Let me kick off this review with a couple of confessions: I have not played a Total War game for over a decade. I have also not played a game of Warhammer for over twenty years – and that was just the one game, when a friend was trying to show me how it all worked. That said, I have played a lot of strategy games in my lifetime, and have a good familiarity with 4X gaming, so I was very much intrigued by the opportunity to try out Creative Assembly’s new title.
Total War: Warhammer represents an important shift in the series. Its release comes at a time when, in the opinion of some, the franchise was growing a little stale. Moving away from utilising actual historical events as a setting (previous games focused on the Roman republic, medieval Europe, the Napoleonic Wars and feudal Japan) is quite a radical departure for Total War. That Creative Assembly took the risk to move a franchise that has long held a strong association to historical fidelity, into the realm of an already-established fantasy narrative, should be applauded.
Length: 50+ hours
So was the risk worth it? In a word, yes. That Total War: Warhammer is (for the most part) a largely accessible game is actually quite an impressive achievement. Combining a fantasy table-top game that comes complete with a huge amount of lore in and of itself, with a premier strategy franchise that is well known for its depth, could have resulted in a quagmire of a game. Instead, Total War: Warhammer feels fresh and energetic, breathing new life into Creative Assembly’s game at just the right time.
The game’s battles are a prime example of this energy. While there is the option to auto-resolve all battles, diving into their real-time strategy action is really fun. Total War: Warhammer puts an array of units at the player’s disposal, including heroes whose powers can turn the tide of battle and aerial beasts that wreak havoc from above.
Each faction has its own campaign, which gives the game added depth. Factions are also strongly differentiated from one another by their units, which are purposely unbalanced. This facet is likely to be appreciated by long-time players of Total War, and adds a level of excitement to the battle system. Players will have to become familiar with the abilities of each faction, understanding their strengths and weaknesses on the battlefield, in order to master the tactics required for victory.
The Warhammer lore is also well integrated, in the sense that it doesn’t feel inaccessible to those unfamiliar with the Games Workshop franchise. While I am sure there are numerous subtleties and references that went right over my head, in my time with the game I never felt like I was participating in an experience without the requisite information to understand what was going on, narrative wise.
So how does this actually work?
One significant criticism I would level at Total War: Warhammer would be its tutorial system. While it’s certainly not absolutely terrible, I would nevertheless describe it as unfortunately half-hearted. Another recent 4X title, Stellaris, superbly integrated its tutorial into the main game and set a high bar for how these things can be done successfully. In comparison, Total War’s effort is at best lacklustre. At worst, it is vague and needlessly obtuse.
There’s also not a great deal of choice available to the player in terms of available factions at the start of the base game: Human, Dwarf, Orc and Vampire being those on offer, with Chaos available as DLC.
For the (regular) players
Total War: Warhammer should be given credit for breathing new life into the Total War franchise, a task it primarily accomplishes with distinct factions and a fun battle system. I have a feeling Total War veterans will get a lot more out of this game than newcomers. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing – indeed, it may seem like quite an obvious statement. That said, it sums up my main critique of the game, that being the lack of clear signposts to guide players unfamiliar with Total War’s established, complex mechanics. There’s a lot to love about this game but at times it really can feel like too much effort.
Review copy of game provided by publisher.