By Alexander O. Cuaycong
Total War: Warhammer II, the second offering in the Warhammer Trilogy of Creative Assembly and published by Sega, takes its lore from Games Workshop’s tabletop Warhammer Fantasy Battle. This peculiar blend of turn-based strategy mixed with real-time combat is the sequel to Total War: Warhammer, and takes players on an epic campaign to four brand-spanking-new continents outside the scope of the first game. Using one of four different races divided into eight separate factions, players must vie for control over a storm of immense power called “The Great Vortex,” and tame or destroy the magical rift before their competitors do.
Design-wise, TW: WII’s map is nothing short of epic. It spans: 1.) the beautiful island of Ulthuan, civilized and tame; 2.) the wild jungles of Lustria, filled to the brim with ancient temples and ruined cities; 3.) the frozen wastes of Naggaroth, harsh and deadly; and, 4.) the barren deserts of the Southlands. And then there are the four factions, taken directly from Games Workshop’s own designs. From the noble and proud High Elves, to the sadistic and brutal Dark Elves, to the feral Lizardmen slithering in the jungles, to the sneaky Skaven skulking in the shadows, the races are as varied as they come — not only looking differently but playing differently as well. For example, the High Elves and their evil cousins, the Dark Elves, rely on monsters and elite troops to hold the line and break formations. The Lizardmen use brute strength and dinosaurs to pummel enemies into submission. And the Skaven, ever scheming, play exactly like rats, crawling out of dark corners and ambushing unsuspecting victims.
Thus, while the overall objective of the battles is the same (rout the enemy off the field and pummel them into submission), the ways in which players can do it vary greatly. The High Elves have disciplined infantry and elite cavalry to overcome enemies, or magic to heal their own troops. The Dark Elves can make use of blood lust, channeled into a meter called Murderous Prowess, which, when active, gives them stat boosts and makes them deadly foes. Lizardmen units go berserk and become almost unstoppable with their Primal Fury mechanics. Skaven possess abilities to ambush enemies and catch them off-guard by summoning more units on the field whenever and wherever practicable.
Couple that with the underlying objective of controlling “The Great Vortex,” and it’s easy to see how TW: WII stands out. This isn’t just an empire management game like previous releases in the Total War library. This is designed with a campaign in mind. The objective forces players to scheme, plot, and conquer their way to dominance over the rift. Missions appear frequently to give players the ability to perform rituals to tame “The Great Vortex,” and with each completed ritual, the odds begin to mount, as more enemies pop out to prevent them from taking place. It becomes a race against time as players must compete with the AI on who wrests control of the Vortex and thereby wields control over the fate of the world.
Considering the breadth and depth of the challenges, players feel a real sense of achievement when the final scenes play out. Every campaign is rigorous and, depending on the difficulty level, may take some 20-odd hours to finish, and even more for a map-wide domination campaign.
To be sure, flaws abound. TW: WII’s AI, while formidable, can be exploited very easily. Harder modes don’t make the AI smarter and more challenging; these just give them bonus resources to work with. Thusly, later campaign battles invariably turn into a slog. Diplomacy is still woefully broken, and several impactful bugs are still present two weeks after launch. The climate system, while interesting, leaves a lot to be desired, and the atrocious upkeep must be addressed, as these serve to artificially hinder players by handicapping them rather than serving as fair tests of skill.
Still and all, TW: WII is nothing short of fantastic. With a lengthy and difficult campaign players can sink their teeth into, AND with guaranteed support from developers via a Free Campaign called Mortal Empires for owners of the first Warhammer title, the latest release is a definite must-buy. While it may not be the perfect Total War game, it’s an enjoyable romp through Game’s Workshop’s Warhammer universe. Players who love grand strategy offerings mixed with real-time battles would do well to pick it up. Highly recommended, and a steal at $60.
Video Game Review
Total War: Warhammer II
PC via Steam
• Outstanding variety: four races to choose from and plenty of other races to fight
• Compelling campaign narrative
• Continued developer support
• Gorgeous art design coupled with fair mechanics
• Steam Mod support to allow players to customize game settings
• Increasing difficulty adds to the tedium and doesn’t heighten the aptitude of the AI
• AI can be exploited (a big negative for single-player options)
• Other races are locked until further notice (limiting single-player and multiplayer choices)
• Rock-Paper-Scissors multiplayer battles due to randomness