Officailly known as Total War: Warhammer the cool kids simply refer to it as Total Warhammer. We all know that Total Warhammer is a 10056% better name. Now you may have noticed I am on a bit of a strategy game spree at the moment and while playing the Command & Conquer games I remembered my other strategy love, in the Total War series. Maybe not the series as a whole, but I loved Medieval: Total War 2 and it’s expansion. But discovering there was a Warhammer related one meant I had to give it a try. So indulge my foray into the Old World while I punch pointy ears in the face.
Simply put, Total War combines turn-based strategy with Real Time Strategy to create an overarching campaign.
Both elements of these complimentary game styles could be described as the “main” game depending on your preference, as depending on how much time you want to sink into Total Warhammer either part of the game could take days of your life.
For me, the Turn Based part of the game is my favourite part. Here you issue your orders to your army, conduct research, initiate diplomacy, trade deals, scouting a province, as well as ordering the troops around. You do this while trying to maintain your budget as raising armies is an expensive endevour you’ll need to make sure you balance the books. One way to keep the money coming is to constantly wage war. War is both the most expensive endevour, but also the most profitable. Playing as races such as the Orcs and Goblins you are encouraged toconstantly be on the warpath while some of the other races will focus on trade, and stopping Orc incursions..
Once you initiate a battle the game will then switch to a Real Time Strategy with a 3d 360 view of the battlefield. Hills, trees, city walls, underground tunnels all add to the tactical dimensions as the fog of war means you can’t see enemy units that you can’t see requiring you to protect your flanks.
In the Real Time mode you are commanding the units that make up the Army. This will vary depending on armies, but 1 “unit” of Dwarves could be 20ISH Dwarven Warriors or 1 catapult plus crew, you combine these units to create your army maxing out at 20 units per army with further Lords required to hire another set of up to 20 units. These additional armies can appear as reinforcements or start the battle with you giving you a clear advantage if you moved your armies in tandem.
Being set in the world of Warhammer all the units featured will take on the guise of various medieval tropes and fantastical creatures. Be it Vampires Counts, Orcs and Goblins, Dwarves, or Feudal French Knights (Bretonnian) that just want to go to jousting tournaments. Also included are the lame races such as regular human races, and elves. Bloody pointy ears.
Units can be simple archers, spearmen, shield and sword, big sword and no shield, or riding atop a GOD DAMN dragon. Again, all the units come from the Warhammer and the tabletop Fantasy game so those one with the lore will know what to expect. But for somebody who has never seen it, expect big hard awesome stompy things or utterly terrible small things that do very little on their own. This is a particular highlight in this version of Total War as in other games the series units were fairly similar with little variation in animation and maybe a little colour palette swap. Here an Orc looks like an Orc, a Dwarf is stumpy and beardy, Elves are lame and pointy eared. A tremendous amount of detail has gone in to make each race unique. Same with specialist units like the Trolls, and Giants, it means when you zoom in close to the battle troops are visible different. These are not simply cosmetic skins to make the armies look different as each unit is also animated differently with different behavioral aspects that will affect the combat.
This combination of unique and varied troop choices creates a sense scale that other games in the series lack. Watching 400 peasants go up against 100 centurions isn’t as interesting as watching a Dragon balls deep in a Dwarven King while trolls sexually molest the Pointy Ears that are just hanging around in a forest.
The main issue I have comes up with the AI. If you picked half a dozen wank units, no matter your tactical acumen you’ll lose to a better army, the AI doesn’t seem to allow for careful precision movements as the control you have over your troops is actually minimal beyond broad orders. Don’t expect a Red Alert level of control where you have pixel precision over attacks and movement as unit discipline will mean a lot of units utterly ignore you. It basically means you fill an army allotment with your best units (20 units per Army) and use auto-resolve if the battle in your favour and fight it if it is close. To me it is the only way to keep the game going. Battles typically last 10 minutes and when you have 1 battle a turn early on it is manageable. But later on when you have 5-10 battles to get through in a turn it can become especially onerous. This is mostly down to the AI, as despite this being roughly the tenth game in the Total War series I still find the AI fairly lacking and much less enjoyable than a Red Alert 2 type game.
Karl Franz has ascended to the throne and must unite the Empire. Chaos are stirring to the north and all is fucked as Archeon approaches.
DLCs and the issues this creates
My main army in the tabletop version of Warhammer is a Skarsnik based horde for Orc and Goblins army, and OMG you can totes play as Skarsnik King of the Eight Peaks and replicate a tabletop army in the game. The issue… This is paid for DLC that costs different proces for the privilege, and that is on top of the £35 game price, so you’re paying a lot of money to play with one guy as your faction leader. Warriors of Chaos are also DLC, if you don’t know the Fantasy Universe you might not have spat out your tea in the same way I did. You see, these are basically the main enemy in the whole universe. They are the big bad evil that want to skull fuck you while worshipping their evil deities (Slaanesh/Tzeech/Nurgle/Khorne), they are not some minor addition to the fluff that are thrown in as an afterthought.
These DLCs obviously add up too, so unless you buy the game in a discount bundle the price of the game is steep for an “old” game, but locking so much of fan favourite factions and characters behind a paywall does feels a little unfair as the core market for this game as fans of the Old World. I probably wouldn’t have bought the game if I had known so much wasn’t included. This issue is further compounded as it is only when you select the character in the new game settings to start a campaign are you informed of the paywall.
DULL end game
On the whole I like Total Warhammer, but my god does the mid to endgame become a fucking chore. I did two campaigns, one with Skarsnik and a Goblin Horde on Hard mode, and a second go on Easy using Thorgrim Grudgebearer and his Dwarf buddies. Thorgrim is the Dwarf King, and he rides into battle on his Throne carrying the book of Grudges. Without going into too much lore and detail, Thorgrim is a big deal and is also one of my favourite models in the Tabletop game. But anyway… As you expand and take on new territories you are forced to recruit more and more armies and manage more and more settlements. Problem is, none of this is user friendly. Once you reach a certain point and fighting 5-6 wars on different fronts you can very easily forget to move an army as none of your armies are highlighted on the UI, there is no master map (that I found) to view the locations of your 17 armies, you have to select one, and use the next button. Slowly cycling between all of them hoping something doesn’t grab your interest which breaks this cycle forcing you to start again. You need to do the same with your settlements, thankfully these are a little easier as at least they stand out a bit more on the map and settlements are grouped into regions, where 3 or 4 will be linked. But my christ searching for armies is a chore.
Managing these armies, the finances, the settlements, is all fun. For 50 turns. After that it becomes a grind and is boring. It becomes a humongous slog trying to power through to get to the next key event in the story.
Then Archaon turns up. In the story of the Warhammer Universe Archaon is the douchenozzle that literally blows up the world. Here he turns up, and it is your job to kick his Chaos face back into eternal slumber. Now at this point in the game of Archaon arriving I have 15 full strength almost fully researched armies who would drink grog and kick arse. Archaon arrives, unleashes his Chaos armies, and… 1 BUMFUCK Chaos army killed my 3 most powerful armies in ONE Battle. Not 1 on 1 3 times, but ALL the bastarding armies combined. Thorgrim died. It was bullshit.
I even tried save scumming it a couple of times, just wasn’t able to do anything. One fucker would kill my 3 hardest armies, and 7 or 8 other Chaos armies materialised in my corner of the Old World and sacked 6 of my settlements.
This difficulty spike would be ok, if the management of your resources at this stage hadn’t become such a ballache. But this difficulty spike so far into a time consuming game that had already become a slog was vexing to say the least and put me off playing any more.
I don’t dislike Total Warhammer, it just isn’t very good and suffers the same issues that have been present in the Total War series since the first game. The grind is dull, and the difficulty change seems unfair and is off putting. But again, I could cope with this difficulty spike if the rest of the game didn’t grind to such a halt.
The AI in battles are lacking, and how much of this is is countered for you by the variety and fan service to the lore and Universe. I am a fan of Warhammer Fantasy Battles, but I came to it recently. I haven’t read the 100’s of books, I haven’t collected and played for 30 years. I appreciate the world building, I like the attention to detail and excellent fan service. I don’t like the DLC, I don’t like the AI, I don’t like the grind.
If you are a massive fan of Total War then the Warhammer variation will appeal due to the increased scale and scope. If you are a Warhammer fan the game will appeal as you can return to your beloved lore and setting. For the rest of you, you can probably skip the game. It isn’t bad, it isn’t broken. It just isn’t that much fun.
Pros: Fan service, unit variety, scale of battles, being Warhammer Fantasy
Cons: DULL mid to end game, shit AI
Back in the Day:
Pilloried by a large section of the community for the DLC decisions, Total Warhammer would both go on to score well (with scores settling around the 85% mark) as well as being the fastest selling game in the Total War franchise.