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PAX East 2016: Bloodied refreshment

Call For War

For me, the Total War series has been stagnant for some time. While I greatly enjoyed Total War: Shogun 2, Total War: Rome II and Total War: Attila both felt off, as they were increasingly impenetrable for newcomers, technically poor, and far too iterative for my liking. Thatís not to say that the franchise is dull - on the contrary, the core mechanics of the campaign and battle system are fantastic - but that it needs a new element to reinvigorate it. Thankfully Total War: Warhammer feels refreshing. At PAX East 2016, I got the chance to sit down and play out a battle between the forces of the human Empire and the undead Vampire Counts. From the time I had with the game, the marriage between the mechanics of Total War with that of the Warhammer setting is genuinely exciting.

Forces Meet

For those unfamiliar with the Warhammer franchise, it is set in a fantasy world filled with Humans, Elves, Dwarves, Orcs, Undead and plenty of other fantastical creatures under the sun. In Total War: Warhammer, there will be four playable factions at launch: the previously mentioned Empire and Vampire Counts, alongside the Dwarves and Greenskins. As is common in Total War games, the game is divided into two sections, the strategic campaign and the tactically minded battles. While I could not test out the campaign in the demo, the game'sí Lead Writer, Andy Hall told me that the campaign would play out similarly to previous titles in the franchise.

I controlled the Empire, facing off against a garrison of undead that my forces had recently discovered. If youíre a Total War veteran, rest assured that the meat of the battles remains intact. Watching thousands of units charging in and fighting is still visually impressive, with each regiment serving a specialized purpose within your army. It threw me off to see what I thought were mounted knights pulling out pistols and attacking enemies at a range, but Pistoliers are extremely quick hit and run units. The actual mounted knights under my command rode gryphons, who tore through ranks of skeletons and zombies with ease.

The biggest, and most entertaining, addition to the battle was my wizard. As magic has not been used in any Total War game before, I was surprised by how well balanced it was in game. Magic takes time to cast, and it costs quite a bit to be used, but in the right moment it can turn the tide of battle. When my artillery was under attack by a horde of skeletons, a well timed spell brought down shards of metal into their ranks, decimating them and ensuring my units survival. It wonít win a battle single handedly, but it is an extremely useful and engaging tool to use.

Clashing Tides

I thought the battle was going well, until several legions of undead emerged from the woods on both sides of the map, with my army caught in the middle. I stupidly forgot the possibility of a flanking maneuver, something the AI of the Total War series has had difficulty with in the past. I eventually won the battle by diverting most of my force to deal with the stronger of the two flanking armies before turning back around, yet 50 percent of my army was dead by the end. The AI reacted to each of my maneuvers, and seemed to be in far better shape than it had in previous games.
Despite shipping with only four factions in the base game, Creative Assembly has plans for two additional games in Total War: Warhammer. Each will be standalone, but will add new factions that can be used in previous games as well. This is on top of whatever factions may be added as DLC (Iím hoping for Bretonnia myself).

Embracing Warhammer

Itís a bit concerning that only four different armies will be playable at launch, but this is mitigated by the fact that each promises to play out in wholly unique ways. While the Empire may be your traditional Total War army, the Dwarves have a Great Book of Grudges that is filled with slights against them, which you must take revenge for if you hope to keep your force unified and in good morale. The Undead Counts can raise up the fallen of their foes to create new armies from nothing, and also experience no fear in battle. Then thereís the Greenskins, who must constantly be on the offensive unless they experience bouts of infighting and tear themselves apart. Four different ways to play could be more than enough to stave out repetition, but we wonít see the full extent of the replayability until the game launches next month.

I come away from my time with Total War: Warhammer with high hopes. By tossing away the series fixation on historical accuracy and embracing the fantastical, the developers appear to have breathed in new life into the franchise. Weíll find out whether or not my sampling of Total War: Warhammer is reflective of the final product when the game launches on May 24.