Total War: WARHAMMER – First Impressions

The anticipated release of the official Warhammer themed Total War game was just over a week ago now, and since then I’ve already played around 40 hours… so maybe it’s pretty good?

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When I first heard that they were making this game I didn’t really believe it. Total War has always been a series firmly set in historical periods, and as someone who loves history that was always great. In recent years however, Creative Assembly have been releasing new versions of their old games, such as Rome and Shogun 2, and then Attila, which was essentially the same basic premise as an old expansion for the original Rome. It was getting to the point where they would have to maybe make something like Total War: Medieval III, or go for something completely different. Considering all this, it doesn’t surprise me that they made a fantasy game. And why create your own when you can license an already very well established series with varied factions and unit types to choose from?

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So here we have it, Total War: WARHAMMER. When I first started playing the game I found that the game works very similarly to the last couple of games. The campaign map is still organised into regions consisting of two or three settlements, one of which is a main city that is fully upgradeable with up to six building slots, the others being smaller settlements that max out as towns. I found this way of organising the map and settlements quite frustrating in Attila and Rome 2, as I was used to the system in earlier games where you could build all building available to you, and there were many more settlements on the map, making everything feel bigger and far less restricted. However, I feel like they have done a much better job with this system in Warhammer. First of all, the fact that this isn’t meant to be a depiction of the real world anymore helps, as one of my main problems before was that it omitted a lot of places I knew of, and sometimes you ended up with only one small village in an entire country, very annoying if you didn’t plan on expanding much to start with. Another reason that I like the system a lot more now is that they have balanced it out a lot more clearly. There are different combinations of buildings that you need in order to train certain more advanced units, and certain locations on the map that may be better for certain units or upgrades based on unique buildings available to them. They’ve also gotten rid of some of the annoyances, such as having to worry about ‘sanitation’ on top of other things such as public order, income and defense, which sometimes left me feeling as if I was constantly just out of reach of my potential unless I conquered half the world. This system just overall works better now, its more simple, while also having some satisfying depth, at least enough for a game where most of us will want to be playing the battles more than worrying about our towns on the campaign map. I feel like I now understand what they were probably aiming for in the previous games but have only just pulled it off. It works like a sort of puzzle with you trying to fit pieces into the best places so that your entire territory can work together.

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A couple of other points about the campaign side of things before I move onto the battles. The recruiting system has been improved by allowing you to recruit globally if your army is in the encampment stance, it just costs more and takes longer to do so, but I find it very convenient. The use of leaders and Heroes is far more fleshed out in this game, and again feels like a continuation to something they introduced in a previous game. Before, they had already gotten rid of the standard agents such as spies and assassins and replaced them with certain others that were semi-unique based on your faction, and these characters along with your generals and faction leader had their own levels and skill trees that made them better at certain actions in the campaign. Where this was very limited before, they have now greatly expanded it. The different factions now have far more differing and far larger skill trees for these heroes and leaders, and this includes functionality and improvements for both the campaign map and within battles. For example in my Empire campaign I have a witch hunter character who I can use in the same way as a classic assassin, with added uses such as removing vampiric or chaotic corruption, blocking enemy armies and defending my own armies from enemy heroes. On top of this I can also take him into my army and increase his abilities for there by doing this such as increasing his damage and health, giving him special powers and such. Other heroes have even more options such as quite a few magical spells for various wizards, and mounts from horses up to griffins. On top of the newly improved skilltrees, there are now special items such as armour and weapons that are something of an expansion to the old retinues. You can still have certain followers to a lord or hero like you could before, but now there are a ton more options, with some things being magical items that can give you special abilities in and out of battle.

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Now that’s probably enough about the campaign for now, there’s probably plenty more improvements and new things i could talk about for ages, but it’s almost been 1000 words and I have yet to get into what I consider to be the meat of the game; the battles! The first thing to mention about the battles is that they have definitely simplified a few things here, which may disappoint some people, but with the more varied factions and units I think it makes sense. For example units no longer have different stances such as loose and dense formations, shield/spearwalls, testudo schiltrom etc. Instead the units mostly hand things themselves, such as bracing against charges with shields or spears automatically, and you have to think more about what type of units you want to use against enemy archers or artillery. Thankfully I think this balances out considering some other changes, and the fact that armour and shields are used far more effectively against arrows that in the older games. More simplifications can be found in siege warfare. The maps themselves are fairly different, as if a settlement doesn’t have any walls then the battle will be fought just outside on a normal battlefield, with the defenders usually starting on high ground. The large cities themselves are also now much smaller, and there are no longer options for added barricades and traps like caltrops or spike pits. While its a shame that some of these things are no longer present, I think it all makes sense, as it addresses some of the problems with the previous games. People have complained about the AI in total war for a while, going as far as to say that Rome 2 was entirely ruined by it, and siege battles were a major part of the problem. Now that the cities are much simpler the AI has an easier time with pathfinding in the streets and can defend or attack far more effectively. As for the changes to smaller settlements, I am totally in favour, as I never really liked either attacking or defending the unwalled villages in any of the previous games, even when they improved it in Rome 2 onwards. The only changes that do irk me slightly in the case of sieges are the fact that all units can now scales walls with suddenly appearing ladders one they are at the wall, making it harder for the defender to know who to focus fire on other than siege towers. Also, cavalry now has no dismount option, making my Empire knights almost useless unless I can be bothered to construct a battering ram.

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Despite these few changes there are so many other new and improved things in the game that I don’t know where to begin. Everything just feels so much more epic. The obvious things such as monsters and magic really live up to expectations I feel. As I have mostly played as Empire so far I have tried quite a few of the magical heroes, but only really fought against most monsters. Magic in the game can be incredibly powerful, but is also quite well balanced due to the ‘winds of magic’ which is basically your mana pool for your whole army, so if you have a few wizards you’ll burn through it quick. There are various things that can alter the winds, such as options in skill trees, magic items, and random changes based on location on the campaign map. There’s a large variety of spells with some used for support to buff your troops, some to debuff the enemy, and some very powerful magical attacks. You’ll end up finding plenty of ways to use these spells in different situations, and I feel like they’re a really well fitting new addition to Total War and a great extra dimension to think about. As I mentioned monsters are also a big thing, and sometimes they really are BIG. The Orcs have some of the best examples such as trolls, giants and the arachnarok spider, all of which can tear your army to shreds if you aren’t careful. These creatures are also quite well balanced though, while still feeling incredibly powerful as long as you use them smartly. They fit into the balance mostly by simply being lumped in with cavalry, with the collective name being ‘large’. So now things like spearmen have bonuses against large foes, or charge defense against them and so on, meaning those are the guys you need to send in when a giant is wrecking stuff up. You also have certain heroes that are good against large enemies, some magic is described as being good against a single target rather than groups, making it perfect against monsters as well as enemy heroes or leaders, and some artillery is good against large foes as it has less splash damage.

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Overall there’s so much I could mention that is so good about this game. I love the way cavalry charges can be so powerful as to send most of a unit flying. I love the varied units and magic for the different factions, with vampire counts that can raise the undead in battle and can’t rout but crumble when leadership is low. The Dwarves who have different artillery and flying gyrocopters. The Orcs with their monstrous units. There’s a lot that is new and exciting here for a Total War game. Hopefully there is a lot more to come, as there are plenty of factions that deserve an expansion such as Lizardmen and Skaven. Personally I’m hoping they add all the Elven factions before too long. And who knows, maybe now that they’ve made this game they will one day make an offical Lord of The Rings game, and I can hope it’ll be as good as The Third Age mod For Medieval 2  🙂

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