E3 2015 Impressions: Total War: Warhammer, Return of the Strategy King

Saturday, June 20th, 2015

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Total War: Warhammer - Demigryph

This article was written by Arthur Augustyn

Total War as a franchise has released a new game once every two years for the past fifteen years. It’s near impossible to create a franchise that remains largely the same and pleases the masses continuously so this year, Total War’s developer Creative Assembly embraced destiny and took a chance: they did something weird. The new Total War game is Total War: Warhammer. They’ve dropped their roots in non-fiction and embraced fantasy. I’ve been playing Total War games since Medieval II, so I was eager to get a look at the game myself and probe the developer with some of my own questions as a fan of the series.

We got a chance to look at the game in a meeting room off the E3 show floor. We didn’t get a chance to play it, but since Total War is known for its deep interplay of complicated systems, seeing it was probably more useful than playing it. We were watching a battle between the Empire of Man and the Greenskins. The battle started hovering over the Empire of Man and it looked remarkably like a Total War game. There were soldiers with swords, soldiers with bows, men on horses, men manning siege weaponry, and a general chanting war cries.

Then we moved across the battlefield to the Greenskins and things were immediately more foreign. Instead of the typical swordsman and archers you’d come to expect there were units that I found difficulty classifying. Such as a large giant who stood ominously solo amongst the crowd of orcs and goblins or several mounted spiders that stood stories taller than any other unit nearby.

Total War: Warhammer - Giant

Behold the ominous giant.

The Total War series has always been known for its solid Rock, Paper, Scissors dynamic between Melee, Ranged, and Cavalry combat in all of the games, but where do Giants and Spiders fit in to all of that? The distinction became even less clear when the Greenskins charged the Empire of Man and I noticed that all of the Greenskin units were easily twice the size of the Empire of Man. They devastated the front line of their enemies through sheer strength, and followed it up with an attack that involved vomiting acid.

“What we really went for in this game is that every single race is going to feel very different,” said Jim Whitston, a campaign designer at Creative Assembly. It wasn’t just the Greenskins that felt different, eventually The Empire of Man pulled out their own tricks that made them feel unique from the rest of Total War’s history. At one point, they brought out a steampunk styled cannon that fired down one of the mammoth spiders in a single shot. However, that same cannon was later destroyed by a magic-wielding Greenskin with a massive foot-crushing spell that appeared out of the sky.

Although there are many additional dynamics to the battlefield, Creative Assembly reassured us that the combat should feel very familiar to anyone who’s played Total War in the past, just with a Warhammer spin on it. One unit type that was highlighted, but not fully shown in the demo, was flying units. Flying units can fly over the battlefield so they can avoid men with shields and easily attack fragile damage dealers such as spellcasters, but if they get caught on the ground they’re easily killed.

Total War: Warhammer - Dogfight

Flying units are both new to the series and share similarities with previous mechanics.

“[Flying units are] built around that type of ‘attack quickly and back out’ style of fighting which is very similar to Shock Calvary, which should be familiar to anyone who’s played a previous Total War game,” said Simon Mann, a battle designer at Creative Assembly. Whitston later commented that there were new elements unique to Total War: Warhammer that the series had never seen, but that they would be introduced slowly for the player to digest.

The back-and-forth of the battle continued for roughly ten minutes before ending without a victor. It’s clear that Creative Assembly has not lost their touch for forming cinematic battle scenes. At its best, Total War: Warhammer looks like your favorite scenes from The Lord of the Rings films, and that’s when the concept of this game clicked for me. However, we still have a while for this game to be released and quite a few details to be fleshed out before we know what the game really is before then.

In our interview with the developers after the demo, they revealed they some brief facts about the campaign aspect of the game. They’re planning on having four playable factions: Empire of Man, Greenskins, Vampire Counts, and Dwarfs. All four are meant to play very differently and have four different storylines in the campaign. Storylines are actually a new thing for the Total War franchise, since in the past they’ve generally had the goal of “conquer the map,” without much direction. This time around they’re guided by a quest system.

Total War: Warhammer - Trolls

Trolls are several times larger than normal units.

The quest system is meant to take advantage of the lore of Warhammer. Each faction will be helmed by a named character in the Warhammer franchise. That character will be immortal and can participate in a quest line that culminates in a final battle of the epic variety. Completing a quest line will get the player a special weapon as a reward and also flesh out the story of Warhammer. This also means that Creative Assembly is trying to give more of a reason to play the different factions. This is likely in response to the criticism that the difference between factions in previous games are very minimal.

Creative Assembly also made it clear that they’ve transitioned everything that Total War is known for into the Warhammer universe, but it may not be in the form you expect it. For example: previous games had a lineage system, where your ruler would live for 40-70 years and pass on the throne to his oldest heir. Well, in the Warhammer universe characters live to be thousands of years old. So instead characters can be recruited and there can be politicking between factions, but you won’t have the same family tree system as you used to. Similar changes have been made to the formula to adapt to the Warhammer setting.

We know Total War isn’t the type of game our readers are used to reading about on oprainfall, so we asked the developers why they think our readers should give this game a look when it comes out:

We do have some very strong RPG elements with character skill trees and alike. We’ve also worked hard to combine the battles and the campaign map to make it one unified experience, so your heroes on the campaign map are your own RPG that you follow throughout the entire game.” — Simon Mann, Battle Designer.
The great thing about Total War is it’s not one thing or another, it’s turn based strategy, so you’ll get all that goodness spending hundreds of hours on the campaign map crafting your faction to be how you want them to be fighting your opponents. Then when you do get to the battlefield you see how your efforts on the campaign map have directly affected your chances on the battle, and they both feed into each other back and forward.” — Jim Whitston, Campaign Designer.

Total War: Warhammer is planned to be released in early 2016 for the PC with no exact date set yet.

 

About Arthur Augustyn

Arthur has been writing about games since 2007 and has shown an interest in games that involve tactical gameplay or multiple playstyles.