By Drew Lovell. This is LOAD FILE, where collecting blood for the blood god is just our day job. This week, Drew puts down the miniatures and plugs in his keyboard so that he can review ‘Total War: Warhammer’, developed by Creative Assembly and published by Sega for the PC.
Strangely enough, people are probably more familiar with products licensed around the Games Workshop/Warhammer franchise than they are with the original game system itself. In recent years there have been a monumental number of titles released under the Space Marine banner ranging from the epic Dawn of War series to the outdated Warhammer: Armageddon. So when Total War: Warhammer was announced in an effort to combine Creative Assembly’s grand-strategy brand with the campaign style battles that tabletop gamers have been playing in their basements for ages, I was reluctantly excited.
THE OLD WORLD WILL BURN IN THE FIRES OF INDUSTRY
“It’s just a war — screw the plot,” right? Not even close! The stage is set for what is about to be a truly epic conquest. The campaign starts off right in the thick of it all: there are diplomatic alliances and grudges already well-established, enemy armies are at the doorstep, and our own forces are already mustering to turn them back. The end times are truly here, the world is on the precipice of conflict and we will watch our faction either claim what is rightfully theirs or crumble apart.
The factions are what makes this game tick. As it is with The Dwarves, who keep a Book of Grudges to which they are obligated to repay in full, every faction has their own unique objectives and hated nemesis. (Pro-tip, Dwarves: if you ever want to move on with your life, maybe you should stop jotting down every little intransigence in a book.) Regardless of allegiance, the sagas within Warhammer ultimately boil down to “unite the clans… crush our foes,” but it is the how of it all that really sets them apart.
Example: Archaon the Everchosen, a playable lord of Chaos, feels pretty damned invincible as he lays waste to all while collecting skulls for his precious skull throne. Little does he know an even more sinister force lurks in the shadows, one that doesn’t quite appreciate what Archaon has been up to. Despite the intricacy of the factions, (and despite how awesome that skull throne would probably look), I’m left wanting even more. The Warhammer Fantasy setting has so many amazing armies, so where are the rest of the Chaos gods? More importantly, where are my favorite underappreciated rat people, the Skaven?
A NEW ORDER WILL RISE
Most of the gameplay takes place on an overworld map depicting a web of interconnected provinces. This is what puts the “grand” in “grand strategy”: much like the classic board game, Risk, claiming villages and castles within a province nets an ongoing reward which quickly stacks up. Armies move around the map freely as they navigate around the terrain, though some races have access to underground tunnels that offer a more direct route. And when an army approaches a city or comes too close to another force, guess what — a battle ensues. It’s worth mentioning here that capital cities are handled differently by a somewhat awkward siege system, where engines of war must slowly be constructed before engaging. But wait! There’s another, somewhat hidden option available, where you can simply surround the castle long enough that the enemy surrenders, thus avoiding any bloodshed. This tactic is the most efficient, but it feels so… unrewarding.
The battles themselves ought to be the climax of the game, the most exciting moment where the outcome has ripple effect on how the rest of the campaign plays out. However, most campaigns feel like they only have 2-3 battles (out of dozens) where this is the case. Rather than the spectacle of dragons chomping down on spider-mounted goblins as skeleton hordes clash in the background, it feels as though we’re watching a bunch of ants running around a field as they slowly decrease in number. Most skirmishes are so clearly one-sided that the game offers to save time by automatically resolving them. The few confrontations that matter do leave a strong impression, but overall the RTS elements feel more like an afterthought than an integral piece of the game. Not capitalizing on the tension of battle is a missed opportunity.
WE WILL DRIVE THE MACHINE OF WAR WITH THE SWORD AND THE SPEAR
Games Workshop has let their iconic brand be watered down by the likes of freemium mobile games and blatantly licensed re-skins of other titles, but Total War: Warhammer manages to stand out from the rubbish. Superficially the game might not feel like it has much going on at first, but it will quickly grow on you when some of the finer details become more apparent.
My misgivings are minor and the game gives tabletop players what they want by having a large scale, campaign-driven narrative packaged inside some pretty approachable mechanics. The game is still new and any shortcomings can be easily fixed by updates. One thing’s for sure: I’m still holding onto the hope that I might one day be able command a skittering tide of Skaven.
Developed by Creative Assembly
Published by Sega
Directed by Mike Simpson and Ian Roxburgh
Platform(s): Microsoft Windows
7 out of 10