Total War: Warhammer Review
Reviewed on PC
The Games Workshop used to amaze me. From the wall-to-wall displays of perfectly crafted metallic figurines to the lush tabletop battlefield that occupied the centre of the story, the world of Warhammer almost had me sucked in at first glance. I even bought a starter pack and a handful of paints, with the intentions of trying to paint and build my very own model army. Then I tried to paint the bloody things.
My painting skills were far from delicate, but thankfully I need not worry about that anymore. In a departure from the traditional historical format, the Creative Assembly have forged an alliance with Games Workshop to bring us Total War: Warhammer. This mash-up of the tactical and the magical works wonders for both franchise, by not only giving us a Total War that breaks the mould, but also at long last a Warhammer game worthy of its name.
On first impressions, you’d be forgiven for thinking that the Warhammer elements bring nothing more than a skin change to the Total War series. Indeed, despite appearances from dwarves, orcs, vampires and all sorts of other weird critters, the gameplay mechanics function in the same way as they did during the reign of Napoleon or when the Huns attacked Europe. There’s still a campaign map that has you shuffling pieces around a board like a more interesting version of Risk, while the battle mode after all these years is still the best thing to come out of BBC’s Time Commanders. Except it now has giant spiders, zombie dragons, and gyrocopters fighting alongside the foot soldiers on the ground, demonstrating just one of the ways that the lunacy of the Warhammer universe elevates what otherwise would have been business-as-usual Total War gameplay.
Unlike the sprawling melting pot of tribes and factions seen in the Rome or Medieval editions of Total War, this entry into the series features just a handful of races. However each one has a range of unique features and units that means cycling through them all is part of the fun. One example of this can be seen through the dwarves’ grudge system; a series of mission objectives that generate any time a rival faction does them ill. Satisfying these grudges will grant your armies and strongholds with rewards, while ignoring them will see morale and public order drop across your empire.
Similarly, the orcs work off a system that thrives off war. Going on the offensive will fill up a meter that will eventually see smaller orc clans rallying behind you and joining your campaign, saving you valuable resources in the process. Stick to diplomacy or hide away from the world and instead you’ll see your armies run for cover at the sheer sight of an enemy unit. The other factions, such as the Empire, the Vampires, and the DLC-only Chaos Warriors also have their own unique features, making experimentation worthwhile, in order to discover which race best fits your playing style and general mood at the time.
The rest of the campaign mode functions much in the same way as the other Total War games. Expanding your empire while managing your occupied territories is a balancing act that will be second nature to Total War veterans, while newcomers to the series will find the black humour and deep fantasy backdrop alluring enough to keep them engaged. In fact, some of the more technical management options have been scaled right back to make the whole experience much more accessible than previous entries.
What is surprising is that this Total War puts the story absolutely front and centre. Sure previous entries such as Shogun 2 or Rome have given us the bare bones of a story for us to play within, but Warhammer isn’t afraid to take us to one side and remind us what we’re playing for. The Chaos scourge is making its way across the land and your goal is to assemble an army that can beat back this menace from whence it came. The trouble is you also have to deal with all the other factions in play so if you can’t join ‘em, then you’ll just have to beat them as well.
Throughout the game, there are also a number of side missions that will provide benefits to your faction should you go out of your way to complete them. Generally these require achieving victory in certain battles or capturing specific settlements, but more importantly they conjure up the illusion that this is a living breathing world and not simply chess pieces moving around a board. Narrative asides flesh out the lore, adding further purpose to each and every move you make. Never before has a Total War game felt so personal or inviting.
At the beginning of the campaign, you’ll be asked to select a legendary leader for your emerging army. There are initially two to choose from per faction, each one ripped straight from the mythos of the Warhammer world. Their personalities are reflected in their attributes and special abilities, as well as their attitudes towards other factions. The same applies for hero units, which are unlocked throughout the game after completing specific objectives. These characters also have individual quests and missions that serve to drive the story forward and unlock equipable items that most certainly give them an extra edge on the battlefield.
The skill lies in balancing story with your own personal agenda. Much like the campaign in Rome II, fulfilling objectives will point you in the right direction, but placing too much focus on them can potentially distract you from the bigger picture. World domination should be at the forefront of your mind and at times, capturing strongholds and territory on the map will ultimately put you in a better position strategically. But ignoring these objectives all together could see you miss out on crucial items or technologies that you’d otherwise spend turn after turn trying to unlock from the tech tree.
Of course, all of this hard work in the campaign pays off when you march into battle. Your tried-and-tested tactics from previous games will work here, but where’s the sport in that? Instead, it’s well worth playing around with the Warhammer-exclusive features that set this game apart from its historical predecessors. Sure, regiments still flee when outmanoeuvred by enemy troops and hiding in the bushes will give you a stealth bonus, but we’ve seen all this before.
Magic plays a big part in the Warhammer universe and this game is of no exception. Most factions have access to spellcasters that can destroy powerful units in just one hit, filling the void left by the artillery units of Empire or Shogun 2. Throughout the game, their power is determined by the Winds of Chaos, a roaming magical aura that can provide your wizardry units with power boosts or draining handicaps. The tides of war can literally shift every turn thanks to this feature, meaning that you’ll have to make sure that you’ve got a firm back-up plan in place in the event your sorcerers aren’t up to snuff.
The biggest thrill in this game is getting right down into the blood, sweat and tears of every battle just to see two armies tear each other apart. Warhammer is without a doubt the most colourful Total War game on the market, and the unique art style of the tabletop game is recreated right down to the finest detail. There’s morbid pleasure watching hordes of orcs tear into armies of consisting of dwarf and man. Complemented by over-the-top war cries and rousing theme music, every skirmish becomes an epic cinematic battle. Even the campaign menus are designed in a manner that are sickingly garish and completely in keeping with the Warhammer palette.
Overall, while this is indeed in some respects a new skin for the Total War series, it’s one that it wears with honour and pride. What draws you in deeper are the little touches that both deviate from the traditional games in the series and draw inspiration from the Warhammer franchise. With each faction boasting unique traits, units and missions, there’s plenty on offer to entice both experienced Total War veterans and newcomers alike.