For a franchise that got shunned by its parent company, Warhammer Fantasy isn’t doing too poorly. It’s been two years since the End Times, and yet we’re still getting games like Total War: Warhammer II popping up like The Empire still exists. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a strange circumstance to find ourselves in, but when the game involves both Lizardmen and Skaven as core races, you don’t question the context. Just pat the scales, stroke the furry biters, and accept the many improvements WH2 brings to the table.
If you missed that Creative Assembly and Games Workshop finally made a game together, welcome to last years’ news! If you imagine a Total War game with Warhammer races, that’s pretty much what WH1 was. This time around, though, WH2 has honed its direction, with a much stronger focus on achieving goals in its campaign. To that end, there is now a giant magical vortex on the map that everyone wants to control, including you.
Compared to its predecessor, WH2’s campaign feels like there’s an urgency to it. Instead of aimlessly dominating whoever you meet in your neighbourhood, the campaign is running on a timer. You need to beat everyone to the chase and gain control of the vortex before they do, and each move you make furthers your ability to meet that goal. There’s also a new settlement capturing system that offers more freedom so that you can expand out, but be prepared for a few adverse effects in unnatural climates. Of course, it wouldn’t be such a damn good time if you were controlling mere mortals.
The choice of races this time around is commendable. Lizardmen and Skaven are my favourite races in Warhammer, which, I admit, is making me like this game a bit more than I should. There are no humans to spoil the fun times, just the unique flair and mechanics each of these exotic races brings. Skaven settlements show up as ruins on the map, Lizardmen gain bonuses for connecting their settlements to the Geomantic Web, and Dark Elves will desert you if you don’t keep them busy. High Elves… I mean, they’re fine, but Skinks are where it’s at, and they act on the battlefield precisely as you imagine they should.
Each of the races have mechanics that reflect their personalities. Lizardmen will lose control in the midst of battle due to their bloodlust, and they are a hardy bunch too. Dark Elves are glass cannons, Skaven flee at first sight of superior beings, and High Elves… They’re fine. They key here is that nothing feels half-assed. Each race plays uniquely, and that makes coming back to the game a lot more interesting. Bored of playing with rats? Give a new race a shot! I’d be willing to go back and try the game again, but it would help if the AI were worth encountering again.
I don’t know if the AI has stayed the same or gotten worse since the first game, but it’s terrible. Hiding in the trees still seems to confuse the AI enough that it won’t move, which validates cheap tactics like not moving for an hour. I literally had one unit on the battlefield, a single lord against an army, but the AI refused to come closer with its thousand-strong horde. It baffles me how poorly the AI acts in even the most simple of circumstances. Whether this is because I was on normal difficulty or just a tactical genius is up for debate, but it’s not the most satisfying opponent to engage with, and other old problems are still present.
The game is plagued (and not in a Skaven way) by legacy issues. Nothing feels optimised, and the game will hang when you hover over icons for the first time, during turn ends and sometimes mid-battle. If you’re on a small screen, good luck seeing anything because the game is not made for lower resolutions. The advisor is race-universal, which is a minor gripe, but I’d rather get advice from a Skink than a Warmblood when I’m playing Lizardmen. The list goes on, but the improvements to the game outweigh the negatives.
For every issue that persists, I can name a way that the game has been cleaned up. The tutorial, for one, has been made just that little bit better than before, and the game breaks you in a lot better than previous Total War efforts. Markers will indicate what units are rallying in battle (which feels like an obvious addition), and army abilities can help change the tide of battle with the well-timed spawn of a magic user. However, for the most part, you’re going to be playing the same fundamental game.
Despite all the improvements and all the new stuff, WH2 feels almost identical to WH1. The new map, new races, but same fundamental design and gameplay as before. Is that a bad thing? No, but don’t expect a completely different game. At its core, this is Total War through and through, but it’s different enough from its predecessor to warrant existing. Besides, if more Warhammer games aren’t in line with the will of the Old Ones, then let me be sacrificed.
Total War: Warhammer II presents a new cast and set for an old show. While the gameplay is still fundamentally the same, the new races and map help to freshen up an already solid game. There are plenty of improvements in the game from WH1, both in the campaign and battle modes. There are still old problems that the game suffers from, like poor performance and stupid AI, but they’re easy to overlook when you can send a floating toad wizard across a battlefield of rat corpses. Overall, it’s a fantastic successor to an already great game.