Reviewed On: PC
Review System: Nvidia GTX 960, i7-2600, 8GB RAM
Ah Warhammer. A tabletop hobby with decades of lore, rich history and a smattering of fairly average video games based on the IP. It seemed like Mark of Chaos was as good as we were going to get in terms of a RTS set in the Warhammer world. While not bad, it didn’t really excite and was fairly thin. Then a little over a year ago, it was announced that Creative Assembly will be working on a new Total War game: Total War: Warhammer (TW:W, which I think we all know, is a missed opportunity in naming. I mean come on, ‘Total Warhammer’ would have been perfect).
Now things were getting serious. A renowned developer of massed army RTS’ crafting a game all us table toppers were craving. How’d they fare then? Read on and see…
I’m going to be straight up here. I’m fairly Total War newbish. I’ve dabbled with Shogun 2 because of the feudal Japanese setting, but it never really gripped me – it felt very complex and overwhelming and not to mention the battles, in my opinion, were pretty easy. I’ve watched all the developer videos of TW:W as they were released on YouTube and felt prepared for release. Boy was I wrong (in a good way). I’ll try to be as clear as I can and not describe the mechanics too deeply as this game is like the Mariana Trench when it comes to depth.
So what’s it all about then? Fans of the tabletop game should already know that this game is set in the pre-“End Times” timeline of Warhammer – before Games Workshop (GW is the IP owner) blew the world up in a cataclysmic series of events, which in turn led to a new edition / version of the game (from the polarising 8th edition to the now current Age of Sigmar).
As a tabletop gamer I was surprised to learn that the game was not set in the new Age of Sigmar but in their old Warhammer world. Surprised but happy. This is the world I grew up with and the one I already knew extensively.
For those who’re unaware, TW:W is set in The Old World part of Warhammer – which can be roughly compared to the size and layout of Europe – French speaking knights in the West, deserts to the south (Africa), cold Germanic lands in the north and a whole lot of green in the centre. The world is populated with regular Fantasy tropes of bearded dwarfs, pompous elves, resilient humans, brutish orcs, small but clever goblins, various undead and chaotic beasties.
TW:W focuses on only four of the fifteen factions of the tabletop game: Empire and Dwarfs (goodies), Vampire Counts and Orcs + Goblins (baddies) with a fifth faction- The Warriors of Chaos (WoC) – acting as the antagonist. More factions are to be introduced as either DLC or in expansions. This I found a little disappointing. Understandable considering the scope of the game, but disappointing none the less. I think I might have been happy with just a couple more factions to choose from.
There isn’t a whole lot of choice when it comes to game modes, giving us the options of either the campaign (solo or multi), Quest battles (which are the unique story driven battles for each faction within the campaign – minus the campaign itself) and standard battles which can also be customised. I’ll say now that even though the campaign only has four factions to choose from, the WoC will be free for the first week of launch, DLC thereafter and the Bretonnian faction (the French knights) are playable in the non-campaign modes.
For this review I’ll focus on the campaign. The Quest battles require little explanation and multiplayer was unavailable at the time.
My first impressions:
The minimalist main menu wasn’t a good start – no fancy effects or imagery. Just a menu.
“Okay, a good menu doesn’t not a good game make.” I think.
After checking the options – graphics set on “High”, modes scoped out – I start a new campaign. Excitement levels rising.
Now I’m faced with the four factions to choose between. The game gives you background on the available starting heroes, a small breakdown of how the faction mechanics play and then a general level of difficulty: Empire is Normal, Orcs are Hard. I choose Dwarfs, Easy (“I AM new to this,” I reason with myself).
A short cinematic takes place where the advisor of the game is introduced to the hero you’re playing, which in turn justifies the developer choice to use only one voice actor for all four factions (the advisor is the dude who’ll point out strategies, objectives and mechanic explanations).
The game introduces the battle controls with a bang, throwing you in an engagement and giving you control of a unit and leader. I found this a nice way to “ease” you into how to move about. Then about a minute into the fight the game relinquishes control of a couple more units to use. Okay, now things are getting a little full on. Not only is there so much going on screen, the HUD isn’t reduced at all and none of the buttons are explained clearly. I was starting to become a little overwhelmed.
I was able to fumble through the intro battle to the campaign map, a little confused but curious to know more.
This is where I’m a little torn with the communication of the game systems. For someone like myself who hasn’t played much Total War, it felt like the game threw a dictionary at my head and expected me to have learned it’s contents via the impact. It wasn’t until I was a good half hour in, having lost a few fights, that I slowed down and investigated each button on the HUD and read the in-game encyclopedia. Only then did I begin to understand a lot of the terms and jargon. From that point on I was fine and continued to learn subtle features or ways to better manage the armies and settlements.
There is a lot of information to take in but I can’t think of how Creative Assembly could have improved upon the current delivery of info without bogging the game down to a crawl.
Being able to breathe once more after the initial deluge of system learning, I was able to finally admire the work that has gone into the visuals. The Old World has been fully mapped with iconic Warhammer capital cities where they should be, characters and units almost identical to their tabletop counterparts and most importantly, the vibe has been captured, bottled and converted from tabletop to video game (minus the gamer funk – anyone who has attended a congregation of hobbyists know what I mean). This is digital Warhammer as it should have always been.
While on the subject of eye candy, the most impressive feature is the battles themselves.
Controlling a couple of heroes and up to an army size of 20 units (not including reinforcements, made of armies up to 20 units a piece) the battlefield is a thing to behold. Each unit is animated beautifully. Seeing hundreds of dudes run about fighting each other, seeing a cavalry charge into the flanks of a regiment sending infantry flying backwards from the impact, seeing a flying monster swoop in from afar to crash into the massed ranks, seeing the transparent manifestation of a giant orc take form and stomp the tiny troops underfoot before fading away… magnificent!
So often the battle would be won or lost and instead of continuing to the post-battle spoils screen, I’d let the battle continue so I could watch the losing army flee while a multitude of small chases took place.
I could zoom up on a band of fellas running for their lives while a horde of warriors slowly catch up and run them down, one by one. I’d sometimes find myself cheering on the underdog, hoping they could escape to the edge of the map before an axe found their back. Simply superb animation has been crafted for all the units. I’m sure watching the battles up close could be the main reason I’d lost a few fights. No regrets.
Pew pew! Or maybe that should be shhkrack shhkrak?
Right, where was I…
…okay back to the campaign. The main game is a turn based affair, where you control heroes who have a set amount of movement each turn. There are different stances which can be assigned to the hero such as “March” – being able run further but if caught in a fight the units will start off “tired”, “encamp” to reduce movement to half speed but increase hero leadership and defense if caught in a fight.
The Orcs and Dwarfs also have access to The Underway which is a form of movement underground – mechanically it allows a hero to travel under normally impassable terrain but if caught in a fight, there is no option to retreat.
So the bulk of the game revolves around moving heroes about to assault opponent’s cities, taking them over to build more infrastructure or research new unit options and recruiting more units to fight larger opponents. All the while you must make sure you aren’t spending more than you can afford as each unit has an upkeep cost and you need to have more coin coming in than is being spent.
The Vampires and Warriors of Chaos corrupt the land about them so they can move without losing units to attrition (bad guys hate untainted land and vice versa for the good guys on tainted ground). The Orcs have a “Fightiness” mechanic which increases their power the more they fight; the Vampires can raise the dead and recoup losses after a fight, something the other factions cannot. The Dwarfs have a “Book of Grudges” mechanic: for every offence (city stolen, hero assassinated etc.) an objective is written in the Book and a reward dished out if you can manage to “Right the wrong”.
Battles are also just as complex – you just have less time to think about things (although you can pause the action but it breaks the flow and spectacle). Each unit has its positives and negatives, some are fast or slow, some are strong against armoured units or better against large units, some fly, some cause the opponent to run in terror, and the huge list goes on!
Differing from previous Total War games, TW:W has introduced spell casters and magic into the series. Players will need to be aware of the fluctuating Winds of Magic which supply Wizards with their power. As casters siphon power from the Winds, players will need to keep an eye on the ebb and flow within the campaign map, lest they enter battle with little power to draw from or face an opponent with a huge reserve to decimate your army.
The AI I found to be quite clever, both on the map and in battle. I was often cursing the CPU when it would send a hero on a rampage, attacking poorly defended cities of mine, not taking them over and just burning them down before running to the next in a circular path before heading to safety. This left me with a larger building expense and slowed economy – cheeky flippin’ orc!
In battle the AI will attempt to outflank and poke at the vulnerable points in your line. Ranged units will attempt to aim at the most appropriate targets and flee when charged before regrouping. Fast units like bats, light cavalry or war hounds will attempt to circle your army and attack any war machines or score a bonus for a rear charge. There were a couple of times I hadn’t noticed that my catapult crew were being eaten until a good way into the fight, distracted as I was by the main bulk of the combat – sneaky flippin’ goblins!
Last on the list are the siege battles. These occur when you are either defending or attacking a major city with walls and focuses on either driving off the attacker or capturing a certain point within the city walls. As part of the assault, you can set you army to build battering rams and siege towers to use within the fight (they take a few turns to build leaving your army open to a counter attack – the bigger your army, the faster the construction of siege equipment).
That’s the game in a very thin nutshell. There is so much to learn and refine and I wish I made better use of the Diplomacy system to trade for more coin and attempt to persuade an ally into doing my dirty work. There’s also a fair few systems and features that I haven’t mentioned in order to keep this review from spiraling into the novel it could so easily become.
If I was to describe this game, which I suppose I am already doing, it would be a cross between Heroes of Might and Magic, Civilisation, and Warhammer.
You might have guessed how I feel about this game from the positive language used throughout this piece. For those who haven’t?
It is brilliant.
“It can’t be that great surely? There has to be something broken, right?” you may ask.
Well there are a couple of niggles:
* The loading from a battle to the campaign map can sometimes be lengthy… but the map is enormous and detailed, so that could be forgiven.
* There was some occasional choppiness on the campaign map when a lot of it was uncovered and I was scrolling about. It didn’t happen a lot but it was enough to make a point of note.
* I feel like the intro could have been clearer initially. There is a huge amount of info a new player has to take in before getting comfortable.
* The game camera feels a touch too close to the ground. I’d try to zoom out to see more of the map and I’d hit the cap, switching to a over-the-top 2D view, which also felt too close.
* I can’t get enough of the game.
All of the above pales in comparison to just how good the rest of the game actually is.
It’s pretty, it’s moreish (so many times I thought that my last turn was my last turn – not my 35th last turn), it evokes the same feel of the tabletop game in battle (except balanced and without wild swings of luck), it’s true to the source material, it runs well and once you learn the slang the game uses it’s easy to play.
I’m currently 27 hrs in, on campaign turn 200+, have conquered a good chunk of the map and am only just starting to use the top tier toys in my battles… and this is just for ONE of the factions.
This is Warhammer at its finest.