Total War: Warhammer II had plenty to live up to. The first game was a success beyond perhaps even the developer’s expectations, with over 1.7 million copies being sold on Steam. Certainly it helped shore up Total War’s reputation, a franchise riddled with as many ups and downs in recent years. A sequel therefore had a lot to live up to, and as we discussed in last week’s article many new features and gameplay changes were advertised. But strategy titles, along with RPGs and MMOs are not easy or quick things to review simply for their depth and the amount of potential variables. So with the game being out for a week and with plenty of time to experience it in its ‘public state’, should those of you considering it still pick it up?
No game is complete without solid presentation, and thankfully Total War: Warhammer II is hardly lacking in that regard. As with the first game, the quality of character models (complete with amusing and fluid animations, perhaps my favourite being Skaven sniffing the air incessantly while idle) and voice-acting is more than adequate; special attention should be paid to the backing music for the campaign map, always faction-appropriate and great for getting fully immersed into the character of your chosen race.
If there’s one aspect from the first game presentation-wise that’s been improved more than any other however, it’s the landscape and world design. The dark forests and icy wastes of the first Total War: Warhammer were certainly in keeping with the theme of the setting, but the more exotic locations of the sequel have let Creative Assembly go far wilder with visual deigns. Battles held at sunset among the jungles, cliffs and towering golden temple-cities of Lustria are particularly breath taking, with dynamic cloud-cover only adding to the effect. It’s an undoubtedly beautiful game, and one that’s thankfully avoided many of the graphical glitches and bugs that have plagued Total War titles on release in the past.
In terms of gameplay, those familiar with battles from the first Total War: Warhammer know exactly what to expect here. Indeed, the real-time 3D battles are very much the bread-and-butter of Total War as a whole. Total War: Warhammer II does, however, feature arguably far more engaged mechanics on the campaign map. This is something that took a while to come about, and it’s great to see that Creative Assembly has made a real effort to ensure each faction play notably differently rather than simply having different unit stats in battle.
Again, let’s take the Skaven as an example. Having the ability to expend some of the necessary ‘food’ resource on acquiring reserves for an upcoming battle or to improve a city immediately upon capturing it seems a small thing, but it brings a layer of nuance to the campaign map that past Total War titles have sometimes lacked. Every inclusion turns it more into an experience rather than simply a waiting room between battles. The inclusion of loyalty systems for Skaven and Dark Elf faction characters is another little touch that improves the experience for fan of the series and adds in more thought beyond what to build and where to move armies. There’s a notable effort that’s been put in to make the game particularly varied and replayable, and for the strategy genre where those two facets are key concerns, that’s saying quite a lot.
The point about effort and detail should be re-iterated, finally. The A.I. are more than serviceable opponents, and are truly challenging on Legendary difficulty. Free-for-alls and co-op campaigns with multiple players as the same race are small add-ons that bring whole new dimensions to the multiplayer and should help keep it alive for a long time to come. The inclusion of countless small references to Warhammer lore old and new further highlights the love and passion that’s been put into the product. As I mentioned earlier, Total War: Warhammer II had plenty to live up to after its predecessor’s success. In broad strokes however, it’s managed to do just that – it’s a challenging, engaging, great-looking achievement that largely delivers on all the expectations fans of the first possessed.
If this all sounds like aggressive shilling, then hold up. Total War: Warhammer II has its issues just like any other title – and while none are game breaking, some might be enough to make holding off until more gameplay patches drop an idea.
One aspect that isn’t so much ‘bad’ as ‘different’ is the increased prevalence of magic in the sequel. This is entirely in keeping with the factions featured; the presence of powerful caster Legendary Lords such as Mazdamundi, Teclis, and Malekith the Witch-King means that spell casting and magic is an unavoidable fact of life when playing either with or against them. If you weren’t a fan of the magic system from the first Total War: Warhammer, then your issues with it will likely only be compounded here. There’s not much to suggest besides grinning and bearing it.
The game is not entirely without graphical bugs and errors too, though these obviously vary from person to person and it’s entirely likely that many won’t be affected. One particularly amusing bug reported is a unit ‘combining’ into a single character model, moving and fighting in perfect synchronicity with the strength of 100+ fighters. The implementation of the Mortal Empires campaign map in a few weeks’ time may see more bugs of this nature simply due to its scale, and we can only hope that any necessary patches are quick.
There are a few minor issues here and there that may rustle the more ‘hard-core’ out there; destroying enemy armies on the campaign map can be difficult due to a bizarre decision to make killing their general help the force stay together, while factions who should want nothing to do with each other will make alliances in eyebrow-raising fashion. Of course, this latter point is something of a necessary evil, sacrificing lore accuracy for ensuring range of gameplay. It’s understandable, but still feels off, and hopefully mods in the newly-open creation kit will help those who aren’t a fan.
Perhaps the biggest issue Total War: Warhammer II faces at present however (besides its DLC practice, depending on one’s view on the subject) is factional imbalance. This is of course subjective, and players of the game may well and often do disagree. However, comparing the results and watching the evidence of battles played by many fans of the game do reveal certain trends. The High Elves in particular seem to possess somewhat imbalanced advantages on the campaign map, thanks to highly defensible starting positions, overbearing diplomatic bonuses and far easier access to the resources needed to win the game than the other four factions. The Dark Elves, equally, have a habit of dominating on the battle map thanks to their racial abilities. These could simply be teething pains; the game has only been out for a week, and strategies to counter these advantages are being discussed every time on forums and message boards. Creative Assembly itself also appears aware of at least some complaints, with promises made in streams to look at the Dark Elves specifically. But until these solutions come about, Total War: Warhammer II can sometimes slip from engaging and fun to frustrating – and while that’s part of the fun of strategy games, artificial difficulty is something no-one enjoys.
There’s debate to be had over whether Total War: Warhammer II should really have been a sequel, or just a substantial expansion pack for the first game. If I had to pick however, I’d certainly come down on the former’s side. It’s more than just expansion; there’re changes and developments galore here, and others have already gone through them better than I ever could. It’s certainly no less a quality title than the first game in the series, and with its exotic setting and more varied gameplay there’s plenty of room for Creative Assembly to keep on adding to the game for a while to come while they work on a full title. If you were a fan of the first Total War: Warhammer, this is definitely for you. If you’re a fan of strategy in general, it’s still for you – go in knowing that you might face a bit more of a challenge than the first game, and you’ll be more than satisfied with picking it up.
At age seven, Jordan wanted to be a paleontologist. That went well. He now fills the void by writing on all manner of mildly-interesting topics - when he finds time in between complaining how everything was better in the 'good old days', that is.