Total War: Warhammer – review

Total War: Warhammer is two big brands bashed together to create one arguably better but factually faster selling Total War game. Total War has always had a nigh-on infinite war; so the constant turmoil of the Old World is a setting that somehow surpasses the wars of days gone by. It’s our favourite so far and that’s almost surprising since even though it’s packed full, Warhammer games always make someone feel that they’re missing out when only a handful of races make it in.

The base game has only four single player races, with Bretonnia as multiplayer only, one unannounced as a free update to come (probably Bretonnia) and Warriors of Chaos as paid DLC. It means that if you aren’t already waving the flag for one of those races/already a Total War fan, then you could probably wait before diving in. If you do still want to dive in then go ahead, the water’s tepid. That’s a backhanded compliment we know, but it sort of feels like it deserves it.

Don’t get us wrong; it’s great! But lots of little things aren’t that robust when you consider the vast heritage and ruleset that can be drawn from. Take lords and heroes for instance, they all have their own upgrade tree but unless they are a melee fighter or a sorcerer, their skills will have the usual upgrades with a few race-based variants and some specialities from the legendary lords themselves.

It means that when you aren’t going full-on “Mathhammer” and taking every statistic and upgrade into account the heroes and lords feel quite similar across all the races, especially if you haven’t gone into something very “Vampirey” or “Orcy”. It lacks the ownership and fun of commanding a particular army on the table top and that’s something that the Dawn of War games did quite well – even in single player.

That’s pretty much all the stuff that’s even remotely disappointing about the game. Aside from the very minor graphical glitches that have yet to be ironed out and the lack of certain UI prompts to stop you making awful mistakes, it’s just really polished and fun. They’ve made an effort to make it a little more accessible than previous iterations and the fantasy element has helped with that, as good and evil is a fairly well defined line.

The battles are intense in ways that aren’t possible in Rome or Shogun, since you can’t send in a Vampire Lord to obliterate full squads or rain death from above with a squadron of Gyrocopters. It means that certain units can afford you great victories even if you are outnumbered in both raw strength and body count. For instance, good use of a few Fell Bats, cannon fodder Zombies and some Ghouls can still net you a fairly thorough victory against a foe in excess of ten times your numbers – and we have the achievement to prove it.

What makes the game stand out is the radically different play styles of the races on the campaign map. Here is where their differences most prominently lie. The Empire feels the most “Vanilla” of all the races but hides the heavy diplomatic slant well beneath its seemingly boring veneer. Yes, even the Empire are interesting albeit a little less so than the others.

Greenskins (Orcs and Goblins) have a need for “Fightin’ an’ Raidin’” else they start to lose troops to attrition caused by infighting; they also have access to tunnels for making their way around, and can start Waaaghs. Vampires lose troops in the lands of the living, can corrupt lands which heal them each turn and can instantly replenish troops by raising the dead in places where battles have occurred. Dwarfs have tunnel access too and have their big book of Grudges to fill with every enemy slight, which will need all striking through for a victory.

Finally, Chaos. They have no need for settlements, instead taking themselves mobile as they wreak havoc across the Old World. However, they suffer attrition damage when within proximity to allied Chaos, making it difficult to amass huge Chaos forces without suffering at least a little backlash. It makes them the most wildly different from the four base game races and a shame that they’re locked behind a paywall.

The World map is strangely the most important “character” in the game. As each faction can only live in certain settlement/stronghold types it creates super interesting dynamics between races. Orcs need the Stunties’ keeps as they can’t inhabit Vampire or Human settlements. So while raiding their lands makes sense, why would you commit to all-out war with them? You’re safer only fighting other Greenskins and Dwarfs.

It makes unlikely allies and likely enemies strangely complicit in leaving each other alone. A vast mountain of Dwarf Keeps backing onto your Vampire settlement? Don’t touch them and they’ll leave you alone entirely – they’ve got Greenskins to contend with. It feels doubly brilliant in the way that the Old World is full of settlements of all types littered across its lands. Small Dwarf Keeps in a mountainside surrounded by Humans is almost refreshing as they make good allies and keep the Orcs at bay.

It is possibly the best Total War game but also the one that you will most easily complete and be “done” with. We finished it as both Vamps and Chaos and it does feel like we’ve almost seen all that we need to. It doesn’t have that same wildly different challenge that each different starting point and race does in the historically based predecessors. It also doesn’t help that the races don’t start in different areas depending on your starting “Legendary Lord”, only giving you slightly different flavours. It’s a brilliantly executed game and has us spending many extra turns as nights turned back into days; but it’s a game that will be looked back on more fondly once some sizable additions are made.

critical score 8

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Written by Sean P

I enjoy playing games and I enjoy writing things, so I decided to combine the two. I do bits here and there and have a twitter that mainly just announces things I've done as my life revolves around very little that is truly interesting.

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