The idea to make Total War strategy in Warhammer Fantasy Battle universe emerged practically since the year 2000 after the first Shogun was released. Turn table-top scenarios into real-time battles with all the nuances up to morale and fatigue. Add to that a global strategic level with diplomacy and developing provinces – that’s a fans’ dream come true.
Sixteen years had passed and finally, it indeed came true. Total War: Warhammer was released… And implemented only a fraction of fantasy battle potential. And no wonder that just next year a stand-alone addon was made to add new content. So much content, in fact, that Creative Assembly boldly called that addon a sequel.
The Gathering of the Storm
All story campaigns of a base game (because Warhammer 2 has a dozen DLC as of now) are set around magical Vortex. Since ancient times it siphoned magical energy from the world and weakened demons, thus protecting the whole planet from Chaos forces.
However, after thousands of years, enchantment became weakened and Vortex destabilized. So now some of this fantasy world’s races (namely Dark Elves and Skaven) want to crack in the spell to take control over its energies for their purpose. At the same time, High Elves and Lizardmen want to restore the Vortex and keep defense made by the Ancients intact.
And here is where you come in. Choose the side whose goal you like and start magical rituals to restore (or subdue) the Vortex. Also, you need to make alliances and wipe out enemies in the process.
By the way, there are far more than four factions. Each race is divided into several clans or houses and you will control just one of them. Others, even of the same race, don’t necessarily see eye-to-eye with you. Though if they do, be sure to make trade and military support treaties. And if they don’t – destroy them. That’s where that military support will come in handy.
Essentially it’s no different from other Total War games. Except in historical TW installments all factions, their relations, and preferences are based on, you know, history. And here everything is based on Warhammer lore. And a bit of random.
Random events don’t manifest too often, but at times can tip the scale. “Magic winds” can become weaker or stronger, changing the effectiveness of magic users in certain provinces. Famine or some other disaster can disrupt your economy or public order.
Game of Thrones
There are also ‘events’ that not so random. When you find ruins of old settlements or a place of a shipwreck you are presented with a choice if you want to just loot or try another approach. Sometimes you are even offered a puzzle to solve and get especially valuable artifact or resource for the ritual.
Other types of ‘dilemmas’ are race-specific. High Elves, for example, have royal banquets and receptions on a regular basis. And each time there is a debacle – some dirty rumor goes around, or a nobleman was insulted because of the wrong place at the table. Will you show your support and solidarity? Or make an accusation? Each of (usually) four options has its benefits, but also its disadvantages. ‘Influence’ is an important currency for High Elves, but you don’t want to piss the wrong faction.
Other races have their own types of intrigues. Commanders of Skaven and Dark Elves each have a personal ‘level of loyalty’. Especially loyal ones bring you more trophies but keep an eye on too ambitious generals – if they think too much of themselves or are too displeased with your orders, you’ll get their army rebel and go against you as an enemy.
The story takes a surprisingly large part of the campaign. Even you are free to explore the map, expand your provinces, and engage in battles wherever you want, scripts tend to push you towards a certain direction through quest rewards or threats from nomad armies. Completing some tasks can even result in cut-scenes that reveal things about characters and the world.
But with all the fun and scripted adventure don’t forget about your enemies. They can too organize rituals to influence the Vortex. And if you don’t want them to gain an advantage before the final battle (yes, even in the end you have a small chance to turn the tables completely) you better stop those rituals either yourself or by a mercenary intervention. The latter is an especially useful option if the opponent is on another continent on the opposite end of the map.
Swords and Dragons
As for tactical battles, they are no different from other Total War installments. Your army consists of dozen or so units – each of them more often being a squad of many soldiers. Among them are standard sword fighters, spear-men archers, cavalry, artillery… Each unit type has its strong and weak points.
There are a lot of tactical tricks too. Attacks from flanks of the back can completely break the line even of the squads that have strongest front defense. Taking high ground gives advantage not only to ranged units but also to melee fighters.
Of course, there is already mentioned fatigue that decreases the efficiency of troops who ran or fought for too long. And morale is one of the most important parameters – if it drops to zero, your warriors will just run, sometimes getting additional hits from behind. So you better have a commander with a literal aura of confidence nearby to prevent that.
Heck, the game totally uses fantasy conventions making hero characters being able to fight entire armies on their own. Of course, that is if those armies consist of ordinary fighters. As there are also monsters of all kinds – hydras, phoenixes, war dinosaurs, even dragons who can rain fire on units below (though this ability needs time to recharge). Sometimes their presence alone can make the enemy run. One such beast is worth the entire squad. Literally – it takes one slot in the army and the price is on par.
During the siege, you can use a battering ram to break the gate (though monsters can do this job too) and siege towers that allow troops to go on the walls quickly. Or you can just use ladders if there is no time to build siege engines.
And there is, of course, magic. It’s somewhat a fickle thing as the amount of mana depends on “magic wind” in each particular province. And you also have to hire a hero, as the art of spells isn’t available for common soldiers.
Heroes (and Lords) of Might and Magic
In fact, Warhammer 2 has a lot more focus on unique characters than other Total War games. Everyone has a skill tree and in addition slots for equipment.
Equipment actually includes not only weapons and armor but also banners and companions (chancellors and minstrels, for example) that are found from time to time and give a boost to character stats. And there is a lot of stats – from standard attack, defense and additional morale bust up to extra tax income and effect on public order in the province hero present.
Actually, there are two types of characters – lords and heroes. Lords command your armies and can give mentioned boost to public order or make buildings cheaper.
Heroes are basically “agents” from other Total War games. They require more work than just hiring – you need to construct one building for each one of them. However, they are more universal, unlike Shogun that had monk to undermine enemy spirit, ninja to sabotage or geisha to poison an opponent’s general. In Warhammer, heroes can do it all and also affect provinces like a lord.
Heroes can even join your lord’s army and go into the battle as a powerful unit. Especially powerful are mages, who can use spells to immediately boost your warriors’ stats or deal massive damage to enemies. Some lords have access to magic as well, but they are rare.
Be careful, however, for your generals can die in combat just like other soldiers. Well, some of them can come back with just a flesh wound, but still, you better cover flanks of your commander, and the mage will be better far from the front line.
Want war, prepare for peace
As for the global turn-based level of the game, it’s no different from other Total Wars. You develop settlements, some of which can have unique buildings, that provide unique bonuses, resources, and even special units. There are provinces that unite several settlements.
You have trade agreements that basically convert special resources you have into money. Of course, the other side should be also willing to trade. Still even without agreement some resources provide boons to your economy, lower troops upkeep, or even raise public order.
Some races spread corruption of various kinds. Vampires (you can play for them only if you bought DLC, but as enemies, they can appear regardless) make normal living troops to suffer losses each turn on their soil, while the undead fight better on the corrupted territory. Corruption of Skaven disrupts the economy. Even for Skavens themselves, so rat-men have to constantly expand and ‘devour’ neighboring lands and resources.
Actually you can move your armies rather freely. There is no grid of any kind – point anywhere on the map and the army will move at the exact spot. There are several formations like ambush that make special options available. Just be mindful of enemy control zones around armies and there will be a lot of space for maneuvering.
Easy to learn, difficult to master
Props for the developers for how seamlessly they made tutorials into the campaign. For some reason, your tutorial guide is the same human guy, but he actually admits that when talking to rats or lizards. In fact, his advice always makes sense not just for the game but for the story too. “You need warp-stone. Search those ruins…”, “Hire more soldiers. That will impress other elven houses…”
Each interface element has floating hints, manual also exist and rather thorough. Even some moments that aren’t covered, you can find on the forum. Like holding the right mouse button to see how much movement points will be spent to reach the spot before you move there.
Honestly, there is an enormous amount of nuance. Diplomacy allows many kinds of agreement, like in Civilization games. Each race (at least four base ones) has special rituals that give a faction-wide bonus.
And there are unique features for each race too. I’ve already mentioned intrigues of High Elves. Dark Elves, on the other hand, can boost the economy by captured slaves. Lizardmen provinces can support each other through the “geomancy grid”. And Skaven can build entire “underground cities” right under enemy noses.
There are different climate zones. Which is actually one of a few changes from the first Total War: Warhammer. Previously some settlements were simply unavailable for certain races. Now bad climate just applies an economic penalty to captured cities.
Total War. Total War never changes
This game, like most in the series, fully lives up to its name. Huge global map (which include several continents) with many factions where you must engage in diplomacy and build an economy as well as picking your battles wisely. And on a tactical level, it includes every reasonable nuance, including monsters, magic, and even some tech if you are playing for gnomes (available only for owners of the first Total War: Warhammer).
Sure, it has some hiccups, like some important info missing or certain bugs that are still not fixed. But despite that, it realizes the full potential of Warhammer Fantasy Battle.
Well, maybe 90% of the potential. Some factions are available only through DLC. And no one knows if there will be some other costly addition to the game.
Another thing that is in those 10% lacking percent is sea battles. A huge portion of the world is covered by oceans and instead of real naval battles, armies just land on some islands when two enemy fleets come together. And yes, I know that would be much work – Man’O’War is in fact a totally separate table-top game from Warhammer Fantasy. But still, after having naval battles in Shogun it’s still frustrating not to see the same here.