Tuesday, 17 October 2017

Review: Total War: Warhammer

by Douglas James

I remember scrolling through my YouTube subscription feed the day after my birthday on the 22nd of April 2015, and seeing what the Total War official YouTube channel had just uploaded, and just thinking, what have you done. ‘Total War: WARHAMMER - Announcement Cinematic Trailer’. Total War: Warhammer? What the hell is this?

Rewind 9-10 years and my Dad is introducing me to the ancient Rome: Total War. I played that for years. And I still do. It’s brilliant, control an ancient roman army on the battlefield, organise complicated and calculated strategies and formations, use your troops to the enemy’s advantage. Worry about your enemy’s army and composition, and if they’re not a mindless AI. Rome: Total War was a brilliant game, and really brought the Total War series to life. I’ll admit, I’ve never played Medieval: Total War or Shogun: Total War, only their sequels. I loved Rome, the custom battles where you could engage in any crazy ideas you want, quick battles where you could just rush into a battle, or a historical battle where you could learn about the past and fight off Hannibal Barca at the same time. And the imperial campaign. It was done brilliantly, play as a roman house, or family and conquer the world. If you defeat a faction, you get to play as them. In the campaign you had to manage your cities, build armies and keep your people happy.

Then Medieval II: Total War came in. I almost felt like a reskin of Rome, but with a few extra features and tweaks. The cavalry felt less powerful and manoeuvrable, but the missile infantry (and cavalry) felt more useful. The campaign was exciting as you felt as if you were an English king making a name for yourself, or by discovering America before the Spanish. The captives system was introduced, which enhanced the deeply weaved diplomacy that the game had to offer, and crusades added a bit of historical fun for those who cared. Then, in 2009 Empire: Total War came out, and shook up the series. It was more appealing to the American market, as there was a story-like campaign which saw the player go through the various stages of American colonization and revolution. Although in the British Campaign, I found it fun just to crush any American rebellion to break out. But then Napoleon: Total War was released, and the series took another turn, and started becoming very good looking. The art style was suddenly darker and emphasis on accuracy and higher graphics quality became apparent. The brilliant campaigns allowed players to relive the incredibly interesting and immersive battles of the Napoleonic era, and economy had some changes as well. You now suddenly had a lot of economic strain on wars, so you had to be careful on who you declared war against.

Total War: Shogun II is known by many as the best total war game out there. While I may not agree with that, it is no doubt a brilliant game. The campaign was nail-bitingly hard, the balance was very good, and the art style was beautiful. Then Total War: Rome II came out and disappointed everyone. I don’t think it was too bad, but it’s attempt at higher graphics quality was undeniably disgusting. The characters looked more like oragami than real people, and the AI sometimes didn’t even realise it was controlling an army. It felt admittedly bland and felt weak and flimsy. Don’t get me wrong, unlike some I enjoyed the game, I just think they could have done a lot better with it. And I’m going to skip Attila because admittedly I haven’t got it.

Right, onto the recent… developments. Total War: Warhammer and Total War: Warhammer II. Like I said earlier, I was very sceptical when the first game was announced. ‘Total War: Warhammer?’ I thought, ‘Isn’t Warhammer just a sad little figurine game played by a select few of really weirdly die-hard fans?’. Well, I carried on thinking this until the first battle was uploaded to their YouTube channel a few months before release. And, at that moment, I decided that maybe I was wrong, and I needed to change my mind and have a look at the game from a different light. I’m not a Warhammer expert, but it seems eccentric and almost overdone. But that works surprisingly well in a total war game. The visuals looked amazing, and I ended up preordering the game. Unfortunately, after a while, I had to uninstall it from my laptop as it was taking up way too much space and didn’t work particularly well anyway. But, of what I did play and have played since I re-installed it on my PC, it's a good game. As long as you play it light an old total war game and don’t get sucked into just playing it because it looks good, it is thoroughly enjoyable. Moving on very swiftly, a few months ago I pre-ordered Total War: Warhammer II. A couple of weeks ago, it came out. And I love it. It’s a brilliantly done game. The idea of magic suddenly can strategically can flip a battle very quickly in or against your favour. You can buff up your own or weaken enemy units in soft points in a defence, or you can unleash a powerful vortex, explosion, or wind spell, to take a sizeable proportion from an enemy unit in seconds. Monsters and beasts are destructive on the battlefield, but if you have the right troops, you can counter them with ease. Artillery and ranged units are now far more effective than they used to be in older total war games. If one side has artillery and another doesn’t, the one that doesn’t really has to worry, or have something to counter it, like a flying unit. It forces the enemy to attack, or you to attack your enemy. Flying units are now vital aswell, if there is little or no counter, you can dominate the battle by just landing behind the enemy and devastating their backlines with dragons, phoenixes, harpies and more. The campaign feels brilliant to play. The diplomacy is both difficult to deal with and visually easy, with confederations still being in the game meaning you can effectively take over all other factions of your race without fighting a single battle. The economy is devastatingly merciless. I once confederated all of the other high elf factions on the main island that I was on, and suddenly went from being rich to bankrupt, as I had to deal with their failing economies and they were all my bountiful trading partners. The idea of the vortex, and actual objective in a total war game is exciting and new, and I found it terribly difficult to beat back the Chaos hordes when I wasn’t prepared.

The Total War franchise has developed through the time, with its dips and falls, but Total War: Warhammer III is on its way, as well as a mysterious historical total war game, apparently in an era that hasn’t been tackled before. Place your bets.

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