The Total War and Warhammer franchises sound like a match made in heaven. But what happens when a Total War noob picks up the game? And what does a more experienced player think?
by Thijs Kaagman & Linda Wijnen
Thijs: As I’ve stated before (see the vlog I made with Wobbe), I’m a total Total War noob. The franchise always sounded really interesting to me, but I never really got around to playing it. Similarly, though I have played some Warhammer videogames, I never touched the tabletop game that originated the franchise. But even to me, bringing these two series together sounds like a great idea.
Linda: Personally, I love a good strategy game, where I have to use the best tactics and think ahead in order to win. For example I love the latest Civilization installment – although it lacks content – and I can't say no to a good strategy RPG like Disgaea. Even though I am saying all this, I don't think a lot of die-hard strategy fans take me serious since I haven't played a single Total War game yet. So I figured it's finally time to conquer it and I'll start with Total War: Warhammer.
Thijs: When I interviewed Andy Hall, the lead writer of the game, he told me they hope Warhammer can bring some new players to the Total War franchises. And based on my first impressions, I can totally see that happening. I think there’s a lot of players that are interested in the deep strategic action Total War provides, but aren’t necessarily drawn to realistic armies and historically accurate battles.
Linda: I am one of those players. The biggest reason I haven't started on one of the most in-depth strategy franchises before, is that I was afraid that I would get bored with simple swords and bows. That's why, I was immediately drawn the idea of magic and battlefields combined in a Medieval fantasy setting. Wizards, trolls and griffons fighting alongside your regular infantry? I was sold.
Thijs: So, the marriage of these two franchises sounds like a great idea in theory. And so does bringing new players to the Total War series. But does it really work? Honestly, my first experiences weren’t great, but I’ll get to that in a minute.
After selecting a campaign, you’re dropped into a battle straight away. At first you have one Hero and a troop of about 30 soldiers to command. I sent them running towards my enemy by clicking in their vicinity and contently watched them march off. Almost immediately, the game gave me control over the rest of the small army. I sent two of my groups out towards the sides to flank my enemy, while the rest marched straight into battle. I felt like quite the strategic mastermind.
Linda: Flanking isn't the only thing you need to think of. You need to know which units clash with what enemy units (for example swords beat spears) and what kind of formation works best? Do you want the strongest but least armoured units upfront, or do you want to keep them safely at the back? There are many scenarios you need to take in mind. Terrain could be a deal breaker if you don't make use of high grounds effectively or if you don't take the element of surprise in forest coverage.
All of this sounds pretty basic to a strategy veteran, but thanks to the unknowns in play like magic or flying beasts, I felt like a little kid discovering a toy for the first time. Figuring out how to use your flying units effectively without getting killed was challenging, but when you get it right it's pure bliss. It's the same with magic; it's a very strong power which can wipe out entire units, but the casters are vulnerable and you need to take into account the winds of magic (mana), which can run out. And who could have thought bringing holy men into the war could lead to victory? Ever seen a pope riding a mobile canon?
All in all, because of the different kinds of Warhammer-lore units, a lot more is possible than with your average war game. You need to focus your attention on a lot of things at the same time, since all units bring a certain battlefield element, but it's so much fun when you get the hang of it.
Thijs: After my first glorious victory, I was brought to the campaign map. And that’s where my troubles began. When you look at footage of Total War, you usually see gigantic armies clashing on the fields of battle. But in reality that’s only a small portion of the game. On the campaign map you take turns moving your armies around, conquer new cities, upgrade them with new buildings and recruit new armies to your cause. But there’s also a whole bunch of diplomatic options, there’s new technologies to research and villagers that need to be kept content.
The game very swiftly throws you into the deep end of this massive pool. The different features of the campaign map are mentioned one by one by your advisor, but he hardly provides any guidelines on how to use these. Before long, my head was swimming with all the options and possibilities.
Linda: I have to say that only winning battle after battle, would have been fine by me. Nevertheless, I welcomed the extensive politics the campaign map brought me. There was a lot of information to swallow at the beginning and a lot of questions were only half answered, but that's okay. It's more rewarding if you find out about certain cool mechanics yourself instead via some tutorial. For example, in the beginning my citizens were unhappy, so I tried to find out how to make them content. It turns out, besides lowering their taxes, you can always build them a nice bar to keep them occupied. Problem solved.
Besides figuring stuff out and keeping your kingdom running, the campaign map offers a lot of diverse options which can help you during battles. You can send one of your heroes to assassinate one of the enemy's leaders, you can recruit new units in other settlements, and even politics is not as boring as I thought it would be; sign a trade agreement which will earn you money for your army, or even go as far as entering a defensive alliance with another country, which will ensure you back-up if you're attacked. Sure you can be a mastermind on the battlefield, but you will lose the war if you don't bring those smarts in the campaign map as well.
Thijs: I soon discovered the game offers several different options to actually learn how to play the game. There’s a help menu that offers some pointers, but for me it was the Game Guide that really helped me out. It’s an interactive book within the game that describes the basics of the game. But even those basics are overwhelming and it takes hours upon hours to take it all in. And you can’t just learn it by reading a guidebook, you’ll have to try. And fail. And try again.
Linda: Most of the game mechanics and general basics came naturally to me and I loved exploring them. Although I can totally understand beginners to the strategy genre struggling with this game. I hope that the prospect of owning an army of griffins helps them to keep playing.
Creative Assembly indicated that they want to attract a new audience to the Total War series with Warhammer. But even covering the basics of the game is a mammoth task. The battles themselves are pretty straightforward, but you’ll be spending a lot more time trying to figure out the campaign map. We’re not talking about a learning curve here, it’s a learning wall. That’s slightly overhanging as well. Nevertheless, we can certainly see the charm in diving in and spending hours to tweak and improve your ultimate Greenskin army. More experienced strategy gamers will be really excited to see the endless possibilities.