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Total War: Warhammer review: Variety and Vampire Counts breathe new life into Total War

Hayden Dingman | May 25, 2016
All the series needed was ten-foot bats and skeleton cavalry.

Our Vampire friend Mannfred Von Carstein is in the opposite situation. He returns to Sylvania to find a pretender ruling over his domain. Your goal is to dismantle this rival’s false empire. Internal struggle.

It’s not that Total War has never experimented with asymmetrical factions. Go way back to the early days and you’ll find faction-specific units, or even entire armies that favored a specific style of play (better cavalry, speedier foot soldiers, and the like). More recently, Total War: Attila introduced Nomadic Tribes—factions where armies were synonymous with cities.

Total War: Warhammer

But Total Warhammer takes all those half-ideas and formalizes them, wraps them into the lore. Dwarfs get a public order penalty the more battles they lose, carefully noting every grudge down in a hefty tome. The Empire forms from a loose confederacy into an unstoppable tide. Vampire Counts fight internally until there’s no one left to fight, and then decide to kill everyone else and defile their lands for good measure. Greenskins armies start suffering attrition if they haven’t been in enough battles recently.

Crazier still, each faction has lore-specific regions it can conquer. You can attack and wipe out whoever you’d like, but you’re only allowed to possess territory (occupy cities) in certain regions. For the Dwarfs, that means any land currently controlled by the Greenskins, a.k.a. traditional Dwarf strongholds, lost to the encroaching armies. Vampires can only capture land belonging to other Vampire Counts and The Empire. No use making an early play for Dwarf lands (though you’ll eventually have to wipe them out to achieve the Vampire win conditions.)

On the one hand, this tendency towards compartmentalization makes the map feel smaller, more constrained. On the other, it means the early game is a lot more manageable—you have a clearly defined goal and a reasonably good guess how to go about achieving it before the game opens into full-on sandbox for the larger end-game goals.

Plus it helps delineate factions, grounds them in some sort of faux-reality, and gives weight to what are supposed to be age-old conflicts between these groups—an aspect aided by the introduction of new “Quest Battles.”

Total War: Warhammer

Faction leaders now influence the story Total Warhammer tells. An early Dwarf quest battle, for instance, pits you against a Greenskin ambush in the depths of the Underway, a network of subterranean tunnels. Others unlock as you level your hero, sending you on a quest to go find that character’s legendary items and usually culminating in a similarly climactic battle.

These are drawn from Warhammer’s extensive lore, with names and identifiable locations and familiar setups. It’s a bare minimum amount of storytelling, but it’s there and helps lend credence to the world. And the battles themselves are spectacular, often throwing multiple stacks of units up against each other. This is Total Warhammer’s real-time aspect at its most blown-out and impressive, and it’s telling that the game doesn’t let you auto-resolve these battles.

 

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