Minor Skirmish: Toothpick 2
What happens when you merge an extensive computerised wargame with a boardgame thingy called Warhammer. Ya know, that thing with Elves and Dark Elves and Elves in stetson hats.
A high fantasy computer game… I guess. Blimey, I feel a long-ass review coming on.
Oohh, Warhammer features vampires. Neat.
For those with little knowledge of both things, let’s sum it up. You’ve a bloody big map to spawn armies from and you’ll get to decide when to march your hard earned armies into real time battles. Rather than control a thousand individual units, they are bunched into squads. Top tip, spearman are pretty good against big fleshy horses.
Oh… I can’t actually play as a vampire clan. Only battle against them. Aw.
I appreciate the vision of the Total War games. Big sweeping epic battles. Big sweeping giant maps. Big sweeping bugs. Sometimes the visions simply too big and it crushes under it’s own weight. Regardless Total War games are nearly always interesting.
Now… how interesting is Total War: Warhammer II?
Very. This is a huge game.
You start by picking between 8 different Lords. The aforementioned Elves, Lizardmen and some rat-faced blokes called the Skaven; after-which away you go into a land of high fantasy. Oh, and an absolutely huge map to forge your destiny. I’m confident you can only forge destinies. Hmm… maybe you can invent, reproduce and mass-market destinies*? Anyway. You’ll come across your nearby brethren and decisions need to be made. Do you conquer and plunder their lands for bigger bonuses and the ability to field a larger army? Or do you forge alliances to create a pleasant buffer of gullible friends between yourself and mortal enemies. I can’t remember the last time a Total War game had such immediate thematic choices. You see you tend to get along with your kin and everyone else is a tad racist.
*You can. They are called Computer Games.
The focus isn’t just conquering the known universe. It pays to make friends. Especially if you broker a trade deal or alliance. This isn’t the standard consideration when your dealing a game that uses the word War so prominently in the title. Each race must bring about 5 rituals by accruing points. You acquire these by completing quests, and capturing strategic points on the map. Brilliantly each race is unique in their methods and finding out the best way to your goal is half the fun. A shared focused goal is a fantastic idea and slapped at the top of the screen is, lets say, a doomsday bar, so you’ll always know how far ahead your enemies are.
Total War II is excellently designed.
The daunting map is compartmentalised into your own manageable theatre of war. There is a downside to this as you may not come across the more exotic races on the other side of the world. To travel anywhere takes a real investment of time and your armies might haemorrhage troops before you get to enjoy a skirmish. Not to worry though, each time you begin a ritual, your competitors can spend some coin on an intervention force. “Oh…. so that’s what the Skaven look like”. What if no-ones will to spend the dosh? No problem, you’ll only have to contend with the forces of chaos as they swarm into your realm. 3 of your choice holdings will be used to channel the ritual and must be defended for 10 turns. Good luck with that!
Because of this, expansion can come at a cost. Even more-so if you decide to set-up in lands unsuitable to your people. Dwarves, for some bloody reason, prefer mountains rather than shopping malls and whilst the penalty’s are not overly severe, they do bear noting.
All of this would be pointless without the real-time battles that Total War’s famous for.
They are as grand as ever. As you would expect your stock armies are built up with spearman, archers and cavalry, but ha-hah, this is Warhammer! You can expect to see mighty flying beasts such as Dragons and terrible War Hydras. This brings a whole new dimension to your traditional war experience. Wizards and Mages make an appearance and they bring the additional complication of light sorcery. Brilliantly magic isn’t overpowered, but a well cast spell or two can turn the tide of a tense battle.
For those wanting a deeper experience you can take note of a particular units strength. Some of your troops do well against larger monsters, Dwarves fade against magical beings and if you think it’s a lot to take in, you’re right. Naturally you can simply overwhelm the enemies with sheer numbers. Hey, that works too.
Beyond brave lords leading your armies you can hire chirpy heroes. These sods can move around the map independently bothering armies and softening up settlements by knocking a few holes in fortifications. If you can’t be bothered with all that, you can attach them to an army ensuring you have a powerful unit in battle. Your leaders can be upgraded, and given weapons and trinkets. If you play as one of the more nefarious races, they might even betray you. You’ll learn to care about a highly valued lord and will learn to tailor your armies accordingly. All the system compliment each other so nicely and I hope you’ve notice, but you are never without something to do.
Seeing all you’ve created in action is a treat. It’s easy to get lost in the spectacle and forget to issue orders. Thankfully the pause button can be employed to command units in comfort, before you sit back to watch Norman Dragon chomping on an archer. Tactical gambits can be employed. An army of archers on high ground are deadly. Of course, archers work better on horseback as you harass plodding troops. You can hide units behind a hill or in a wood and laugh heartily as you spring your traps. A pack of wild dogs springing from the woods can really ruin anyone’s day.
Ambushes are not limited to real time battles as the campaign map can be a devious place. You can stroke your gigantic imaginary beard as you decide were to lay an ambush. Waiting for the enemy to run into your Machiavellian plans might be a problem, as it takes a while for the AI to process everyone’s turns. It’s the nature of such a large game with so many moving parts. Thankfully there is a button to speed things up. You will need to mentally prepare for when you’re close to the end of the campaign and time starts dragging as a hundred things are happening at once. Of course, the AI has a minor melt-down and becomes less capable of figuring out which of the hundreds of things it needs to do, at least it did for me. You can’t help but notice the glaring tactical errors after becoming intimate with the world.
There is an issue that’s bothered me since the very early Total Wars. One that really shouldn’t matter, but… I can’t stand it when my troops make a mess of chasing down a routed enemy. It’s far better then it once was, but it’s still heartbreaking to see your majestic eagle fly and comically miss your intended target. Insert your own whoosh sounds here.
Let’s finish on a good miss. You can take to the sea but won’t come across any real-time sea battles. They’ll have to be autoresolved and honestly, that’s is a good thing. From previous experience, the tedium of watching identikit boats slowly wafting towards one another sucks the energy from the game. It does mean that you can’t be careless with your overseas piracy. It’s a tad harder to wiggle out of autoresolve battle with terrible odds.
As I write this, the original games massive map has been merged with this games massive map to create a massivier campaign. Now that’s a review for another day. The vortex campaign was big enough. Hey, I can finally play as Vampires! Neat. Oopfh, imagine waiting for your turn at the end of that campaign…. Eek.
One of my favourite things in these long conquering games is the ‘end of game’ summing up on completion. To sit back and watch your victory unfold, to see the troubles you overcame, and to witness your virus like growth. Warhammer II sums things up in some style and that’s a fitting way to end.
Warhammer II is highly replayable with a clear focus. One of the best Total War game in an age.
C’mon, turn it off. It’s 1am and you’ve got work tomorrow.