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Total War: Warhammer II Review – Grand strategy where you need it most

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While I am a fan of various strategy genres, I must confess that I found myself in a completely new place with both the nature of the game as well as the story matter, when asked to review this title by Mr Cocomello. I’ve always toyed with picking up a copy of a Total War title, and had never been exposed to the Warhammer -no appellation – universe; so here is as good a place to start as any.

Synopsis

To fans of the Warhammer universe and franchise, I do apologise for what I’m about to butcher here…

The story starts with the great vortex, created in times past, beginning to falter; the high elves seek to defend it, the dark elves seek to corrupt it for their own purpose. The Lizardmen also seek to protect it but in their own way, at odds with the high elves. And finally, we have the Skaven, a mishmash of creatures coming up from… wherever… needing to feed.

Got all that? I didn’t either…

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Yup, there is that vortex..thingy

I’m all about the only good Eldar is a dead Eldar, although I’m starting to get my fantasy franchises mixed up here…

To be honest, I wasn’t wild about Warhammer going in to this, but of course, one has to remember that the Warhammer 40K universe came after, this is a return to Game Workshop’s classic IP, and as window dressing to a grand strategy game

 Gameplay

As alluded to in the introduction, I’m unfamiliar with Creative Assembly’s titles but have heard good things from friends, and reviews of titles past generally paint these in a very positive light, I’ll be describing my foray into this different take of strategy gaming.

I started off with Lord Tyion of the Asur, from the High Elf capital of Lotharn, the campaign introduces your gently into the world, with your faction desperately needing to repel an attack by a dark elf faction called The Cult of Excess. Alternatively splitting a realm-spanning worldview and a closer view of the battle, you set off to right the world by hook or by crook.

In battle view, unlike more traditional RTS titles where one typically commands a single unit, or groups of singular units (think one Space Marine versus a drag box of 12 Space Marines), individual units are now squads of soldiers, such as a platoon of spearmen, or a company of mounted cavalry. Arrange your units as set pieces where you believe they may perform best (infantry front and centre, archers behind the infantry, and cavalry positioned to attack from the flanks, etc). Once you’re ready, set them off to attack – victory or defeat doesn’t necessarily mean your army is necessarily butchered down to a man, so it is possible to retreat, regroup and fight another day. The strength of your squads, platoons and companies can be reinforced with time, or melded if in a hurry and out on the road. If you’ve played any titles from Relics such as Homeworld, Dawn of War, or Company of Heroes will be familiar with this method of unit representation.

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Those poor archers are in for a bad afternoon…

Moral, rest and relative positioning of other units will affect each other’s units’ performance, for example, if a squad of infantry is attacked from the sides, this will instantly reduce moral and relative effectiveness; Attacking from the high ground increases ranged units’ effectiveness, using a cavalry unit within a forested area reduces their effectiveness, and so on.

As battles are resolved, you’re switched over to the all-encompassing worldview, where the grand strategy between yourself and your opponents is played out. Here, armies are moved around, diplomacy is managed, towns and cities are managed, technology is researched, sociological doctrines are adopted and loot acquired from battles, taxation, and from completing missions, is spent. Districts will have towns, cities and other structures dotted around the land which can be claimed by various means. Fielding more armies to stomp around the map requires the hiring of a lord from said towns and then recruiting squads and companies to accompany said lords. As battles and quests are won and lost, these lords and the units accompanying them will gain experience; so a well-experienced lord will be able to march his units further per turn, have a more commanding presence on the battlefield, able to excise more taxes in the province he resides in and so forth, so a well-campaigned lord becomes a valuable asset and someone with whom you can identify with. I was rather attached to my first hired Lord Thovar, who, while overcame his defects and became quite the little capturer of small towns with all the winning of skirmishes he was performing.

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About to do some hardcore negotiating – actually I was just brow-beaten around by my opponents…

 

The other great thing to remember is that even the greatest of virtual generals will eventually tire from micromanaging battles; it is possible to auto-resolve a conflict, especially useful if the odds are in your favour, but manual intervention is useful if you feel the

Luckily for people like myself who have never played a Total War title, the campaign and tutorial mode is easy enough to understand and grasp and is quite thorough in both up-close combat, as well as helping guide your overall world strategy. Not bad for a blind, short-lived human…

Command and control in the worldview should feel familiar to anyone who has played a Civ-like, or MOO-like strategy game – everything you need for world domination is present and at your fingertips.

Graphics and Control

The minimum specs for this game are quite reasonable in this day and age, especially considering what this game is capable of. I’ve have come across hard times recently, having retreated to a lowly older 5-series nVidia card, and even with medium settings, the game is breath-taking. The user interface is fairly easy to get to grips with, although I found the camera controls a bit clunky relative to other titles I have been playing.

Attention to detail is great, being able to drill down to a lowly hamlet, to an over-arching view of the world; from here I suddenly realized how much I’d be playing through in the campaign mode, furthermore this drill-down also applies in local battle mode which includes seeing and hearing almost to an elf, what was going down on the battlefield.

Multiplayer

Multiplayer capability is primarily focused on the battles component; with an interesting array of modes to choose from, including regular battles, sieges, chokepoints ambushes and more.   In addition to public and private multiplayer matches, skirmishes with AI can also be set up, into an up to 4v4 match with various difficulty settings. For brevity, I didn’t play an actual multiplayer match but did poke around the various options.

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Getting a custom battle ready with everyone involved…

What was of interest though, is that in this day and age, Total War: Warhammer II supports LAN mode – a rare and welcome thing to behold

Impressions

While I have been finding myself getting more and more into the game as I've continued playing, I still found it difficult to immerse myself into the fictional world of Warhammer. Sure, I loved my Lords Tyrion and Thovar; they became more personalized as I continued along; although maybe I should have given the other races more playtime. I just couldn’t get the idea out of my head that they only good Eldar is a dead Eldar, crushed beneath the boots of my mighty Blood Raven Space Marines, in service to the immortal Emperor…

Prejudice aside, I have now put both the Total War: Napoleon and Empire titles on my wishlist, as I have been listening to the Revolutions podcast dealing with these historical events which interest me greatly. I may not necessarily favour pure fantasy in my RTS diet, but this game has certainly gotten me interested in the historical battles that played out in the 18th and 19th centuries, portrayed by the other titles from CA.

I was worried that this title would possibly have a similar chilling factor to the franchise, like what Rise of Heroes and Age of Mythology did for their predecessors Rise of Nations and Age of Empires respectively. I’m thinking that my fears are allayed, considering this is a sequel to a popular fantasy franchise from an already award-winning developer. If Creative Assembly ever does something with the Warhammer 40K franchise, I’ll be right there as a rabid fan!

Conclusion

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This game is gorgeous, even running on older equipment. If you’re a fan of either the Total War or Warhammer franchises, then this game is a great fit for starting around in the afternoon and wanting Just One More Turn by the next sunrise. Although the race selection felt a bit flat, there is good news for owners of the original Total War: Warhammer game, with some DLC packs to meld the original races and maps into the current title to boost variety. In addition, looking how Creative assembly DLC everything in their previous titles, it looks like there will be plenty to choose from in the coming months, with as many as 11 playable factions and races, up from the original four.

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