Total War Warhammer 2 smooshes two franchises that were destined to unite closer together. On the one side you have Total War, itself the leader of campaign map management mixed with real-time mass battles. Then on the other side, you have the long-standing fantasy lore of the mighty Warhammer, by Games Workshop. If you haven’t heard of either of those titans then welcome, step out of that cave you’ve been hiding in - you’re in for a real treat. This union is enormous in all ways and we are only on part two of the planned trilogy. But I imagine most of you aren’t newcomers to this PC-only champion.
First, let me explain. While each of the three intended parts of the Total War Warhammer trilogy can sync together to help create one mind-achingly huge experience, each game is also playable alone, coming with its own massive campaign which still provides the PC gamer hundreds of hours of gameplay.
And so on to this newest version of the Total Warhammer universe. If you really don’t know anything about this game then let me present to you a brief summary of how it all happens. Choose a faction, develop cities and build and move armies on the campaign map in a turn-based system with other factions. Each turn, you’re trying to take over more cities from the other factions or strike up diplomatic ties and trade arrangements, gradually gathering resources and strengthening your legendary leaders and the armies they control. Then when you send an army over to meet with another army, you zip down to a regional battle map. Here your fantasy armies of dark elves or rat-men are each individually animated and put into organised units on a battle map, where you fight strategically, in real time, against your enemy. This is always quite a spectacle.
As I swirl around the campaign map (much bigger than the one in its prequel), wondering where to begin this review journey, it occurs to me there are actually very few standout changes between the first Total War Warhammer game and this sequel. The graphics have been tweaked, as is normally the case for Total War games, but the performance hit is pretty minimal and the game is accessible to a broad range of PCs through their highly customisable graphics options menu, which we have covered in great detail already in the TWW2 PC Performance Report.
Then there is the huge watery expanse in this Total War Warhammer 2 map that distances the land masses, where the main part of the game takes place. The large bodies of water serve a couple of obvious purposes: first, to help provide depth to your campaign strategy when looking for where to conquer next; encouraging the use and sometimes the development of seafaring vessels, which in turn can slow army movement as the army embarks onto the vessels. Secondly, on a more subtle level, the water helps control the pacing of the main Vortex campaign game. It does this by splitting up the continents and keeping the faction races separate until later in the game. So you spend the early part of the Vortex campaign mostly dealing with your own race and then later things are changed up, as you have to adjust your tactics to deal with more powerful different races. It’s like a knockout round, where only the strongest faction in each region comes out to fight, and they’ve had time to evolve their armies in their own region without a human player around to keep them all down. This well thought-out design has been expertly implemented and does a great deal towards keeping the campaign game fresh throughout.
What else does this campaign map fly-by present to us in the way of new gameplay mechanics by Total War Warhammer 2? Well, one of the choices Creative Assembly (CA) made in the first TWW was, unlike previous total war games, your faction was limited to which settlements it could take over and occupy. In short, each race was paired off against another, which forced the player to mostly stay put in a single area of a much larger map. And so mods appeared to let factions take over any settlement, regardless of race. In Total War Warhammer 2, every city location can be occupied by any faction. I am not sure about the Wood Elf faction from TWW yet, as they have slightly different settlement occupying mechanics and the patch to bring them in hasn’t released yet.
In TWW2, and with the inbound Mortal Empires patch (that will let players link the TWW2 map to the campaign map of Total Warhammer 1) they have introduced a way of easily managing faction wide settlement takeovers. In TWW2 each settlement on the map has a three-tiered Hospitable Rating towards your specific faction, ranging from completely fine to inhospitable. If a settlement is inhospitable to your race - perhaps it’s a swamp city and you love the mountains - then you get negatives applied to the development of the city. These settlement negatives include things as slower troop recruiting times through to increased building development costs and even lower troop replenishment rates when your troops have been killed and need to bolster the depleted units from the local settlement.
And so in Total War Warhammer 2, you can now take over any settlement, with any faction, across the entire TW Warhammer campaign map including the Total Warhammer’s Mortal Empires grand campaign map.
A few years back Total War moved its in-game information to an online website, which when you clicked to view in-game would load up a website page to display the specific information you requested. Thus serving as marketing, making it available to everyone outside of the game hunting for info about TW as well as available to those in the game. I was never a fan. It was jarring and relied on a live internet connection. It also seemed to come at the expense of in-game guidance. With each passing version of Total War, they work harder to guide newcomers to the series directly in-game, introducing the player to all the features, buttons and stats. That external internet-based information can still be accessed from in game, but Total War Warhammer 2 has the best in-game tutorial yet and even highlights buttons and numbers that it refers to as you play the game. For anyone who is a veteran of TWW, you will want to turn down this level of helpful info or just turn it off, like I did from the menu.
And now onto the four new factions in Total War Warhammer 2. We start with the hoity-toity High Elves, who live in what I call Rainbow Island, which I think they share with My Little Pony. Tough as highly trained old boots, but up to their eyes in Elven lord diplomacy with their fellow pointy ears. In terms of military prowess, they are most similar to the armoured Dwarven melee experts, but they also get cavalry.
Then we have their evil cousins, the Dark Elves, who relish in pain and misery and will enslave anything that’s not nailed down. “What, that cute little rabbit over there? Yeah, I enslaved that this morning”. The dark elf Witch King, Malekith, is arguably the best legendary lord in Total Warhammer 2. Full of evil magic and best chums with a massive black dragon that he flies around on. His voice actor is great as well, which really makes you feel like the powerful Lord that he is.
Lizardmen, what’s not to love? These jungle dwellers are made up of large, battle lizards, and to get a bit meta, sometimes they ride around on the back of an even bigger lizard that looks like a T. Rex. All very Aztec-like in appearance, with a healthy mix of magic and melee.
And then the fourth included TWW2 faction is the sneaky, ever hungry Skaven. These guys drip with their own special kind of chaos. A race of rat-people, the Skaven have a dark technological leaning that is fuelled by an unstable ability to harness warp energy. With it, they mutate their own kind, build uniquely devastating siege equipment and even blast the warp energies through guns at their enemy. This scares their enemy. A lot. And thus spreads their chaos throughout your battles with them. But you have to keep your armies well fed on the remains of your enemy.
Each one of these factions play differently, but whichever you choose they are fun to get to grips with. Once you have a faction selected you will learn and fall easily into their particular game style, enjoying the faction's journey, finding that your development choices are influenced by the requirements of your faction. Before long you will be wondering how you could ever enjoy another faction as much. Until you try one.
Bearing in mind that there is likely a bunch of DLC to drop for Total War Warhammer 2 during its upcoming lifespan (they love their DLC) their development roadmap has to keep something exciting back for Total Warhammer 3. Now in Total Warhammer 2, they fixed the major annoyance of not being able to take over any province with any faction. Then with the new Mortal Empires map stitching together patch, this will roll out to previous factions and the original TWW. The point I am lumbering towards is that I can't help but feel like a few popular mechanics are nerfed or withheld in a particular release, in order to have something new to offer in the next instalment.
It’s probably not the case, but with that in mind, let us consider this; Playing something on the scale of Total War Warhammer 2 in multiplayer, you would expect to be able to set up a campaign with four friends at a time. But instead, you are limited to just two. And the co-op campaign in Total War Warhammer 2 similarly limits you to just two friends, with the annoyingly new caveat, that both have to be of the same race.
So if the person setting up the cooperative Vortex campaign chooses to be high elves, then the other player will also have to be high elves and you are then forced to adopt the starting positions given to you, which are on completely the other side of the ocean from their coop buddy and have next to no influence or interaction with their friend. Which makes coop feel a little pointless, despite the huge appeal it will have to many of us.
In the first TWW, the co-op setup was implemented practically the opposite to this, but it had the same outcome. You could only choose factions that started far apart from each other and so you couldn’t begin as two dwarf lords in the same mountain region. Huge numbers of provinces got in between and as you couldn’t take control of any factions settlements, there was no way to easily get over and help your fellow co-op player out.
This, in turn, led to a very popular and simple mod being created, that allowed the two players to choose any faction they wanted, no matter the race or starting location. But every time a new legendary lord DLC was added, which was about once a month, the mod had to be overhauled by the creator, who was doing it for free.
My prediction is that when TWW3 turns up this will all be fixed, thus providing the millions of fans a further incentive to grab the last in the series. Which will blatantly have ogre and/or giant focused factions and possibly the four chaos gods themselves.
But I say this to CA - just let the player choose how they want to play the game in co-op. It doesn’t matter if the game becomes a bit unbalanced in favour of the two players ganging up on the AI. The players won’t care, and if they do, they’ll increase the difficulty of their game.
With a game as enormous as Total War, Creative Assembly continues to perfect the experience. Year after year adding polish, yet only in this TWW2 have they got close to mastering the pacing throughout their entire giant strategy game. The variables that need to be considered in balancing a game as epic as this, during its entire journey, must warp the Vortex itself. In times gone by, the end game gets understandably broken during these open ended sandbox campaigns. To avoid this constant problem we are presented the Vortex campaign in TW Warhammer 2. The Vortex campaign puts you into something that resembles a multi-legged race. With a bar sitting across the top of your campaign screen, you can always see how you are doing compared to the other factions. And despite this ever present campaign driver, you still have enough independence and just enough time to guide your own faction’s development and conquering to influence the outcome of who controls the vortex.
The Total War series has got to a stage in its life where it has no competition apart from itself. Reviewers take each game apart, during their assessments, but ultimately end up comparing the game against itself. And when we ask, what new, groundbreaking enhancements have been made in Total War Warhammer 2 compared to TWW before it? The answer is, “nothing springs to mind”.
But CA are experts with their Total War IP and the amount of resources they have applied to making the Total Warhammer series polished beyond buffed is incredible. Few other games get this luxury. This is a testament to their DLC development and rollout map that funds these improvements. While we the gamers are interested, they will keep working on it.
They take what makes their players happy and remould it, with some extra shine. In TWW2 they have practically doubled the original TWW playing area, added four arguably lesser factions when compared to the original’s four key races - Dwarves, Humans, Orcs and Undead - and managed to make these new four factions feel exciting to play.
Then they smoothed out the play experience across the whole game. It now flows confidently through the expertly paced Vortex campaign, keeping each faction involved along the entire journey, while simultaneously providing the factions with a chance to breathe and evolve unhindered by all competing factions. That’s an incredible feat in a game of this size. And so the score we give it isn’t based on the question: ‘does Total War Warhammer 2 revolutionise the TW Series or even just the Total Warhammer Series?’ But instead, it’s based on the following statement.
As there are no games that compete in the same space as Total War, they themselves are setting the benchmark by which we compare each release. But will the series continue to make significant steps forward or are we now at the point where it can only be polished? The mighty Assassin’s Creed tried that and eventually we tired of the annual releases. Let’s hope Creative Assembly can keep pushing the series forward with innovative ideas.
Regardless of how its future looks, today we get to enjoy Total War Warhammer 2. With all its polish and rich Games Workshop lore, it’s the most well balanced and enjoyable Total War game so far, and that’s a strong accolade.