When the first Total War game in the Warhammer series came to our screens in 2016, it was a tour de force in fantasy combat; well-supported with DLC covering races from across the tabletop’s setting. It still had its problems: the campaign was slow to end, the Chaos Invasion was a pain in the neck and — a personal gripe — each faction felt a little too samey.
I’ve waited to write this review for a while; the promise of a merged campaign joining the original Warhammer ‘Old World’ with the new continent was too great a feature to leave out.
Warhammer 2 changes all that. Not only have the graphics been improved, but a new setting for the main campaign gives it an altogether brighter and more vibrant style. The game brings four new factions: the Skaven, High Elves, Dark Elves, and the Aztec-inspired Lizardmen. All are true to their original tabletop incarnations and any player familiar with the world of Warhammer will find them instantly recognisable. For anybody who hated the changes to tabletop that came with Age of Sigmar, seeing these old, familiar factions will surely feel like a breath of fresh air.
They’ve been realised beautifully as well, with excellent models, animations and textures all bringing both the campaign map and the battles to life.
Four factions might not feel like much, especially when we think back to Warhammer itself or the historical Total War games, with their usual ten or so, but it has given the developers the freedom to flex and really make each one feel individual, and play very differently. Lizardmen are full of heavy, tanky units — all of which are very expensive, but in my games they were often able to wipe the floor with the lesser races. Skaven pose an interesting challenge to both oppose and play, often running away early before returning. Their ability to spawn new basic units throughout the battle can often turn the tide, capturing artillery pieces.
Dark Elves and High Elves play in much the same way as your traditional Total War faction, despite their access to weird and wonderful fantasy creatures. Well-formed lines of professional troops square off against each other — but that’s not to say it isn’t impressive to see two walls of spearmen crash into each other as arrows and eagles fly overhead.
Its ‘vanilla’ campaign, Vortex, throws you into a race against time (and the other factions) to complete rituals, with each step of your faction’s journey shown through beautifully illustrated, hand-drawn cutscenes.
The Vortex campaign really puts a new twist on the old Total War ‘paint it your colour’ gameplay, although this is still an option. The race against time — and the focus on rituals — provides an interesting change of pace and new challenges. Every time you begin work on a ritual, other great powers can try to interrupt it by summoning armies nearby using gold; and Chaos hordes of varying strength will converge on your ritual cities.
The unpredictability of when the AI might try to disrupt your rituals, plus the ever more powerful Chaos hordes, force a new kind of gameplay. If you focus on rampant expansion and always keep your armies on the borders of your empire, be prepared to pay the price when two full stacks of Chaos monsters and a High Elf army descend on your unprepared capital.
I really appreciated this layer of strategic planning, and the emphasis on keeping a balance between expansionism and garrisoning your empire. In my Lizardmen playthrough, my strategic ambitions quickly came crashing down as my overstretched forces rushed home from multiple wars to defend my capital on the other side of the world.
In the months since release, Creative Assembly have continued their trend of excellent post-release support with multiple patches, ‘freeLC’, and paid-for DLC, with perhaps the most anticipated release of the new year (Tomb Kings!) dropping near the end of January. The addition of these much-loved, spooky, Egyptian-style skeletons, particularly now that Games Workshop have dropped them from their stable of models, will be welcomed by all fans of Warhammer Fantasy.
The addition of these new races is key to the joined-up campaign that dropped as the first post-launch DLC. This mega-campaign — available to those with a copy of Total War: Warhammer in their library — joined the campaign maps of both games together, removes the Vortex mechanics, and instead becomes more of a traditional Total War map-painting exercise. All the new climate features from Total War: Warhammer 2 are applied to the Old World and mods are available, which let you play as one of the many minor factions introduced in the New World.
Mod support remains strong, with the Steam Workshop enabled and excellent content being posted by the community all the time. My first modded playthrough saw me take charge of one of the Empire’s colonies in Lustria (land of the Lizardmen), and begin forging an imperial ambition overseas in the mega-campaign. If you like to spice up your Total War games with a bit of roleplaying, the opportunities to do so are immense. I also decided to take the Bretonnians on crusade, and let me tell you, exploring the new lands of Araby with the pageantry of Bretonnia is something to see.
All of the Old World’s main factions are available to play, excluding Norsca (a DLC faction) at this point, so you can really go wild exploring the world. Victory conditions for the mega-campaign demand it as well, setting Old World and New World factions the goal of capturing cities on the opposite continents. The scale of it is truly mind boggling, and the level of replayability and depth on offer really shines through.
All in all, with the freeLC and DLC plans Creative Assembly have for the game, I can recommend Total War: Warhammer 2 in a way which I couldn’t the original. No matter your style of play, or the sort of experience you want to get from a Total War game, it’s on offer here.
Provided, that is, you like Warhammer Fantasy — and even if you don’t, everybody likes watching a giant rat monster fight a dinosaur.