REVIEW: Total War: Warhammer

Wednesday, June 1st, 2016

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Total War Warhammer Title Screen
Title Total War: Warhammer
Developer Creative Assembly
Publisher SEGA
Release Date May 24, 2016
Genre Strategy
Platform PC Steam
Age Rating General Audience
Official Website

This one is an interesting beast to review for our website. Total War: Warhammer is certainly niche, but it’s not really a niche that we cover very much. Nevertheless, there is also something refreshing about looking outside of your normal environment. So here I am, reviewing this combination of two prolific strategy game franchises, Total War and Warhammer. Beast is also an apt term for this title, as it is quite a massive undertaking. It was quite interesting to be exposed to those two strategy games for the first time. I have played a lot of those types of games over the years, starting out with the likes of Command & Conquer and Warcraft 2, but Warcraft became my fantasy RTS games, and I had always just missed on Warhammer because of that. So this review will be quite the fresh lens on this game. One disclaimer, I am also reviewing the Chaos Warriors DLC which is available at release.

Total War Warhammer | Book

Get some study in, you’ll need it.

I listed this game’s genre as a strategy game for a pretty major reason. Whether all Total War games are like this, or whether it’s the Warhammer influence, I don’t know. But this game is kind of stuck between the worlds of real time strategy and turn based strategy. You have turns in which you move across the map and start development on buildings, technology, skills, and recruitment. Each of these things cost certain resources and takes a set number of rounds to occur. Also when you are placing a city under siege, there is a certain number of turns until they will weaken enough for you to safely destroy them, or they collapse and starve them from within. This side of things feels distinctly like Civilization or a hex based strategy game. But when you engage in a battle you will see a likelihood of your victory with a color code. You can choose to auto-resolve, or you can enter the battle and fight it out real time strategy wise. Really, to save yourself a lot of frustration, fight the battles in person as much as you can unless it’s basically a 90% chance of victory. The computer is actually terrible at auto-resolve, it seems to assume that you are using it because you aren’t good at the RTS section, so it punishes you accordingly. A 50/50 proposition will almost always go against you.

Total War Warhammer | Human March

Show the number of troops on the battlefield to someone from the old days of strategy.

One area where Starcraft changed the whole RTS genre was having distinctly different species that had their own distinct feel but in practice were still balanced against the others you were facing off. It was okay to have a unit that was totally weak against another kind, because that species also had a unit that could lay waste to yours. This largely continues that tradition, however there are 5 species to choose from here. One of the greatest strengths of this title is that most of them had their own mechanics and units, while also having their own distinct story and victory conditions. The length of each campaign can vary quite a bit due to those victory conditions. You may be able to finish a campaign in 10 hours for one species, but it could take you double that for another. Human seemed to be the longest for me, and Chaos Warriors seemed to be the shortest.

The first species is mankind, in the form of the Empire. But the Empire itself is only one kingdom within the world of man. Before you even consider taking on the other species, you will need to shore up your own alliances. The default Lord of this route is the new ruler of the Empire, as you may imagine. But unlike most rulers, he does actually go into battle himself. This can be a great boon, as he has some nice skills and buffs, but it also can be a bit of an Achilles heel if he is surrounded and killed, since he is a melee fighter until you earn a mount for him. Frankly I found this species to be the most difficult to play. This story felt a lot more like Civilization than Warcraft because diplomacy and alliances and trying to keep only one side attacking you at any time dominated that game much more than any battles.

Total War Warhammer | Vampire Princes

They may be called Vampire Princes, but they are quite the motley crew.

The kingdom of the Dwarves is the second species. Initially they will seem to mostly mirror humans. Their recruitment and city building is very similar, even if the story of that kingdom is different. They do also start out with a bit different units. It was a little easier for me than the humans because adopting a defensive posture ended up being quite the effective strategy. Dwarven strongholds tend to have pretty sturdy walls, and they also tend to block up passes, making it so enemies can’t get past a city without laying siege. This can be a long playthrough, but apparently dwarves are quite similar no matter the fictional universe.

The third species is actually a group of species called the Greenskin. They are similar to the Horde of the Warcraft universe, combining Orcs and Goblins and Trolls and so on. Their recruiting of new units is rather different than the previous two, being that they are an amalgamation of solo warchiefs and monsters, but not quite as extremely different as the next two species. One thing about the Greenskins is they do seem to have a lot of trouble with disorder. I swear that I was fighting my own faction almost as much as I was anyone else. That is one rowdy bunch. But they do also have access to some very large units pretty early on, so you can use them to devastating effect against large groups of foot-soldiers.

Vampire Counts are the next species, and they are quite a bit different than the previous three. Actually vampires are pretty rare troops for them, mostly being hero and lord units. What they are actually is similar to the Undead in Warcraft 3. And likewise their recruitment of new units can also be a bit different. While they can develop and train new units in cities they occupy or recruit from the surroundings, the Lord can also use his Dark Magic to raise the dead around the army to also augment the troops. That does allow these armies to grow at a very rapid rate. One weakness, however, is that most of those initial troop types are quite flimsy. So you are better off solidifying your hold on the Vampire realms before you move on to fight other species. Also they have large bonuses by fighting in their own corrupted terrain.

Total War Warhammer | Chaos Warriors

If you are going to destroy the world, do so with style.

For the standard game the list would end there and you would have a final species as only an enemy that you could not face, the Chaos Warriors. But with the DLC this group of creatures becomes playable and, to me, they added a lot to the game’s variety. They are even more different than the Vampire Counts. You never actually capture and build cities. You take your building upgrades with you in camp form, and to use them, you need to change your marching style to camping. One nice thing about that was that I was never far away from my cities so I never had to defend them or go back for anything. One disadvantage of this was that if your army is killed in a battle, it is game over since you don’t have an exterior city to respawn that Lord from. But in practice, that was probably my easiest playthrough. Being basically the unknowable and unsympathetic villains in this whole thing seems to have made them very powerful, even from the beginning. This campaign felt much more like a straight up RTS game with a few turn based strategy elements between the fights.

Total War Warhammer | Information Overload

I did not have to cherry pick this screen, this is a standard example.

Now, I would normally go deeply into all the systems of the game to help you understand them and make an informed decision on whether not to purchase it. But frankly, I would be writing a strategy guide if I did, and I would be boring you all to tears. Those buttons you see in the upper left of the above screen give you access to a lot of necessary tutorials. This game has system upon system upon system. Honestly I would suggest that you just try out the first 20 or so turns of a particular species and see if it feels right. That is basically the extent of the tutorial section of each campaign and you can get better while learning each one’s strengths and weaknesses. After you have truly decided which story and which type you want to play, then either pull up that save or start over again with that species. Frankly, this is a pretty difficult game even for strategy games. There is a difficulty slider, but I found that it didn’t really affect much for me. Even on Easy it didn’t feel much different and you can still get wiped out. That is actually one of my first complaints about this game, is that it is not welcoming at all to newcomers. I play a lot of games that are pretty hard core, but even bullet hell shooters and the most complex doujin fighting games have easy modes that you can practice and just enjoy the story. That is not present here.

Total War Warhammer | Vampire Lord Battle

Vampires > Werewolves any day. Yeah, you heard me right.

The difficulty and impenetrability are not my only quibbles with this release. The camera is frankly quite wonky. I understand the desire to not copy the Warcraft 3 and Starcraft 2 camera style, since they are your competitors. But if you are going to do it different, don’t do it worse. The other issue comes down to the difference between Story and Lore. This game has a lot of Lore, but not a lot of Story. There is tons of text and background information and history and a lot of really juicy and fun details. But the stories themselves are really not that much different from each other, and regardless I did not find to be particularly interesting. This world may go deeper with the Lore, but Blizzard tells a far better story. But that is really all with the complaints. The graphics are really quite beautiful on a gaming PC that meets the minimum requirements, but on max this game is truly a sight to behold. The music is also very stand out. I’m not sure how much of it comes from either franchise, but I would suspect most of it comes from the Warhammer side of things. But the music and sound effects are top notch AAA quality.

Total War Warhammer | DLC

It concerns me a little that the day 1 DLC was my favorite part.

So overall this is a very solid game. It isn’t one that I want to keep on playing for a while, but I can see where this would be exactly what the doctor ordered for some gamers. This is a full priced game at $59.99, and there is a ton of it here. One of the best values for that price is how in-depth the tutorials and demo videos are within the game itself. You actually won’t have to Alt-Tab out and look up something on the internet. And that is something that I hope more game developers take notice of in the future. Especially if you are going to make a game with this high of a learning curve. My last mention has to go to the DLC. Day 1 DLC is a bit of a divisive subject even now. And when it is content that looks like it was cut from the main game, that is going to possibly make some people upset. This game would actually be the poster child for that if they were charging for the Chaos Warriors DLC. For now it is free, but if they start charging for that content I would warn that I would have liked this game quite a bit less without that content. The Chaos Warriors were my favorite part of the game. And given that I normally never play evil or renegade characters in my games, that is saying something.

Review Score
Overallwww.dyerware.comwww.dyerware.comwww.dyerware.comwww.dyerware.comwww.dyerware.com

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About William Haderlie

Born in the 1970's, I've been an avid participant for much of video game history. A lifetime of being the sort of supergeek entrenched in the sciences and mathematics has not curbed my appreciation for the artistry of video games, cinema, and especially literature.