The storied Games Workshop tabletop franchise returns for a second outing under the Total War banner packed with enough violence to make a Lizardman blush. Is it worth going to war over, or should you wave the white flag?
Total War games have always been a strange beast – a hybrid of turn-based and real-time strategy. For a series that has existed since the year 2000, it remains an impressive depiction of all-out war. Diplomacy and settlement management is conducted via turn-based movements not dissimilar to Civilization – you’ll dispatch envoys, conduct business, and, invariably get into some scrapes with rival nations.
As you’d imagine from a game with the word “War” appearing twice in the title, Total War: Warhammer II goes all in with its battles. Occurring in real-time, Creative Assembly have distilled the Battle For Helms Deep into digital form. Huge battlefields filled with foliage, different elevations, and rolling plains to be trampled on by units of all sizes.
The developers move to a fantasy-based cast of warriors and creatures feels like letting their imaginations run wild, almost like a child excited to show increasingly elaborate drawings of carnage. Playable races include Lizardmen, capable of riding huge Dinosaur-like monstrosities into battle, as well as Skaven – some pretty gruesome rat-people. Their low-cost units make them ideal for swarming units, which is handy because they can be cut down easily by High Elves or Dark Elves. Sticking to the tree line and flanking is a much safer bet.
These differences spread to the game’s non-combat scenarios too. Skaven settlements remain hidden from other races until attacked, and rely on food supplies to maintain their armies. Meanwhile, High Elves have the potential to manipulate other races during their turn. Dark Elves can use slaves to power their industry, which is exactly what you’d expect from a race that can ride a Hydra into battle. There are DLC races too (including undead Pirates, yes really), but we weren’t able to review these.
All of these intricacies are considerations when picking your side but keen tactical awareness will still prevail on the battlefield. Keeping units hidden, enacting pincer moves, and sacking settlements are all big pieces of the Total War puzzle, and that remains true of Total War: Warhammer II.
While it would’ve been nice to be able to add to the races from the first game rather than replace them entirely, the game offers plenty of reasons to invest. A huge improvement from the first game’s campaign is the addition of an ever-evolving and shifting goal to aim for. Revolving around armies working to take control of a Vortex by completing five rituals before their competitors, it can become a frantic “Snakes and Ladders” process in the late game.
Armies earn currency, used to power ritual energy from settlements which travels to the Vortex. This can be interrupted by attacking these settlements, and so this tug of war puts an emphasis on settlement defence and a balanced strategy. It’s no good laying waste to enemy units if you can’t defend your cities.
Thankfully, a lot of this information is telegraphed by the game’s highly accessible tutorial systems. Offering reminders and friendly tips without feeling overbearing, it can be turned off but new players will likely learn a lot here. There is plenty to entice returning players too – a separate download called “Mortal Empires” is a campaign which adds content from both Total War: Warhammer titles, and plays out on a huge map.
In short, Total War: Warhammer II offers plenty of content for fans of strategy games, Warhammer and Total Warhammer fans, and new starters to the genre. It is easily one of the genre’s finest, standing alongside X-Com 2 as one of the best PC games of the last few years.
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