When Total War: Warhammer was revealed back in 2015, many fans of both franchises saw this as a potential-filled mash-up, combining the large-scale and detailed battles of Total War with the fantastical creatures and environments of Warhammer. The teams at SEGA and Creative Assembly realized the range that this pairing had to offer, with plans announced early on for a full trilogy of Total War: Warhammer titles. The following year, the first game was released to a mostly positive reception by fans and critics alike, while already looking ahead to how the newly born franchise would continue to evolve. In a surprising turn of events, that future has turned out to be curiously close, as the follow-up will be arriving in just one month’s time, leaving some players curious as to just how much of a true sequel Total War: Warhammer II would end up being. To address some of these concerns, SEGA invited us out to test out the RTS’s campaign mode, as well as the game’s newly revealed fourth race, the skittering Skaven.
One of the game’s more intriguing new aspects is the Vortex, which holds immense power and is luring the land’s four races to battle amongst one another for control of it, creating a unique dynamic unlike any other found in previous Total War games, as the AI and other players are now capable of achieving victory without the player’s involvement. In an interview with Development Communications Manager Al Bickham, Bickham addressed the new elements that this central objective brings to the campaign: “You get this tension where your opponents are pulling ahead of you, and you don’t feel like you can push the race on…and it’s really fun in a painful way, it creates this dynamic tension in gameplay where you’re being pulled in two different directions and you have to make some really hard decisions.” When pressed as to what inspired the inclusion of this main purpose, Bickham pushed back at any claims that this was a response to the limited nature of the narrative in the first game. Instead, Bickham responded “I don’t think anyone felt that there was anything missing, but we wanted to do something different…we wanted to build something that was completely unique and also evolve the Total War gameplay.”
While the pressing nature of the Vortex wasn’t really experienced in our brief time with the game, the core gameplay at the heart of Total War: Warhammer II remains compelling and involved, from both the turn-based world-building front and the real-time battle management front. Sprawling across four continents, the campaign map offers a truly varied experience depending on the location of you and your opponents, while often forcing you to strategize several steps ahead as new factions come into play. Meanwhile, the on-the-field battles grant players unprecedented control over their armies as Total War has become known for, allowing for more advanced players to take individual supervision of each unit to fulfill their grand plans, while also presenting options for newer players to gain an edge on the battlefield, such as preset formations and simple controls. The level of detail during these skirmishes is astonishing as well, with overlapping battle cries and intricate animations providing a real sense of life and personality to the chaos taking place down below.
The big draw of the new demo was the playable Skaven, who bring with them some intriguing mechanics that offer a unique playstyle unlike those found in most other strategy titles. The secretive, plotting nature of the rat-like creatures allow players to take advantage of ruins and create massive bases and armies underground, away from the viewing eye of other factions until they get close enough. This element, combined with original and effective units that take advantage of the powerful and dangerous Warpstone, allow for some rollercoaster-style tension, as players work in the shadows until they ultimately unleash these massive hordes on unsuspecting players and AIs. These armies can be difficult to maintain though, as the race’s dependence on food can lead to some truly devastating consequences, as the Skaven end up feasting on one another if resources prove limited. Unsurprisingly, this potential-heavy race brought plenty of excitement to the development teams. “We wanted to make them super, super different and weird and interesting and exciting, because that’s just how they are,” said Bickham. “So that’s why we’ve got these really unusual mechanics that have no parallels with any other race or any other Total War game ever.”
One final key element that has pushed both Total War: Warhammer and its sequel above and beyond is the team’s dedication to the Warhammer lore, both from a historical and atmospheric perspective. Even in our brief time with it, each race displayed plenty of small details and more clearly observable aspects that put a spotlight on the team’s passion for presenting fans with an accurate depiction of the lore they so clearly value. For those that don’t find themselves as invested in the lore, there’s still plenty to appreciate from a presentational viewpoint, with the grandiose soundtrack and personality-fueled writing both adding layers and entertainment value to the fantasy game. There’s still plenty left for Creative Assembly to show off before the game releases on September 28, including the much-anticipated multi-game campaign map that combines the races from both of the Total War: Warhammer games, as well as the all-new Free-for-all four-player battle mode. Yet, from what we’ve seen so far, Total War: Warhammer II is proving to pack tons of originality and heart into two storied franchises that fans have come to know and look forward to, all the while effectively demonstrating how a limited development time doesn’t necessarily restrict the new heights a sequel can reach.