Hammering Out a Superb Sequel
The Total War series and the Warhammer franchise always seemed a match made in heaven. Combining the well-refined mechanics of the Total War series with the richly detailed, conflict-filled Warhammer setting was an enticing mix. Total War: Warhammer was well recieved upon release, and was apparently good enough to spawn a second entry. Of course, any marriage has its ups and downs, but now Total War and Warhammer have had their first sequel together, will their bond stay strong?
The campaigns on offer are the real star of the Total War: Warhammer 2 show. With eight different leaders to choose from, there’s a very distinctive flavour for each one. I spent most of my time with the paunchy Lord Mazamundi of the lizardmen. Right from the start I was drawn in by his quest to divine the intentions of the mythical “old ones”. After battles, I was given the choice to release captives for ransom, sacrifice them to the Gods to gain experience or eat them to help replenish the health of my troops. Needless to say, I often contemplated which dipping sauce would go with various races!
Fulfill your destiny, Lord Mazamundi!
The mechanics not only give an extra depth to the gameplay, but also help absorb you into the setting further. Each of your settlements has a “corruption” meter to determine how tainted your lands are by the forces of darkness. Not only does corruption depreciate public order, sending your settlements hurtling toward rebellion, but it also manifests as a dark shroud across the land. This dark shroud causes attrition damage to armies as they travel across it. There was a palpable sense of pride I got in slowly turning back the tides of corruption in blighted lands with priests and shrines, watching the green return to the scenery and allowing my troops to pass. Not only is Total War: Warhammer 2 a great strategy game, it also absorbs you in the fight against darkness (or for it…)
Total War: Warhammer 2 felt a bit like a Total War treatment of the classic Heroes of Might and Magic games, especially with how your lords can traverse the sea and discover wondrous treasures in shipwrecks and forgotten coves. There’s even similar risk/reward type choices when you’re searching for treasure. The more adventurous choices like checking out some abandoned caves laden with markings of chaos might bring you greater rewards, but also might land you with some nasty negative modifiers too. Not only is there an overriding sense of cold, hard strategy, there’s a genuine sense of adventure to be had as you explore the world and encounter new races and cities.
The Great Vortex
The pacing of each campaign is excellent. As one of four “great powers”, you compete to gain more energy to influence the great cyclonic vortex of energy. To progress towards gaining control of the great vortex, you must perform rituals after gaining a certain number of victory points. This mode of gaining victory is a huge improvement over Total War games of the past where you’d often face a rebellion or coalition against you to spice up the mid game, but would then be left just languidly mopping up the weakened remaining opposition. In Total War: Warhammer 2, there’s a whole manner of calamities to keep you on your toes.
When performing rituals, rival great powers can spend some cash on sending mercenaries to intervene against your rituals (but don’t worry, so can you!) At one point during the mid-game, I felt like I was comfortably ahead. However, once I started a ritual, I found mad vikings suddenly sailing their longboats to my homelands and demon-tainted chaos lords with charming names like “Damon Woebringer” rampaging through my lands, all attracted by my attempts to influence the vortex. This was, of course, alongside multiple mercenary armies hell-bent on destroying the three settlements required to complete the ritual. They mercilessly razed several of my settlements to the ground as I raced Lord Mazamundi back from adventuring to defend my core provinces. After the dust had settled, I couldn’t help but appreciate how great the game is at punishing complacency and keeping the campaign an exciting, competitive experience right to the end.
A Whole World of Interesting New Species to Meet… and Eat
Given that none of the playable races in the campaign are strictly human, it almost guarantees that they’ll be vividly different. The chittering rat-like Skaven can use underground tunnels to traverse the world. Undead armies never retreat, fighting on mindlessly with no fear of the death they’ve already experienced. The lizardmen marshall a large number of dinosaurs into their service. In particular, I greatly enjoyed hitting the slow-mo button and aiming my terradon’s “stone drop” ability – watching in worryingly pronounced glee as boulders rained down on armies of terrified men, scattering them in every direction.
Diplomacy with the various factions you’ll meet is always a possibility too, and you can make valuable political alliances, and lucrative trade agreements. In particular there’s also now the ability to offer confederation status to other factions of the same race. This allows you to peacefully integrate weaker nations of your kin into your borders without fighting them, which really felt like a worthy addition. This can also work as a nice game-balancing mechanic, with your enemies often confederating in response to you growing stronger.
Even though there’s an easy 50 odd hours of playability for each campaign, I’m definitely intending to play through all of them to see the different stories and experience the different playstyles of each race. It’s a testament to just how much work the team behind this title have done to really make each race shine with individuality and distinctiveness.
The battle system is still classic Total War but made all the more exciting by the addition of magic. Not only can you use abilities to rally your troops’ morale, but you can also heal them and bless them. More entertainingly, you can launch fireballs into enemy formations and watch their ranks light up with a beautiful pyrotechnic display. Ultimately, skillful formations and deployments of troops are the most essential to victory.
As always, you can auto-resolve battles that are massively in your favour, but it’s when you’re facing daunting odds that will call on you to come up with the best strategies. One battle where I was defending on some hilly terrain with my army of 1300 lizardmen against 3000+ undead at first suggested I should hold the hilltop. After losing against these overwhelming odds with a less aggressive strategy, I reloaded a save and realised I needed to be bolder. Instead, I had my troops charge ahead and attack the enemy main army before their re-enforcements could arrive. Halfway through the battle, my weedy skink skirmishers ran out of javelins to throw and I had to spread them out to form a threadbare line against the hordes of oncoming undead and stop my army from being surrounded.
It’s epic battles like this where you’re outmanned and outgunned, but still have the will to find victory, that really define the Total War experience for me.
When you do win a battle against the odds however, it’s particularly satisfying as the AI is a worthy opponent. Having played the disappointingly ditchwater dull AI of Total War: Rome 2, I was delighted to discover the AI is now cunning, even devious at times. It was quite frequent I’d be winning a frontline clash of infantry only to discover that enemy cavalry had snuck through the forest to charge my javelinners from behind. Taking my eye off the ball for even seconds could result in catastrophic defeat, which made victories feel all the more worthy.
Managing your nation economically carries on much of the improvements from Total War: Rome 2. The world is divided into provinces. Each province has 2-4 settlements. You’ll have to balance growth, income and utility. Building farms will help your provinces grow and get the surplus population required to upgrade your strongholds, which in turn opens up more building slots. It might seem smart to build for growth early on, but neglecting income buildings can leave you with no money to recruit and maintain armies. Rather than there being an easy fixed build order to gain victory, you’ll have to carefully adapt your economic planning to get the advantage.
What makes playing “Sim City: Warhammer” even more entertaining is the addition of commandments and geomantic webs. When controlling all settlements in a province, you’ll be able to issue commandments with varying positive effects. For example, the commandment of crafting will increase public order, helping your populace to forget about little niggles like mounting chaos corruption and high taxes. Economic management is accessible enough at a glance, but has enough depth to give you some pleasingly thick strategic meat between battles and reward long-term planning.
A Decisive Victory
I really feel that the Total War and Warhammer franchises don’t just compliment but improve eachother. Total War was always a bit lacking in the longer campaigns having a good pacing and flow to them. Likewise, outside of afficianados, Warhammer isn’t exactly a casual pick up and play hobby! Total War: Warhammer 2 lets you enjoy the world of Warhammer without having to buy a bunch of miniatures, and gives the Total War campaigns the story and structure they were always crying out for.
So rally your soldiers and mount your horse/pegasi/terradon/nightmare! Total War: Warhammer 2 is a treasure worth marching across even the most chaos-blighted, skaven-infested, necromantically-corrupted lands to find.
Final Verdict: 5/5
Available on: PC; Publisher: SEGA; Developer: Creative Assembly; Players: 1 or online; Released: September 28th, 2017 ;
Full Disclosure: A review copy of this game was provided to Hey Poor Player by the publisher.