Total War Warhammer 2 Review

Total War Warhammer 2 has… Well it has too many uses of the word “war” in it’s name, and I think there was a missed opportunity to name it as the, slightly quirkier, “Total Warhammer 2”. But aside from that, what is it? Well, it’s a very fun 4x strategy game with more diversity than I’ve ever seen before from a Total War title. This diversity is derived from the game’s factions. The main factions – or at least the new ones to come to the game since it’s predecessor – are:

High Elves:
These are the easy to play, goodie-two-shoes faction who are the most basic race in the game by design. They can use Influence to make other factions like or dislike them or their neighbours more. You can secure peace in war, or provoke others into war against former allies.
On the battlefield, these guys boast a lot of armoured archers who dish out as much as they can take. Their infantry sucks, but they make up for it with Dragons, Phoenix and Eagles – all of which are giant flying things that make the enemy go boom.

Dark Elves:
These boys were the result of someone asking “what would a 14 year old boy find badass?” The answer is these guys who have Darth Vader lookalike leaders, and bikini-warrior female fighters. They enslave people to make massive amounts of money, but must balance their slave intake with the risk of revolutions it may cause in their empire.
On the battlefield they are kind of a “meh” faction in terms of units, and shine more because of their spellcasters and army leaders, who can be levelled into army killers if you use them right. Their main lord, Malekeith, is one such guy who will routinely rack up 200+ kills just by himself in every battle.

The Skaven:
Sneaky rat people who excel at laying ambushes and using expendable slaves to die for nothing while their better units win the battle from the safety of the rear line. These guys love to eat and can spend food to develop newly conquered settlements to a higher tier than they were when in the hands of the enemy. Use too much food, however, and there will be a famine, inducing faction-wide debuffs.
In battle they are probably the most diverse faction in the game, with strong artillery pieces and monsters making up their heavy hitters, and guys with gatling guns, sniper rifles and chemical weapons making up their ranged support. Their infantry sucks, but it’s expendable and other units don’t get disheartened by seeing these slaves die on the frontlines. Oh, and they can also nuke other settlements if they so choose.

Lizardmen:
I’m going to be honest; I’ve put 150 hours into this game and played maybe only one of those hours as the Lizardmen. Their mechanic is a web linking all settlements together… But I don’t know why or how to manage it because I’m so unfamiliar with them. They simply don’t interest me in the campaign.
That said, they are fun in battle; Their units consist of crocodile men, sneaky geckos, big hungry dinosaurs and even dinosaurs with mounted laser beams.

In the Eye of the Vortex campaign, these factions are all competing over a big magical cloud so that they can use it to benefit their own selfish desires. Ultimately, however, this boils down to a rather boring “race to get X amount of resource” ordeal, where you repeat the process until you have enough resources to have done three rituals and fight a big battle at the end. It’s kind of lame and some of the better factions to play as in Eye of the Vortex are DLC Lords – some who are free and some who have to be paid for – who have no investment in the race and spend time doing their own unrelated objective. For example, the Dwarves in Eye of the Vortex just want to find precious artefacts that they can use to become extremely powerful and don’t really care about the magic cloud. And while this premise is still more interesting that the big cloud ordeal, it still boils down to getting a certain number of specific items until a scripted event occurs.

Even so, my biggest gripe with Eye of the Vortex is that it feels way too linear with how it shoves specific missions down your throat that, while you can ignore, often provide you with a hefty rewards for doing a whole lot of nothing. It’s also objectively beneficial to capture specific settlements because they give you more of whatever resource it is your faction needs to win the race. This means you’ll always be targeting the same areas in repeat campaigns as the same factions, rather than trying to expand in new ways and experiment.

That said, if you do choose to ignore it you can have some fun learning the ropes as this campaign is generally easier than the other one. If you’re not sure about some of the new DLC races they added like the Tomb Kings, who are undead ancient Egyptians with giant robots, or the Vampire Coast, who are vampires with guns and sea shantys, they Eye of the Vortex can be a good learning playground.

The reason being that Mortal Empires, the game’s much larger, open campaign lacks the same linearity and does what I think I love Total War the most for; saying that there’s people to fight in pretty much every direction and it’s up to you to prioritse and kill them however you please.

Mortal Empires, I should preface, can only be played by people who own both Warhammer 1 and 2, since it combines the map from Warhammer 1 with the map from Eye of the Vortex into one massive campaign map, with all the factions from Warhammer 1 (plus any DLC factions you own for it) included. Because Warhammer 1 is so expensive it can be hard to justify buying it if you’ve just dropped a bomb purchasing Warhammer 2. But it is worth saving for if you do enjoy the game. Mortal Empires is where I spent 90% of my playtime because it’s so damn fun.

With the Warhammer 1 content, you also get access to the following races:

The Empire:
In the early game this faction is kind of lame and forgettable, having a roster of generic fantasy human warriors and mechanics that revolve around managing relations with other members of the Empire. But as you progress you’ll get guns… then cannons… then rocket batteries… then mortars… then tanks! This faction is definitely more fun once you get the ball rolling, and the firepower they posses is often comically ludicrous.

Bretonia:
Probably the most unfun faction, in my opinion. With nothing particularly “fantasy” about them other than having pegasus in their generic roster, you might as well be playing as France in Medieval 2 Total War if you pick these guys. They have decent mages and a unique mechanic revolving around a peasant army, but they just aren’t as fun as literally any other faction.

Dwarves:
If you thought me talking about rats with chemical weapons and gatling guns was cool, wait until you hear about these guys; the Dwarves get dynmite and helicopters! Alongside some decent artillery and some of the best infantry the game has to offer, the Dwarves are not only extremely powerful, but also extremely fun. Their entire campaign revolves around getting revenge on everyone who’s ever wronged them… Turns out everyone has wronged them at some point.

Greenskins:
Orcs and Goblins, except they call crusades, like the Pope did back in the day, to summon even more Orcs and Goblins to attack specific settlements in return for rewards. They have some quite comedic looking and named units, along with decent spellcasters and warrior generals to choose from. Versatile and a faction, as I understand it, that was revived after some outdated mechanics had once left it underpowered. Now they can be quite scary.

Wood Elves:
Like the High Elves, these guys like bows and arrows. They have a slight focus on stealth for some units, and can also boast heavy infantry in the form of sentient tree monsters to bolster their ranks. I have not played as any that require the Warhammer 1 DLC, but have played as the Warhammer 2 Wood Elf heroes; These are sisters who ride a dragon and are, for lack of a better term, airborne artillery. Fun units for those who like range, and for those who like smashing.

Beastmen:
A gang of centaurs/minatours and other human/animal hybrids that like to smash things. They are a horde faction that doesn’t conventionally conqour the world; they destroy almost all settlements they come across except those they have placed a herdstone in to increase their overall power. I can’t go too in depth as, like the Lizardmen, I simply haven’t spent a lot of time with these guys, but they always propose a challenge to fight against in campaign.

Norsca:
Vikings. Vikings with giant mammoths. Like Beastmen they worship evil Chaos Gods and are sort of evil, but they aren’t a horde faction. Spend most of their time smashing Dark Elves and The Empire. They’re not that interesting in my opinion and are much more annoying to fight than they are fun to fight – at least I’ve found.

Vampire Counts:
Necromancers. Turns out they are really fun. Despite not having any ranged units at all, they make up for it with monsters and powerful spellcasters to deal damage while their hordes of skeletons and zombies distract and pin-down foes. They have some of the game’s coolest animations with all their undead troops marching in perfect unison, as though they are literally being puppeteered by the necromancers who have animated them.

Warriors of Chaos:
Another horde faction that specialises in burning stuff down and making their armies into mobile cities. Hostile to everyone on the map, they are a big challenge to play as and, honestly, more fun to play against.

All of these factions, plus those from Eye of the Vortex and a bunch of minor ones too make Mortal Empires one of the most diverse and chaotic Total War campaigns you’ll ever come across, with battles being of a similar nature.

My only concern with the game is the nature of it’s DLC – which mirrors the same structure as almost all strategy games now days (be it Civilisation or any number of Paradox games) – where small pieces of new content that either put emphesis on, or adapt upon existing mechanics in interesting ways – are sold for $10 each, or £7.99 for us in the UK. Sounds good, until you add it all up and it costs you heaps of money to experience the game in a way that many would consider the best way possible.

Of course some DLC’s are also going to be better or worse than others. But one DLC that partocuarly stands put as bad is the blood DLC… Yes, you have to pay money to see blood in a game called “Total War”, where mortars bombard lines of rat-people. Although Creative Assembly claims having blood as an optional DLC is because, without it, they can lower the rating and sell it to more consumers, I’d say it’s more predatory than that; There is plenty of free DLC in this game too, and free DLC that includes everything from new lords, play styles and campaign mechanics. With that in mind, making people pay for blood is just a lazy attempt to cash-in because, if this truly was just a matter of lowering the games’ rating, why not just have the blood as another free DLC instead of a paid one?

Transparancy:
Now that we’ve discussed the bulk of the game’s content, let’s talk about my new segment in these game reviews; Transparency, which covers how well the game communicates information to the player. In big strategy game like this, where minor differences in one or two stats can means the difference between success or failure between two units in combat, it is vital the game communicates what those stats are in an clear way. Not only that, but because modern Total War games also have RPG elements with the levelling of heroes and acquisition of skill points, being able to make informed decisions about your build and specialisations is also crucial.

Thankfully, I can say Warhammer 2 is one of the most transparent strategy games I’ve come across. When on the campaign map, in battle, or even before you’ve purchased a unit you are interested in, you can hover over their card to get a full run down of their stats, passive bonuses and where they excel. You get everything from their morale, attack, defence, bonus resistances, how much these things are being buffed or debuffed and more on an easy to understand slide at the edge of the screen. You can also dismiss the stats and bring them back up at will if you need to see more of the battle or feel they’re in the way.

When upgrading Lords and generals, you can see the exact changes your choices would make before investing a skill point, so you’re aware of what exactly you are doing. You’re also given plenty of information about each skill, regardless of how simple of complex it is. For example, magic effects are all labelled as abilities, spells or constant passive effects. If a spell, the cost of magic is listed, and for all types of abilities so is the duration they last. You get told who abilities can target, and even who they cannot and when they cannot. You get to see what type of damage they do and how long they take to cast and recharge. It’s all very infomative, and exactly what I like to see from games with a lot of behind-the-scenes calculations, so that the player never feels cheated…

Mostly…

I did once feel cheated by not giving one of my Dark Elf warriors a Bloodthrone (a giant chariot) because it said all her stats would decrease. But when I bit the nail and gave it to her, simply because Bloodthrone sounds cool, she was racking up almost 200+ kills per battle, which was much more than anyone else in my army was capable of doing. Other mounts have a similar effect; telling you your character will be objectively worse in many ways other than speed and max health. To be fair, the reason for this is that by giving your general or hero a mount, they are a larger target to hit and thus have a higher chance of being hit by enemy ranged and melee attacks. This justifies why the stats decrease so much. But it doesn’t explain away why they don’t tell you just how bloody beneficial these mounts can often be. Look, all I’m saying is not to let the idea you’re wizard has a higher chance of being hit steer you away from mounting them on a dragon that itself can rack up 100+ kills a battle even discounting your wizard’s abilities.

Technical Stuff
I don’t know a lot about the technical side of gaming, but what I do know is that this game takes an awful bloody long time to load. I don’t have the highest end PC in the world and know I don’t have an SSD, which I broadly know increases the speed of the system, which is why I thought my game was so slow. But it was only slow in loading screens – the campaign map and battles themselves all ran smooth as butter, so I decided to look it up and found a lot of people have issues with long loading times. It is a shame and can be drawback, especially if you mess up in your early campaign and decide to start again… Which just means even more loading screens.

Next is the AI. Or, often times, lack thereof. Just like in previous Total War titles, the AI in this game sucks tremendously and can be easily cheesed. I often found myself using similar tactics as were doable in Rome Total War – an ancient game compared to this one – in order to get myself out of sticky situations. Everything from kiting large groups of enemies with missile cavalry, distracting them from the real fight, is still on the table. Although it is harder to manoeuvre enemies off of advantageous terrain unfairly, it is still easy to break them in most battle maps if you don’t play the map the way in which it was designed. For example, there are a number of maps with highly defensive chokepoints where it’s often easier to win by not defending them. The reason for this is that because the map was designed around that, the AI has been programmed to counter those sorts of defences pretty well. But if you deploy behind the chokepoint and try to do an ambush, or even just an open-field battle, on the smaller parts of these maps, the AI will spend so much time bumbling around and unable to get into any type of formation that it’s possible to exhaust your missile-units ammunition sometimes before they finally get themselves together.

This piss-poor AI that Total War is known for, is compensated for with something Total War is also known for; artificial difficulty. In Rome Total War, the game simply gave the AI heaps of cash, armies and let them win fights they had no business winning because the game needed those fights to be won. In this game, the AI has an anti-player bias. What that means is that they will often ignore their natural enemies, marching straight through their lands unprevented in order to target you because you are a human. This is not real difficulty – this difficulty is completely invented by Creative Assembly because their AI is so trash the game would be too easy otherwise.

It’s a shame to see a game that released in 2017 suffering from the same issues that haunted a game from 2004. Creative Assembly desperately need to improve their AI to a point where they don’t have to pretend the game is difficult, because it actually is.

Conclusion:
Would I recommend Total War Warhammer 2? Absolutely. It has a lot of problems that are, disappointingly, carry-overs from previous titles and thus a lot of the good things about this game do feel in-spite of them. But one thing that certainly is not in spite of them is how ridiculously fun this game is. I mean, who doesn’t want to see two gatling gun teams – manned by rats – shoot a dragon out of the sky, or a human steam-punk tank shell a T-Rex as is charges into a line of spears? Who doesn’t want to see a Dwarf riding a helicopter shoot a pack of harpies out of the sky, or a giant sentient tree with magic fight a giant sentient hull of a pirate ship with a cannon arm? There’s too much fun to handle in this game.

That said, I wouldn’t recommend buying paid DLC unless the base game really engages you – especially as Mortal Empires, the best experience this game has to offer, has be be obtained by buying another full-price game. But I would highly encourage you to pick up all the free DLC, of which there is a lot and adds so much to the replayability.

For all it’s issues, I’d say it’s the second or third best Total War game, just shy behind Rome and maybe Medieval II. And for that reason, it certainly deserves some love.

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