War Has Changed
I only got into tabletop gaming a few years ago, but it quickly became one of my favorite hobbies. As much as I love my boxes and boxes of painted minis, there’s just only so much the mind can do to bring them to life. As much as I’d like to imagine my tanks sending enemy hoards flying, or my spells causing chaos and confusion from afar, there’s only so much that can be done with metal, plastic, and cardboard. You can imagine my delight when the news came out of nowhere that the next entry in the classic Total War franchise would eschew real history and instead step into the world Warhammer Fantasy. While based on the characters and lore of Games Workshop’s mystic world instead of its actual gameplay, I’m incredibly happy that Total War: Warhammer has turned into a dream game for fans of both franchises.
Total War games are simple enough in concept- control massive amounts of units around a battlefield to achieve victory. In that regard, from a strictly mechanical standpoint, Total War: Warhammer is still largely the same beast it’s been in the past. Battles are as hectic and fast paced as they’ve ever been, and each race plays satisfyingly differently. If you end up having to fight the same faction over and over again in the campaign things can become a bit repetitive, but in general each conflict seemed challenging and new enough to keep me plenty engaged.
Despite your general goal being pretty straight forward, there is a lot going on that can be really, really intimidating for new players. There is a short tutorial for each of the factions, which was fine, but it was kind of on autopilot and didn’t introduce me to anything but the most basic game systems. Just in-battle there are a ton of buttons and icons you’ll need to know and understand, not to mention the complex overworld map out of battle that’s necessary for the maintenance and progression of your game. It really is worth it to learn- there wasn’t anything that seemed like pointless information or complexity once I got it, but taking it all in took a lot of determination not to just give up.
Treading New Grounds
However, things are have certainly changed since the Total War days of knights or samurai. First, the raw variety between the different factions in Total War: Warhammer is an incredibly welcome breath of fresh air. The games are just more fun to watch than previous Total War games due to the wide range of unit types rocking around one the battlefield. Instead of soldiers wearing slightly different armors, you might see skeleton soldiers charging lines, steam tanks powerfully plodding, majestic gryphons terrorizing the skies, and any number of other unique units. It also adds more replayability to the campaign.I truly enjoyed seeing characters I’ve only read about or seen molded in plastic “brought to life” and throwing down the pain in real time. My only gripe, and it’s really more a nitpick, is that it’d have been nice to be able to customize some colors on your unit models. Certain factions can meld together a bit visually when in the fray, and a few times I found myself wishing that things were easier to identify when I was at medium zoom.
Of course, the game isn’t called Warzone: Warhammer. It’s Total War, and that means that in order to succeed you’ll have to be able able to control things outside of the battlefield as well. It’s absolutely necessary to manage where your armies and leaders are, where you can recruit from, happiness levels of your settlements, and relationships with other groups. It’s challenging, but the system is extremely well designed, and the AI does a nice job of balancing challenge with realistic behavior. During each of the few campaigns I played through, unique storylines were developed through happenings in the overworld map. Heroic stands, unexpected partnerships, and last minute surges add a real sense of life into a game without much actual “plot.”
Speaking of which, the lore codexes deserve a shoutout. The world of Warhammer Fantasy is large and deep, and it’s a daunting task to try and bring players in without making players who just don’t care about the backstories slog through cutscenes and whatnot. The codex entries do a great job of giving personality and history to the factions and their major players, which give more meaning and depth to the game matches. That being the case, anyone who just wants to play won’t miss anything critical by skipping them.
One Shall Remain
Total War: Warhammer seems like what the Total War franchise should have been all along, and after playing it I’m not sure I want to go back to the real-world Europe or Asia again anytime soon. Above all else, I don’t think I can stand losing the personality the battles have adopted. While it’s cool to see real historical figures and eras, games here just seem so much more alive. Total War: Warhammer has become the best of both of its worlds.
Nicely differentiated factions and characters, hectic yet manageable matches, well crafted out-of-battle systems, lack of glitches or crashes.
Could use a bit more of a tutorial for new Total War players, and some visual faction customization would be nice.