issues keeping the framerate around that 60fps mark. Some issues were experienced early on with a flickering UI or banding across the screen, but those can simply be blamed on the lack of driver, not an unoptimized game overall.
Even though I was struggling early on to rid myself of the pest that was Hanz (and around this time Bastonne decided to declare war and take Helmgart from me), I realized something about Total War: Warhammer: This was the best Total War game I’ve played since Shogun 2. There seems to be purpose to every single action, turn, reaction, and so on, something I felt was missing in previous entries since Shogun 2. Total War: Warhammer is a return to form for Creative Assembly, a company known for essentially saving the real-time strategy genre back at the turn of the century, as relayed by GamesRadar.
It’s this sense of purpose that has driven us for the past 60 turns with no signs of fatigue. Sure, my vertically-challenged ally might have been pushed back by multiple Greenskin armies, and I’m now facing off against the Skaeling and the hordes of Chaos, but its those challenges that have caused us to rally and really enjoy what’s unraveling before us. New mechanics are keeping a veteran like myself on my toes, such as flying units and magic raining down from above. My friend is still learning his way, but after about 15 turns or so, he began to really come into his own, maneuvering through each turn skillfully as someone who has played for years.
Total War: Warhammer has a high learning curve, but if you can get past that, the game is simply enthralling. The strategy elements, which have often defined the series, are at their height. Defending a keep is no longer as straightforward as keeping your enemies from knocking down or scaling a wall. What about an enemy who can fly over them, or launch spell after spell to harry your archers while their siege engines inch closer to paydirt? The politics feel as real as those portrayed in previous Total War games as well, though Warhammer feels more organic than even our real world history. The struggle to reunite The Empire after an unpopular Emperor is voted in, facing off against the Greenskin threat as my Dwarf ally has come to be all too aware of again, and even the keeping tabs on the agents of Chaos, wrecking havoc in your provinces feel as real as controlling the Oda in medieval Japan in Shogun 2. You don’t have to be someone learned in Warhammer lore either to keep up, I’m not and it’s not hampering my ability to enjoy the game one bit.
As the 60th turn came to a close, I had just faced off against two Skaeling armies with three of my own, pushing back and assault from the faction. My deeply entrenched ally was fortifying his flanks, building up a cannon to let loose on the battlefields against his inevitable battle to come against the Greenskins. Total War: Warhammer has enthralled us for 60 turns so far, yet it feels as though it is just getting started.
[Images via SEGA/Creative Assembly]