The Total War franchise has been going strong since 2000, having initially kicked off with a series of historical-based retelling of great wars through different eras. The last two installments, however, have taken the franchise in a whole new direction, allowing players to delve into a world of fantasy and adventure. After a successful launch of the first installment of Warhammer in 2016, The Creative Assembly have expanded on the mystical world to all new heights in Total War: Warhammer II.
Gameplay – The Learning Curve Is HUGE
Having bypassed a number of the recent games from the franchise, I was thrown into the deep end with this one, having to learn an all-new system, completely foreign from what I’ve seen in previous titles. Playing through the first campaign, however, allows you to complete the tutorial of learning, not only how to play the game at its most basic level, but also the finer details of the game. The game does a good job at assisting first time players without becoming tedious and drawn out with long periods of waiting and listening to dreary commands. There’s a nice flow to playing while learning in a continuous process.
The turn-based nature of the game doesn’t hinder the flow of the game but does make it a fair bit more intricate as you’ll need to keep an eye on your movements and attack range, as well as other enemy units in order to keep up your defenses. I learned this the hard way. After overthrowing and occupying nearby towns, I had left my home province unprotected, and with a single attack, I had lost control of the region, which had a huge impact on my monitory gains at the start of each turn, which meant I wasn’t able to raise an army to replace the three I had created to advance my reach.
Your armies are controlled by means of a Lord, who is moved around on the map within a specific radius per turn. Once you’ve reached the end of your area of movement, you’ll have to remain there, with your army, until your next turn. You’ll be able to attack other Lords or strongholds if it falls within your available movement area. Unlike many other turn-based games, there are numerous ways to take on a battle. You can choose to play the actual battle, positioning each of the different types of troops and commanding them within the battle itself. Users can employ tactics such as hiding in in the woods, while drawing in the enemy with foot soldiers, allowing you to flank their army, or take down more important units without too much of an impact on your army. Taking down the opposing Lord provides a great advantage, leaving the enemy troops more vulnerable and lacking morale. Such dynamics play a critical role in strategy and can be the difference between winning and losing. If, however, you choose not to fight the battle, you can simply automate it. Based on the number of troops, the terrain, the fort and other surroundings, are all taken into account how the battle will play out, and whether you win or lose. It’s not simply just a matter of winning by numbers. The automation doesn’t take into account the player strategy on the battlefield. After each victorious battle concludes, there are various options to consider. If you’ve attacked a town, you could occupy it or sack it. You also have the choice of what you want to do with the soldiers taken captive during the battle. All of these have consequences on the dynamics of your population. Some decisions are monitory based, which makes it simple, while others require a lot more though as it affects your income through each turn and various other points which have a bearing on your population happiness and the likes.
Diplomacy and Politics
The first campaign, or tutorial in my case, is quite extensive. I realized a few minutes in that the level of detail in Warhammer II wasn’t something I could take lightly. At the start, I would simply accept any diplomatic offer thrown my way in the hope that I would benefit from it in the long run. The first issue I encountered with my approach was that I wasn’t able to immediately expand my influence in the territory, having accepted peace with my neighbors, which may have been a good at the time. Attacking any of those strongholds, then, would leave me exposed to attack from all their castles and Lords in the area. Thus, choosing who accept treaties with plays an important role in making a success of your campaign. And don’t for once think you can go it alone. Due to the sheer size of the map and regions, you’ll quickly lose yourself after you’ve expanded beyond 10 keeps.
Building Up a Temple
One of more challenging aspects of the game for me came from the creation of towns, the upkeep, keeping the population happy, upgrading, and even something as basic as constructing new buildings. While I was heavily focused on winning battles and occupying territories, I still needed to keep my wits about me in managing my keeps. Unlike the standard progressive nature of upgrades from other titles, Warhammer II is a bit more complicated, not to mention still reliant on the turn-based gameplay, which meant you’ll have to wait a specific amount of time before completing any upgrade or construction. Simple objectives such as constructing a specific building to complete an achievement proved strangely difficult. While I was able to see some of the progressions I need to make to unlock the level of building, there was still the prerequisite of having other buildings in order to unlock it, some of which I had no idea what they were. This was particularly frustrating and took quite a number of turns to get through before it was ready for construction.
The story in Total War: Warhammer II, steeped in a mythical background, is a fairly complicated one, although fairly interesting. There are four main factions fighting for control in the area, The Lizardmen, the High Elves, the Skaven and the Dark Elves. The first two factions seek to stabilise the Great Vortex and bring peace to the region, whereas the latter seek only chaos and controlling the powers of the Vortex for their own gain. It all plays out like another chapter from the Lord of the Rings books, and can easily fit into the same storyline. This, more than anything, keeps the story quite intriguing and fulfilling.
The Great Battle Plan
It’s important to know each of the strengths from each of the factions. These dynamics make for different battle plans and even affect the some of the other aspects of the game away from the battlefield. Take, for example, the High Elves and Dark Elves. The former has an early advantage in the battle, and can easily make rapid gains in the battle. As the battle stretches over time, the tides quickly turn towards the Dark Elves, who become deadlier the more carnage there is. The High Elves, as strange as it may be for a game, don’t quite have the stomach for extensive fights and bloodshed. This aspect of the game I had no idea about until after I passed more than 10 hours of gameplay. But just as certain factions gain strength as the battle is prolonged, so too you learn new tricks and elaborate battle plans that play out more like a chess match than a simple gung-ho approach.
The Dust Settles
Unless you spend some time studying the map or play even a few minutes of the game, you may not be able to come to grips with the sheer size of Total War: Warhammer II. For the most part, it adds to the splendor and adventure, knowing you’ve achieved an immense task in completing a campaign or conquering the map alongside your allies. On the other side of the coin, the size also makes it a bit overwhelming, especially as you’re starting the game, hoping simply to reach success after an hour or two, where, instead, you’re left still grappling for any sense of control well over 6 or 7 hours in. As such, the game may be a little too much to bear for newcomers. The large size of the map also makes for some rather open areas, or gaps, which don’t have much, or any factions or strongholds in the area, although you may still be left to traverse the area, wasting two or three turns to get across. It may also be that these areas will be left for a later DLC, with the inclusion of new factions to occupy those regions.
While I went into the game thinking it wouldn’t necessarily be my cup of tea, opting instead for faster strategy games such as StarCraft, ANNO, Age of Empires and the likes. Turn-based games, in their nature, are a lot more difficult and requires a lot more planning to avoid risks, leaving yourself exposed while you can simply watch it unfold without being able to counter until it’s your turn again. It’s a marathon rather than a sprint. Total War: Warhammer IIis no different. That said, I loved getting to grips with the overall dynamic of the game, from the different factions, their capabilities, the landscape and map, the politics and diplomacy, and the population and settlements. After reaching well over the 10-hour mark and still going strong, there’s still a lot to learn about the gameplay and a lot more to discover.
Total War: Warhammer II is definitely worth your hard-earned cash, although it may take up an entire weekend before you realise it.