It’s quite rare to find something so perfect but so completely off the wall as Total War Warhammer. While the engine was certainly well suited to the vast armies and combat both franchises were renowned for, Creative Assembly has always prided itself upon historical accuracy. The question always remained if they could effectively implement daemons, dragons and wizards as they had Romans, Carthaginians and Napoleonic France. Thankfully though, the end result has proven to be nothing short of spectacular.
Creative Assembly approached this setting with understandable caution. Rather than attempting to reinvent the wheel, many familiar mechanics remain core to the game, from the detailed economy to directing armies across the world map. The RTS element remains as complex as ever, with the expected mix of hard and soft counters, ranging from cavalry to artillery to heavy infantry. However, the developer worked around this to implement unique changes when needed, reflecting each faction’s way of war. While the Empire retains a more traditional economy and balances black powder weapons with schools of wizardry, the Orcs’ WAAAGH! encourages them to constantly advance into battle for added bonuses. Equally, the Vampire Counts rely upon corpses for their own recruitment grounds, and the ultra-defensive Dwarf Book of Grudges can throw people a few curve balls even in a game’s last moments.
The variety of units here is simply staggering, as many have adapted entire ranges of miniatures wholesale to flesh each side’s massive legions. Little to nothing among existing factions has been left for future DLC, and whether it’s massed ranged bombardments, heavy magical broadsides or a massed charge of knights atop chicken-horse hybrids, Total War Warhammer has you covered. Better yet, it’s remarkably well balanced for such a diverse number of units, and nothing runs risk of truly overwhelming armies on their lonesome. Vampire bats might be able to send Empire grunts running but Orcs will laugh off their effects, and every unit has some counter somewhere in the game.
Having clearly listened to the criticism of Rome II, the map this time is much more manageable. While still vast, it’s not so easy to get lost in as with that game and manages not to be quite so massive it drags out the entire game. In addition to this, the environments are far more varied with underground fortresses, catacombs, Chaos corrupted lands and the mountainous homes of the dwarves all putting in an appearance. These can have some very interesting environmental effects as time goes by and many factions can alter their very state to suit their own needs, a necessity when playing Vampire Counts and Chaos.
The actual RTS side of things is as solid as ever, but unfortunately the AI does retain a few of its usual demented strategies. Despite being far smarter than those found in Rome II or its processors, players have already found a number of ways to exploit gaps in its logic or easily beat them via a few unusual army formations or unconventional flanking attacks. What’s more, while the game is well rounded on the battlefield, outside of it there are a few frustrating issues here and there. Due to its late implementation as a playable faction, Chaos’ economy seems to be extremely problematic, and turns the game into a massive uphill battle for those favouring them. As they cannot build facilities, you can only gain cash or more units by attacking and pillaging towns, making players extremely reliant upon raiding certain areas and vulnerable to a quick defeat.
Finally, certain faction elements relating to the lore are dubious, both when sticking to it and moving away from it. Many longtime dwarf fans were left grinding their teeth at the prospect of allying with the undead (a big lore no-no if ever there was one) and there are similar oddities among the other factions. On the other side of that coin though, it was decided factions would be unable to conquer the entire map because of established lore, limiting player advancement.
Overall though, most of those issues – save for Chaos – are teething problems at the most. This is easily one of the best Total War releases in years and one of the best of the entire series. Creative Assembly hit the ball out of the park with this one, and any longtime fan of the series should be ready to feel that same addictive itch all over again. Grab this one at the earliest opportunity.
TOTAL WAR WARHAMMER / DEVELOPER: CREATIVE ASSEMBLY / PUBLISHER: SEGA / PLATFORM: PC / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW