Wot I Think: Total War: Warhammer

Watching the Greenskins approach from a dusty brown hilltop with the remnants of the High King’s great Dwarven army, I knew I was probably going to lose this battle and, with it, the entire Blood River Valley that I’d spent most of my game trying to conquer. I’d already defeated three other Orc armies in the last two turns, but this made one unstoppable horde too many. Hours of effort and progress were about to be erased as my greatest army was swamped by the seemingly endless tide of Greenskins.

I was thrilled: this kind of heroic, doomed slaughter is what I signed up for with Total War: Warhammer.

The Warhammer license liberates Total War from the burden of plausibility that it has so uncomfortably shouldered throughout its history. It’s a game of titanic clashes at the gates of ancient capitals, and wars of pride between two enemies with nothing at stake but a moral point. Every other battle is a Battle of Dimrill Dale, The Fist of First Men, or any other legendary, improbable fantasy clash between heroes and their armies. Total War: Warhammer (Total Warhammer from this point forward, as it is both a better title and a more accurate one) always feels like its source material: turned-up to eleven, about to snap under the weight of its own absurdity, but carried along by sheer enthusiastic conviction.

Battles like this have sometimes been hard to find in previous Total War games, where I’d find myself auto-resolving all but the most closely-matched battles in order to focus on my strategic designs. But here, in my week or so with the game, I’ve fought at least a half-dozen of the most thematically satisfying battles I’ve ever played in Total War.

Total Warhammer encourages these battlefield heroics, battles that don’t follow the logic of a military tactics manual but instead satisfy the narrative of a fantasy game. Greenskin tides rolling across a battlefield, breaking against walls of armor-laden Dwarves bent on avenging past defeats. Heavily armored Imperial knights go tearing through dense thickets of undead infantry. Hero units plunge into the fray, sometimes wiping out entire regiments with a few swings of a magical axe.

Stuff like this is why I decided to fight this last, hopeless battle with my beleaguered Dwarven army. The outcome was practically written in stone, and in any other Total War I’d have cut my losses and moved on. But not only did I feel like I owed this army something for beating 3:1 and 4:1 odds in the last couple battles, but I was also starting to think that maybe they could pull this off. That the High King and his stubborn Longbeards could notch another win.

There were other factors tipping the scales in my favor. Total Warhammer is a game of exaggeration. Your generals and soldiers will level-up as they always have, but now each general and hero has distinct leadership tracks that have very different impacts on their role. They can be behind-the-lines inspirations, legends of hand-to-hand combat, or strategic-level administrators. Sometimes all three, if they last long enough. And those bonuses can stack in some wild ways: my Dwarven king gave his melee troops a 12% bonus to both attack and defense… as well as a massive bonus when fighting Greenskins. When all the bonuses were factored in, each Dwarven soldier was hitting those Orcs for almost double their normal striking power. In no time at all, with a little seasoning under each army’s belt, there is no such thing as a “normal” Total Warhammer battle. Every skirmish becomes a clash of the titans.

It was a fearsome thing to watch, the last stand of the High King’s army. Goblin units melted under Dwarven axes. Orc archers were cut down en masse by pinpoint-accurate Dwarven Quarrelers. The piles of corpses were stunning. The Greenskins started to hesitate and waver as my army of fanatical veterans hacked their way through their ranks, and their generals died at the hands of the High King.

Then the Giant Spider reached the battle. An Orc super-unit, the Giant Spider stood 4 times the height of any of my soldiers, and you could fit a regiment underneath its eight legs. Even as the Orcish regulars cut and run, the Spider was impervious to my heroes’ axes. It calmly, methodically started flinging Dwarves around the battlefield, stamping them with its legs, and chopping them with its jaws. It was horrifying, a little unfair, and entirely amazing. It single-handedly (eight-leggedly?) won the battle for the Greenskins and drove my forces out of the valley.

With the loss of the valley, my forces retreated into the mountains to lick their wounds and rebuild. It was a time to manage my diminished empire and brace it for another attempt to retake the lost ground once I’d gotten some breathing room.

Not that there’s a lot of empire management to do here. Total War: Warhammer keeps the focus squarely on the battlefield by reducing the complexity of the strategic layer. Tax rates? Nope, you tax or you don’t, those are your choices. Building chains have more to do with what kind of units you can build than what kind of economy you’re creating. While you do build up your forces and expand your holdings, ultimately you’re here to annihilate your enemies and resist the intermittent, horde-like invasions coming out of the Chaos Wastes.

What partially saves Total Warhammer from feeling like a shallower version of a Total War game is that the feature cuts are replaced by a series of faction-specific game mechanics that make each race feel wildly different from its rivals. You may not have to manage much of an economy anymore, but you do have to figure out how to keep the Dwarves feeling confident in your leadership by paying-off the grudges they bear other races. Every lost city must be regained. Every victorious enemy general must be humbled. If you don’t let revenge steer your strategy as the Dwarves, they’ll lose faith in your leadership and create a restive, rebellious atmosphere. Likewise, the Orcs can’t stop fighting. Ever. In fact, they’re best-served by leaving enemies weak but alive so that they can always have armies satisfying their “Fightiness” (there’s an actual meter next to each army’s information panel) somewhere rather than having unhappy Orcish armies fighting amongst themselves.

And because your options are more limited on the strategic layer, you really do have to win Total Warhammer on the battlefield. You don’t just want a victory, you need a decisive result or conquest becomes impossible. If you let the AI take over and eat 35% casualties, your armies will bleed-out. This is a game where tactics end up driving the strategy, not the other way around. For the most part, that drives a lot of exciting action.

But only up to a point. What keeps me from wholly falling in love with Total Warhammer is my growing sense that it works because Creative Assembly ripped-out most of the strategic guts out of the game and left a facade in their place. For instance, one reason that the stakes for each battle are so high is because it’s nearly impossible to field more than one or two good armies in a game. The economy won’t allow it. Even deep into my games, the majority of my income came from “background income”, which is what Total Warhammer calls your baseline “money from the ether” income. In other words, the actual economy of Total War: Warhammer can’t really sustain any of what you see on the campaign map… which also means that expansion simply adds to your vulnerabilities without contributing resources to your war-chest.

Every faction is afflicted by this, it seems. If you pay attention to the diplomacy screen, you’ll note HUGE swings in the power rankings of each faction on the map. I couldn’t figure it out until I realized that I would become one of the top 3 powers in the game as soon as I had a couple decent standing armies (that were almost crushing me underneath their upkeep costs) and I’d plummet down to 15th or 20th as soon as I suffered major casualties. Small wonder that nothing is ever gained or lost in the Old World: no territory can fund the forces needed to protect it, so each expansion is a brief boom before an inevitable collapse. Like an annoying racing game, Total Warhammer’s campaign is rubber-banded so that building a lead is nearly impossible.

And here we come to the limitations of this review: I have enjoyed my time with Total War: Warhammer immensely, but the more I play, the more I have a growing sense that it begins to crumble as its scope expands. The economy is out of whack so there’s magical income to compensate for it. The moment you make progress on the campaign map, you draw so much diplomatic aggression from other powers that you are quickly swarmed by enemies that you do not and (thanks to the economy) cannot field the forces to resist.

That does put extra pressure on you to deliver those decisive victories as a general, and it contributes to the intense “win or die” Warhammer flavor of the game… but it also means that those victories start to feel fleeting and illusory because they don’t add-up to anything strategically meaningful. What was exciting becomes a slog, and that’s especially, painfully true on higher difficulty levels.

None of this diminishes the fact that I’ve had a wonderful time playing Total War: Warhammer and am far from finished with it. But the more I play, the more convinced I become that this is a game that makes a devil’s bargain. It feels exactly the way a Warhammer-themed Total War game should feel, and creates tons of dramatic battles and storylines over the course of each campaign. But to reliably generate all that excitement and tension, it secretly disconnects many of the strategic systems that hold good Total War games together. So do you want a good Warhammer game, or a good Total War game? Because I’m less and less convinced that you’ll find both inside Total Warhammer.

Total War: Warhammer is out on May 24th for Windows via Steam and Humble.

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132 Comments

  1. Choca says:

    Strange, I had no issue fielding four to five full armies with 20 mostly high-tier units at the same time.

    Actually the economy was hardly an issue anymore once pretty much all of the the dwarven holds fell in front of my armies (which kind of makes sense since they’re supposed to be full of gold).

    Also saying that the majority of your income comes from background income is extremely weird. In my greenskin game, I have +2500 background income and +23414 (about ten times more) extorted income.

    Even in my Vampire game, which went pretty bad for me, I have +2500 background income and +9484 from taxes. Are you sure that you built enough income buildings ?

    • Horg says:

      Doesn’t sound like he was abusing sacking or diplomacy to gain income much. I’ve been watching the official Total War stream for a few weeks now, and one of the primary reliable income generators is burning settlements down. If you can’t hold a province, you sack it to pay for your next army. Once you gain some new neighbors, you abuse your strong power ranking to extort temporary peace. It’s much more aggressive than previous Total War games, which I like.

    • Thurgret says:

      Not that I’ve played the game, but after watching streams, I came by to express a similar sentiment.

      Not that Total War’s ever had an especially deep economic simulation – personally, I’m quite happy for the campaign to simply be a somewhat internally consistent context in which to mash virtual armies together.

    • Choca says:

      As for the whole “it’s nearly impossible to field more than one or two good armies in a game” argument, here are my forces in my mid-game Greenskin save : link to imgur.com

      Five armies, all pretty much full and notice the Black Orcs, Giants, Trolls and Giant Spiders, those are high tier and not cheap units at all…

      • grizzledgamer says:

        With him playing the Dwarves, I can understand. The Dwarves have a WAY higher upkeep than the other races. I’ve played Dwarves, Vampires, and the Empire. I could have 3 or 4 large armies (15 to 20 units) and still have more income than fielding 2 or 3 Dwarven armies in a similar time frame. Their units are, for the most part, a lot stronger but it makes it really hard to fight on multiple fronts with them when you can’t field that many armies.

    • barelyhomosapien says:

      I say this as a fan of Paradox grand strategy titles for what it’s worth; The simplification of the Strategic layer can only be a good thing.

      The total war format does not suit a very complicated strategic map, the pacing falls apart and tactical battles, which are the meat of the game can become an annoying distraction from sorting out the issues of your empire.

      This refocus away from that, to something like the older games of the series (original rome, maybe medieval) sounds very positive to me.

      • barelyhomosapien says:

        Medieval 2 that is

      • Blastaz says:

        As another Paradox fan I’ve got to disagree.

        I think Rome 2 and especially Attila had built an interesting strategic layer, while avoiding the micromanagement hell of, say, Empire.

        I thought the age of Charlegmane campaign, which turned off the punishing collapse and entropy atmosphere of the vanilla campaign had left the mechanics in a good place to be built on rather than torn out. TW is at its best when the strategic and tactical layers enmesh to help tell great stories, and it’s a shame if they gave gutted one for the sake of the other.

        • Cyrius says:

          I actually dig the ‘entropy’ concept and they especially nailed it with the last faction DLC by giving those factions free resettlement costs. The entropy was done to simulate the Migration Period, aka Barbarian Invasion, and were a perfect setup for the world in Charlemagne.

        • bambusek says:

          CA can build on what Age of Charlemagne left, but with another historical title. Warhammer could hardly does this simply because Attila and Warhammer were developed at the same time. Besides, I think going back to simplified economy that characterized first Shogun or Medieval is more fitting for Warhammer.

      • Zephro says:

        The total war strategy layer has been laughably poor for a while. With the games just over compensating with mysterious buffs or making everyone suddenly declare war. Ripping that out and concentrating on the shiny battles is probably playing to Total War’s strengths.

      • jalf says:

        I agree. I was in love with the first Medieval, but then they replced the simple, abstract strategic game with a poor (and slooow) Civilization clone, and it’s just no fun. To me, it’s been a prime example of how adding features to a game can really detract from a game.

        • dsch says:

          Logged in to agree with this. It’s not so much adding features as changing the entire underlying representation of the strategic layer. The 2d provinces made sense with all the systems: taxes, turn system, buildings, movement, orders. The 3d map looks more “realistic”, but it broke all the connections with the rest of the game so that it ends up being paradoxically more abstract than the 2d map. Switching to the shiny 3d campaign was the biggest design mistake of the series and doomed it to the path of ever increasing dumbing down and focus on spectacle.

          • Gargomaxthalus says:

            Thanks to a bit of mismanagement and miscommunication from CA, people seen to not quite understand the launch campaign. As the game stands it follows the lore of “The End Times” while giving the player a chance to rewrite history. This campaign is meant as a way for them to test the waters before increasing the scope with a larger map, more factions and all the complexity that comes with it.
            When it comes down to it they did something brilliant but with poor implementation, kind of like a bunch of goblin tinkers. We’re just going to have to wait and see what the game becomes. Condemning it now would be a tragic mistake and I for one prefer to look forward to the future rather than fretting over a few misteps, it’s gone alright for Destiny so far..

    • froz says:

      2500 sounds very similar to other TW games. I recall it may also depend on faction and difficulty level (on higher difficulties AI gets bigger base income).

    • Dudeness says:

      You were playing the orcs & goblins, this is what they’re known for : numbers.
      It seems that for other factions (with maybe the exception of Chaos) it’s difficult to support more than two good upgraded 20 units stacks.

      • bambusek says:

        I think high cost of units is mostly Dwarven thingy. They are designed that way: strong, hard to break, but expensive. It may be easier to field more armies with other races.

    • Fnord73 says:

      Lets hope they follow the Paradox-line and add DLC that complicates the strategic layer as well as adding new elements to the game.

  2. Vintageryan says:

    Interesting review, first one I have read so far that has spoken about this lack of economy and the first one that makes me think I won’t buy the game now.

    Can we also have some ideas about how the game runs? and any bugs or other issues?

    • Choca says:

      I wouldn’t put too much credit into the lack of economy argument, I’ve been playing the game for a while and it’s definitely not been an issue at all for me.

      • Choca says:

        To illustrate my point, top picture is a mid-game Greenskin going real well and bottom picture is an early-game Vampire going pretty badly : link to imgur.com

    • Horg says:

      Early impressions indicate the game is very well optimised. No bench marks are up yet though.

      • Choca says:

        Game ran fine for me. Pre-battle loadings are still a bit long (longer than in ATTILA I felt). The AI turns are much faster though, which is good.

        • Vintageryan says:

          Cool, what are you running it with?

        • Asbad says:

          Presumably you’re running it on a modern (recent-ish) SSD? How long are the turns?

          • Horg says:

            SSD might not be essential for reduced loading times / end turn wait. One of the advertised features in the optimisation blurb on the wiki is a move to a 64 bit engine, so it’s using a lot more RAM than it used to. The official streamers who have been running on SSD have been loading battles in under 10 seconds.

          • Asbad says:

            Scratch that, not sure why I mentioned SSDs… shouldn’t really affect anything outside load times for battles. But 10 seconds… wow.

          • WIbigdog says:

            How big is the download? Is it feasible to put on a moderate sized ssd?

          • Horg says:

            It’s going to be around 20GB once it’s unpacked.

      • dawnmane says:

        it runs A LOT better than Attila on my laptop, both in terms of FPS, how high I can crank the settings and end turn times. Really impressive stuff.

        • LilDeamon says:

          Just curious, what are your laptop specs and what setting do you run the game on?

          I have an i7 and GTX 675MX in my laptop and run Attila at these settings whilst also capping the framerate at 30 for consistency.

          link to dropbox.com

          • dawnmane says:

            i have an i7 and a Geforce 650M, and I run it at around high with a few things on medium on native res.

    • Fredrik Sellevold says:

      Whereas I find the strategy management in Total War off-puttingly tedious and fiddly. A simplified strategy layer is the main thing that could draw me back in, and I’m definitely interested now.

  3. wheadna says:

    Would you say it approaches the style of Medieval II: Total War – Kingdoms in that it pares down the total number of systems in favour of enhancing a specific theme of Total War for each faction, or does it simply feel like a thinner offering across the board?

  4. SlimShanks says:

    This is the first Total War game since Shogun 2 I’ve been interested in. I am a bit concerned by further simplification, since things have been pretty damn streamlined for a while now. The economy can be patched easily, so that isn’t too much of a concern I should think.

  5. Yachmenev says:

    A question about how the game is delivered. A thread on Neogaf made me aware that the game has Denuvo included. A component that people fiercely claim isn’t DRM, but according to the devs themselves say requires additional server depencies and some installation limits (although reasonable ones).

    My question is: What is RPS stance on that? This site has previously been very vocal against DRM and for consumer rights, but haven’t so far as I seen said anything about Denuvo. While it’s a vastly different story from the worst implementations of Securom and similiar systems, it is a third party that’s gaining more and more power in determining the customers access to their purchases, and might be of concern in future OS updates and similiar events.

    As a paying customer, that spends quite a lot of money on PC games, I’m very uncomfortable with the expanding role of the Denuvo group, when few, if any, gaming sites seem interested to even acknowledge the existence of it.

    • Hobbes says:

      Denuvo generally speaking only requires what the devs decide it needs, if they pack denuvo with server dependencies, then it’s going to be festering crapware. Some implementations are very lightweight and are actually fine, other implementations are resource chugging nasties that can meaningfully impact the performance of the game.

      Denuvo itself is odd, and how developers use it can make a big difference, I am however not overly keen on one company holding the proverbial keys to big budget gaming in this sense, that’s a bad position to be in.

      • Yachmenev says:

        It’s a bad position for us customers to be in, indeed. And it’s weird that none of RPS, Kotaku, Destructoid, Jim Sterling, etc seems to care even the slightest of this development. I certainly expected for from RPS and Kotaku at least.

        That server depencies, longevity of games, questionable performance issues and restrictions for Linux versions are some effects of this, should be of some concern, right?

        But you gotta give some cred to Denuvos marketing, if they managed to make people not care about this, after previous DRM wars.

        • Adinimys says:

          Glad to see that I’m not the only one concerned about this. Seriously, what is the future of this media going to look like in 10 years when someone will try to enjoy/study old games ? You will have programs trying to search the aprobation of a no longer existant server… Imagine if films or books where like that.
          I never ever pirated a game and I think that it’s really a bad practice to do such a thingbut still, I’m against Denuvo and all this kind of stuff. Unless some laws are written to ensure that the publishers has the obligation to free the game from such a thing or release the source code after a certain amount of time I’ll be totally against these kind of practices.
          If it was just to prevent piracy in the first 1-5 years, ok, no problem with that but it’s sad to see that in the end it hurts the legitimate buyer…

    • shenhan says:

      Denuvo doesn’t necessarily mean online DRM. On the other hand, it seems like Denuvo is the only effective encryption method against pirates. So it’s unlikely that it’s going away anytime soon.

      • Yachmenev says:

        The effect of it stays the same, no matter what they call it. It adds server depencies, is a source of technical errors, and adds a third party that must grant you access to your product.

        That it isn’t going away anytime soon is not a good reason for not having a discussion about it.

      • uglyduckling81 says:

        I had never heard of this DRM before. So I took a look at which games it’s being used with. Everyone of the games is successfully pirated and available for free torrent download.
        It’s no more effective than any other DRM method, which means it’s not effective at all.
        It merely causes additional problems for the legitimate owners as all DRM does.

    • Ragnar says:

      Denuvo is absolutely DRM, and is getting into more and more games. TW Warhammer, Doom, Homefront Revolution, Mirror’s Edge Catalyst.

      Presumably its presence hasn’t negatively affected RPS’ ability to play and enjoy the game, or I’m sure they would have called it out.

      Publishers don’t seem to care what consumers are asking for. We can just keep calling attention to it, keep supporting GOG, and hopefully publishers will eventually get the hint that they should be more concerned with the people that buy their games than the ones that don’t.

  6. Premium User Badge

    Acosta says:

    So the game was great and you had a really good experience with it but you suspect that good time was illusory? How that works? Have CA invented “illusory enjoyment”?

    Have you worked for Edge at some point of your career, Roy? just asking ;P

    • Asbad says:

      If you were being facetious, or otherwise speaking in jest, please read no further.

      I suppose by illusory, it’s the difference between playing Total War for 20hrs and 200hrs. At 20hrs the tactical layer alone is able to carry you, you’re really enjoying yourself. However, TW tends to be more than just the tactics (admittedly, there’s a point to be made that TW really never did a great job of the strategic component). You start to notice the compromises made on the strategic layer, and your prior experience with TW games makes you suspect that the enjoyment simply might not be sustainable over a serious amount of TW.

    • jalf says:

      Well yes, have you ever observed the TW fan community?

      According to them *every* single TW game has irredeemably destroyed the series forever.

      And yet they keep playing it.

      Illusory enjoyment seems like a pretty good term for it.

  7. dongsweep says:

    Can’t wait to play this! The review took a negative turn I wasn’t expecting but the overall feeling sounds like it will be a lot of fun. I feel a bit burned on the Rome iterations. When I wanted to give Rome/Attila another go I went to check out if there were any new DLC’s to spice up the game and found more DLC than the cost of the game. I looked at the DLC for both Rome 2 ($85 for all of it plus $60 for Rome 2) and Attila ($72 for all of that, plus $45 for Attila) totaled damn near $300.

    I am all for DLC that adds value to the game, Paradox and CD Project do an amazing job at this but $8 for a region of 3-4 very similar nations? That is pretty rough.

    As much as I want to purchase this and play on day 1 part of me wants to wait until a sale and pick up some DLC for the same price. Also, I can’t stand that they take out blood from a war game and make you wait 3+ months for DLC to put it back in.

    • Thurgret says:

      Grab Attila on sale if you’re interested, rather than looking at it full price at this point. Good game. It’s been as cheap as €10 and almost certainly will be again. I got the Age of Charlemagne expansion for something like €7, and I got a good few hours out of it, though preferred the base game. Also picked up Empires of Sand for the base game for maybe €2, but didn’t feel that it really added a lot.

    • BubbaNZ says:

      Keep an eye out for the Steam sales. I picked up Attila and all its twiddly extra bits for the price of a pint of lager and some bags of crisps. Being years behind, I found it pleasingly free of bugs. ;-)

  8. syndrome says:

    TLDR
    Let John tell us how awful his experience was.

  9. ribby says:

    Judging by some of these comments, it feels like the reviewer may have been missing something crucial to the game?

    • anHorse says:

      Equally it feels like some people in the comments have been playing early because they work for sega in some capacity

      • Cerulean Shaman says:

        CA has been pretty loose with “streamers” in that pretty much anyone that said they were one got early access.

  10. Vintageryan says:

    Anyone played this yet who also enjoyed Medieval 2?

    My biggest worry is this will be like Rome 2, not in terms of bugs as Rome 2 ran fine for me, but in terms of the battles.

    I could never quite put my finger on it but Medieval battles were fantastic and always give a sense that you knew when the critical part of the battle was and it was hanging on the next 30 seconds or so, some of the most intense gaming I have had.

    Rome 2 for some reason never captured that for me, not sure if the battles were to fast, or to arcadey but I never had the some sense of critical moments I did in Medieval.

    Also do battles mean something in this game? I found in Rome 2 I would defeat an enemy army only to find it had recovered in a few turns and was coming back for me, has this changed at all?

  11. trjp says:

    In many ways I was hoping that this game wouldn’t be a trad TW title – because that would be a BIT too boring for the Warhammer universe.

    On the flipside of that tho, I was wondering what they’d put in there instead – because you can’t just take out the serious mechanics completely and still have a game worth playing…

    You also don’t want to make Dawn of War too, of course…

  12. Zenicetus says:

    How are the castle sieges? Are there castles? Open field battles were usually pretty good and would improve over time (and patches), but sieges were always a weak spot in previous TW games.

    • Thurgret says:

      I understand they greatly decreased the variety of siege maps (in terms of layout, rather than visual changes), and made the attackers only able to attack one side of a place generally, and that consequently sieges play much better because the AI supposedly has a much sounder grasp on what to do with those simplifications.

      • J.C. says:

        In other words, people yet again are accepting the dumbing down of the series. Bit, by bit.

        The A.I. by the time Rome 1 came out was at it’s best, especially by the last patches. This can STILL be evidenced today – the game is playable after all on modern systems. The A.I. could masterfully siege from all 4 sides if it really wanted to press an advantage (it’s objective simply being to thin out a Player’s defense).

        The A.I. went to hell with their subsequent engine jumps. It seems CA isn’t up to the challenge of bringing the A.I. back up to where it should be from their Classics.

        • Snark says:

          Been a while but that’s not exactly my memories. From my recollection, it was routine for me to be able to win “heroic” victories with few units of militia tier phalanxes* because the AI was predictable and easy to manipulate into dropping their ram and rushing the gate into morale breaking mosh pits. That’s assuming the AI attacked and didn’t sit outside the walls for the 60 minutes. I loved Rome and even more M2 but not for the sieges, defense or attack.

          *or similar but with much heavier losses with factions that lacked those deployable walls of death.

        • Isaar says:

          This is the exact opposite of my memories of both Medieval 2 and Rome. I remember the AI sieges being a total joke. I remember the AI being so scatterbrained and easy to manipulate that all you needed was a handful of spear units….That’s not counting the times the attackers just stood outside the walls until the timer ran out.

        • Zephro says:

          The AI in Rome, for the time, was pretty compelling. Even if it was stupid enough (so was Medieval 1) to just assault cities with cavalry for some reason.

          The AI in Atilla was pretty bad at assaulting cities, they just made it so that most towns didn’t have proper fortifications so you don’t notice it as often.

          The AI hasn’t improved that much in 10-15 years is the complaint really. Not that it was perfect back then but it’s not advanced all that much.

    • Choca says:

      I still found open field battles more enjoyable but there are siege battles.

      They’re not as extravagant as they were in Rome II or ATTILA but some of the Warhammer mechanics (flying units, magic, monsters, etc) can make them pretty dynamic.

  13. Jerppa says:

    Isn’t “greenskins” a bit racist?

    • patrickpeppers says:

      Green Lives Matter.

      • Asbad says:

        Hey! Undead lives matter too, don’t marginalize those who don’t have the privilege existing in a certain way.

      • Leland Davis says:

        Don’t impose your ethnocentric assumptions on the Orcish Peoples, man. Just because you happen to think that the lives of all human ethno-variants are important doesn’t give you the right to tell the greenskins that their lives matter as well! I mean, look at their battle tactics. Can you REALLY say that they believe in the dignity of life? Isn’t that a decision that they have the right to make for themselves?

    • hennedo says:

      Many of the relationships between races in Warhammer are built around mutual xenophobia. The game universe attempts a sort of moral rock/paper/scissors game where every position is made untenable by another which is then made untenable by some other position. So you have the opportunity to take pleasure in the racism/classism of the characters and races. You can also see it as a critique of those positions, as the universe as a whole makes all the particular conceits ridiculous. It’s one of those things where it’s not totally clear where the thing stops being an example of xenophobia and where it starts being a commentary on it. I play it as a commentary.

    • PancakeWizard says:

      It’s the combination of the Orc and Goblins races, which can actually be fielded as separate armies in Warhammer.

      Kind of like calling everyone in Western Europe and North America ‘Westerners’. We don’t mind, do we?

      • SomeDuder says:

        stop triggering me with your westerner talk. i sexually identify as a panoptic genderfluid mousepad from the eastern craters of Io

  14. Von Uber says:

    Interesting. Rob knows his stuff on strategy (big fan of 3MA) so it’s interesting to read his thoughts. Been on the fence with this as the strategic map of TW games has been quite a turn off in its latest iterations, so a simplification sounds good – but not at the cost of satisfying empire management.
    I wonder how good the battle a.i. is too.

  15. Duke of Chutney says:

    Thanks for this Rob

  16. thekelvingreen says:

    If the economy is broken, then that’s quite in keeping with Warhammer; have you seen the equipment tables in Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay? Utter nonsense, but we shrug and carry on.

    • pepperfez says:

      That was my first thought as well. Of course it’s impossible to gain a foothold and make progress, because if you could then there’d be the possibility of peace and that’s not how Warhammer works.

  17. Zankman says:

    Wait, are we still boycotting this game?

    Due to their DLC policy or whatever?

    What was that huge negative reaction about, back when it was announced or whatever?

    • Horg says:

      They changed the pre-order bonus faction to be free for any purchases in the first week, so it’s no longer a controversy.

    • Asbad says:

      1) Yeah the negative reaction was regarding their DLC policy. People didn’t like the idea of Chaos being “cut-out.” My views regarding that are it was kinda overblown. When they announced the chaos warriors DLC we already had the Steam Refunds in place. So it’s not exactly as though we lose anything if we pre-order. We could pre-order, read the pre-release and post-release reviews. Run the game a couple times to check for immediate bugs/optimization issues, and then return it if it wasn’t great/solid. Admittedly, this requires a disciplined consumer- and maybe this is unrealistic.

      Admittedly, some may be outraged that those who purchased the game later would be arbitrarily disadvantaged. If so, the whole “you get Chaos DLC free, if you purchase within one week of release” change in policy doesn’t really address their problems. But, one could simply point out that CA/Sega could’ve simply held the Chaos DLC for one month (or whatever period of time) and then released it. Then everyone loses…. But one gets their vindication… I guess?

      2) Boycotts… aren’t exactly a great way to change the behaviour of corporations. See… well pretty much most examples. You have problems of undisciplined consumers, inelastic demand (for certain goods), pragmatic issues that override, problem of collaborative action, unintended consequences (Chick Fli-A, boycott led to anti-same sex marriage supporters coming out to support the store), the fact that you (or your community) aren’t the only consumers, etc. etc. Even the famous Apartheid Divestment campaign, is a matter of debate.

      • Zankman says:

        Thanks for the reply.

        Their DLC policy is annoying and, in general, I dislike DLC when it comes to actual game content and not minor cosmetics and such.

        Will the Chaos faction now always be available?

      • SomeDuder says:

        Who cares. The game will be available at a 75% discount with all DLC included at some point in the future anyway, and multiplayer is lmao i dont even care.

        People willing to pay €60,- for a videogame (that doesnt even have its basic content) in the year 2016 deserve to get ripped off

    • ShatteredAwe says:

      Wait? We’re boycotting?

      We should’ve been boycotting since Shogun 2 then. That’s when CA got really crazy with the DLC.

  18. Noelle808 says:

    I’m actually a big fan of the idea of only having a few armies at any given time.

    My biggest problem with previous Total War games is that you’d reach a critical mass where each individual battle became almost meaningless. The best part was always the early game where you only had a couple of decently developed cities and needed to cobble together whatever troops you had into a few mediocre armies. By the time the game reached the “Here are my 35 all-elite full stacks” phase it was time to restart as a different faction.

    Also, managing a kingdom of 40 provinces was never any more strategically interesting than managing 5, it’s just a lot more tedious.

    • hennedo says:

      This is my reaction. All I’d add is that this system also models the Warhammer Fantasy world well in terms of constant struggle and limitations.

    • DarkFenix says:

      I’ve tended to come round to the idea of most of the major changes they’re making in TW:W. For most of them I immediately grabbed my pitchfork in outrage, ready to go and burn the witch, then after actually thinking about it for a moment I’d come to the realisation that they were removing something I never really used anyway.

      The number of factions for instance, I was pissed off as all hell when they said it would only be 5, but then I’ve never actually played more than about 3 in any TW game. Lack of world domination? I was angry, then realised I’ve never actually finished conquering the whole map because it’s boring long before you’re done. Pretty much all my initial complaints followed that same pattern.

  19. Zephro says:

    my growing sense that it works because Creative Assembly ripped-out most of the strategic guts out of the game and left a facade in their place.

    The moment you make progress on the campaign map, you draw so much diplomatic aggression from other powers that you are quickly swarmed by enemies that you do not and (thanks to the economy) cannot field the forces to resist.

    What you mean like all Creative Assembly games? I didn’t think they had a strategic layer to gut anymore, at least one that makes any sense. Beyond the AI suddenly all declaring war because yknow rubber banding… or just silly arbitrary buffs or the squalor crap in Rome 2.

    In fact just concentrating on the shiny graphics battles is probably playing to their main strength.

  20. Tourist says:

    My biggest problem with Rome II, and all TW games since is something which seems really petty when I say it out loud, but unfortunately just destroys the verisimilitude of the whole thing. The fact you don’t need to build transports to move armies over water.

    I just can’t mentally come to grips that any army, at any time, can just go to the coast and immediately become seaworthy, robust, troop transports. It just breaks it for me. I can see why they did it. It get’s rid of a bit of strategic map fiddling and encourages players to get on with the fighting. But… where are they getting the ships…. they aren’t just confiscating fishing vessels, banging together ramshackle rafts. They are proper transports, able to go anywhere, and defend themselves against proper war vessels.

    I hope Total Warhammer does away with this mechanic, the review doesn’t address it, but considering the simplification of the strategic layer, I’m not holding my breath.

    • Cerulean Shaman says:

      Warhammer isn’t known for its sea battles and currently I don’t believe there are any in the game.

      Anyways, I’ve always found the immersion bit ironic. You could apply your complaints to a huge swath of content in pretty much every game. The UI itself is unrealistic, as the fact that generals are just telepathically transporting orders through an omnipotent being (you).

      Video games require imaginative release and suspension of belief, just like novels. Otherwise you end up like that joke of a fellow who says he can’t Bioshock Infinite because the religious opening part would force him to bend to some other religion or some other shit. But, again, ironically it’s okay for him to go pretend kill people which is against most religions I’m aware of.

      Sigh, humans.

      • Tourist says:

        I don’t disagree. I said I felt it was petty. But everybody has a different point at which their suspension of disbelief snaps and the problem just irks them. For me its not at unbelievable diplomacy (for example in Shogun II, everybody turning against you at realm divide is unrealistic, some should see the advantage of attaching themselves to the major contender), not at defeated armies consisting of hundreds of men, throwing themselves suicidally at a army of thousands… fortified in a castle, not at Armies taking turns to maneuver, for me its at magic boats.

        As you say, probably not a problem for Total Warhammer, but its the main reason I’ve had trouble getting into Rome II or Attila. Well, that and I’m a little over Europe as a setting. Its the main reason I’m still like Shogun. Total Warhammer could be refreshing for this reason too.

      • Jediben says:

        Man o’War would like a word with you…

    • BooleanBob says:

      I feel like they could abstract it a little better. Like, upkeep costs could spike for units when they’re seaborn? You still handwave the question of where they got the transports, but you at least reflect the expense of supplying them.

  21. immaletufinishbut says:

    Still don’t get why they didn’t just call this “Total Warhammer”.

    • Horg says:

      I suspect the closest that Games Workshop would allow is ”Total: Warhammer®”. No one wants to verbalise a colon.

      • syndrome says:

        Hm. Total Colon Warhammer. :(

      • Rizlar says:

        Seems equally likely that it was Creative Assembly requiring ‘Total War’ to appear in exactly that form for brand purposes.

        Maybe Total War: Total Warhammer: Warhammer Fantasy Battles would have been a good compromise.

    • Ragnar says:

      I’m sure they had to have “Total War:” in the title lest they dilute their brand.

      And “Total War: hammer” would be another game entirely. Hammer time!

  22. PhilBowles says:

    The economy should be limiting in a Total War game – a slimmed-down strategic layer and the inability to field more than three full-size armies is what made Shogun 2 the best entry in the series. Every other becomes a late-game walkover.

    I was concerned with the recent direction of Total War games – and particularly their pretensions to be real strategy games while adding none of the actual depth that that would demand while speeding up the tactical battles – would mean that Warhammer suffered from an underdeveloped tactical layer, a fatal flaw in a Warhammer game (Exhibit A: Warhammer 40,000). I also felt that it would be antithetical to the feel of the Warhammer World if boundaries changed much over time, as the typical ‘expand or die’ playstyle of TW demands.

    Fortunately it sounds as though the game allays these fears, and if indeed it’s found a solution to TW’s late-game walkover by encouraging you to do something other than expand and conquer it will be a great innovation for the series (it already loses immersion the moment Britain conquers Europe, for instance). But my question then is: what’s the win condition it puts in its place? From the review it sounds as though there may not be any particular end goal, and if so that could be a problem.

    • Tourist says:

      Based on tidbits in the review, It seems like the encroaching Chaos may have something to do with how to avoid the usual late-game walkover and provide the “endgame” conditions.

      How TW games handle late-game I think is pretty make or break. While there are aspects of Shogun IIs realm divide which bother me, so far I think its been about the best way to do it… you really need to plan from turn one how you will eventually handle it, Rome I did alright too, with the alliance between Roman Factions breaking down around the time you can stomp any of the other non-roman factions… I’ve had to scramble back to Italy to duke it out with a large Brutii stack or two in the past.

      Lets hope the looming threat from the north requires some strategic planning to defeat.

  23. Technotica says:

    Is it true that out of all 8 leader characters there isn’t even one female one in the game? You get two per faction and they are all male?

    Why? :(

    • thekelvingreen says:

      Why? because it’s Warhammer. No girls allowed, unless you’re playing as dark elves. I think the Bretonnians had a female character once too, back in the 90’s.

    • Fiyenyaa says:

      Unfortunately that’s fairly accurate to Warhammer, although some of the Vampire Counts should definitely be women. The Bretonnian mages will all be women if they’re staying accurate, as will some Dark Elf/Wood Elf/a few High Elf characters if they come in DLC or expansions. Also they should totes add Valkia the Bloody as a Chaos champion, she’s pretty cool.

      • Technotica says:

        But why are all the major players male? Because men designed the tabletop lore with men in mind (understandably as when it was created women probably didn’t play any role in tabletop). But that doesn’t mean that the lore can’t be expanded? And as you said, with the current constraints in mind they could still have made a female Vampire Lord, but they didn’t. Because it was too hard? Or maybe they didn’t even think of that possibility?

        And even if there are no female lords at all in the lore, would it have been impossible to sit down with games workshop and invent one for the game? (Even just one, there doesn’t have to be 50% female lords or anything but out of 8 leaders 1 female isn’t too crass is it?)

        The excuse is mainly ‘tradition’ isnt it? There have been no (almost no) noteably female figures in the lore and so there won’t be any in the future either! (Which I think is stupid, tradition shouldn’t be kept just because it is old)

        • bill says:

          The smaller scale stuff like the roleplaying game had a fair number of female characters.

          The main battle game is about armies, and traditionally (and, I guess, mostly historically) armies have consisted mostly of men.

          That said, it’s a fantasy world with giant spiders, so I see no reason why there couldn’t be female lords or warriors.

          But the whole warhammer aesthetic kinda comes from heavy metal cover fantasy, and the women you got in that tended to only be of the skimpily dressed variety.
          So there are actually probably more female units than something like Lord of the Rings… but they tend to be skimpily dressed wardancers or skimpily dressed bdsm dark elves.

          Made by men for boys sounds pretty correct… I don’t remember ever seeing a girl playing warhammer when I was young, or ever seeing a female GW employee in White Dwarf.
          Hopefully they’ll improve it over time, but I guess it’s not a high priority for them.

        • Asbad says:

          Well, you’re not going to hear much opposition here. I’m just guessing CA/Sega/GW doesn’t want to start some “controversy”, because that’s always fun…

          Although I still find it stupid how in 40k space marines are all guys (albeit sterilized men). And yes, there are all female forces (sisters of battle), mixed factions (dark eldar/edlar/Imperial Guard/tau), it just seems weirdly arbitrary that the technique doesn’t work on women. Come on… the EMPERERAHJHHH can do anything…

          • Technotica says:

            It’s just weird, so far the Total War games had the excuse that the lack of women is ‘historical’, I had hoped that for a pure fantasy game they would finally include some women, to say ‘Oh no, in the FANTASY history of Warhammer there are (almost) no famous women so we can’t include any women’ is just… bad.

            Imagine a golf club saying ‘Oh no, we don’t include women in our club, because historical women were forbidden from joining out club!’, sounds quite ridiculous doesn’t it? (And yes, women are not excluded from playing Total Warhammer, and I am not saying that not including a female lord in the game is on the same level as barring women from joining an activity at a certain place, but even small things can pile up to make a big thing and the smaller the issue the easier it SHOULD be to correct right?)

          • bill says:

            It’d be nice to have, but I have a hard time blaming Creative Assembly for it, or even GW that much.

            It’s a chicken and egg thing. GW are unlikely to put much effort into appealing to girls when most of their players are teenage boys. People making GW products are unlikely to be women when most of their fans are teenage boys.

            It’s the same issue as video games players and makers, but video games tend to have a wider audience than GW products.

            Doesn’t mean they couldn’t try, of course.

          • bill says:

            Well, the Emperor is a dude… so it’s not that crazy that the primarchs and space marines would be dudes.

            they basically got around it by using the sister’s of battle anyway.

        • Zephro says:

          They should really fix it in the table top as well as this game. There used to be more of it weirdly, though often in all female factions. Except most of those ones all got sidelined during the 2000s.

          I don’t think Orcs actually have gender as there’s this whole spawning thing they do. But the other factions sure.

          Isabella Von Carstein and Neferata (SP) did used to be in the table top as female vampire counts though. I think they stopped including Isabella a while back though. Or at least put her in weird corset armour instead of a ballgown.

          • Zekiel says:

            And there was a dwarf queen called Helga who they totally could have included too.

          • anHorse says:

            Lamest thing about the Counts in game is that the dudes they have included as single units are really boring characters

            I’d much rather have some of the female counts purely because they’re cooler characters

          • Azael88 says:

            As far as the Vampire Counts are concerned, the vampire characters in the game (heroes not lords, as yet, though with manfred, the release of Isabella Von Carstein is likely) are all female. they are also awesome. the Bretonnians don’t have a campaign yet, but when they inevitably do, odds are pretty good that one of the legendary lords will be the Lady of the Lake, and all their spellcasters are damsels. so, they aren’t absent. Admittedly, there could be more, but when we reach wood and dark elves it’ll be mostly women I feel, as their Female characters were by far more compelling than the male ones. Don’t lose heart! there are more lords and heroes on the way!

    • Gothnak says:

      How many female leaders were in Shogun, or Rome (Maybe Boudica?) and medieval (Elizabeth?). In fact apart from the UK when is there ever a female leader in historical gaming :p… (Catherine the Great…err…)

      In short though, if any game should mainly have leaders who are men, it’s the ones where those leaders actually take part in the murdering and killing of each other, it isn’t as though the game will be won by intelligent economic decisions or diplomacy, as the review says, it’s about smashing someone’s head in with an axe primarily, something which men are technically better built to do.

  24. bill says:

    When do we get Lego: Warhammer and Lego: 40k?

  25. Premium User Badge

    cpt_freakout says:

    For all of you asking the “how Medieval II is this” question, there’s an upcoming mod (it’s being released this weekend) for TW:MII based on Call of Warhammer, entitled Beginning of the End Times. To be quite blunt, it looks amazing, and it’s got most of the WH factions in place. I don’t think factions will handle as differently as in Total Warhammer in the strategy map, but it’s got the good ol’ Medieval II template to back it up. Here, have a look: link to moddb.com

  26. gbrading says:

    I hope if this is a success we can look forward to Total Warhammer 40k. Also they definitely missed a trick not just calling the game Total Warhammer.

  27. consolitis says:

    Woot! Zomg! ‘Total War: DISNEY [Mike Judge Idiocracy Dumbed Down Edition]’ is here? finally! Now all we need is Total War: LEGO and Total War: My Little Pony Playset editions and our lives are complete! *sarcasm*

  28. Vermintide says:

    I DIDN’T READ THE ARTICLE

    BUT ARE THERE SKAVEN

    WHERE ARE MY DAMN SKAVEN

  29. SpaceToaster says:

    I own Total War: Rome and Shogun 2 but I have barely put any time into those games. (Steam sales!) For some reason I really want to play this because I like Fantasy settings more than historical, and Warhammer is awesome.

    I have a bit more knowledge of 40K just because I’ve played the computer games more, however this might be the first Total War game that I sink my teeth into. I think the fact that the strategic layer is a bit more “light” may help.

    I like strategy but Paradox games give me a headache.

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  36. btxsqdr says:

    Good article. Only issue: “Base income” is part of the Total War series for a long time. Some factions already got an independent “base income” for gameplay reasons, for instance in Rome 2. It means, that the author complains about something that is not an issue of this particular game, but the Total War series.