Total War: WARHAMMER II Review – Deep, brutal, strategic

Platform:
PC
Released:
September 28, 2017
Publisher:
Sega
Developer:
Creative Assembly

Review

Total War and Warhammer is a match made in heaven.  I’ve always been a fan of Warhammer from the sidelines – I could never afford the figurines but the lore is so in-depth that it’s hard not to get excited when a new Warhammer game comes along.  Add Total War into that mix and, to me, I think you’ve get a perfect strategic blend. Total War: WARHAMMER II is what I imagine thousands of dollars of figurines would look like on a battleground.

WARHAMMER II functions similarly to the first game. It is a deep strategy game in a large over-world map featuring city management, diplomacy, economy, exploration, army building and army movement.

During battles it becomes a real-time strategy game as you command your armies against opposing forces. These battles take place on varying maps and environments, either out in the open or in a castle siege. Before a battle you are able to place your units in whatever formations you want, and create control groups to better command your units on the battlefield. You can create any type of army and strategy you want thanks to varied unit types: ranged, melee, shielded, siege weaponry, monsters and mounted units; as well as different attributes: flying, stealth or vanguard deployment. You then combine these with geographical advantages such as hiding in trees and elevation. It’s quite a deep and rewarding system.

WARHAMMER II features a new map and 4 playable races – High Elves, Dark Elves, Lizardmen, and Skaven.  These 4 races unfortunately pale in comparison to the numerous races on offer from the first game. Admittedly, some of the original game’s races were added in post-launch content, but it still feels like a small step backwards from what WARHAMMER I eventually offered.  Each of the 4 races has two playable leaders which start on different areas of the map.  1 leader from each race has a starting tutorial phase, and 1 leader doesn’t.

As per usual, every race has its own unique mechanics and quirks to make them special. For example, the Skaven have a lord loyalty system. Since the Skaven are known to be treacherous little backstabbers, your Lords have what is essentially a loyalty metre. If you don’t keep your Lords happy through victories in combat, giving them a nice big army or some shiny items, they can defect and take with them their whole army that you spent your gold on.

“I don’t want to just be told that the Skaven are sneaky and conniving then play them as if they were any other army or race, I want to live out those sneaky fantasies, and Warhammer II lets me do that to the fullest”

To give you more of an idea of just how much difference there is between races, the Skaven also have their own new form of corruption, a food currency, their own army stance, a special ability during battles as well as having their settlements appear uninhabitable to others to fully reflect their infestation.

The new races are fleshed out with the pure intention of representing the core values of each individual race in the gameplay mechanics, and it totally succeeds. I don’t want to just be told that the Skaven are sneaky and conniving then play them as if they were any other army or race, I want to live out those sneaky fantasies, and Warhammer II lets me do that to the fullest. I got to infest abandoned settlements completely unseen, slowly spreading my corruption through the gorgeous new map while my armies got the jump on enemies, getting ambush after ambush while I summoned endless reinforcements of clanrats that skittered from beneath the earth in large droves.

Though the win conditions for each race are different, they are essentially all vying for the same thing – influence over The Great Vortex. This is achieved in the new main gameplay mechanic known as Rituals, which every race has to perform to further their goal. Each race has their own special currency that is required for Rituals. This currency is acquired through many different ways: treasure hunting, completing missions, or good settlement management with your main goal being to get as much as possible as fast as possible. It basically becomes a race against time to see who can complete their rituals the fastest, while also disrupting others rituals through use of your own armies or intervention armies that are essentially mercenaries for hire. Each Ritual unlocks a little cut-scene when it is finished, that gives you a little bit of insight on the story, and I found myself wanting to do the Rituals as soon as possible just to see these.

The new Ritual system makes the game – despite its natural, slow, turn-based movement – feel fun and fast and breathes some new life into how you will play this game.

“WARHAMMER II is a huge, brutal, and nigh-insurmountable undertaking”

Unfortunately for me, someone who has only dabbled in the original game and who hasn’t properly played a real-time strategy title since Warcraft 3 (which is comparatively RTS-lite), WARHAMMER II is a huge, brutal, and nigh-insurmountable undertaking.  Convoluted menus, complicated UI, and around 20 AI players that are mostly gunning for my kingdom’s demise. I had some work to do.

A sage old man acts as your adviser to guide you through the very basics of the game.  I personally found that I still had a lot of unanswered questions and turned to online videos to help me understand.  I found this a little off-putting, having to watch a couple of hours of tutorial videos means that there is a clear lack of help for players new to the Total War games.  I would have liked to have seen a specific tutorial campaign that was small-scale but went through each of the steps and explained the systems a little better.  There is an in-game “wiki” of sorts, but it didn’t really help me.

Despite my PC far exceeding the recommended specs (for those that are curious, I’m running 32GB of RAM, a mid-range i5 CPU, and a 970GTX GPU), for Total War: WARHAMMER II, it still chugged on the main map and I had to drop the resolution down from 4K to 1080p to get something hardly above 30 FPS.  Trying the game on my partner’s laptop (boasting a decent i7 CPU and 960M video card) proved an even sadder affair – it was running at about 20 FPS on low graphics without anti-aliasing. This makes the game look, frankly, quite ugly.  I’m not too much of a graphics snob, but I have a decent enough computer to expect things to run quite well at ‘high’ settings.

 

Don’t get me started on the loading screens.  Well, do get me started because I have to talk about them.  They’re terrible.  3 – 5 minutes for an initial load, 2 – 3 minutes for each battleground. When you’re sitting there in front of the computer waiting for the game to load in and it hangs at 95% loaded, part of you begins to worry that the game has frozen for some reason.  Nope, it’s still loading.  I’ve been told that this is a problem consistent amongst most Total War titles.

Part of the loading screen problem is due to how much the game has to load at once.  The map is huge and there’s quite a number of AI players going about their business too.  This results in a lot of processing power dedicated to just making the game happen, let alone making it fast or pretty.

One of the struggles with reviewing a game of this size is the amount of time needed for just a single campaign.  My partner has 82 hours played in the first game and that amounted to two and a half co-op campaigns.  Finding time to explore each race with campaigns that can go for 10 – 20 hours each is a massive feat. Most of my time was spent with the Skaven, though I did spend an hour or two on each of the other races.

Skaven were the most interesting to me. The Skaven are evil little rat men, hell bent on destroying the world from below using cultist magics, overwhelming numbers, and chemical warfare.  Their units are masses of rats and watching them swarm a bevy of armoured soldiers is horrifyingly satisfying.  The animations are… well you can’t call them adorable, but they’re very endearing. There’s something so satisfying about watching a huge Rat Ogre smash through a legion of Dwarves and then spawning a unit of Skaven rats from right underneath the enemy to swarm and overwhelm them.

The Bottom Line

I love the beast of a game that Creative Assembly has brought forth, but that doesn’t mean that I can forgive its technical faults.  I feel like maybe I’m asking too much for wanting shorter load times and smoother gameplay, but it’s 2017 and Total War has been a mainstay in the libraries of strategy players for years so surely they should’ve been able to refine their engine in that time instead of just focusing on making it look prettier.  I feel bad for loving it because it punishes me so hard for not being good.  I don’t like the idea of failing a campaign for a move I made 100 turns ago, but it compels me to try again until I master this strategy business.  Maybe in a few years I’ll be reviewing Total War: WARHAMMER III and I’ll have a completely different approach because I will have learnt how to play the game to the best of my ability.