Total War: Warhammer 2 (Video Game)

Total War: Warhammer 2Developed by Creative Assembly

Published by SEGA

Available on PC through Steam

Rated T for Teen

Oh, thanks SEGA. Here I am, being a productive adult with a big new proposal due at work, and you just HAVE to drop Total War: Warhammer 2 into my lap. How rude. Well I guess there goes my lucrative new office job. Whatever, we all know being a starving games journalist is where it’s all at. Plus, now I have plenty of time to play Warhammer 2!

If there are three things I’m known for, it’s my killer smile, unparallelled wit, and ludicrous devotion to all things Total War and Warhammer. In the two weeks I had before writing this review, I have put a combined 140 hours into Total War: Warhammer II. That’s a level of devotion that high school girls dream of and women in their 20’s find deeply unsettling. Even while writing this I’m fighting off the shakes to move my mouse over to the Steam tab and click the Play button.

Damage to my body and social skills aside, this is the kind of obsession that’s rather good for a game like Total War: Warhammer 2. If you’ve read any of my previous Total War articles, you might notice that they more resemble a mix between a history textbook and some social misanthrope’s manifesto. Laden with individual unit analysis, meta speculations, and other minutia, it’s the kind of thing that’s like crack to a hypernerd and equally appealing as a crack addict to normal people.

Total War: Warhammer 2

Ugh god yes maximize my tech trees…

To me the appeal of Total War: Warhammer II is obvious. Then again, I sometimes forget that not everyone is the kind of person that enjoys spending multiple day-long sessions festering in their own sweat as they crank out turn after turn for the glorious prize of a Legendary campaign victory. So it’s actually pretty accurate to say that if you aren’t the kind of person that can sit through the impenetrable tome that is this review, you probably won’t get a whole lot out of Total War: Warhammer II.

“Why not?” You may ask, “Isn’t this a game where dinosaurs riding dinosaurs fight rat people for domination of a magic tornado that eats demons?” Well, yes. That is Total War: Warhammer 2. But actually getting to that part and enjoying it is quite the process. You’ll have to build bases, manage your generals, prioritize your outputs, and recruit your army before you can even get into your first battle. And that’s just if you want to play. Getting good at the game is a whole different level of spreadsheets, unit comparisons, positioning, and strategic planning. If this sounds like a chore, keep in mind that this is the FUN part for the fans. Bottom line, Total War games just might not be what you’re looking for.

Total War: Warhammer 2

But yeah, there are definitely dinosaurs riding dinosaurs.

Okay, cool. Are the casuals gone? Awwwww yeah baby, time to get into the nerdy shit. Seeing as how this is a sequel to Total War: Warhammer, I’m going to assume that if you’re reading this you are familiar with at least the basics of the game. It’s a grand strategy/RTS hybrid set in the Warhammer universe. Playing as one of four unique races, you’ll build up your armies and battle for supremacy against basically everyone else (for there is no real diplomacy in Total War games). Play your cards right, and in a dozen or so hours you just might win.

It’s almost impossible to talk about Total War: Warhammer II without comparing it to Total War: Warhammer, the most apparent of reason being that the two games actually combine into one super game. Total War: Warhammer II is the middle child of a proposed three game series, all of which are supposed to combine to give you access to the entire Warhammer world. In the first game we had access to the “Old World,” basically the Warhammer equivalent of europe. There the Empire, Dwarves, Greenskins, Chaos, Norsca, Vampire Counts, Wood Elves, Beastmen, and Bretonnia all duked it out for total domination of the lands. You’ll notice a lot of blue in those links. Total War games always have monsters of DLC packs, something I’ll get into later in the review.

In Total War: Warhammer II we now travel westward/southward. If you look at a map of the Warhammer world—such as the one I have hanging over my bed next to the shrine of Sigmar that keeps me safe as I sleep—you’ll notice that the area around the Old World is significantly larger. In Warhammer II, it shows. This map is really, really, really, really freaking big. Instead of just the one large continent, the map of Total War: Warhammer II is chopped up into four different land masses. And what a coincidence, we also have four new teams! Imagine that.

Total War: Warhammer 2

I love looking at the roster and seeing all monsters and the elves they snack on.

For the most part, each team starts on its own continent with its own set of rivals. The layout of the land is going to dictate how you play as much as the team you pick. First up, we have the High Elves of Ulthuan, the vanilla team of the expansion. Asur fanboys are going to be pissed about my calling their favorite team “vanilla,” pointing to the rich history of the Phoenix Kings and whatever stupid lore makes them friends with magic dragons. But their archers are just called “Archers” and their spearmen just “Spearmen.” As the High Elves, you get your spear dudes, your siege dude, your cavalry dudes, your ranged cavalry dudes, your upgraded spear dudes, your bow dudes, your upgraded cavalry dudes, your greatsword dudes, and some dragons. Like… five different dragons. Okay, two of them are phoenixes. For a team with only one artillery piece, five whole flying fire-breathing monsters seems a bit much.

Your main goal as the Elves is to take over all the lands of Ulthuan, then put up your walls and point your spears outwards until the game ends. Aside from a few rogue armies (I’ll get to those later) and two Dark Elf teams, you pretty much only have to contend with other High Elves and the occasional marauding Norsca. It’s the easiest of the campaigns, but also the least diverse. It can get a bit boring fighting the same armies over and over in the inevitable slog for supremacy. Luckily, the High Elves are also masters of diplomacy, and can spend their influence to make their neighbors fight and confederate much easier. It’s nothing more complicated than pushing a button and a dice telling you how much the selected factions like/dislike each other now, but it can easily be used to your advantage.

Total War: Warhammer 2

Master statesmen.

By the same coin, playing the Ulthuan High Elves feels the most like a polished traditional Total War game. The battle lines are well drawn, and with no factions that use the Underway or Beast Paths nearby it’s unlikely you’ll be caught off guard by a surprise attack on your undefended settlements. There are also loads of special buildings (I think I counted 13) on the Ulthuan isle, meaning that each conquest feels meaningful. By the time you have it all captured, you’ll have plenty of options to pop out high value units and some really nice global buffs. Your empire actually feels like a growing, secure empire. It’s clearly the noob option, but straightforward games can be fun sometimes.

Their most immediate outside threat comes from the Dark Elves of Naggaroth. Though similar in pale complexion to their brothers in the east, the Dark Elves owe their name to their murderous nature. And that isn’t an empty claim. They literally worship the god of murder. Their society is basically a perpetual blood orgy fueled by the lives of thousands of slaves. Slaves play a big role in the Dark Elf campaign, as they are used to boost your economy and are your currency to conduct Rites. Rites are temporary buffs that every team has access to, but the Dark Elves are unique in spending captured lives for them instead of just money. Slave populations constantly decay, meaning you’ll keep having to raid and plunder to get more.

Total War: Warhammer 2

Luckily, they are quite good at that, and not very picky.

Building your Dark Elf empire is slightly less straightforward than the High Elves. Without the ability to influence your friends/foes, Dark Elves will have to do things the old fashioned way. With an abundance of enemies, making powerful alliances is relatively easy. But the lands of Naggaroth have the highest concentration of desirable special buildings outside of Ulthuan, meaning you won’t want your greedy allies hogging their precious territory. It’s a classic Total War dilema: do you make friends, or kill them for their nice stuff?

Luckily, the Dark Elves have the highest amount of combat options to pursue this goal. Unique amongst all the teams, the Dark Elves attack not only by land, but from sea. Fielding massive Black Arcs, these floating cities can reinforce troops and provide devastating support bombardments. That’s not to say that the Dark Elves can’t take care of themselves without their magic boats around. Pound for pound, Dark Elf units are the most potent in the game. Though outclassed in raw strength by the Lizardmen and the specialist strengths of the Skaven, the Dark Elves have consistent access to crucial battlefield tools. There’s some really specific shit I’ll get into later with balancing, but a quick example is that they’re the only team in the new game with early armor-piercing ranged damage.

Total War: Warhammer 2

Big bad boats bombing bitches.

The kingdom of Naggaroth is connected to the south by a narrow land bridge to the continent of Lustria. You’ll want to think twice before mistaking this lands as easy pickings, as this is where the Lizardmen make their home. Sentient dinosaur with a flair for Mesoamerican architecture, the Lizardmen are hilariously the actual “good guys” of the Warhammer world. While other noble races like human and Dwarf frequently fall to chaos and at least half of the Elves eat slaves for breakfast, the Lizardmen just want to fulfil the plans of the Old Ones and shut the doors on chaos for good. Problem is, they are dinosaurs that speak an ancient indecipherable language. So when the Lizardbros are just trying to say, “Please don’t take our magic crystals, it’s the only thing keeping the world together,” all the other races just go, “Ah! A scary dinosaur! Kill it!”

Despite that, the Lizardmen are actually a pretty straightforward team. Most of their buildings follow the basic money/growth/recruitment/public order dynamics. Their campaign gimmick is the Geomantic Web, an invisible series of ley lines that connect their cities. The stronger these connections, the better their provincial commandments. So basically, the bigger and more secure their empire is, the better it gets. Fancy that, they’re like the exact opposite of Chaos.

Total War: Warhammer 2

It’s not nearly as complicated as it looks.

Where the Lizardmen really shine is in combat. Each of their units are powerhouses, that juxtapose their calculated and noble society with straight up dinosaur savagery. Their basic Skink units are kind of pushovers (despite being adorable) but even their basic Saurus warriors can go toe to toe with Chaos Warriors. It’s actually a big balance problem. The Lizardmen basic units are such badasses, that they are nigh indestructible to their immediate Skaven rivals. On top of that, all of their support units are on the backs of dinosaurs. Poison flamethrowers are way better on the back of a Stegadon.

Finally, we have everyone’s favorite evil ratmen, the Skaven. Primarily starting in the final continent, the Southlands, the Skaven represent everything that makes Warhammer so great. The ultimate murderers if not for being so cowardly, the greatest inventors if not for being so accident prone, and the greatest force of evil in the world if not for being just so hard to take seriously. They follow a Chaos diety named the Horned Rat, who just like his minions is a great big crossover of being totally inept yet somehow always pulling through. Lore wise, the Skaven are the most real threat to the civilized world. In Total War: Warhammer II? Eh… not so much.

Total War: Warhammer 2

Dawww… look at all the adorable little doom machines!

Individually frail, what they Skaven lack in strength they make up for in sheer numbers. Where a normal stack of spearmen might number 60, a meaty Stormvermin stack will be 80. As with all things Total War: Warhammer, it’s hard to draw straight parallels, but overall there will be far more Skaven than other races. This is significantly bolstered by their “The Menace Below” ability, which allows them to spawn a set number of Clanrat units anywhere on the field over the course of a battle. Though not as powerful as other basic swordsman units, these can easily kill archers and artillery or flank heavier units from the back.

Where the Skaven really shine is in their special units, which are the most devastating in the game. While the massive Ancient Stegodons certainly dish out tons of damage, nothing can melt units quite like the Warpfire Throwers and Death-Wind Globadiers. They also have the only consistent artillery in the game with their Warp Lightning Cannons and Plague Claw Catapults. All of these units, including the towering Hell Pit Abomination, are weak if left unprotected. Working together as a unit, these armies are as unstoppable as food poisoning on a cruise ship.

Total War: Warhammer 2

Vast and unrelenting is the Vermintide.

Now before I get into the Skaven base building, this is a good time to transition to my discussion on balance. I know, expecting balance from a Total War game at launch is like opening a box of cornflakes and expecting a cache of unicorn tears. Actually, the basics of the AI are much better this time around. There are no glaring flaws like cavalry running straight up to your gates. I was actually impressed by how frequently I was flanked while playing sleep deprived. No, the biggest problems with Total War: Warhammer 2 come from a staggering amount of imbalance in key areas of the game.

Let’s start with the starting areas. If you’re familiar with Total War: Warhammer 2, you may have noticed my team recap left out some key players. For each of the four mentioned teams, there are actually two options for starting Legendary Lords. Each Legendary Lord has their own specialty, team buffs, quests, and most importantly starting location. This last one is crucial, as some areas are wildly more habitable than others. The most glaring example comes from the High Elves. My previous description of a lovely classic Total War experience rich with special buildings and predictable battlelines only pertains to their primary legendary lord, Tyrion. If you chose their second lord, Teclis, his Order of Loremasters starts way over on the southwest coast of Lustria. You know what there aren’t many of in Lustria? Special High Elf structures. You know, the entire reason Ulthuan is fun to conquer.

Total War: Warhammer 2

Although, the forest regions are the only ones where the ambush maps look like dicks.

It feels like certain areas of the map were vastly underdeveloped. Teams that start there just feel like playing the game on hard/less fun mode. Which is sad, because Lords like Teclis are freaking awesome thematically. He has access to a spell from every lore of magic, and the passive casting buffs from each of them. He’s an absolute machines! Too bad his one special building doesn’t stack up to the freaking thirteen or so that Tyrion has easy access to. The same goes for the entire continent of the Southlands. This is where Kroq-Gar of the Lizardmen and Queek of the Skaven start out. There are two quick victory resource (more on that in a bit) locations, a few sprawling provinces, and then a vampire doom desert for the other half of the continent. Half of the continent isn’t even ideally habitable for the team that spawns there. Awesome.

So what you’re left with is an A-list of Tyrion, Mazdamundi, and Lord Skrulk, and a B-list of Kroq-gar, Queek, and Teclis. These B-listers don’t even start with a fancy 10-slot capitol building, just a regular 8-slot. The only team that has a meaningful choice is the Dark Elves, who pick between Malekith and Morthai. They both start in the same general area, have a diplomatic buff with each other, but Morthai spits out Chaos while Malekith does not. It’s interesting having a built in ally that is actively sabotaging you by corruption/removing corruption, making the choice between long term friendship and your friend’s tasty special buildings all the more compelling.

Beyond that, the game has absolutely no idea how to handle the Auto-resolve for Skaven armies. If you play as Skaven, get ready to manually control even the simplest battle. For a game this long with load times up to two minutes, this is brutal. It was common for me to ambush an enemy and have the predicted result be a crushing defeat, only to manually take control and win with a 10-1 casualty rate. It’s as if they don’t calculate any of the Skaven’s special abilities or The Menace Below. It’s the opposite for Lizardmen, who are heavily favored in almost every single calculation. I get that their cannons happen to also be on the backs of dinosaurs, which is badass. But what the hell is the point of your Carnosaurs if my Warp Lightning Cannon is taking it down before it even gets to me?

Total War: Warhammer 2

These were not uncommon results, and it predicted me losing by half.

On the flip side, I think a lot of people are going to incorrectly complain about the team balance. With over 100 hours in, I can confidently say that no team has the clear top spot (I’m not talking about multiplayer, I try not to touch that). The Skaven are easily the hardest team to play, as you have to manage food along with the normal money and troops. It’s hard to keep your food in the positive without taking a big economic hit, so you’ll have to do a lot of raiding and killing to keep afloat. The Skaven economy is made even more difficult by the fact that none of their buildings really jump up their income. For most teams, there are specific economic buildings you build to gain a few hundred extra income a turn. For the Skaven, every building provides a nominal amount of income. The lowest is 40, and the biggest is 80. Everything contributes to the warchest, but you have to keep expanding to get bigger. More towns means you need more food, which means you might have to take an economic hit. It’s a delicate balancing act, but the rewards are a consistent empire that can’t be taken down with a single devastating blow.

Lizardmen have the strongest infrastructure with their Geomantic Web, but are weak to the individual losses that make the Skaven so resilient. On top of their armies being expensive (I think the Ancient Stegadon costs somewhere in the ballpark of 3k), a single lost town can remove the commandment being buffed by their Geomantic Web. Take out an entire province, and those connected lose the Geomantic Web buffs that it provided. Their a tough nut to crack, but their losses are each felt far more than the other teams. Their bolstered however by their Slaan Lords, who wield the most devastating magic in the game. They can only be summoned through a Rite once every 25 turns, so be sure to keep them well protected.

Total War: Warhammer 2

Always protect your Battle-toad.

There’s not much more to say about the complexities of the two Elves. Dark Elves are better at attacking, and High Elves prefer defending. This is reflected in their special combat abilities Murderous/Martial Prowess. After a certain number of kills, Dark Elves gain a massive buff to combat effectiveness. On the flip side, High Elves gain a small buff as long as their units are above 50% health. Martial Prowess is default and easy, and Murderous Prowess is hard and rewarding. They also have some interesting lords, with the High Elves having to spend influence to gain some of the strongest basic Lords in the game. Dark Elves can also get similar powerful leaders, but only by choosing a title once they reach level ten. Once again, the High Elves gain from hunkering down and growing, and the Dark Elves gain through murder.

There’s one big issue I haven’t yet hit on, as I’m still not sure if I hate or love it. I’m talking about the new global victory condition, the Vortex. As opposed to the previous Total War: Warhammer where each team had a specific victory condition, all of the teams in Total War: Warhammer II are in a race to control the Vortex. Nestled in the heart of Ulthuan, controlling it isn’t a territorial matter. Rather, each team will have to collect a special victory resource to perform five increasingly challenging rituals. As soon as a ritual starts, three pre-designated towns start “channeling” for ten turns. Meanwhile, a number of hostile Chaos and Skaven armies will spawn to try and take those towns to stop you. Opposing factions can also send interventions for 2k/5k/10k gold, which will spawn a powerful army to try and stop the ritual. Once you complete all five rituals (not at all a simple feat), you can teleport to the final battle in an effort to beat four other armies and win.

Now I’m all for new and interesting victory objectives. My favorite part of the Wood Elves faction was their attitude of, “fuck the world, I just want my tree to be big.” I like having the option to win without needing to march across the world conquering an arbitrary number of provinces. I like that the climax of my campaign isn’t contingent on the Dwarves not randomly killing all the vampires by turn 50.

The problem is, you have almost no incentive to actually seek out the other major factions. With how massive the map is, it’s almost impossible to actually set out to directly oppose your opponent’s rituals. For the most part, I was happy just to sit in my fortified territory and complete my rituals in peace. As long as you control the most victory resource generators, it’s a pretty easy task. There’s no denying that winning without ever storming the enemy’s capitol just feels kind of lame.

Total War: Warhammer 2

Although it’s all worth it to be introduced to the game’s greatest character, the Scribeslave.

Despite the flaws, Total War: Warhammer II is a staggering improvement over its predecessor. From simple UI improvements to a new climate system for settlements, the state of Warhammer II at launch compared to the mess of Warhammer is phenomenal. It’s not for nothing that I’ve put over 100 hours into it in just two weeks. There are some inconsistencies in the map, but I get the feeling that this will mostly be filled out in DLC. That large expanse of vampire deserts? That’s where Khemri is.

It’s funny that after 100 hours I’m still hungry for more. Total War: Warhammer II just came out, but I already want the DLC to start. When the Mortal Empires combines the two maps later next month, I can expect another 100 hours to be poured right into the void. If this is a metric of what to expect from Total War: Warhammer III, I might just look into suspended animation. If you are a fan of Total War: Warhammer, this is an absolute must have. Given how Creative Assembly fixed the flaws in the first game, I have the utmost faith that my nitpicks about Warhammer II will soon be quashed. Time to go back to playing.

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Ted Hentschke

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