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Total War: Warhammer
Total War: Warhammer

Genre: Strategy
Developer: Creative Assembly
Publisher: SEGA Classification: M15+
Release Date:
May 2016
Total War: Warhammer Review
Review By @ 05:11pm 25/05/16
Sometimes we use fantasy to escape reality, imagine life in a completely different but by that same token familiar world. The Total War series of games from Creative Assembly have always played on this part of our nature. But they’ve always been quite specific in appealing to those whose fantasy blends the historical with the idea of being in charge of a civilisation like the Romans during Caesar Salad times or the French during the days of tiny-warlord Napoleon Bonaparte.

Coupled with a focus on large-scale real-time battles where players are put in charge of hundreds, even thousands of units, the Total War series is one that you could just as easily envision playing out on a large table top as well as on a computer screen. Which is just as well, because the traditionally table top Warhammer has always been a perfect fit for the computer screen. And with a history of historical settings for each new Total War game, there’s something about Total War: Warhammer that just, well, feels right.

Except for the missed opportunity of calling it Total Warhammer.

Thinking back to when Total War: Warhammer was first announced, you could almost sense the various synapses and parts of your brain that deal with these two franchises make the connection. A connection that felt inevitable and one that is in many ways, to quote the cover of 1991’s WWF Summerslam VHS featuring the wedding of Macho Man Randy Savage and Miss Elizabeth, a match made in heaven. With the final game now available it’s not hard to see why Total War: Warhammer is the most important Total War release in a long time.

It proves that the series works as more than a historical empire builder and real-time strategy game. You don’t need to be series veteran or even fan to find enjoyment with it as a Warhammer game. And more importantly, Empire versus Dwarf, Vampire Count versus Chaos, and Greenskins versus anything that breathes, is remarkably more replay-able than any other human versus human Total War of recent times. In fact, when you come right down to it, this is probably the most fun Total War has ever been. It’s a blast to play, and the even with the deep mechanics and steep learning curve for newcomers, the complexity adds to the overall experience and enjoyment.

Having said that, if you decide to forego the mythical and choose to play the Grand Campaign as the humanoid Empire faction and take on the role of Emperor Karl Franz, the early parts of the game feel a lot like other Total Wars. For better or worse, Total War: Warhammer initially plays a lot like Rome II or Attila, right down to the interface and the way you manage diplomatic relations with dozens of different factions. And as you begin the game with large groups of swordsmen, spearmen, archers, and cavalry, and are then tasked with taking out groups of Empire separatists, you might feel a little underwhelmed. Where are the giant trolls, the magic spells, the steam tanks, the legions of undead zombies and ghosts that ride transparent horses?

Well, that comes in due time. Or right away if you choose to play as the Vampire Counts or Greenskins.

With four playable races (and a fifth available as DLC), the Total War: Warhammer roster can initially look a little light on choice. Especially when you compare it to other Total War games that featured dozens of playable factions. The same goes for the map, which with its portrait design and clear delineation of lands and races, initially feels a lot simpler than what you’re used to. But in the hands of developer Creative Assembly, these limitations evaporate almost immediately thanks to a campaign that is just about a series best. It’s focussed in a way a Total War game rarely is, yet at the same time feels almost completely different when experienced with another faction. Whilst also offering up the series staple variety in the ways you can customise and expand your empire.

The basic gist of it is this. Everyone hates each other, some more so than others, so there’s a lot of fighting. A lot. But even with all of this going on an evil to the north is gathering, under the banner of Chaos, and a dark evil warlord/god/Sauron-thing. So over time as the races and factions continue to fight over ideology, territory, and the merits of a beating heart, Chaos begins to spread. And at a certain point during the campaign things get so bad that the land itself begins to change via an evil corruption, Chaos armies begin popping up all over the place, and each turn feels like you’re taking one step closer to the End Times.

It's genuinely thrilling.

Regardless of the race or lord you choose to control, this is the basic framework for the Total War: Warhammer campaign. But as simple as it may seem, it’s the perfect way to provide some truly memorable moments. Like banding together with your neighbours and forming a military alliance with dwarves and vampires and then taking the fight to a huge Chaos army. Resulting in one the most grandiose and spectacular Total War battles you’ve ever experienced, as undead armies, giant monsters, flying creatures, and your leader Emperor Karl Franz sitting on top of a Pegasus all ride together into battle.

It’s safe to say that the battles in Total War: Warhammer are some of the best we’ve ever seen, and one of the best reasons to play the game. Like the climatic scenes from The Lord of the Rings films, watching seas of greenskins, humans, dwarves, and undead creatures going at it, whilst being control of it all is just about a dream come true. And as a long-time Total War player, avoiding the Auto-Resolve button for most encounters, saving replays and then watching past battles is a welcome change. It speaks to how fresh Total War: Warhammer feels, even though it’s kind of the same game we’ve all been playing for a number of years now.

Is it perfect? No, but then again a game with a scope as huge as Total War’s, that being a game that offers up both large scale real-time battles in addition to empire building, could never really be without fault. But even reoccurring problems like problematic siege warfare, diplomatic stalemates, overly aggressive enemy agents and lords, and public order rarely ever become an issue in Total War: Warhammer. And even when they do, they’re tied seamlessly into the narrative. Take the Dwarves for example, if you play their campaign your mission, quest and overall progression is documented in a very comical Giant Book of Grudges. Because Dwarves never forget, and any past betrayal or slight needs to be repaid in kind.

So when you play as the Empire and form an alliance with a Dwarf faction that you betrayed dozens of turns ago, don’t be surprised when they turn on you at the drop of a hat to wreak havoc on one of your weakest settlements. The way in which Creative Assembly has woven the Warhammer license into the Total War framework is the game’s biggest success story, which in a lot of cases improve on what’s already been established.

Take the example of the agents seen in previous Total War games. You know the ones, the non-battle dudes that roam the map spying on enemies and taking part in the occasional sabotage or assassination. Now in the form of heroes, they feel more natural and integral to experience. Because in addition to buffing one of your regions or damaging an enemy faction’s army they can also be embedded directly into one of your armies where they can level up and live up to the hero namesake. And then some.

Perhaps the biggest change we get in Total War: Warhammer is the inclusion of heroes and the importance of lords (i.e. generals) to determine the outcome of each battle. As they come in the form of warriors, spell casters, or a combination of the two they can provide essential ally buffs and impressive spells like calling in a giant flaming skull to burn an army of zombies. On paper at least they read a little bit like the heroes implemented in Relic’s Warhammer 40K-based strategy game Dawn of War II. But even though a highly skilled lord equipped with rare gear obtained from battle or the completion of quests can sway the outcome of an encounter towards victory, the focus is kept on overall battle strategy and the importance of a well-balanced army.

Now to some it may feel like the hero units aren’t as powerful as they should be, and that some of the spells are nowhere near as impressive as their descriptions. But if that were the case then the overall game would probably fail as a Total War experience. By keeping the focus on large armies and varied units, in addition to powerful heroes, you get a game where your leader can wield a mythical sword that strikes fear into the hearts of enemies as well one where giant Steam Tanks and Rocket Artillery have the same effect. It’s a balance that extends to both the technology and individual hero upgrades, where benefits and buffs can apply to a single source of power or an entire army.

The level of Warhammer-specific detail that has been translated into Total War mechanics is remarkable, ranging from the way in which different types of units compact each other to the way it’s incredibly risky and costly to venture too far into Vampire or Chaos territory. Perhaps the biggest takeaway from Total War: Warhammer is the feeling that, when you’re playing the campaign, you’ll want to experience all the conflict and Chaos from each perspective.

Playing as the Greenskins is an aggressive, fun, and often hilarious experience full of infighting and a constant need for conflict. Playing as the Empire gives you a sense of manifest destiny, with the ultimate goal to both diplomatically or forcefully take control over every other human faction you encounter before the inevitable tide of Chaos consumes everyone and everything. Playing as the Vampire Counts gives you control over large forces of expendable ghouls, ghosts, and skeletons in a bid to convert the very land into an undead state. And playing as the Dwarfs provides a sense of security, in the sense that the forces of Chaos are a human problem so it’s best to keep to the mountains, stockpile riches, and fend off waves of Greenskins.

You’ll want to play them all, and probably will. And for that reason alone Total War: Warhammer is a fantastic game, and one that no fan of either franchise should pass up.
What we liked
  • Great use of Warhammer license whilst retaining everything that makes Total War so great
  • Not just a re-skin, a lot of thought and effort has been put into integrating Warhammer themes into the Total War framework
  • Fantastic variation in the different factions from units to heroes to way each Grand Campaign plays out
  • Which means, an insane level of replay-ability
  • Epic fantasy battles that are simply awe-inspiring to watch thanks to great animation and character detail
  • Seriously, you won’t remember the last time you clicked ‘Save Replay’ so often
What we didn't like
  • As good as the overall world looks, settlements are static and won’t change in accordance to upgrades and new buildings
  • Although it’s way better than what we’ve seen before, siege warfare still requires a lot of patience and micro-management to result in anything less than your invading army getting a what’s-for
  • Sometimes missions and quests are so far from where your current interests lie that they’re simply forgotten about. It would have been nice to have a selection of missions or quests to choose from.
  • Interesting and challenging Chaos campaign only available to week one buyers
We gave it:
Latest Comments
Tanaka Khan
Posted 06:35pm 25/5/16
Good review, great game. I just can't say enough about this release.

Vampires 4 lyfe!
Posted 12:01am 26/5/16
Well I am having problems. I can't seem to do well in the campaign. It's either I'm retarded or I am doing something wrong, perhaps both. :(
Posted 12:29am 26/5/16
Hey Blade. What seems to be the issue? I restarted the campaign after about 50 turns cause I wasn't doing so well. What worked for me was to ensure that I was getting income early on, plus if you're playing as Empire I kind of left the northwest region alone as that got too crazy early on.
Posted 06:08am 26/5/16
I tried the Orks first and that was ok but you cant leave your cities unless you build a bog boss tent, which keeps public order (or whatever they call it) in check. So that did not help me. After 30-40 turns the Dwarves came and wiped my army and took the cities i captured. They had better units.

So I tried the vampires next and put it on easy. Same sort of thing happened.

I will try again but with the Dwarves next time.
Posted 07:16am 26/5/16
I want to get it, but as with other total war games, it will end up being Total DLC more than anything. As a massive Warhammer, 40k etc fan, there is a lot I would love to do in a game such as this, but the prospect of having to pay and pay and pay per race? GW + CA = grab for cash?

I can see this later on being fantastic, especially if it comes out with a campaign editor (has one already? I have no idea).
Posted 08:11am 26/5/16
Yeah. CA is pretty dodgy when it comes to DLC and such. I hope they do better.

Also I started the dwarf campaign and it's going ok so far.
Posted 02:28pm 26/5/16
Yeah Dwarf campaign a good place to start, also once you get the gist of the diplomacy and how all the upgrades and hero stuff works you'll do way better on a second playthrough.
Tanaka Khan
Posted 12:17am 27/5/16
Posted 08:24am 27/5/16
I like to rename things. I called one of my settlements "Brass Balls" and another one "Mount Iron-Fart". Anyone else named anything good?
Posted 03:58am 28/5/16
I am finding the game to be unbalanced and therefore not enjoyable. Im going to do a steam backup and uninstall it. Maybe CA will fix this later.
Posted 09:57am 28/5/16
Why do you think it's unbalanced? Not having a go, just curious.
Tanaka Khan
Posted 04:26pm 28/5/16
Still playing my Vampires and I've taken over a town from the orcs (once belong to the Border Princes) and they left behind an Enormous Pillar of Poo (Public order -10, Income from all buildings -40%)
Posted 07:57pm 28/5/16
Been glued to my PC since release, really loving it so far. I have been playing nothing but my Vampire campaign and can't see myself trying one of the other races for probably a good week yet. Great game so far
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