I have been historically hard on the garbage games that come tattooed with the good name of “Warhammer” or “Warhammer 40,000” and with good reason. With titles like the nigh unplayable Warhammer 40,000: Eternal Crusade or the misguided Warhammer 40,000: Dawn of War 3, which was utterly ruined and a betrayal to a series of RTS titles that won the hearts and minds of hundreds of thousands of players, my heart has been broken countless time on titles like these. Games Workshop has a tendency to plaster their trademarks on anything resembling grimdark sci-fi to the point of being utterly ridiculous; with 47 titles (FORTY SEVEN! Not including the DLC/expansions!) being released under the Warhammer moniker since 2013 and only a handful being worthy of anyone’s time, it is an interesting pill to swallow when a few tend to stick out like a shining beacon of hope. Creative Assembly’s Total War: Warhammer series is of the shiniest beacons in the Warhammer arsenal of games, and its sequel Total War: Warhammer 2 continues the trend in excellence.
Truth be told I both groan and do a bit of an excited dance when the opportunity to review a Warhammer or Warhammer 40k title comes along. I do a bit of a hop-skip-and-a-jig because it is a new Warhammer title and I love Warhammer; I groan because they are universally garbage. When I went into reviewing the original Total War: Warhammer I was quite skeptical as I utterly love Creative Assembly and Total War: Shogun 2 is likely one of my favorite games of all time. I was rewarded greatly though, as TW: Warhammer was excellent (followed by a handful of non-Creative Assembly Warhammer and 40k titles that make me want to use NSFW language) so when Total War: Warhammer 2 came out, I was itching to have a round or two with it. Alas, life got in the way and it took a bit to get around to it, but now that things have slowed down a, I was able to take a crack at it and I am in absolute love.
I have always been bamboozled at the quality of the overworld map in the Total War games. They were unique and very different from atypical strategy / 4X titles at the time and have now set the bar for overworld exploration, diplomacy and research. Other titles have managed to come close to similar quality, but often in doing so they lack the polish or excellence of user experience; the Total War franchise reigns supreme in that fact and appears to be continually perfecting its overworld with Total War: Warhammer 2. While the game is stunning, and its lighting utterly fantastic, there were a few battlemaps that felt barren or extremely basic when I compare them with say, Thrones of Britannia: A Total War Saga. Though the trees and other elements in the various battlemaps are absolutely stunning, I do feel that with all of the gorgeous aspects of these maps that there could have been something more than a flat and lifeless-looking texture wrapped over the various hills (heck, some fights I came across were in areas that were completely flat and devoid of character). A small quip, but a noticeable one and one I hope to see improved upon in any future releases. The hardware is powerful enough and the engine for the Total War franchise is spectacular (just check out some of the mods) so it is only a matter of time I suppose.
In recent years Creative Assembly has wonderfully blended RPG-like elements into the hero-building portions of the Total War franchise and it feels far more prevalent and powerful in the Warhammer titles. This is likely due to the fact that abilities beyond the norm are rampant throughout the Warhammer universe so adding making your hero a mounted fireball-flinging doomslinger fits right in…. And it is wonderful even if it does feel a bit linear. The impression of choice is awesome and makes it feel like these units really make a difference in combat (something I have struggled with in past Total War titles). However, it does introduce a tiny bit of concern; with the success of titles like WarCraft 3: The Reign of Chaos and Warhammer 40,000: Dawn of War 2, which are properties that spawned from traditional and relatively hardcore RTS titles, titles began to focus more and more on hero units and less on the strategy aspect of RTS. I would hate to see the Total War: Warhammer franchise fall into that same pit, where heroes are more important than the army that surrounds them. While that does not happen much in Total War: Warhammer II, it is something I would remain cautious about feverishly supporting. Balance is key …
On the topic of balance, each of the playable races are immaculately balanced; from the bright High Elves to the nasty Skaven, each of the five playable factions are meticulous in their respect to the long-standing lore of each. While in the core campaign, called “Eye of the Vortex” you can play as the TW:WH2 races, which are High Elves, Dark Elves, Lizardmen, Skaven and if you have the appropriate DLC, the Tomb Kings. An excellent little bit tossed to owners of the original Total War: Warhammer is the Mortal Empire DLC which adds an incredible sandbox campaign allowing the use of all of the races from the two games. Any way you look at it, Total War: Warhammer is absolutely massive and it will without a doubt, soak up dozens of hours in your first playthrough. This is easily one of the biggest-feeling games I have sat down to play; perhaps it is the seamless feeling Mortal Empires DLC or that the scale of the battlemap vs. the scale of the units feels different than past games, I do not know. What I do know is that it is bloody fun.
Creative Assembly did something with Total War: Warhammer II that is, in my experience, quite rare in the Warhammer franchise … It followed up an excellent title with an equally (and in many ways, superior) excellent title. Perhaps a part of it is that the Total War formula seems almost ready-built for Games Workshop’s vaunted franchise, but maybe it is that I do not see TW: Warhammer and its successor as Warhammer titles, but rather as Total War games with Warhammer skins.