Total War: Warhammer – A Review

It’s 2016 and Creative Assembly has finally graced us with a Total War game not rooted in world history.  And what a worthy wait it was, as they teamed up with Games Workshop to bring Warhammer to the grand strategy scene. In Total War: Warhammer, you take control of one of five iconic armies as you make careful political and military decisions in an attempt to dominate the world.

 

Races:  At the time of this writing, there are four races that come available for free, and one available via DLC. The four free races are The Empire, Dwarfs, Vampire Counts and Greenskins, but if the sick and twisted is more to your liking, you can buy the Chaos army.  The Vampire Counts and Chaos armies have tainted land which is hazardous for the other races and vice-versa. For the purposes of this review, I played the Vampire Counts for a little over 100 turns. Von Carstein shall devour the living! Or something.

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Gameplay:  Total War: Warhammer is a turned based strategy game, much like every other Total War  game. In each turn, you take care of any domestic issues such as taxation and building, as well as any actions you deem necessary with your army. The progression feels good for the most part, though it’s very easy to screw up within your first few turns when you’re learning the ropes. I had to restart a few times because of issues with Public Order and money. One nice thing is that there’s an in-game tutor who takes the form of a blind man, and if anything disastrous is about to happen, he’ll let you know a few turns in advance. He’s kind of shady, though, and he appears for the other races as well…hmm.

Combat in the game very much feels like a small chess match. When you choose to engage an enemy army with one of your leaders or lords, you’re taken to a battlefield setup. There, you’ll have a small geographic region to situate your army as you see fit before the action begins. Generally, if you’re on the attack, you have to march at least half way across the map before the computer meets you in battle. This can feel extremely tedious, but once the battle starts, it goes from zero to a hundred in the blink of an eye. Cavalry trample through infantry, heroes blast away hordes of enemies, necromancers raise zombies and flying units swoop down with devastating attacks. There isn’t a whole lot in the way of micromanagement as there is in real-time strategy, so often times I found myself directing my ranged units, cavalry and heroes the most while using infantry as a meat shield. Maybe I’m a total newb, but I love watching the battles in this game.

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Most of the politics in the game revolves around how you choose your allegiances. The computer will often engage you with terms of peace, and you react how you see fit. One strategy I use early on is bullying your neighbor and maybe even taking all of his land except for one city, forcing him to pay you to stop attacking. Then I’d let them rebuild over the next couple dozen turns and attack him again and repeat the process. These are the sorts of things you can do in turn-based games that you can’t really do in other genres, and it’s a real treat seeing these sorts of decisions work out in your favor. Periodically, you also get agents called Heroes that you can use for domestic growth or espionage abroad. They can assassinate enemy heroes as well as hamper the movement of entire armies. On the flip side, you can attach them to an existing army of your own and they can be used as a special unit in combat.

Throughout the game, you will have to choose some technologies to upgrade. The interface is fairly simple, as you basically just choose between military buffs and buffs for your empire’s growth. Nothing too fancy or new there. There are also quests and global requests that are opened up either at random or after certain requirements are met. This adds some RP flavor to the experience.

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Interface: The numerous menus buttons that are thrown around take a lot to get used to. Some of it is intuitive, but it’s not very newbie friendly. It will undoubtedly take you awhile to get used to every little thing this game makes available to you. Do I set up camp? Should I raid? When is the right time to choose “Ambush”? How do I get a mount for my hero? These are only some of the questions I had while learning the ropes and, to be honest, I’m not entirely sure I know when it’s appropriate to ambush. I’ve never selected that formation type.

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As if the core mechanics weren’t buried enough, learning the lore and attributes of your army leave a lot to be desired. It’s all text-based, and there is virtually no explanation for what the units are good for apart from arbitrary terms like “expendable” or “shielded”. Okay, so it’s a shielded skeleton. Is that good? Is it bad? I don’t know. It’s expendable, though, that’s for sure. The maps also feel somewhat confusing, and you must be extremely careful when entering a contested area. I once had an army on attack-move toward an enemy city on behalf of an ally, only to find that it had changed hands in the last turn, leading to some awkward political discourse with an unknown faction.

Graphics: There’s not much to report here, as Warhammer has typical strategy fare in the graphical department. The cinematics are nice, but lacking. Even at “high” settings, it’s nothing special to look at, and the maps are basically just a cluster of colors to change to your own over time. Other than that, most menus are walls of text. Yuck. There are a plethora of Warhammer books out there, and if I wanted to read one I would. But I’m here to play a game right now, thank you very much.

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Overall, the experience in Total War: Warhammer has been a pleasant one. There is some clunkiness that comes with most turn-based games, and yet more from the lore that the game tries to stay true to. The fighting is slow to start but ramps up quick, and with war waging at and beyond every border, this game will test your strategic prowess with every turn.

 

GAMERS PANTHEON SCORE: 79% 

 

Pros: 

  • Plenty of action going on at all times
  • Awesome battles on a grand scale
  • Every decision you make will have consequences for your army and empire
  • Cool races with their own unique units and overall feel
  • The immersion factor is strong, and it’s easy to lose a few hours per session
  • Rich lore from one of the most famous high-fantasy universes of all time

 

Cons: 

  • The interface can be confusing
  • Lack of imagination with the menus
  • Way too much reading for a video game
  • Seemingly arbitrary unit attributes for the novice player

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