Total War: Warhammer adds something that was missing in the Total War series; a zombie dragon.
There's something that feels right about a Vampire Lord riding a zombie dragon through legions of savage orcs casually tossing them aside with demonic glee in Total War: Warhammer. It's these dream scenarios that makes me wonder why the marriage of the Total War and Warhammer franchises didn’t happen any sooner. The dark fantasy elements of Warhammer inject much needed personality to the Total War formula of war without losing what makes the games in this series special.
Usually in Total War, people are drawn in by the dizzying amount of historical accuracy in titles like Shogun, Rome, and Medieval. Unfortunately this didn't translate well in how factions differentiated themselves. Aside from having different starting stats or slight variations on your typical infantry units, every side more or less played the same. Warhammer doesn’t have the same contraints considering its a universe of dwarves, vampires and magical shenanigans. So with this being the case all the factions have their own look, play style and mythology. Each side brings their own brand of murdering fun to the fight. The beautiful thing about having the Warhammer license is that there are near limitless fantasy elements to pull from.
Waagh! What is it good for?
The most striking thing about Total War: Warhammer is the visual flair of the Warhammer Universe and how it fits so perfectly well in Total War. When you play the Vampire Counts for example, the visual representation of their corruption can be seen on the world map with vibrant greenery slowly turning into a dead gray wasteland as the Vampires expand their reach. This is also a good visual cue that lets you know that the dead are near your borders. The differences between factions in Warhammer are far more varied and have more personality than anything you’d find in previous Total War titles. The differences aren’t only visual, they also their unique gameplay twist in their campaign.
Greenskins have a stat called “Fightiness” that require them to be in constant battle in order to keep the populace from revolting. Keep your orcs happy and you’ll summon a random Waagh! army that you send against some hapless force. Vampire Counts are more difficult to play considering that they can only wage war on land that has Vampiric Corruption which slowly spreads into adjacent lands every turn. Fighting in uncorrupted land actively depletes the health of their units and takes a toll on their overall effectiveness but they balance that out by being able to raise the dead to bolster their ranks after a fight. Dwarves have a Book of Grudges that keep track of everyone who’s slighted you in some way, shape or form. You need to handle all the Grudges via combat or end up causing infighting within your forces The Empire by contrast plays the most like a standard Total War faction with the exception that they have wizards who can summon meteors onto the battlefield. Yeah, I said meteors.
A major mechanic in Total War: Warhammer comes in the form of Lords and Heroes. Unlike generals in Rome: Total War, Lords and Heroes can make or break most battles and can be pretty devastating units themselves. Each Lord and Hero has their own tech tree that make them into battlefield powerhouse or provide buffs to your army and provinces. Legendary Lords like Emperor Karl Franz can ride a Griffon into battle and can literally tear apart small battalions with ease when full upgraded. You can can even send heroes in on their own to infiltrate and sabotage bases before a big battle. There’s also the quest system which lead me to some really impressive story battles each with their own story and dialogue. I did wish I saw these type of events more often through a campaign. One early mission for the Empire has you ambush a meeting of two rebel forces while your troops are concealed in a nearby forest. These missions are nice departure from the usual two armies smacking right into each other.
The inclusion of magic turns battles into stunning set pieces. Watching huge trolls grab units and toss them aside with reckless abandon or seeing a skull-shaped fireball gleefully dance around the battlefield turning the enemy forces into ash are sights to behold. If turning your enemies into dust isn’t’ your thing, you can also buff and heal units. Those spells though, don't look quite as flashy as the offensive spells. Vampire Lords and Necromancers can raise the dead so my new favorite thing to do has been summoning a group of skeletal warriors on some unsuspecting squishy Wizard mid-spell.
If handling war and diplomacy on multiple fronts wasn't enough, halfway through your campaign comes the invasion of the Warriors of Chaos. In each campaign I’ve played you’re never quite ready once the legions of Chaos come to wreck your stuff. Their sole objective to lay waste to everything and anything in the Horde’s path. This changes the whole dynamic of the campaign since you now have to focus on repelling Chaos and still fulfill your campaign victory objectives. This might force to swallow you pride and work with factions and races who've been pestering you this whole time.
The turn-to-turn management of your settlements and armies are nothing new to the series with the exception that some factions require more attention on the domestic front than in the field of battle. You still need to account for army upkeep, order and managing diplomatic relations.
It was surprised to see a lack of campaign options and you can’t even pick your starting location which makes running multiple campaigns with the same faction predictable affairs. It would have great to have put on some campaign modifiers to spice things up or be able to choose when and where certain factions appear or even mess with starting locations on the map.
Though I really liked the unit diversity I did find it difficult to figure out which units perform against best against each other once higher tier units appear on the battlefield. You know on paper that spearmen do well against mounted units but a flying Demigryph Knight against a massive Varghulf? It takes a while to wrap your head around it but you do end up figuring out what-kills-what.
It's a life of fantasy for me.
Total War: Warhammer will please veteran Total War fans by offering a solid playing Total War title set in a fantastically brutal universe. Those coming in loving Warhammer will feel right at home declaring Waaaagh! on some pathetic humies or firing Doomfire Hellcannons into the side of a Dwarven stronghold. Despite the lack of campaign options and strange pacing issues, Total War: Warhammer still manages to remain a fun epic strategy game worth your time.