Okay, look. We all knew that Total War needed to make a Warhammer game a decade ago. Now that Games Workshop has stopped being complete dicks about their IP (utter, but not complete dicks), the fantasy of a million inner 15-year olds has finally come true. At last, huge fantasy warfare in a setting that is more appealing than a free hot dog; this is the game we’ve waited far too long for. The thing is, after playing it for a while, TW:W is just another Total War game in a Warhammer setting, and while I’m damn pleased about that, I’m not sure what I expected.
If you’ve played a Total War game before, guess what, you’re getting another one. This isn’t ground-breaking territory for Creative Assembly, and if you played Attila, you’re going to notice plenty of similarities. It’s certainly one of the better efforts they’ve offered up, but the only real difference from previous games is magic and monstrous creatures, which we’ll get to later. There’s still a grand campaign and the satisfying combat system from previous instalments, but this is nothing new. Of course, sticking to what devs know best isn’t a bad thing in of itself, especially if you can make a Warhammer game that doesn’t suck.
Let’s start off with that combat system we all have a love/hate relationship with. There’s a reason why we’ve wanted this crossover, and it’s because the battles are so perfectly suited to the Warhammer setting. It feels like a ramped up version of the tabletop game, with units being large groups of warriors or independent leaders that act together. When you add in morale and flanking, it reminds you why everyone wanted this game to get made. Then there’s the specific mechanics that you couldn’t get away with in a historically inspired game.
Part of the allure of the Warhammer universe is the fact that it is unabashedly fantastical. Mechanics like the winds of magic, which may blow stronger to allow your leaders to cast magic more often in battle, have been implemented extremely well. Monstrous creatures, flying mounts and a whole plethora of magical and ridiculous beings are in the game, and nothing feels tacked on. Nothing acts like it’s an overpowered or cheap tool, and it feels like everything has been thought out quite well. This sentiment also rings true in the grand campaign.
The other half of any good Total War experience lies in the campaign, and Creative Assembly has done a bloody good job of bringing in many races of Warhammer into the fray. Most races act like your regular Total War empires in previous games, while Greenskins (a combination of Orcs and Goblins) act like Huns from Attila, needing to fight or dying from attrition. You can also only take settlements suited to your race, so The Empire can’t colonise Dwarf mines (but they can sure as hell raze them). The way everything has been handled has been excellent, and it all suits a setting so fundamentally centred around constant warfare. The quirks of the old games are still present, though, and this can lead to a lot of confusion and frustration.
If you’re unfamiliar with Total War games, TW:W does about as good of a job of introducing you to the mechanics as previous games in that it barely explains anything. The tutorial comes in the form of an advisor guiding you through your first steps of the game, but because all the mechanics are available from the get-go, it’s not a great way of breaking new players in. When you pair that with the UI, which is a thematically cluttered mess a lot of the time, it can feel like banging your head against a fortress. Once you figure it all out, it plays very well… Assuming you don’t want to see what you need.
My biggest gripe with the game is that while it’s enjoyable to play, the camera is absolute balls. In combat, you can’t zoom out enough, even in the tactical view which zooms out farther than normal at the cost of all your UI. If I’m playing a strategy game, I don’t want to be constantly pausing just to move my camera so I can make out where my units are in amongst all the trees. The lack of a UI in the tactical view compounds the problem, since you can’t pause or select groups from their cards at the bottom, and tabbing in and out becomes tedious. Still, manipulating your troops is as satisfying as ever, but you’ll want to turn your AI up.
One of the problems I had with Attila was that the AI felt too easy on normal settings, and it doesn’t seem to have improved since then. To give you an example of how easy it is to manipulate them, I had a measly army that was being invaded by a pack of angry Dwarfs. It turns out they didn’t like me burning their homes to the ground, so they wanted to kill me in a forest area, but the AI didn’t catch on that I was hiding in the trees. I had my lord unseen at the bottom of a hill while the rest of my troops chilled up the back of the map, and as long as I stayed still, the AI had no idea how to react. It felt too easy, like using a meat cleaver on a pencil, and ultimately won me the battle, but it wasn’t satisfying. I just waited until the timer ticked over, which gave me plenty of time to admire the scenery and detail on the troops.
As usual, the visuals of the game are stunning. There’s an immaculate level of detail on the troops considering the scale, and the heroes look pretty decent too. The only issue I have is that, from afar, the only distinguishing features of the troops are what banners they fly (which changes depending on their weapons). Individuality isn’t as big of an issue outside of the human races, though, and the Vampire Counts have units with plenty of personality to them. Speaking of races, I have to mention the disturbing lack of Lizardmen.
Yes, okay, no matter who they chose, some races would have to be left out at launch, I get that, but there’s a problem here. The current races include humans, vampires, dwarfs and greenskins, but there’s a worrying lack of one critical Warhammer race here. There are no Elves, you know, those standard fantasy creatures, nor are there Skaven or Lizardmen. The latter two I can understand, but no elves? Really? It seems odd that such a fundamental force in the Warhammer lore would be absent, but hey, when you get so much right in a game, it’s hard to complain. Well, I say this, but they’ll probably be added through overpriced DLC later down the line, then I’ll complain a lot.
I didn’t know what I was expecting the game to be, but what I got was a Total War game that felt so right with Warhammer mechanics integrated in. The way this game blends fantasy with the realism Total War is known for is exceptional, even if the AI and camera try to persuade you otherwise. It might not do a great job of bringing the unfamiliar into its war-filled walls, but if you like the sound of a Warhammer grand strategy game that doesn’t suck, this is what you want. Oh, and if your inner 15-year old isn’t gleefully screaming in your head right now, get yourself checked out by a professional inner 15-year old clairvoyant.