Total War is a franchise where I only rarely skip a new entry. Mostly because I would feel that some of the expansions added little to the core game experience or that they were pushed out too fast after the original to make a significant change. I was pretty skeptical when it was announced that Total War: Warhammer is going to be split into 3 parts, each releasing a year apart but after spending some 50 hours in the new campaign and with the promise of first two games integrating into one "mega campaign" I must say that Creative Assembly really outdid themselves.
Total War: Warhammer II is available for purchase on Amazon.
If you played the original game, its campaign was essentially a non-cinematic sandbox that had no real story outside of the initial motivations of your chosen race and hero character. This time around, however, a campaign is a bit more story-oriented with cutscenes playing at certain milestones in the main quest. These milestones concern the Great Vortex, a vast magical maelstrom created by the High Elves as a means to absorb all the excess magic within the world and banish the Daemons of Chaos.
As the intro sequence will tell you, a twin-tailed comet passes over the world and disrupts the vortex thus setting in motion the events of the campaign where 4 completely new races fight for supremacy and the control of the vortex to use it as they see fit. I was genuinely surprised to see that toward the end, the story is actually not so straightforward as it initially seemed but I won't spoil much for you.
Where I was initially concerned by the fact that the campaign featured only 4 races I can say that they are not only completely different from one another but are also completely different from every race in the original game which is something worthy of praise. Their motivations are nothing to write home about, Elves and Lizardmen want to safeguard and protect the Vortex, while Skaven and Dark Elves want to control it to gain more power. Nevermind their motivations for gaining control of the vortex, all of them are interesting in their own right, mostly due to their racial background and rich history of the Warhammer universe so fans will surely be satisfied on that front.
The first thing to get out of the way is that if you played the original game, there is not much that's new here in terms of how the game is played. But in this kind of episodic sequels, you probably didn't expect much change either. Starcraft is the most prominent example of such a model and it was and still is one of the best RTS games of all time.
With that being said, let's dive into what's new. First off, the campaign map – is probably one of the best maps ever to grace a Total War game. Whereas the original game featured one giant landmass, the sequel goes for 4 distinct continents over which the game takes place – Ulthuan, Naggaroth, The Southlands, and Lustria. Ulthuan also being the place where the Great Vortex resides. Although in the total landmass, the two games are of similar size, the new map features a weather system and is much more varied featuring rainforests, deserts, snowy areas, plenty of water and is overall visually more appealing.
As mentioned, the four playable races are highly different from one another and are a joy to play. Most of my time was spent playing with Dark Elves who, except looking the coolest and closest to favorite race from the original game – the vampire lords. Each faction brings a couple of distinct gameplay features to the table. Dark Elves, for example, besides gold, have slaves as a form of currency which in turn incentivizes aggressive play which is in line with Dark Elves personality and lore. Also playing into it is the fact that Dark Elves have an ability called murderous prowess and their units get massively buffed when a certain number of enemies are killed, which makes them go on a murderous rampage that decimates the remaining opposition.
Every race has at least two different gameplay aspects that will take some time to get used to. From the food resource management for Skaven Zerg-like expansion to diplomatic and trade traits of High Elves, all the way to the Lizardmen's geomantic web.
You begin the game in your own corner of the map and your goal is to perform rituals that will grant you temporary bonuses. Perform all rituals and you get to control the Vortex and win the game. Each ritual is also a milestone that will advance the story as well as an improved pressure tactic compared to the first game' Chaos armies. When a race initiates a ritual, the event is clearly visible on the overworld map and you have a set number of turns to stop them from completing it. This can be done by you yourself attacking the cities where the rituals are performed if they are near you, or, if they are farther away, putting a bounty out, which is a more expensive, but faster and more surefire tactic.
Diving into two armies meeting and going into battle – not much has changed except for the units in play depending on the race of your choice. Your armies are still able to tire to exhaustion, morale plays a big role, as does the fear and the aforementioned racial traits. Battle tactics like flanking, holding your ground, using the terrain and cavalry charges among other remain viable and should be used at appropriate times if you want to emerge victorious in the many battles you will be facing. This is a minor gripe, but most of your relations will devolve into war eventually since Warhammer puts little emphasis on politics or diplomacy. It's still pretty clear cut and simplified compared to even some of the older Total War games. Sure, this is the dark Warhammer universe, but I certainly wouldn't mind more gameplay options in that regard.
Also, as the number of your settlement grows, the micromanagement can feel like a chore. This is especially true concerning building construction and I wouldn't mind if this was possible from a single menu or being somewhat automated instead of me jumping to each settlement and city manually each turn.
VISUALS AND AUDIO
Visually, Total War: Warhammer 2 is an improvement over the original if only a slight one. Graphical fidelity remains on the level of the first game but the design has been taken to a whole new level. As mentioned, the overworld map is one of the best and prettiest ones ever to be featured in the Total War game. It's made true to the Warhammer universe with a pinch of designer liberties that makes it a perfect sandbox playground.
A massive amount of individual unit detail is a hallmark of the Total War franchise and is also present here which means they are a joy to look at on the battlefield. No other game approaches the sense of epic scale and detail that will make you spend 10 minutes flying through your ranks before initiating the battle. Keep in mind that this also means that your PC will need to be similarly epic to drive all of it at an enjoyable level.
As with the original game, the sound is still equally epic and greatly benefits from the fantasy setting. From the excellently voiced heroes of the campaign to the Dragons roaring across the battlefield and footsoldiers clashing. Similar to the visuals, no other RTS even approaches the immersive feel of Total War battles, and the sound is a big part of that equation.
Total War: Warhammer 2 builds on an already solid foundation of the original game. Episodic, year apart release date has done nothing to lessen the experience and is, in fact, a surprising step above it. The fact that a later patch will integrate the campaign map from the first game to the map of this game to form a huge new sandbox campaign with all the races, which are already playable here in skirmish and multiplayer is just the icing on the cake.
It's going to be tough to surpass this one when hopefully the third game comes out next year, but I after spending my time with this one, I have no doubt Creative Assembly is up to the task as they consistently bring incremental improvements to the series that some would say has overstayed its welcome. I just hope that they will stay in the fantasy universe even after Warhammer 3, as it clearly suits them.
+ Widely varied factions
– Simplified politics and diplomacy
+ The best Total War map ever
– Late game micromanagement
+ Strategic and engaging gameplay
+ Lots of content with more to come