Total War: Warhammer is not named Total Warhammer. Who sacrifices a name that just rolls off the tongue for a name that already has two registered trademarks, copyrights, and patents?? A bunch of corporate lackeys, that’s who. There, finally got that off my chest. Anyway, Total War: Warhammer (TWW, Total Warhammer, or Total Warhams; be prepared to see all three) is the latest installment of the Total War franchise and first of many inevitable evolutionary derivatives of the Warhammer Fantasy setting. In the TW franchise, this game is easily my favorite. Therefore, this review will be mostly positive, but I will also highlight some issues that detracted from my experience as well.
The Total War series is notorious for its use of province-building systems, complicated and layered rules, as well as intense tactical battle elements. If you’re unfamiliar with the series, then imagine the province system like a more complicated version of the board game, “Risk.” Plays are made upon the world map in order to expand your empire’s reach, increase your income, gain access to new units and technologies, and etc. Movement of your armies as well as access to the diplomacy menu, technology tree, and everything else you will require are available to you from the world map. Battles play out like other games from the TW franchise and are similar to how a tabletop Warhammer Fantasy battle unfolds. You will find the sheer numbers of units and unit types tactically engaging, daunting, or both. Luckily, everything you need to begin is explained exceedingly well.
Total Warhammer’s tutorial is incredibly well paced, engaging, and informative. The game is dense with a strong trial-and-error learning curve, but it is very good at incrementally teaching the important rules and factors. For your first campaign, your advisor will explain what you should do on your first turn, what a quest is, how to access your technology tree, and anything you need to do to in order to be successful. During these explanations, a popup window will appear, listing the speech of the advisor and highlighting any keywords in orange and yellow. These keywords can be hovered over to gain more additional information and clicked on to open the help page about that specific topic. While there is an incredible depth to the game, these windows make important information easily accessible. I regularly found myself wondering about a rule in a different context, but when I’d highlight that particular rule, my questions were immediately answered. The predictive nature of the tutorial content is top notch.
Additionally, Total Warhams has a feature I felt was lacking from other Total War games: distinctly unique gameplay and mechanics for each army. In the launch version, you have access to play as The Empire, Orcs, Dwarfs, Vampire Counts, and (with DLC) Chaos. Orcs thrive on combat and the more riled up they get, the more orcs flock to their wars via the WAAAAAGH mechanic. Dwarfs have a Book of Grudges. It is a system where you as the player need to exact vengeance on every single thing that has wronged you and are handsomely rewarded for doing so. Vampire Counts can resurrect fallen undead in and out of combat and spread vampiric corruption to neighboring provinces. Chaos functions as a wild band of marauders who don’t have cities, but survive off of pillaging and sacking enemy cities. Other individualized features of each faction includes:
Unique gameplay mechanics
Units and Statistics
Access to Lores of Magic
Playstyles in battle / battle tactics
Habitable and survivable environments
As stated earlier, battles can be very intense. Without diving in too deep, I’ll cover some of the basics. Each unit has a Health Bar and a Morale Bar. If they run out of health, they die. If they run out of morale, they run away. Battles are usually about winning the engagement and not necessarily slaying every last man. As such, it is usually best to try to make the enemy flee for two reasons. First, fleeing units decreases their allied units’ morale, thus making them also more likely to flee. Second, fleeing units simultaneously increase all opposing units’ morale, thus keeping their opponents in the fight longer. Alternatively, if you can sneak a unit around the enemy and charge their flank or rear, then you can also deal a huge hit to their morale and dramatically increase your odds of winning that fight. While keeping the morale battle in mind, you also need to organize your forces so you have the best odds of combating the enemy. See a hostile mounted cavalry unit trying to flank your army? Counter them with a group of Spearmen because they have attack and defense bonuses versus cavalry. See a hostile artillery all by itself? Charge it with your fast mounted units to prevent it from doing damage to you.
In regard to issues I had with the game, most of them stemmed from the enemy’s AI. During battles, the AI immediately reacts to all of your commands. If you send a unit to attack one of theirs, they start backing off the instant you click on them. While I can only control each unit individually, they can control everything instantaneously. There were numerous occasions where I could have executed some effective traps if I had played against a human instead. Additionally, the battle camera leaves a lot to be desired. It neither zooms in far enough to see high detail, nor backs out far enough to get a good view of the whole battlefield. Luckily, there is a camera mod in the workshop that fixes this. Outside of the battlefield, the AI are also very gamey. The biggest issue I had here dealt with AI army positioning. Wherever they are on the map, they are always just out of the reach of your closest hero. They are able to see your movement range at all times, even while you cannot see theirs. This forces you to either sit back and let your empire stagnate, or push forward into an inevitable trap the enemy has laid for you. The AI also constantly recruits Hero units and spams them to oblivion. Hero units can be assassins, warriors, or mages. They can be sent into enemy lands to delay army movements, deal army damage, destroy enemy base structures, or create a localized penalty for a faction. These heroes can only be recruited after making significant investments into your base and I regularly get swarmed by them before I even have a chance to build them myself. Did I mention that the only way to get rid of an enemy hero is by having one of your heroes attempt to assassinate it? Yeah, super annoying. Ugh. Other than the AI, the game is not optimized correctly. Stuttering, FPS drops, spiking CPU usage, and other graphical oddities are common amongst myself and other Steam users. Fortunately, I enjoy the game too much for these issues to stop me from playing.
Finally, Total Warhammer’s multiplayer function was a surprisingly awesome experience for me. A buddy of mine and I played a Head-to-Head campaign and I was pleasantly surprised by the altered mechanics. For example, we started very far away from each other and I expected the game to play out like an old ‘Heroes 3 of Might and Magic’ game. I thought we would have to silently build up forces the entire game and then engage in one all-out battle to determine the winner. Not so! In each battle, when a player fights, his opponent has the option to spectate or to take control of the AI himself and wreak as much havoc as he can! As it was my buddy’s first game, I decided to watch and try to teach him the basics over Steam voice chat. I explained the basics and the importance of morale in battle, then instructed him on how to best deal with the opposing force. He asked questions about which units I was talking about and I wished I had the ability to draw on the map for him. Then, to our collective joy, I discovered three distinct drawing tools to do exactly that! I channeled the ghost of John Madden and began drawing battle lines, routes for attack, defensive walls, and circled possibly threatening units. As the battle progressed, I continued to adjust my battle strategy. He fought ferociously and we were both excited with the tools provided in addition to the sense of camaraderie fostered by this collective victory. It was a sincerely enjoyable experience.
Overall, Total Warhams is a solid purchase and I’d highly recommend it to anyone that is looking for a highly tactical and engaging war simulator that is combined with an RPG-style fantasy setting.
Total War: Warhammer: Hales of bay rating
Jonathan - 8.5 out of 10
Shaun - 8 out of 10
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