TW Warhammer reviews have been out for a few weeks now, but considering I have been waiting 16 years for this game and it is suitably massive, I couldnt bring myself to smash out a fast review to beat the masses and risk getting my opinion of this massive game wrong.
When Shogun Total War turned up at the turn of the century I was blown away and immediately thought, surely they will do Warhammer next. Well Creative Assembly werent the big player they are today but Warhammer was. And sometimes you need both to be of suitable juggernaut status before a mutually beneficial relationship can be formed. And at the end of May 2016, this obvious gaming partnership showed the world its pixelated fantasy fruits.
Since then I have mostly been playing as Dwarves, crushing the brutish Greenskins and annoying my human neighbours with an occasional plunder of their settlements. But let me back up a minute and give you the dutiful overview of this strategy titan, for those of you who havent tried this series yet.
Total War specialises in letting a player run a realm. Building armies, managing development and keeping the populace happy and content. Then it lets you move those armies across a beautiful campaign map and jump down into tactical combat encounters between multiple armies. Where every unit and every individual within a unit is represented. Each with strengths and weaknesses against every other unit type.
The Warhammer part of the name is from Games Workshops IP. All high fantasy, stubborn and armoured Dwarves, brutish Orc fighting machines, and the noble Empirical humans. To name some of the races within Total War Warhammer. These imaginings are plucked from some of the greatest Games Workshop minds and clearly trace back to ideas of Tolkien origins and garnished with decades of lore that clearly resemble human history and geography.
The mash up between these two, Total War and Warhammer, is as expected, a delight. Watching giants smash heavily armoured dwarves, or undead riders charge the ranks of shining knights. Magic bolts blasting down from the sky to crush the will of entire units. Its a spectacle and one which presented many challenges to the Total War engine. But the engine and developers make it all happen, not to mention flying units and cannons.
Now it could be easy for me to go on and on and on about the numerous subtle aspects that make this strategy game come together, but I am sure you have probably read a bunch of stuff already that will give you details on dwarven tech trees, or human settlement building benefits.
So instead I want first say, Total War Warhammer is great. In my eyes it is the best of the Total War games. That opinion could be because I have wanted it to happen for so long, but with my very high expectation, it did not disappoint. That clearly says something very strong about the game.
And so secondly I want to highlight elements within the game that I had questions about, before I got to play Total War Warhammer. So that hopefully this review can provide you with a synopsis of highs and lows while also resolving a few uncertainties. Dont get me wrong, TWW scores a solid 9, but like pretty much all games, there is still room for perfection, in a few nit picky areas.
TWW is easy to pick up. Perhaps the most accessible version yet despite its wonderfully nerdy content. It has a little introductory scenerio for each of the four main factions that helps you into it and paints a picture. Available factions are Dwarves Humans Orcs and Undead. Chaos DLC was added to the game as an incentive to be an early adopter.
The DLC lets you play as Chaos, which operates as a horde, a play style introduced in the TW Attila game last year. Its certainly one of the more fun ways to play and is very different from the other four races.
Speaking of the different play styles, Dwarves have no mounted units, are very slow, and have no magic, but are hugely armoured, with leading siege cannons and incredible morale. The Undead have no ranged weaponry, can raise the enemy dead and corrupt the lands around them. Orc moral breaks quickly, but their units are cheap and fast, the humans are all rounders and The Chaos are very strong, with limited ranged weaponry but staunch morale. However they have to keep moving and destroying to remain functional, as they can never have a home base.
This brings me on to the major problem with games that span hundreds of turns and a variety of technological upgrades. The armies in the early part of the game are fun and exciting as you meet and work out strengths and weaknesses. But gradually after 50+ turns you find yourself fighting the same battles and winning or losing them in the same way.
Once you choose your faction of Dwarves, Orcs, Humans or Undead, you quickly discover you can only take over realms from the same race as you or from one opposing race. Dwarves can take and occupy dwarven territory from other dwarves and those owned by Orcs. Humans and Vampire Count Undead are the same. Only able to occupy settlements from each other. This means that humans would mindlessly raze dwarven settlements, as they are not able to occupy them. Once a settlement is razed, its out of the game for good. It feels a little, uncharacteristic. Sure, Orcs would raze and pillage. The Chaos? Absolutely. But the others would often consider tactical applications before committing to that course of action.
As this is a new series, we are told to expect 3 Total War Warhammer games and probably dozens of DLC and expansions, I am not entirely sure why they did this. But there is probably some long term reasons behind it to do with rolling out and managing future DLC add ons to Total War Warhammer. Either way, it feels a little shallow once you move to the mid part of the game.
You can always auto resolve battles to help remove the repetition, but personally I cant help but feel, if I auto resolve a battle in the game then I am just playing a realm strategy game. And I know there are better strategy games out there with Warhammer mods available. So I cant bring myself to do that.
To win you must reunite your kindred lands through diplomacy and war, while the Chaos smashes ever onwards down from the north, destroying all in its path. They provide a suitable end game if left unchecked as they amass power.
The game balance felt a little lopsided, with Dwarves easily taking apart an orc army, unless Grimgore Ironhide, the legendary Orc leader turned up. He is somewhat difficult to remove from a battle and will tear through hundreds of even the most hardy of dwarves.
And now on to one of those things where the developers can’t win, because someone somewhere will complain regardless of what you choose to do. The winds of magic and in game magic, seems largely pointless. During development some gameplay videos showed the magic used taking out whole units at a time. Upon watching this people complained that the magic looked too powerful and how it would unbalance the game. Well now, in the game’s final cut, magic is barely a factor to swing victories. Its much more crucial to have some well placed units, as opposed to a spellcaster. Which is a shame.
Meanwhile, enemy heroes are mostly annoying. They run amok across your territory and you have limited hero access of your own. But only heroes can deal with other heroes. Which makes them practically unstoppable and a real terror when they wander into your realm and your only two heroes are off trying to explore. “Agents” as they were called in regular Total War games, have never properly delivered a suitably fun and interesting part to the TW game.
I want them to make sense, as its a nice idea to have assassins and spys moving around, doing their dark deeds to help swing things your way. But this problem has been around since the dawn of TW. In the original Shogun the Giesha agent was so unbalanced that it broke the end game entirely and I fear the heroes in TW Warhammer have not been applied in the best way possible again. They are not game breaking, just an annoying part to the game I would rather do without. Attaching them to your armies and seeing them help out in battle though, is a nice touch.
Leveling heroes, Lords and Legendary lords is another nice addition. Helping to provide some depth and character to your key generals. They can also find random equipment and followers as they take over settlements and beat enemy armies.
So while the game feels like it has a lot going on, with 5 very different races to choose to play from (assuming you have the Chaos DLC) they all get a little laborious in the later part of the game. But, this is no surprise. It has always been the way with every Total War game. They are huge and imaginative and the well applied fantasy of Warhammer provides a wonderful and rich canvas to march across.
For the first time since the zoomable camera function was added I would actually let the fight rage around me while I was zoomed all the way in on Grimgore Ironhide, as he demolished his opponents. Where other Total War games were a battle of who-cares-which-type-of-men versus another bunch of men, Total War Warhammer makes you want to see the fight unfold. To witness how the trolls spit acid at dwarves or undead crumble to dust as you charge them with your knights.
But this Total War fantasy is only just beginning. Our continued excitement can be sustained as more DLC will roll out and we can happily gobble it all up, to continue adding new races and tactical dimensions. Total War Warhammer is the best of its genre, but it still has room to keep getting even better.