Grand battles, captivating strategy, and precarious diplomacy — all of these elements are what have come to be expected from UK developer Creative Assembly’s Total War series and with its May release, Total War: Warhammer seeks to take up that substantial mantle. Total War: Warhammer places players at the reigns of some of the most iconic and fantastical armies of the Warhammer universe as they vie for dominance amongst countless competing factions. Standing as the marriage of two greatly loved and well-established franchises, Total War: Warhammer faces high expectations but presents a solid determination to see them satisfied.
Your first act within Total War: Warhammer is choosing which faction you will lead to conquest its battle-weary world. Amongst the races you may choose from are the noble humans of the Empire who look to reunite their people, the vicious Greenskin orcs who plague the badlands, the stoic Dwarves nestled amongst the mountains, and the ghastly Vampire Counts who corrupt the landscape with a plague of undead. Additionally, the forces of chaos who descend from the north, which normally loom as an unyielding obstacle which each army must eventually face, is available as DLC, which allows the player to instead become the one whom antagonizes and spreads terror on the nations below. Your decision will extend far beyond a simple variance of starting location and resources, however, and sets the stage for an entirely unique setting in which the game is perceived and played.
The theatres established by your selection plays a large part in what makes Total War: Warhammer distinctive, but also generates the primary discrepancy in how each individual will receive the instalment. Each faction is constrained to certain obligations and rules that they must play by; while this does create an exclusive experience for each singular race, it does hinder options for creative freedom in strategies. For example, if you are playing as the Greenskins, you are only allowed to inhabit dwarf or other orc cities. This naturally guides you to spend every campaign you play as them conquering the badlands before gradually bolstering your forces and heading out to demolish your enemies. This same trend holds true for all of the armies, and while each clan is enjoyably different to play from the others, they are all generally limited by their predispositions. Overall, this structure doesn’t detract from the game’s initial appeal and could actually serve as a pleasant source of variety; nevertheless, if you were inclined to invest into the title to the extent of completing multiple playthroughs on each race, the annoyance of these features would then begin to glare through.
Once your allegiances are decided, it is then time to get into the core gameplay of Total War: Warhammer. Inspecting the overworld map, observing and reacting to the changes in diplomacy and military might throughout the world, is where players spend most of their time. While some may choose to aggressively amass a military force, others may see it more prudent to foster relations with their neighbors whilst growing a healthy economy. Whichever avenue is pursued, eventually conflicts will brew and you will be forced to reap the fruits of your investments to carve your place amongst your competitors and, more often than not, this means practicing the franchise namesake and heading to war.
Combat within Total War: Warhammer is something Total War fans will find familiar but not without a few refreshing additions to spice up the action. Armies are made up of an assortment of units all adhering to archetypes such as infantry, artillery, cavalry, and magicians which will each accommodate the need for certain presences on the battlefield. Even while filling these roles, each races units are exclusive to themselves and excel in certain facets as opposed to their competitors. This encourages players to tailor their playstyles to bringing out their factions strengths. Once an army is constructed and brought into conflict the player is then tasked with micromanaging their movements, ensuring that troops hold their formations and engage at the correct place and time. While it certainly does take a fair bit of adaptation to grasp how to be a prosperous general within Total War: Warhammer, effectively leading your war party to victory is an incredibly satisfying achievement.
Multiplayer aspects of the game allow players to meet up for entire crusades or even just fleetingly to host brief army skirmishes. With the option to either team up or go head to head on the campaign map, two aspiring conquerors can choose to work together to achieve mutual victory, or duke it out until only one reigns supreme. If committing to an entire campaign seems a bit too much of an investment, however, up to 6 players with 3 on each side can sit down for one massive encounter with each party creating their optimal militia using a preset allotment of resources. Even though the game holds its ground splendidly through its single player experience alone, these multiplayer elements work superbly within its bounds and broaden the value of the game substantially.
The sheer spectacle you are treated to within the battles of Total War: Warhammer is something to behold. Superb animation, visual effects, and audio send waves of infantry crashing into one another with imposing force while storms of fire and blankets of arrows simultaneously screech up above. The grandiose display of it all is almost enough to distract from the jagging drops in framerate that most typical PCs will be facing in the midst of it all. The overall production value of the title is impressive, but its presentation in practice leaves a bit to be desired. Long load times and rough around the edges performance hamper you increasingly depending on how capable your machine is, but in my time with the game it was never anything so debilitating as to be unplayable; nevertheless, it is worth mentioning and if you have doubts about your computer’s ability to perform, be prepared to crank down some graphics and spend some time reflecting on load screen musings.
Whether establishing a robust realm or leading troops into hellish battlegrounds, Total War: Warhammer produces a captivating experience that will have you invested into extensive play sessions over vast campaigns. That being said, grand strategy is a demanding genre which may appeal more in concept than participation for many, and should be approached with the expectation to spend a great deal of time learning the finer points of success within its bounds. Total War: Warhammer provides a more straightforward entry point than its predecessors, with a plethora of quality of life improvements it has assimilated from past projects and simplified management options as well. Embracing the outlandish fantasy of the Warhammer universe, Total War has undoubtedly found a recipe for success and is currently available for PC through Steam.