I’ve been playing the Total War franchise for a long time. Back in my youth, I played a lot of Total War: Shogun and later dove back into the franchise when it’s sequel, Shogun 2, reignited that spark. From there I’ve spent time with almost every entry in the series including reviewing Total War: Britannia a few years ago. However, as part of my seeing Warhammer as a franchise for others, I stayed away from Creative Assembly’s first fantasy outing. And what a mistake that was.
Let’s get the basics out of the way first. Total War is a franchise that blends turn-based strategic map and territory development with real-time battles. Warhammer, fantasy, in this case, is a tabletop miniatures property from Games Workshop with things like orcs, dwarves and elves. And the two could not go together better.
As someone who has often found that Total War games have factions that are very similar, Total War: Warhammer pits extremely different ones against each other. A good example is that in previous Total War games, a bowman is a man with a bow regardless of whether they are Celtic or Roman. However, in Total War: Warhammer, the vampire counts have swarms of giant bats and humans ride on pegasus. Not only does this mean that you immediately recognise each faction but they all play completely different.
Whereas in previous Total War games different factions meant a few different bonuses and a start location (pretty much). In Total War: Warhammer each faction is almost like playing a different game. They have different goals, can settle different lands and require entirely different strategies. The dwarves, for example, have a lot of firepower but don’t have mounted units. This changes how you would play them compared with The Empire that has a lot of different options for mounted troops.
And then there are the generals and lords. I know this has been built upon in Total War: Warhammer 2 and Three Kingdoms, but it bears saying that this is a brilliant system. In previous games, your generals and special units would gain levels but Total War: Warhammer they turn into mini RPG characters will full stat trees, equipment, followers and how you build them depends on their role in your game. With Legendary Lords, you can even go on quests to obtain their specific weapons from the tabletop game and further boost their power. And there power, wow. Watching them crash into a battlefield and take on an entire unit by themselves is amazing and they feel like a threat. In previous games you’d keep your general out of combat at all cost but not here, you’ll throw them into the fray as they almost always lead from the front.
And then there’s the magic. Magic can turn the tide of a battle but it isn’t crazy that you’ll constantly rain fire down on your enemies and they’ll do the same. Instead, it is understated but powerful. You can buff or debuff at crucial points, slow down an enemy charge or throw a magic blast into your opponent’s lines. Timing your magical assault is crucial and builds nicely into the tactical choices of the real-time battles as another weapon in your arsenal.
Total War games have always been about more than their real-time fights and the strategic map layer doesn’t disappoint. Developing regions, constructing buildings and managing your territory is straightforward. Unlike some of the more massive Total War games, you never get to a point where managing these becomes a chore. You’ll grow as the game progresses but never to that critical mass where you spend a lot of time doing admin and not enough time taking your army to battle. Instead, the map complements the real-time battles as you want it helps you to develop your armies and push your territory in a way that works for you and your faction. And the twist of this game is that at a certain point Chaos invades the lands and you can either fight them off or join their cause.
And finally, diplomacy. This has always been one of my least favourite parts of any Total War game, and this time I found it to be alright. While that is damning praise, it is the best I think I’ve given a Total War game. Often diplomacy is a second thought but here with the big twist being facing down the invasion of Chaos, it becomes an important factor. Chaos is scary and their armies are huge, so rather than fighting people who could be your friends you can forge alliances to stand up to big bully Archeon. On top of that, it is really easy to see how your actions affect your relationship with the other factions and understand what you can do to gradually get to a point where you can be friends. Alternatively, you can conquer them through blood and fire but the option is there and it works.
I thoroughly recommend Total War: Warhammer as a long time fan of Total War games and a newcomer to Warhammer. It has gotten me excited to pick up Total War: Warhammer 2 and see what changes have been made. I’m also looking forward to seeing how the game works with putting the two maps together and having every faction bouncing off each other in a single game. If you love the historical Total War games but aren’t sure about the Warhammer part, don’t let that stop you.
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