Let me start by saying that I have played every Total War game since Medieval: Total War. As usual, I went into Total War Warhammer 2 with the expectation that it would be pretty good if not terribly groundbreaking. The first TW Warhammer was excellent, but I wasn’t terribly interested in Warhammer 2’s vortex campaign–I was more just planning to bide my time until the massive Mortal Empires DLC came out. But after a little more than 20 hours, I can see that Total War Warhammer 2 is way, way more than ‘pretty good.’ In fact, it may be among the best strategy games I’ve ever played.
There is no genre in the gaming universe more complicated or more difficult to truly nail than grand strategy. These games are just so intricate, and they have so, so many moving parts. But Total War Warhammer 2 has clearly learned a lot of lessons, and it somehow manages to nearly perfect the Total War formula.
On the technical side, Warhammer 2 is about what you’d expect. The graphics are good, but not amazing even on a mixture of high/very high settings. Playing on a 970 FTW, 4690k @ 4.2, 16 GB RAM, I get 40-60 frames almost all the time depending on what is gong on, which is fine for Total War. The campaign map is detailed and does a great job of making each region feel unique–rainbows dot the verdant high elf lands, lava streams flow through dense jungles in Lustria, etc.–and the battle maps can be beautiful even if I’d like to see a bit more foliage detail. The units also look pretty good, though they can be a bit washed out even on higher texture settings. All things considered, Warhammer 2 is decent looking. It isn’t likely to blow you away with its beauty, but it’s pretty enough not to be distracting.
Where Warhammer 2 really shines is in the gameplay department. The factions are wonderfully crafted to feel unique and fun. That was mostly true in the first Warhammer, which represented the first time Creative Assembly really tried to meaningfully differentiate factions (it’s amazing what you can do when you aren’t constrained by history, eh?). But Warhammer 2 really grabs that football and runs with it, and the result is four (technically eight given that each has two separate legendary lords with different buffs and specialites) factions that feel incredibly unique and fun to play. The dark elves ooze evil when it comes to their buildings and units, and their focus on heavy-hitting armies that look like they could have come straight out of a nightmare makes a lot of sense. The Lizardmen feel visceral and tribal, and their units and buildings have a decidedly Aztec feel to them. There’s nothing quite like watching your lizard infantry wade into battle as demented triceratops, hungry T-Rex things, and hordes of velociraptor-riding cavalry crash through the enemy’s lines. While I haven’t played them yet, fighting against the Skaven’s cheap but numerous (and fast) units feels exactly like fighting an army of rat dudes should, and it makes perfect sense that they live in the ruins of settlements rather than in massive cities. And, of course, the high elves are appropriately powerful and shiny when they hit the field.
All that faction differentiation wouldn’t mean much if the game didn’t provide a compelling campaign. Fortunately, it delivers in spades here. As I mentioned before, I had no real interest in the Vortex campaign outside of using it as a stopgap while waiting for the Mortal Empires mega-campaign to release. Boy, was I wrong. The Vortex map is enormous, and every region poses unique challenges. Sometimes, you have to cross an ocean to face your enemies. Other times, you’ll find yourself fighting apocalyptic chokepoint battles in a narrow mountain pass. At the center of it all stands Ultuan, a gleaming, circular island that surrounds an inland sea. In the middle of the sea stands the titular vortex that everyone is trying to control.
I think the reason I enjoy the Warhammer 2 map so much is because it feels, for the first time since Empire: Total War, like it offers a global experience. You aren’t simply battling it out in Europe or, in the case of the First Warhammer, the massive chunk of land offered by the Old World map. You’re having to think about how factions interact with each other on different continents, how your forces are going to survive in hostile climates, and what you might find lurking behind the fog of war in the distant land toward which your armada is sailing. You’ll find yourself trying to negotiate storms at sea and deciding whether you want to run your ships aground through a reef at the cost of some troops, or attempt to land on a safer beach in a frozen wasteland miles from your target. You’ll have to decide whether treasure hunting in the ruins of ancient cities is worth the risk of a Skaven attack. When you put all that together, the end result is that Warhammer 2’s map feels like a living, breathing world that you are free to interact with however you choose. I suppose I didn’t really remember how controlled and ‘gamey’ some other Total War maps feel until I played this one. I can only imagine how it will feel when Mortal Empires combines the Old World and New World maps into one massive campaign.
The best part of Warhammer 2, though, is the Vortex mechanic/narrative itself. The system Creative Assembly has devised here is a brilliant one that perfectly paces the game, forces you to make tough strategic decisions, eliminates the ‘steamroller’ mentaility of domination game modes, and builds the campaign toward an exciting climax. Essentially, every faction has a type of ritual currency that it must gather through missions, expansion, and construction. Once a certain amount of this currency has been gathered, a faction can start a ritual to attack the Vortex at the center of the map. During the ritual, tons of enemies–both in the form of spawned Chaos hordes and other factions trying to slow down your progress–will attempt to attack one or more of the three settlements chosen to participate in the ritual. If you lose one of those cities and fail to regain it before the ritual ends, you will have to start all over again. Complete all five rituals, and you win the game. Well, sort of. I won’t spoil that surprise here.
The ingenious part of the ritual design is how it simultaneously enables both narrative structure and freedom. By necessity, you’ll be competing with other empires for ritual currency. That means you’ll need to expand, and you may need to dispatch armies to potentially far-off lands to slow or halt enemy progress toward. But you’ll also need to be able to defend your own ritual sites, which can be rather far apart if you have a big empire.
At one point in my dark elf campaign, I dispatched two armies to shut down a high elf ritual that was getting out of hand and allowing them to pull ahead. My armies succeeded in ending the ritual, but they were soon smashed by the power of the high elves. I quickly found myself pinned on a beach with two battered armies on the verge of collapse, neither of which could risk leaving Ulthuan thanks to a storm at sea. It was like a fantasy version of Dunkirk. Meanwhile, my decision to deploy these two armies to the other side of the world meant that I didn’t have the forces at home to defend my own ritual sites—a problem that actually left me worse off. I eventually won the game, but only after the narrative built up to a cataclysmic battle against the forces of evil that ranks among the largest I’ve ever seen in Total War.
The pairing of this kind of narrative arc with real strategic depth that allows the player to be in the driver’s seat is incredibly rare. When you combine that strong design with an awesome map, fun gameplay mechanics, and genuinely entertaining factions, you get what I believe is the best Total War game ever made—and perhaps the best strategy experience on the market. If you like strategy, you should go buy Warhammer 2 right now.
This isn’t a bad game. It just isn’t a good one. I’ve had a decent time playing it but I can not recommend it for many reasons.
I wasn’t a huge fan of the first game, I did not appreciate its dlc policy. I thought the game was bareboned, not very balanced, the AI was terrible, the campaign map was uninspired, the chaos invasion was a joke and the gameplay lacked depth. The game just came of as shallow and half done. But I enjoy the total war experience so I had a decent time. Less than a year after its the first game released, they announce the sequel. Pushing games out one per year is never a good sign and as I expected, it’s less of a sequel and more of an expansion. An expansion for 59.99, if you buy it standard price.
After playing over 20 hours I’ve yet to see any major improvements from the previous game. The ui is slightly more polished. That’s about it.
The game has a good presentation. The four races look and feel different. The graphics and design is good. The sound mixing with the new races is good. The cutscenes after rituals are pretty good. These are the only positive things I can think of. Seriously.
They did give us a new way to play the grand campaign, the vortex mechanic. It’s an interesting concept and I’ll gladly welcome anything that isn’t the good old conquer the world, because in most Total War games it’s way to easy to just snowball, on any difficulty. However the mechanic falls a little flat and comes of as half-. In the end I didn’t really play my game any differently other than having to do everything on a time limit. The resource that is used for these rituals is just a pointless mechanic; there’s no fun or challenging ways to gather resources. The quests are just a nuisance and there are the cities that build plaques regularly. We can’t even shut the vortex system off, which is a bit odd.
Once you or the enemy perform rituals you can send intervention forces. Which is extremely unpolished. You can have a full army stack spawn right next to a city; and they’ll sack it the following round. Without giving time to move and protect it, even if you’re near. The intervention forces are also extremely unproportionate to what level you as the player are on. You can get 5-10 full stacks against you when even though you have a well kept economy you can’t maintain more than 3 stacks. The intervention forces you buy yourself have no intelligence what so ever. I’d much rather CA just give the player control over the intervention forces because the AI is too dumb to act on its own.
Speaking of the AI, it is still the dumb and unpolished one we have from the previous game. It has been unnoticable changed. The battle AI is worse than ever before in my experience; I’ve had the enemy sit in a corner and do nothing even though they were the ones attacking; I won on time. They are terrible at holding any kind of line or anything. The campaign AI is also terrible. They still have no sense of priorities, sieging their capital city? Let me go and sack my own minor city that the player captured a few turns ago. The AI still is programmed to with the player over it’s own dead body.
Military alliances are also pointless, my ally has not successfully helped me once or stopped the enemy once. The only value for military alliances is that the enemy might choose to attack the ally instead of you, which rarely happens. Finally the diplomacy AI is broken, doesn’t act a bit logical, randomly declares war left and right. All the different options; confederate, military alliance, trade deals, none of them work like they should. And for some reason CA made it so the high elves won’t even talk to me after having an extended war. Which doesn’t make sense.
The ingame battle gameplay isn’t fun anymore. The Ai is so bad it’s sad and the current state of the gameplay doesn’t make it any better. Fight are over in less than a few minutes. Even if it is a 50/50 battle the enemy units will break and route within minutes. It’s not fun to build up a grand battle, just for it to be over within minutes. All I do is attack with an infantry line and charge with cavalry from behind. I barely have time to do anything with my wizards. They have no affect in the battle, which makes wizards feel pointless. I found myself auto resolving most battles unless I just wanted a cinematic experience. This is a big minus for the game. The older TW games were much more enjoyable during the battles.
There still aren’t any siege battles, which is depressing. A lot of fans say that this is because the AI couldn’t handle siege battles anyway. But in my world if a criticism is that the AI is too bad for siege battles, then you fix the AI, you don’t get rid of siege battles. Oh, there still are ‘siege battles’, a half square with ranged towers that have enough range to shoot on anything in the map. The only good strategies for these battles are extremely dumb and unimmersive.
There also is a severe lack of diverse environmental maps. The sceneries and colour of the ground are pretty and diverse. But there envrionment has zero effect on the gameplay. There aren’t really a different array of maps to play on. I realized that they’re all the same, just different colours. We had river battles in Rome 1 so many years ago but I guess the AI is too stupid for it.
There aren’t any improvements upon the city building management. I basically just end up building the same things over and over again and it’s just a boring time consumtion. The province system is bad. It doesn’t matter if you capture a city that is closer to your cities than the ai’s. If lines on the map say it belongs to another province, the city’s production is handicapped. This would’ve been an extremly simply improvement and yet nothing.
Other than this the game just lacks those small touches that makes a game great. It doesn’t feature a storymode, it’s just this campaign map or multiplayer. It doesn’t have any decent music. No new features that make you go ‘oh that’s really good’. There’s no sign of where CA did more work than what was the minimum requirement. The least amount of races, one game mode, no effort put into music or story, no improvement from the previous game. The pretty much copied the previous game, created four new races, a new campaign map with the vortex system and slightly improved the ui. This sequel is an equivalent of a cod sequel.
To summarise; The game is barely improved from the previous game, which in the first place was a disappointment. The games look good, it’s the only game where you can have thousands of warhammer units fight each other. But once you try to enjoy the game for something more other than a cinematic experience you notice the game is lacking in every department. The mechanics are unimportant, has no effect on gameplay or feel half . I personally don’t enjoy the battle gameplay anymore. The game is shallow, lacks options of how to play the game differently which makes all the playthroughs to feel like the same story over and over again. The ai is constantly noticably bad. Not 10 turns went by something dumb happening. Game also lacks any new features from the previous game other than the new system that is half .
So it’s not even close to being worth it’s price of 59.99. It should be called an expansion, it shouldn’t go for more than 40 euros in terms of what we get. And even then I regret buying it because the gameplay is just frustrating. This being said I havent even touched upon the inevitable horde of dlcs that are bound to show up.
To top this; the game has a fierce fanbase. A fan base that is very quick to shoot down criticism of the game. I think this is extremely toxic to the franchise. We hade a ton of features over 10 years ago in these games that aren’t in the game today just because CA do not deem it monetarily worth it to add it. It is important that the discussion around the game allows for criticising it.
Hits The Heights, But You’ll Still Need The Camera Height Mod8.5/10
Total War: Warhammer 2 is not a good game — it is a bloody good game, and I mean that in its purest sense. The game has stakes, my decisions matter, the world could change, races could die (OK, that already existed), but most importantly, I could lose.
The game adds four new races and eight factions to play as in this new (and it is very new) game.
Rituals and rites alone change how you play this game, providing a narrative to the action. But that’s not all that’s new — there are new gameplay styles for the new races. Dark Elves get portable bloody cities, High Elves can screw with everyone from afar (something I learned whilst reviewing), Lizard Men are bolstered by the Geomantic web, and the Skaven (right, below) just want to corrupt everything.
I played purely as the Lizard Men, because I like to dive in to something fully when I play a game like this. But my approach is less on these particular gameplay ticks, which I think have been covered elsewhere to great effect (and some very good let’s plays from Total War themselves on YouTube).
The first thing that you’ll notice is how this seems to somehow be more beautiful and expansive than Total War: Warhammer I. It feels like an obviously larger map, but they seem to have somehow made everything render much more nicely.
The thing is that I don’t necessarily see that the engine has changed (and DX12 performance is still not fabulous). So I’m left feeling that it’s either the developers getting to grips with the engine more, or it’s just a nicer environment than the first. It’s likely the latter, and it is fabulous — even though in my roughly 40 hours of play, I’ve barely left Kroq-Gar’s starting position. It’s a starting position on a map that feels a good three times the size of the previous game’s playfield. This might not necessarily be true if the map I’ve found (above) indicates anything, but it does add another layer on to enjoying this much more robust single player campaign.
That epic feeling that this isn’t just me versus a few others for superiority, but something that affects a whole world. Still this could simply be a scaling issue, the map would seem to indicate both and Total War: Warhammer 1 and Total War: Warhammer 2 have the same map size.
That inability I mentioned about barely leaving my start region brings bizarrely remembering old games that are completely unrelated. As I said earlier, it’s the first time in recent memory I’ve realised that I’m playing a computer game, and that I can lose.
If that sounds bizarre, think of it this way: there’s a ‘game over’ screen here. Yep. If an opposing race or faction completes their rituals before you, that’s it — you’re done. It doesn’t matter how badass your ranks of troops and coverage of empire are; if they take that vortex, you are screwed. This means that you really have to balance what you do out there. It also means that you care, too. You need a decent income, which means you must consider expansion. Plus, you need to consider your trade options heavily. I was heartbroken to see two factions break trade and non-aggression in one turn.
It’s a testament to the programmers that my mind immediately went to thinking that it was one of my top five strength-rank enemies manoeuvring other factions against me. Probably those haughty bloody High Elf bastards; they devastated my capital (look at those dragons below) during the previous ritual and we’ve been vying for vortex superiority ever since.
Well, in all probability, it was. If you watch the first two minutes and 15 seconds of the High Elf video (from the previously mentioned playlist above) you’ll see that their power is to manipulate other races to hinder their opponents. See? I’m emotionally tied in here; there’s a mortality to my campaign that (to me) equals three lives in a nameless legendary platformer.
This isn’t an odd comparison I’m making here; I’m talking about a game where you don’t feel like it’s cheating by the machinations. A game where you really feel that it’s a challenge. I completely reviewed my approach to my third ritual when I realised that those pompous pointy ears were going to come knocking again, and now I scramble to get my strongest armies to the prone capitals. This ensures that I don’t have to rebuild each time two or three factions decide to attack them all simultaneously. If this sounds like I’m despairing, I am — and that’s good. I don’t want to fall into the spike pit and lose my rings! Peril!
So it’s things like this that give you an incredibly well rounded experience. There’s also the addition of treasure hunts and wrecks out to sea (I actually have a lord simply for treasure hunting) and the cutscene narrative building that actually manages to perform in an otherwise sandbox environment. Before, a cutscene basically just said ‘Yeah, these guys exist now; kill them.’ Now it’s furthering your story, and sure, you’re clawing for power where you can get it — but it’s no longer just a simple jump from one fight to the next.
I love the context that this game now gives you. It’s a context that is emboldened further with the tech tree now being dependent on your actions in the game — not the other way around. It feels more natural that I’d not be able to research better methods of rearing or using Stegadons without first building a building that helps me do that. Below are the tech trees for Lizard Men and High Elves.
So what about any drawbacks? Well, I thought the camera height issue might have been resolved, but now I’m not so sure. Perhaps it’s a tiny bit more levitated at full height, but it’s unclear. This said, perhaps the camera height mod (every player needs this) goes even higher which warps my measurements. Either way, it’s still restrictive without the mod.
As a secondary notation down this road, DirectX 12 is still in beta, and it still has issues. For example, I couldn’t actually switch to 1440p without crashing, and I’ve not yet checked the DX12 shadowing oddities (invisible campaign movement boundaries) in the snow. There’s also still no ‘Battle Strategy for Dummies’ setting, or even a paper-clip ‘you appear to be crap at the war thing; send the mounted troops through that forest’. Showing the user how to do things gives an appreciation of which tactics would do what, and better yet, lead the player to make the move themselves. Well, that’s worthy of a chef kiss — mwah!
I would love to learn from my (many, many) multiplayer losses, but I keep putting my hand back on that hob unit, and it is still hot. I also see no real terrain bias on show here. I’m not talking hills for archers; I’m talking macro-terrain features. Jungle and desert advantages for Lizardmen, woodland for Elves, mountains for Dwarves, etc. Perhaps they exist, but I’ve not seen much other than the fact that my race might not like some environments.
Obviously I can’t leave on that, so I thought I’d note the sound design. I’ve been playing the game with surround sound, and it’s so brilliantly immersive. From the atmospheric incidental stuff in the side and rear surrounds to the embattled shrieks and war cries in the midst of a full melee, this truly delivers. If you thought that sound design had no place in a game like this, I can happily prove you wrong.
All of this is a welcome endorsement of a wholly involved experience in a massive sandbox realm that you’ll just get dragged further and further into — and not just for one more battle. This is better than the first, for sure, because you care more about what’s going down instead of simply levelling everything up and carrying on. Get both, though, and in two weeks’ time, Creative Assembly will let you join the maps. Holy crap!