Game Review: Total War Warhammer

delves into an expansive world of orcs, goblins, dwarfs and zombies

Warhammer1

Platform: PC
Release Date: 24 May 2016
Developer: Creative Assembly

The Warriors of Chaos have come, pouring from the north, hurtling towards the realms of men. Kislev has fallen, and most of the north is in flames. Unfortunately for the realms of men, they have been too busy worrying about coping with trying to contain the skeletal legions of the undead that have marched forth from Sylvania. Ancient grave guard with weapons of days of old, zombies still wearing the colours of the Empire and hungry Vampires have been tearing across the Old World, and there’s nothing they can do to stop me. Even if it means that the Chaos Lords have just burned all the lands I wanted to take. Woops.

Despite Creative Assembly (CA) scheduling the release of Total War: Warhammer to roughly two hours before the start of my open exam, I somehow managed to play for four hours on the day of release and finish one of my two essays. I suspect that I’ll find out how I managed this achievement when I see my marks in week 10…

This is the latest instalment in the Total War series, and for the first time ever, the series has left history completely and utterly behind. Instead, it has landed in the Warhammer universe, the one that existed before Games Workshop decided that they had insufficient sales and blew it up. Thankfully, this iteration of the Old World looks beautiful. And with a good range of factions to choose from, and more promised, this game looks set to be a classic.

The gaming community were worried in the run up to release, with a number of qualms ranging from Day 1 DLC to a new mechanic ‘Regional Occupation’ (RO) limiting which bits of the map that you could capture. CA worked hard to resolve all the issues, and have finally lived down the debacle that was the release of Total War: Rome 2 when they released a game that was essentially unplayable. That’s not to say that everything is perfect, but the game is beautifully stable, not having crashed once, far better optimised than the likes of Total War: Attila, and also far more dynamic and fun, because everything gets better when you have magic, dragons and zombies to play with.

The game at launch provides four factions for you to play with, or five if you invest in the Warriors of Chaos DLC. With carefully designed asymmetric rosters, it’s great fun. The Dwarfs, a race of heavily bearded and armoured humanoids inhabit their great underground holds in the World’s Edge mountains. With no cavalry, but the best heavy infantry, artillery and missile troops in the Old World, they can hold their own despite being massively outnumbered. They also have helicopters with bombs. Each faction has a ‘nemesis’ through the RO mechanic, and for the Dwarfs that is the Orcs and Goblins, better known as the Greenskins.

The Greenskin hordes roll out of the Badlands of the South. They have a tendency to fight amongst themselves if you don’t provide them with another target, so your whole game is focussed around finding someone to smash up. Hordes is also the perfect term to use to describe them; they often have twice the numbers of their dwarven enemies, and whilst individually a greenskin is of little value, when you have a lot of them (and there are invariably many, many, greenskins) you can get the job done. They have a mixture of light weak goblin infantry and somewhat heavier orcish units. On top of this, they have trolls, giant spiders and giants to assist them in their plans of world domination. Their Legendary Lords are also great fun, with one, Azhag the Slaughterer, riding a wyvern, and constantly battling in his own mind with his crown which just happens to contain the spirit of the greatest liche ever to have existed who has quietly been steering Azhag to greatness.

The next faction of interest is the Empire of Man. The greatest of the human factions, they are led by Emperor Karl Franz, who spends a lot of the time hitting people with the Warhammer for which the game is named: Ghal Maraz. The people of the Empire worship the Sigmar, the first Emperor, and boy do they need to get praying to him right now because their Empire is fragmented, beset by Vampires and is slap bang on the route of the greatest Chaos invasion in history. They have a versatile range of units, decent infantry, ranged, warmachines, light and heavy cavalry, wizards and even a steam tank. At the same time, not one of their units is actually what you might call ‘good’.

Then, there are the Vampire Counts. They’re the best, and they pretty much do what you’d expect. Their economy is reasonably good, and they can use the aftermath of a big battle to raise more men from the dead. The bigger the battle, the better the units. And did I mention that they’re the best? They are admittedly reliant on the spread of Vampiric corruption or their armies just melt away, but at the same time, if handled correctly this allows you to make friends with all your human neighbours and ‘accidentally’ use the spread of corruption to create rebellions, allowing you to stay friends with everyone whilst you kill them, which I think is pretty neat. At the same time, with no ranged units other than magic users, a total reliance on their general surviving or the whole army crumbles into dust, and rubbish units for the early game, a lot of the time it is a war of attrition (though one that you will most certainly win).

Finally, there are the Warriors of Chaos. With dark pointy bits of armour and a small problem with mutation, they are the only ‘evil’ faction. Their ultimate ambition? Rid the world of order (i.e. everything not Chaos) and let their gods swallow the world whole. They’re led by Archaon, the Everchosen, prophesied to end the world, and it is worth noting that as a general rule prophecies in the Warhammer world are bad news for everyone. They field the best heavy infantry in the game, and have some rather good monstrous units available too, from Chaos Giants and Trolls to Gorebeast Chariots and Hellcannons. They have pretty good cavalry too, so, what’s the catch? They’re a horde faction with no physical settlements; your army is your entire civilisation, so a defeat can be very very bad news, and with only a few armies due to a non-existent economy that is never producing money, you have to sack or raze settlements just to survive.

The game plays well, with each faction feeling unique and enjoyable. As well, with highly customisable and memorable lords, there is no such thing as a ‘normal’ battle. With the promise of a lot of DLC on the way, and two more expansions filled with more factions, this looks to be one of the best games of 2016. Whilst it has a few people complaining, others are already adding mods. Whilst the multiplayer is not perfect, the fact that it has sold over 500,000 copies since release on Tuesday shows that it is certainly popular. CA might finally have redeemed themselves.

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