Total War: Warhammer feels like a branding match made in heaven, the deep strategy of the Total War series combined with the colourful lore and units of Games Workshop’s venerable tabletop strategy game. It’s a wonder it took this long to come about. Here’s the rub though: it suffers from the same simple issue that has plagued every Total War game –– it is an incredibly complex game that will appeal only to a very specific audience.
I am not an especially strategic person. Whenever I find myself reviewing a strategy title I have to wonder if I’m really getting the most out of the experience. In the case of the Total War series, the answer is almost always a resounding no. That is not to say that these games are bad — they aren’t, they’re actually very good provided strategy is your cup of tea. I’m saying that the level of complexity offered by the Total War series makes it easy for a dunce like me to miss things, squander opportunities and suffer from focus being in the wrong places. With this disclaimer out of the way, we can now begin the review.
Total War: Warhammer is the latest version of fantasy Warhammer to find its way into the RTS genre. There have been others in the past — THQ memorably nailed the Warhammer 40, 000 universe with their Dawn of War series — but I can’t remember the fantasy game ever being replicated in a digital space with such reverence.
The game hands you command of certain races pulled directly from Warhammer lore and sees you fighting for control of new territories, manipulating the leaders of other factions into either siding with you or declaring war and expanding your empire and fighting forces. There are four races to choose from here — human, orc, dwarf and vampire counts — all with a different set of objectives and penalties for failing them. Orcs, for instance, are utterly unruly and will start to bicker amongst themselves if they don’t see regular action. Dwarves carry their Book of Grudges over from the tabletop version and it will dictate their movements as they add and remove names from its pages.
All of the game’s army-to-army battles are waged in real time and its here the game becomes the epic RTS you’ve seen in all the trailers. Select units, order them into battle and time your attacks to maximise effectiveness. One major change from previous Total War titles is the inclusion of Flyers, aerial units that add a fresh layer of combat to the proceedings. They’ve never appeared before due to the series traditionally runs with settings steeped in ancient human history.
The combat itself is slow-paced and rather balletic as various squadrons move toward or around each other and finally move in for the kill. It’s lovely to watch but there’s a dark side to this too. When you make the wrong move(or fail to notice a hostile flank in time as happened to me more than once), you have to watch the consequences of your actions play out like a car crash in slow motion, your precious and expensive units slaughtered in agonisingly drawn out skirmishes.
It can make for some seriously intense combat, but at least a few of the grey hairs this game gave me came from units simply not doing as they were told. After sending a group of reinforcements to join a clutch battle, I returned to the front to try and better manage the slaughter. After clawing victory from enemy, right down to the last few units, I thought “Those reinforcements didn’t do much, that was still a really close one.” Turns out they didn’t do anything at all — the reinforcements had encountered a small hill and had stopped dead behind it. They never even joined the fray.
The game also suffers from a lack of a coherent tutorial which is going to really hurt newcomers to the series. You can access an in-game help menu throughout the course of play however, and I found myself using it an awful lot. A clearer tutorial would go a long way to easing new players into this incredibly complex array of systems.
A criticism brought to my attention by my Warhammer-loving friends is that the game only comes with four aforementioned factions out of the box. A fifth faction, Chaos, is only available as release DLC. Given how deep Warhammer lore goes and colourful its other races and mythology are, it seems like a real stumble that only four races made the cut. Their omission strikes me as a fairly blatant set up for future DLC — you want Elves, Skaven or Lizardmen? You can expect to have to buy them separately. At the risk of sounding utterly cynical, it wouldn’t be a Games Workshop tie-in if they weren’t nickel-and-diming you for every little thing.
Total War: Warhammer is rather a tough nut to crack. If you can crack it, however, you’ll find an incredibly deep and rewarding strategy title. You’ll be playing it for a while, partly because of its glacial pace but also because there is quite a bit of content to get through across all four races. It’s certainly not for everyone, but if you’re a fan of either Total War or Warhammer, you will likely find a lot to enjoy here.
Score: 7.0 out of 10
Highlights: Deep, rewarding strategy; Perfectly captures the feel of the tabletop game
Lowlights: May be impenetrable for new players or those unfamiliar with the IP
Developer: The Creative Assembly
Release Date: May 24, 2016
Platform: Windows PC
Reviewed on Windows PC