Total War: Warhammer Ensemble
My friend, let’s call him Dave (…because that’s his name. Whoops.) loves the Total War series. He has hundreds of hours across a few of the titles, professed his love of the series to me, and brought me the news they had acquired a Warhammer license. Only one of these facts inspired me to play the series, and that’s Warhammer. Inheriting a few sets of models from a friend, I ended up diving head first into the tabletop game and amassing my own army of Orcs & Goblins. For you nerds it was Warhammer: Fantasy Battles 8th Edition. I never cared much for painting, but I loved putting the models together and getting to play the game motivated me to spend weeks building and painting my tiny horde of Orcs. The game had a lot of perks, but it taught me the beauty in simplicity when it comes to strategy. Complexity has a charm to it, but when I’m spending most of my time digging through a book for a specific stat the pacing just slogs. Regardless, I’m still a big fan of the world that is Warhammer. I dove into Total War: Warhammer with my fanboy goggles on and was ready to see how the two translated together.
The first thing I did when I started the game was sit through the sixteen-minute video on combat. Already starting to feel like Warhammer. Jokes aside, the Total War series has an incredible amount of depth and the systems in place are different than most other RTS titles I’m familiar with. I chose to play as the greenskins, because Orcs and Goblins were my dudes. Despite being a difficult and somewhat weak army, I chose orcs solely based on aesthetic. I liked orcs. Not necessarily the best pick for beginners, but in a game about battles why not pick the team synonymous with combat in fantasy universes?
On the bright side, the game looked great. The FMV prior to the first combat took me through visuals of some of my favorite Warhammer units such as the giants, Arachnarok Spiders, Black Orcs, and more. I was really impressed with how well the devs got the visual aesthetic down, it was great seeing animated characters in action.
After that, the game started up with a siege battle between two opposing orc factions. Still looking great, it’s fun to zoom in and see every orc in the unit smashing their weapons and awaiting battle. The narrator gave helpful suggestions as to how to proceed and for the most part, it worked. The battle was close. I sent my lord, Grimgor Ironhide, (also my actual army general, which rules) to help smash enemies, and much like the miniature game, having him around made my whole army stronger. The combat was much different than I expected, and I had much to learn.
The most important part to recognize is the terminology. Everything I had familiarized myself with by playing Warhammer: Fantasy Battle was present here and gave me a good idea of how the systems worked. Grimgor has his WAAAGH! that inspires the whole army, Winds of Change move around and assist magic users, and more. Point is, the translation was so good I felt right at home jumping into Total War: Warhammer. A lot of folks probably aren’t invested in both worlds, but the game is a great example of some of the ideas Games Workshop has thrown around over the years.
The heart of the game is gigantic battles and world conquests, but there’s a lot more to it than I thought. Smashing piles of dudes into other piles of dudes has its place, but much to my surprise I became much more immersed in the strategic overworld than the combat, itself. During the time between fighting, you have the opportunities to build strongholds, recruit units, wage war, and even deal with opposing factions through diplomacy. During this section of the game everything works turn-based. In order to succeed in the campaign, get familiar with and recognize the importance of the interactions between forces. Once you’re done upgrading and putting fires out, you end your turn and get to see how other forces react to your decisions. No two factions are the same, however, and this was just my experience focusing on the greenskins. Take the Warriors of Chaos. As it was described to me, they have no home base their missions is to march around the map and murder everything. So if that’s your thing the options are there.
As for the combat, it’s taken some getting used to. I know the Total War series has been around for a long time, but as far as real-time-strategy is concerned it has a steep learning curve. From first glance, you click a couple times and watch units smash into each other. It doesn’t feel like you have as much control as other games, but it’s also not focused on individuals but entire units. It takes a lot to master, and even after sinking a bunch of hours into Total War:Warhammer, I’m still not entirely comfortable with it. The game isn’t the most noob-friendly, and what’s pushed me forward is my own desire to learn it. I have the sneaking suspicion it will pay off once I really learn how to balance everything, but it took a few campaign restarts and lots of saving before battles to really move forward.
To reiterate, I was a short-term player of Warhammer: Fantasy Battle, and despite not being much of a painter or die hard of the world, I still loved it. Total War:Warhammer does an amazing job giving players like myself the ability to learn and play tactical combat without sinking hundreds of dollars into models or needing to find other players. Sure, that’s part of the hobby, but for someone that was interested in the game part, Total War: Warhammer has scratched that itch better than I could have imagined a video game ever would. The game is huge and takes a lot of patience. Old fans of the series may or may not like it with the fantasy setting. There are entire aspects I haven’t even touched on, but from my lens, Total War: Warhammer is a great way to spend your money and get involved in the universe.
Final Verdict: 4.5/5
Available on: PC; Publisher: SEGA ; Developer: Creative Assembly ; Players: 1-4 ; Released: May 24, 2016 ; ESRB: T for Teen ; MSRP: $59.99 (PC)
Full disclosure: This review is based on a Steam review code provided by the publisher, SEGA.