May 26, 2016

Total War: Warhammer - Review

As a huge fan of both Warhammer and Total War, I fired up Total War: Warhammer with equal amounts of trepidation and excitement. It had all the ingredients for success, but I knew well enough the dangers of hype: I’ve been built up buttercup far too many times, and I didn’t want to be let down again. So I was cautiously optimistic - and I can happily say that both my caution and my optimism were very well placed.

Let’s get one thing clear. I enjoyed Total War: Warhammer immensely. It’s a great addition to both the Total War franchise, and to the Games Workshop IP. The battles are sweeping and magnificent, the sounds and music orchestral and guttural, and the visuals visceral and absorbing. It’s clear that Creative Assembly pulled out all the stops in developing a game that catered to both die-hard Warhammer fans and newcomers to the world Games Workshop has protected so religiously. But Warhammer, at its heart, is tabletop game focused solely on pitched battles between two or more opponents. You build an army, apply some tactics, roll some dice and a winner is determined. In Total War, battles are only part of the equation. Zooming out, we have the campaign map, complete with territory management, agent missions, diplomacy, technology research and more. How does one adapt a game dedicated solely to skirmishes and battles into one with that macro-level of gameplay?

With great gusto and technical skill, and a healthy appreciation for the lore, apparently. Creative Assembly - with, I assume, some help from the lore guys at Games Workshop - have poured countless hours creating content relating to territory and city management that never existed in the original source material. Not only that, but the content they created feels so real, so authentic that a Warhammer newcomer would be forgiven for mistakenly thinking it does exist. Hats off to CA - when this game was first announced I knew more than a few people, myself included, were skeptical. But they’ve done the Warhammer world justice, of that there can be no doubt.

But how did they do combat-wise? Witnessing the might of Karl Franz wading into a mob of greenskins, swinging his battlehammer and knocking back dozens of orks and goblins all but convinced me that they nailed it. Warhammer is all about the heroes, and CA seem to have acknowledged that with the abilities and sheer unbridled power these heroes bring to the battlefield. In previous Total War games, leaders and generals often cowered behind the bodies of their most loyal guardsmen. In this iteration, however, heroes regularly wade out solo, often attacking a flank or - hell, if they’re kitted out enough - the spear-bristled front of a regiment of spearmen or halberdiers, knocking weapons aside and carving a hole through the ranks of their enemies. They can turn the tide of battle almost single-handedly, but it’s testament to CA’s efforts that they are not unstoppable engines of destruction. They can be brought low, especially if they are swarmed by cheap, expendable soldiers. In Warhammer, it’s not uncommon to have an opponent throw cannon fodder after cannon fodder at your hero in an attempt to either tie him up indefinitely, or lay him low with a lucky shot.

All in all, Total War: Warhammer is a great first step from both Games Workshop and Creative Assembly. Games Workshop because it’s the closest they’ve ever come to allowing a games developer to replicate their tabletop gaming experience, and Creative Assembly because it’s their first foray into the realm of fantasy.

Thanks to Sega for supplying the game for reivew

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