Total War Warhammer
Real Time and Turn Based Strategy
May 24, 2016
₹1999/₹2499 (PC, Steam/Retail)
The Total War series and the Warhammer tabletop franchise are a match made in heaven, and while we have had Warhammer mods for earlier Total War games, Total War Warhammer is the first official game that brings them together. It also allows for a title that can be a mouthful to say out loud and marks the Total War franchise’s first foray into the Fantasy genre. It is set in the Old World of the Warhammer universe near the End Times.
Total War Warhammer features the fewest playable factions of any Total War game to date giving you the option of playing as either The Empire (Humans), The Dwarves, The Greenskins (Orks) and the Vampire Counts. The Chaos faction was available free for preorders and first week buyers, but is now being sold as DLC and thus doesn’t count as part of the base game. Bretonnia (Humans) is also a playable faction, but only in Battles, not in the Campaign. While this might seem like a dearth of content, the actual situation is quite different. What Total War Warhammer delivers instead is four unique factions with their own distinct unit types and individual playstyles set in a sizable map with some twists of its own. In comparison, factions from earlier Total War games seem rather generic.
Total War Warhammer seems like a culmination of the features pioneered by its predecessors, especially with the way it handles the factions. The Empire and the Dwarves are perhaps the closest to the traditional historical factions that we see in Total War, but with slight twists of their own. The Empire can use Magic while the dwarves can’t, but objectives for the dwarves are partly defined by the Grudges system (It requires you to settle any slights by other factions in the game in order to maintain public order in your territories). The Greenskins are a rather bloodthirsty faction who force you to fight all the time in order to not lose your troops to infighting and can raise entire supporting armies for reinforcement. The Vampire Counts are strong in magic, but have the handicap of not having any ranged units. They can raise armies from sites of battles and require Vampiric corruption to spread in a province in order to function properly. The Chaos DLC lets you play as the Chaos faction, a horde based faction that cannot hold any territory, whose goal is to raze all civilization to the ground. They are the most interesting faction to play as. They also need Chaos Corruption for the terrain to be suitable to their movement.
To add more variety to your game, you can choose to start as one of two different Legendary Lords for each of the four factions (Chaos gets three, including a Dragon Ogre Shaggoth), which can change the starting difficulty of your campaign as each Lord behaves differently in battle. The Legendary Lord system also brings some new gameplay ideas to the franchise such as a skill tree that grants different selectable bonuses for levelling up (though there seems to be no way to reset skills later, nor any confirmation option to take care of misclicks) and three unique Quests that grant a unique item to the Lord upon completion. Total War Warhammer also expands the retainer system with equipable items for each Lord and Hero, but sadly there are no changes to your character model ingame to show that the item has been equipped. The irony of this is that you might see a Legendary Lord give a rousing speech ahead of a Quest battle of being not yet worthy of wielding the item in question while the character model brandishes it for all to see.
Quest Battles are scripted one off battles much like the historical battles seen in earlier Total War games, with the key difference that any Quest Battles you play in the campaign let you use your existing army in the campaign, sans reinforcements, while choosing to play them from the Main Menu will force you to use a preselected army. The Quests themselves are a nice distraction on the Strategic Map, though they may require you to move back and forth between locations in a fashion that may not align with your current campaign needs. It’s a good thing that these quests have alternative paths (and even alternative Quest Battles) in case the current objective becomes impossible to complete such as the faction in question being destroyed.
While the fantasy genre allows Total War Warhammer some creative freedom such as mythical creatures and flying units, the established rules and lore of the Warhammer universe seem to keep it in check. Magic in the game is interpreted in terms of the Winds of Magic which are capped to 30 units during the course of a battle and their recharge rate is dependent on how strongly the Winds of Magic blow in the region where the battle is being fought and any other effects Heroes might have. The strength of the Winds of Magic in a province changes every few turns. The game also allows you to gamble before deployment for a chance that may increase or decrease your starting quantity of this resource. Spells must be unlocked in the skill tree for each character and can be cast in battle provided there is enough Winds of Magic reserve. Spells may be categorised as Area of Effect spells, Single Target spells, Friendly unit stat boosting spells, Enemy unit stat reduction spells and Passive abilities. There is a chance of miscasting spells which can cause damage to the unit casting them and there’s also a chance of the spell being stronger than usual. The limitation of the Winds of Magic reserve means that Magic provides an unreliable tactical edge in battle, but isn’t overpowered.
While the flying creatures in Total War Warhammer might seem powerful thanks to their freedom of movement, they can be very vulnerable in combat. This is because when a flying creature lands to attack units, it can be pinned down by keeping it in combat and not allowing it space to take off to the skies again. Thus, it’s not possible to resort to hit and run tactics with these creatures against massed units, but it is quite viable against single units. Even the monstrous and giant creatures have their own vulnerabilities and counters, since they tend to provide a bigger target for artillery and ranged units. Their size also makes them move slowly, but they make up for it with their damage potential. This also makes them easy targets when they are broken and retreating. This only goes to show just how carefully balanced the game is, thanks in part to the huge amount of rulebooks in the Warhammer tabletop franchise.
One slight annoyance that does seem slightly unbalanced would be the ranged mounted units, in their skirmish stance. These units are as fast as any cavalry unit you send after them and can easily outpace any infantry, so they will slowly chip away at the strength of the chasing unit until they overpower them. You are forced to use pincer tactics, magic, flying units and ranged units to effectively counter them. This can be really annoying when you are trying to manually ensure in battle that the enemy army has no survivors and it is these units that usually escape your purge.
Agents have become extremely useful in Total War Warhammer as you can now embed them into armies and use them in battle. Agents are called Heroes and the types are dependent on the faction. Some are Magic users, while others are anti-magic units and melee fighters. The AI can also annoy you with swarms of agents hindering and damaging your invading armies, especially when the AI lacks the military muscle to repel you on the Campaign Map though it rarely chooses to embed them in armies. The inclusion of Heroes in the battles is an excellent addition to the gameplay as they can make a significant difference on the battlefield in addition to your general (or Lord, as the game calls them). Heroes can only be wounded in battle and will pop back up on the Campaign map subsequently. Heroes may only be killed or wounded (which renders them inactive for a few turns) by other agents or by failing at an assignment.
Total War Warhammer restricts recruitment of armies to a Lord. While there are no mercenaries to be found, a Lord can recruit new units from any friendly territory, provided you can wait the extra turns and pay the higher cost without moving. Unit replenishment also occurs automatically in any friendly territory and is dependent on the available population growth and the stance of the army. This means your army can even be replenished while it travels in a boat at sea, which seems absurd. Unlike Heroes, Lords may be killed in battle or by Hero actions. Only the Legendary Lords will be wounded in battle and heal after a few turns, with the number of turns needed for a recovery seemingly in favour of the AI.
The Campaign map retains the practice of splitting a province into smaller parts from Total War Rome II to reduce repetitive sieges. However, there is no animation for the cities and settlements growing in level in Total War Warhammer. The settlement battles are fought as open territory battles rather than sieges while the capital of a province will always have a walled siege battle showing a section of the city. Some settlements may have built walls so these will also be fought as siege battles. The map variety in open ground battles is significant, though siege maps might seem a bit repetitive after a while and there are no large city battles. You are forced to build siege equipment (Towers and Rams) before a siege battle unless your army contains artillery, which is curious since your infantry can deploy ladders or break through gates on their own. Bringing Siege Equipment to battle will consume a part of your unit operating it and the game doesn’t let you choose which units you want to assign this siege equipment to.
In a change from earlier Total War titles where you could effectively take over the entire map, in Total War Warhammer some settlements and provinces are only available for conquest to certain factions and if you cannot take over it, you must either raze or sack it. Sadly, Naval Battles have been ditched in this game with no naval units and fights at sea between traversing armies being forced to Autoresolve as if fought on land.
Speaking of Autoresolve, the game still gives excessive weightage to Artillery in its calculations and manually playing the battle can hand you an easy victory with some smart tactics. In my Empire Campaign, I reached a critical turning point in a 3v3 full stack battle with the forces of Chaos with support from an allied army. Total War Warhammer does limit the maximum number of units per faction to 40 (20 if you turn off the option to control large armies), which meant that the Chaos forces were not only tired from forced marching, but also deprived of the bulk of their artillery. Autoresolve gave poor odds in my favour, yet the battle resulted in a Heroic Victory for my forces. Of course, I used flying hero units to disable the artillery units before they could fire, when they did show up, though this would have been just as viable a tactic had the enemy been allowed to deploy their artillery from the outset. This weightage to Artillery can also work in your favour if fighting a siege battle against superior infantry forces. I fought the majority of my battles manually in my campaign, however. The good thing about this was that the battles didn’t seem repetitive or boring till very late in the campaign, when it became a matter of just throwing forces at weakened garrisons to meet the victory conditions.
The AI in Total War Warhammer evokes mixed feelings. It can be surprisingly clever at times striking your territory where you least expect it, but it can also be really dumb and lose its army to attrition. Even in battles, the AI might surprise you by trying out ambush and flanking tactics instead of going for a brute force attack. War Coordination Targets are a prime example of where the AI can prove a mixed bag. Instead of moving a nearby army to attack the target, they sometimes mobilise forces from their home province that is far away. They might also march their army through a region of high attrition and lose that army while chasing in the wrong direction from the target, especially when a slightly longer but attrition free path might be available. The AI can also surprise you diplomatically by offering to become your vassal when they are losing terribly to your forces or asking you to join a war you are in no position to aid. Diplomacy is a very important aspect of Total War Warhammer since it’s beneficial to ally with the owners of the regions that you can’t conquer in order to access their resources.
A typical campaign in Total War Warhammer plays out as an initial calm build-up period followed by the rise of Chaos corruption in all provinces and invasion by low level Chaos armies, culminating in the high level Chaos Hordes descending on the civilised world razing every settlement they encounter. The Chaos invasion gives a boost to your diplomatic status that you can use to forge alliances with difficult factions or vassalise or confederate with the smaller factions. Confederation carries some huge negatives though so it’s better to avoid that path to unifying your faction’s empire, and it’s not possible to use it for a few turns after each successful Confederation. There are some positives to Confederation as well, such as getting a boost to your treasury and military might, but that means you have to live with the AI’s choices.
During my campaign playthrough, I found that the Short Campaign objectives, didn’t quite make for a Short Campaign and I ended up completing the Short and Long Campaign objectives simultaneously in some 120 turns. There was still much left to play for such as eradicating all hostiles and finishing all quest battles, but I didn’t find any major endgame challenge beyond defeating the Chaos Hordes as all my alliances remained strong and all my provinces remained very happy and corruption free. The starting positions of the factions in Total War Warhammer can mean that some factions like the Empire and the Vampire counts might face off with the endgame Chaos Hordes sooner while others like the Dwarves and the Greenskins wont encounter them till later. This can change the difficulty of each campaign, though the game seems balanced for it, thanks to the random events the game throws at you every few turns.
Though Total War Warhammer delves into the fantasy genre, this does come at the cost of some simplification on the game’s part. The economy has been dumbed down to just taxing or not taxing a province, building income generating structures and issuing commandments to boost income. Provincial growth rarely becomes negative, paving the way for straightforward structural upgrades. Trade is a huge source of your income which also makes it important to engage in diplomacy early to secure it. The Army upkeep penalises maintaining multiple armies and initially you will be in a position where you need multiple armies but can’t afford them. Also gone is the political metagame that let you exert control over your faction, though the offices system is still there to provide boost to your chosen lords. Another simplification that wasn’t to my liking was the limited choice of default formations, with the choice now limited to melee front or missile front. Grouping units after setting a custom formation didn’t seem to have any effect as they just formed a single line after being given a move order. The issue with these simple formations is that melee units just line up as per type rather than keeping the stronger units in the middle and keeping the anti-flanking units at the flanks such as an Empire army having Greatswords in the middle and Spearmen at the flanks will instead line up with the Greatswords on one side and Spearmen on the other.
Total War Warhammer has something to offer for both veterans of the series and for newcomers to the franchise. Each faction gets an introductory scenario explaining its nuances in both the battle and the campaign maps. The advisor will offer useful information every time you come across a feature for the first time. The game will helpfully draw your attention to any Hero skill assignments or any provincial commandments you might have missed before ending each turn. Unit Experience in the game is a bit lopsided as your units gain little experience in battles, which means you might just end up with Hero/Lord bonuses that combine with upgraded buildings that let you recruit highly experienced new units that easily outrank units that started out the campaign with you.
Total War Warhammer is very well optimised and runs quite smoothly. It never crashed once despite being subjected to multiple hibernation cycles on my system. There is a DirectX 12 patch in the works, though the game lacks the benchmark tool at launch. Graphics can be set to rather ugly but playable low settings that work with ageing PCs to the admirable beauty of the highest settings. The game world is quite beautifully crafted with some striking landmarks that feature in both the campaign and battle maps, with an abundance of skulls in the design. The addition of magic can make for highly colourful and interesting effects on the battlefield. Sadly, the game skimps a bit on having a variety of character designs for the faces of its Lords and Heroes, though this is a minor gripe. Even nomenclature might see repetition of a few names such as a glut of von Carsteins in the Vampire faction and a host of Sunscryers in the human factions, which can be confusing to distinguish and make you wonder how the fellow you just killed got magically resurrected by another faction (Doesn’t apply to vampires, them being undead already).
The Music score is quite complimentary to your gameplay and adds to the experience. Sound effects are top notch as are the unit animations. The UI might seem familiar yet a little different to accommodate the lore of the Warhammer universe. The online encyclopaedia is used for giving extra information about units and buildings, which isn’t accessible offline. It would be nice to have an option to maintain an offline copy for newcomers to the franchises. The multiplayer component of Total War Warhammer offers both Battles and Campaigns, and the netcode is pretty refined for smooth online play.
Total War Warhammer is priced quite steeply in retail at ₹2499, and though it looks short on content on the face of it, the gameplay is such a brilliant derivation of earlier Total War titles, that the game feels worth its asking price. As with recent Total War games, there will be free content as well as DLC in the coming months to add more value to the game. Creative Assembly have got a Total War game right at launch for once. You can’t help but feel that this is the game the series has been building towards thanks to its careful selection of gameplay features from previous titles. This lends it a feeling of familiarity while the fantasy setting gives it a unique identity.
+Unique and interesting factions
+Well balanced gameplay
+Interesting Game World
+Heroes that also help in battles
+Legendary Lord Quests
-Oversimplification of economy
-Short campaign victory conditions don’t make for a short campaign
-Allied AI can act dumb
-Too few factions and Legendary Lords at launch