Total War Warhammer II is the second title in a planned trilogy of Total Wars set in the Warhammer universe from veteran studio Creative Assembly. On paper, it sounds like the smart move. Mainly because the first Total War Warhammer was undoubtedly a success, proving that the once historical-only series could deviate from humanity’s past and dive into the world of high-fantasy. The place where Orks, Elves, Dwarves, and giant Lizardmen are at each other throats. And always worrying about some sort of prophecy or impending doom.
A definite gamble, but also a milestone entry in the long-running Total War series. Total War Warhammer II doesn’t pick things up where they were left off, with Creative Assembly diving deeper into the lore to tell a different tale. So much so that as a sequel we’re not only getting a new story, but new campaign races to play with and a brand-new part of the Warhammer universe to explore.
And then, go to war.
Ahead of the September 28 release date, we talked to Al Bickham, Development Communications Manager at Creative Assembly, about all things Total War Warhammer.
AusGamers: With the impending dread of Chaos serving as the centrepiece for the first game’s campaign, how best would you describe the differences with the narrative campaign mode in Total War Warhammer II?
Al Bickham: They’re worlds apart really. In the first game, Chaos is a growing threat that’s suddenly up in your grill, and if you defeat it, there’s still the rest of the Old World to bring to heel. In part two, the Great Vortex narrative mechanics are built to create ebbs and flows of gameplay tension as you perform a series of rituals in order to control the Great Vortex itself. You’re literally in a race with the other, err, races, for this final objective. There is a distinct win or lose endpoint. It’s the first time we’ve ever tried anything like this in a Total War game, a conclusive and discrete endgame phase and conclusion. The feedback we’re getting so far is really strong.
AusGamers: Warhammer is about as far from realistic historical combat as you can get. How freeing has it been for the team to drop the spears and the trebuchets in favour of magic fireballs and giant trolls?
Al Bickham: Enormously. As source material, the Warhammer Fantasy Battles world just keeps on giving. Every time we start work on a new race, people are basically cracking their knuckles and saying, “How do we bring these guys to life, and how do we make them totally distinct from the others?” We get to push the traditional Total War mould into fun new shapes.
AusGamers: How are you able to retain the Total War feel and presentation without coming across as looking like something completely different?
Al Bickham: In many ways, the Total War ‘format’ is absolutely perfect for a Warhammer game. We have a real-time battle engine capable of depicting many thousands of troops at the same time. The campaign game is systems-driven, and thrives on differentiation between factions. And ultimately, everything leads to war. The two things go absolutely hand-in-glove.
AusGamers: With the detailed knowledge that the team has in terms of real-world history, how have you approached research and the accumulation of knowledge for the fantasy world of Warhammer?
Al Bickham: Actually, it’s been remarkably similar to researching a new historical period. We just traded our history books for Warhammer rule and army books. And while the physical amount of work required to create and animate hordes of freakish monsters has been considerably higher than that required in a historical game (our art and animation teams are now way, way bigger than they’ve ever been), we also have the physical miniatures in front of us to work from. Which is another fantastic resource to have.
AusGamers: In Total War Warhammer, we saw traditional fantasy races like Orks, Humans, and Dwarves. This time around we get Lizardmen, giant Rats, Dark Elves and others. There seems to be some confidence in going a little weird. Was that due to the positive response from the first game?
Al Bickham: For sure. In fact, we were a little apprehensive the first time around. We’d never released a Total War game with just four factions at launch. But we spent so much time and effort making them completely distinct from one another, literally giving them different gameplay mechanics. And to our immense relief and satisfaction it went down enormously well with players. We’ve continued to deepen that differentiation, learning how to do it better each time with our DLC and Free-LC content. And in Total War Warhammer II, we’ve really gone to town.
AusGamers: The races in this universe are so diverse and different not only in terms of culture but in how they engage in warfare. Compared to something like Total War Rome II, how does this factor into the design and how does the team balance the number of playable races with how much time and effort goes into making sure they’re done right?
Al Bickham: It's literally a sliding scale. The fewer races you make, the more diverse and differentiated you get to make them. It’s a super-complex process of course but we’ve got pretty good at estimating the time and resource it takes to create a faction with so many new features and mechanics.
AusGamers: We always see changes in the engine and features with each new Total War game, what elements of Total War Warhammer II forced you to rethink, add, or adjust something that we might or might not have seen before?
Al Bickham: I guess animation is a key one. Think back to Shogun II and its beautiful matched animations in combat, those Samurai were literally singling out another honourable warrior to duel with in the thick of battle. In Warhammer, we still have some matched animations like that. But more for like when a Dragon performs a killing blow and brings down a Carnosaur as an example. Most of the rank-and-file are just hacking away at enemies in front of them. Each style has its place, and we felt that frenetic, blade-swinging chaos on the frontline suited Warhammer so much better.
AusGamers: The mod community with the series is both active and passionate, how does the team look at what mods are being made and how does this factor into the development of something like Total War Warhammer 2?
Al Bickham: We view mods very positively, and we’re hugely keen to keep supporting them. If a player doesn’t like a certain aspect of the game, or if they feel there’s something missing, they get to make those changes themselves and share them. I’m not sure mods have really influenced our development directly, but the added choice is great for players.
AusGamers: One of the exciting post-launch features will be the two maps from both games joining forces so to speak for a huge Grand Campaign. This is something that we haven’t seen before in Total War. What sort of technical and balance obstacles has the team had to overcome to make this happen?
Al Bickham: Well it’s a big balancing job, as you mentioned. We’re right now in the process of playtesting each of the playable races on each difficulty level to ensure they offer a good experience for players of any stripe. That’s an awful lot of playtesting.
AusGamers: With news that there will be a third game to form a trilogy, has the team planned-out its narrative and world goals for the entirety of the series?
Al Bickham: I would say sketched out rather than planned out! We have a good idea of where we’re going, and broadly what shape the trilogy will take, but there’s a very great deal of fine texture to define along the way. One of the great joys of working with Warhammer, with its 30-year heritage, is that it offers practically endless opportunities to create fun new stuff. And I have no doubt a lot will occur to us along the way that we’d never envisaged beforehand. It’s an incredibly enjoyable journey.
Total War Warhammer II releases September 28, a big thanks to Creative Assembly for taking the time to talk large-scale fantasy warfare before the release.