Review – Creative Assembly gets it right with Total War: Warhammer II (PC)
Creative Assembly (CA) has staunchly kept the Total War series alive for seventeen years. In 2016, we saw CA make their most significant change by shifting their attention to the Warhammer Fantasy universe. Now, one year on, Total War: Warhammer II has arrived to prove they made the right decision.
Unlike the developer’s usual brand of historical settings, Total War: Warhammer II features eight factions from four different races: High Elves, Dark Elves, Skaven, and Lizardmen. Each race features two distinct Legendary Lords, such as Tyrion (no, not that dwarf serving a dragon queen) and Teclis for the High Elves. The differences aren’t simply cosmetic. Like the previous game, one Lord focuses on physical strength while the other focuses on magic. However, this time they’ve changed the starting positions.
Tyrion, for example, now starts in Ulthuan, the ancestral home of the High Elves. That means players will have an easier time cementing alliances with their neighbors, who may come to their aid in times of need. Playing as Teclis, however, poses a challenge. Enemies surround his settlements, forcing players to think and carefully plan their next move before committing. A single mistake won’t spell doom, but it can be challenging to come back.
You’ll find this repeated for all the other races. Each has a faction with a more comfortable starting positions, making these Lords a good pick for players new to the series.
The best thing about Total War: Warhammer II is that anything can happen. The campaign excelled at keeping me on my toes – one moment I had factions begging to be my ally, and in the next another declares war. It keeps the strategy layer exciting without feeling too repetitive or random.
Players can now occupy every settlement available on the map. However, there are penalties for conquering lands foreign to the player’s race. Having the High Elves hold the Frozen Wastelands can incur debuffs such as 50% lower income from buildings and negative public orders. It helps to keep things fresh and engaging as players will have to decide between occupying, sacking, or razing a settlement.
However, what happens when the player’s faction becomes too powerful? In the previous games, all other opposing factions had no hope of winning even if they banded together, turning the campaign stale and making players like myself start over. CA attempted to address this in Total War: Attila, tweaking the formula from territorial expansion to one about survival. While a welcome move on CA’s part, the gameplay felt like watching paint dry. Thankfully, this sequel improves the age-old issue.
Total War: Warhammer II campaign’s pacing feels entirely different from older titles. In this campaign, it felt more like a race to complete the ritual, rather than seeing who owns more territory. Sure, holding more provinces can make one feel powerful, but it also means that players have more fronts to defend. Not only will other factions try to eat away at your income by raiding or sacking your settlements, but players will also have to consider the strategic locations to place their armies before starting a ritual. Of course, rituals are not the only way to win a campaign; players may simply go for a domination victory by controlling specific provinces and destroying the other factions.
The late-game portion of the campaign is one of the most exciting and challenging CA has ever made in the Total War series. As the hunt to acquire more way-fragments continues, players will go from ritual to ritual in order to win the campaign. However, every time a ritual starts, forces of Chaos will slip through to random places near your provinces, razing settlements unfortunate enough to be in their path. At times, Chaos forces are not the only ones hellbent on destroying your lands either. Players and major factions may also pay a hefty amount of gold to send an army to interfere with the rituals. Even so, Chaos grows increasingly difficult to suppress over time, and when the final battle arrives an epic fight for the vortex will ensue.
For any Total War fan, the game’s real gem are the large-scale battles. Armies fighting armies, hero against hero, as majestic beasts tear into one another in the background. This is when players finally execute their strategic plans and marvel at the unfolding battle. The surrounding Warhammer scenery is also terrific. In the distance lie landmarks such as the vortex, the Tower of Hoeth, or even the Northern Great Jungle. Naturally, the visuals are an improvement compared to the previous title, and the character models were equally top-notch. I often position the camera close to the action, watching the army I’ve raised bring destruction to my foes.
Despite the great visuals during battles, things came a little bit short when it comes to the maps. Yes, the scenery is breath-taking but the maps themselves didn’t always impress, especially the urban areas. Battles that determine the fate of towns were only fought on open ground, while siege battles focused only on a single side of the wall. Players may see the city they’re fighting for but can never reach its boundaries. On the bright side, sieges are still an intense undertaking, as both sides fiercely struggle to breach the wall or defend it.
Like the older titles, Total War: Warhammer II still suffers from inconsistent AI, declaring war on players only to demand peace treaties a few turns later, without even attacking any player settlement. Better still, the AI was willing to spend money to end the wars they started.
Total War: Warhammer II is a fun sequel to the Warhammer spin-offs. With vast improvements from the previous title, this game offers countless replayability and ways to approach a campaign. With a huge map spread out into four distinct continents, veterans of the Total War series will find this title noteworthy even at full price. The developers also have plans to release free content such as ‘Mortal Empires’ next, so there’s still plenty of room to grow.
Total War: Warhammer II is out now for PC (Win/OSX/Linux).
A personal copy was used for this review.