How I Learned to Love the Chaos: The Norsca and a Heavily Updated TW: Warhammer in Review

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#1 Edited by ArtisanBreads (9107 posts) -

I was interested in TW: Warhammer immediately but I waited to buy it. I have been a long time Total War fan and had a phase where I dabbled in Games Workshop table top, but since they just have had a good appreciation for it, especially in games, if done well. So this was in my wheelhouse. However, I had seen CA be a little annoying with DLC and put out some lackluster games lately so I was wait and see.

A year and a half or so since this game first came out, I wanted to write about this game in general, because I think it has improved so much and is worth attention. Also the new DLC, which rules.

Value seemed fair for the stuff added, they added a bunch of free stuff actually (including a faction) and in the end, I find a lot of added value in their DLC because the factions are added as campaign factors regardless of if you buy them. I know that is probably something say fighting game fans identify with, but it is especially important here for what it does to create a mix of dynamic factors in the strategy layer of the game that, after a cycle of support, made Total Warhammer one of the best TW games and an amazing game in general.

With all this, I am going to almost totally gloss over the battles a bit but they are so fun. They are TW type battles with extremely different and crazy units and I really like all of that so much. I think everyone did and for me, where this game is interesting is where it has revived the TW campaign, which was mostly so bad and stale by now.

Total Warhammer in Review: It May Be the End Times, But There Is Still Strategy To It

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While I did not play the game on release, at that point it had 4 factions basically each in direct opposition. Though allowing for cross fighting, only Dwarfs and Orcs can occupy certain areas, while only Humans or Vampires can occupy others, otherwise it is all for looting and raiding purposes you attack other races. Later in the campaign, a Chaos force invades that is trying to destroy everyone. Some "good"-ish sorts of races can unite then to fight but otherwise you need to be building to survive all this. It was more dynamic than usual TW had been with these different factors, but predictable nonetheless.

Since then, Bretonnia has been added as a side factor, being a human race with some very powerful units and multiple kingdoms on a new plot of land. There is a powerful Vampire area there in play as well. That whole playable race was added free. An empty area of wasteland beneath them had added in the Wood Elves, which can hang down there in a now lush forest region mostly but if engaged are extremely dangerous. And finally, the Beastmen are a roaming faction that doesn't need a home base, so can sweep in and ruin you if you aren't defended and prepared from anywhere. You can also play as the Chaos themselves if you buy them.

Yes, these are all DLC to be paid for, but on a different level playing this game, they are now strategy game factors. Bretonnians can expand outward into the Empire lands for example quite easily in a given game, and even if not they can be a tough foe to account for. The Wood Elves are to me kind of like a mean dog on a leash in a yard and you basically have to dance around them and try not to piss them off. If they get an opening, they seize it and they are so different than other factions they can really be tough to fight. The Beastmen create chaos in different ways every match, going after a certain faction or another because of how they roam, and can never truly be defeated.

These are all major added factors to the game that improve the strategy layer and now make all the campaigns play out differently. In my most recent one for example, the Vampires lashed out and were stamped out rather quickly so I pretty much never even fought them. Meanwhile Bretonnia expanded into Empire lands and really weakened them while the Empire was fighting the Vampires. Each campaign has interesting twists now with all these moving parts and they are there whether you buy the DLCs or not. The DLCs only allow you to play the factions.

The game has had a bunch of free content added and just got a major update as well to overhaul all the original factions some too, because as the DLCs went on it became clear CA was getting a great feel for what was working in their game and how to really make an interesting and dynamic campaign. War tears apart the world in different ways and interesting ways because all these factors are now in play.

To put it short and sweet: even if you play this game vanilla, it has gotten WAY more interesting and better. Again, I think the DLC factions can be more interesting but they did just update the originals too and I haven't gone back enough to judge that. Either way, my worries about DLC with this game were wrong, especially now at this point when on a sale you can easily get it all for about $60 if you need it all, or just $30-40 or so if you want a faction or two. I can't recommend it enough at that price for how it has all come together as a package.


They most recently added the Norsca, a mostly original creation of theirs based on some brief mentions and custom designs for Chaos Warriors who were Viking types. It costs $10 and it's free if you pre-order TW: II. They have made my favorite faction in the game, with how they play overall, and the faction is very well designed in the strategy layer. They are a melee focused viking army with cool crazy monster units (from trolls to werewolf knights basically to Lovecraftian fish men to mammoths) and in the strategy layer they are a dangerous raiding faction that sweeps down from far away and sows the seeds of Chaos, if not wiping out everyone before the invasion even arrives themselves.

The Norsca: Where Next to Conquer?

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I came to the Norsca from liking the Dwarfs the most in the campaign. I was a TW veteran, and in the strategy layer they were the most TW like. You can easily aim for production and they can seize some very valuable gold mines and things and really rake in cash with good trade agreements. You can then field enough armies to always be defended and taking turf. I really enjoyed them in battles as well, but they mostly stood out as being by far the best for me in the strategy layer. Other armies I felt were always stretched thin, or at the prey of things like raising and shedding armies from turn to turn which I didn't like as much as building an army I stick with. The Dwarfs were just good old capture and hold like TW almost always was, but it was fun.

The Norsca meanwhile, are highly incentivized to wipe settlements off the map entirely. They produce almost nothing at all on their own and survive one raid at a time. The comforting "+ X gold" income each turn icons I loved with the Dwarf campaign that showed me staying in a balanced budget were replaced in the Norsca campaign with losses of thousands of gold each turn, which propelled me on even more aggressive raids, searching for little defended but high value targets to sack like a hunter would prey.

I send my armies extremely far out on expeditions, something I would never imagine doing with the Dwarfs. One turn you have to reload 5 turns ago because you run out of money to sustain your armies which you need to get income, but you go back and manage, on a turn with only a couple hundred gold left to your name, to sack a settlement and get enough money to make you survive the next 10 turns. There have been a lot of these moments, especially in the early to mid game, but even now with my campaign. It's a dangerous game you play but I have never quite, in a strategy game, literally jumped out my chair and yelled because I managed to sack a huge prize just when it saved my ass.

All the strategy of army movement in this game, from stances to when to push into a long move to when to Ambush, all become things that can make or break your game entirely turn to turn.

You will battle amongst your Norsca brothers in the North, but after you beat their leader in a fight, no matter what, they will bow to your strength and immediately join your faction if you request it. It makes for a really interesting dynamic and allows you to smartly beat these factions, even playing more defensively and waiting for them to come to you, pretty quickly. Otherwise they can be a bit annoying to root out when you need to be going out and sacking the soft human settlements early on when you absolutely need to have 2 armies up and raiding as fast as possible.

Outside of the Northern wastes, you can build Outposts at any settlement on the water and these allow for points to replenish your soldiers. You also can capture certain enemy capitals for very specific bonuses which need to be researched. That's about it though. It's basically creating a supply line for your raiders to go out further and further on boat or land, and footholds with which to send Chaos corruption into new lands, which increases your power while hurting non Chaos factions. And there are certain big prizes to be had with capitals. Where you choose to raid is really up to you since you travel so far and it makes it fun to decide who exactly you want to burn to the ground.

Most settlements I end up fighting in are getting sacked then destroyed, and only left standing so that I can come back later and sack them again once they recovered turns later. Raiding is basically stopping the bleeding of money you are losing with the income it presents and also allows you to replenish your forces, while sacking settlements is what gives you the money to survive a few turns at a time, or more as you get into the campaign. When destroying settlements, you dedicate them to a Chaos god and this gives you different bonuses. You can only really align with two and must choose one overall to get the top reward, which can be different cool things, from a worldwide plague against other factions or a demon lord for you to recruit. It also spreads Chaos corruption around the area. It's very fun to watch the map change as you do your dark work, cracking open and turning black and burnt.

With these sorts of destructive mechanics, the thought process then becomes so different on the strategy layer from how TW has been for me in the past that it is very exciting. It's night and day improved over for example the Orcs, for me, which were always stretched thin defending turf when really they were a raiding faction. Now you absolutely must lash out or you won't even survive. Your armies ride a thin line and always must be very adept at replenishing themselves in the field and smartly maneuvering, going on great long raiding expeditions like Genghis Khan, against poor unsuspecting enemies in distant lands. Often they can't fight back and in my current game, if they want to come at my home turf they need to march through a long wasteland of destruction to get to me and I can manage to defend myself by then. With only about 10 settlements held I am the most powerful force on the map and that's very different than how TW usually is for me.

The research tree for Norsca is great in how it engages with all other parts of the game. There are some unit improvements, but much of it is really improving the race economically and giving bonuses for raiding certain groups. You drive down upkeep and increase profits, and eventually you can expand your armies in the field. The research tree pushes you to attack certain factions (for example, you can research giant bonuses for raiding each race individually) and, as I mentioned, get really special ones for taking certain capitals. Integrating those two aspects so closely, driving each other, is great design.

The game still has personal quests for your Lord, which gives you gear and things, but even has a separate Monster Hunter quest line which allows you to hunt different beasts for bonuses or to gain them as recruit able units, with fights that play out way differently than a standard fight, more of a RPG kind of thing. It's an over the top touch that really makes the faction so deep.

And again, I'm glossing over battles, and lets say for sure it is so satisfying to send a war mammoth into a crowd of soldiers and watch them kill hundreds and ordering around packs of werewolves like cavalry. The lords themselves aren't as good as other factions but have very powerful strategy layer upgrades that make them amazing in that part of the game, getting tons of money from fights and replenishment bonuses so they are quickly licking their wounds to raid again.

I wrote up a lot on this faction, but that's because it really is so deep. I am almost finished with the campaign but have been enjoying it so thoroughly. The way this faction, through smart design, has managed to make me like the opposite of the Dwarfs in many ways, turning my TW fan tendencies on their head, speaks to the variety and level that this game has reached as a package. It's a great value if you were going to get Total Warhammer II anyways, but for $10 even it's so great I can't recommend it enough. It has me very excited going into a sequel where they seem to be hitting a design stride like this.

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A year and a few months after Total Warhammer was released, it feels like the world's really finally being torn apart by war, and I'm so happy to watch it happen every time.

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#2 Edited by Tennmuerti (9365 posts) -

This blog made me think of how much I've played TW:Warhammer, so i decided to check on Steam, sure enough it's sitting at 500+ hours now, which seems insane. My previous biggest game was Battlefield Bad Company 2 at 400 hours when I had that fps phase followed by Xcom 2012 and Xcom 2 in between those two games.

I think Warhammer is truly a perfect fit for the Total War series. It allowed the developers to really stretch their wings both metaphorically and literally with flying units heh. Magic, beasts, monsters, undead, wild contraptions, just hugely varied factions. This is the reason that I've played it more then any Total War game to date, since instead of just doing 1 or 2 campaigns and then putting the game down you can do a campaign with every faction and there is a lot of variety there. Combine that with the DLC factions and improvements and there is a whole ton of replay ability there. Can't wait for the massive conquest mode in Warhammer 2 where they said they will allow for the integration of the first game's campaign map into 2 sometime after launch.

And really as much as some people have been iffy on the DLC, I've gotten way more then my fair share of fun for the money invested. There has been a ton of free additions over time, new units new lords. Plus if you wanted both Norsca and Chaos were basically free for me, one as a first week bonus the other for Warhammer 2 preorder. Which is already 2 out of 5 extra factions, tho they are a bit similar those 2.

As far as the Norsca campaign itself is concerned, I'm of two minds. On the positive side I loved the monster hunts, they bring in the much needed variety to battles essentially becoming extra quest battles which were always the most fun to fight. I only wish something similar was done for the other factions. and their hybrid playstyle between Chaos and a normal faction with cities is neat too.

The part that I don't find that interesting is how their army roster works out on the actual battlefield. Yes they are a massively strong bruising faction and mammoths are sweet. But to me they are too one dimensional, you face roll your army into the opposing faction and win that's about it. Norsca doesn't really have any significant missile options, with what they have being short range skirmishers, they don't have heavy cavalry, they don't have any siege weapons to speak of (except 1 special quest one), and not a very strong air force either (compared to say Vampires). They are essentially a one dimensional melee bruiser faction much like the Beastmen, except Beastmen have some cool siege with cygors and also minotaurs and Gorebulls as a monstrous backbone which are just badassery personified. Plus they borrow a lot of similar units from Chaos and if you compare them to Chaos it at least has some of the best heavy cavalry and infantry in the game allowing for some good old hammer and anvil, as well as some devastating artillery and dragon ogres.

All in all I just quickly grew bored with playing standard battles with them (beast hunts excluded those were awesome for the most part). Still they spice up the main campaign nicely for any faction, were another great excuse to do yet another campaign play through and a new faction is still a new faction to use which is great (especially for free).

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#3 Edited by ThePanzini (705 posts) -

TW:Warhammer is my first Total War game and after a steap learning curve I love the game but I think chaos is the worst part, every game tends to follows the same pattern get as big as you can as fast as you can, and once chaos shows you turtle your stacks then wait and afterwards it's all but over with chaos having decimated most of the map. I think Stellaris does a better job having a few different end game events with the fallen empires waking up and having to option to turn off then end game event.

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#4 Edited by Tennmuerti (9365 posts) -

@thepanzini: If you find the chaos invasion aspect annoying the a a few mods in the Steam workshop that can delay it however long you want based on your preference, even to the point where you would need to conquer all available provinces for your race before they show up.

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#5 Edited by ArtisanBreads (9107 posts) -

@tennmuerti said:

@thepanzini: If you find the chaos invasion aspect annoying the a a few mods in the Steam workshop that can delay it however long you want based on your preference, even to the point where you would need to conquer all available provinces for your race before they show up.

Yes this is a option.

Also if you try Norsca, you can take on the invasion yourself or just accept it, so that faction has a different relationship with it.

For me I have had a game where the Chaos invaders basically got worked over and hardly did shit though so it can go different ways for sure.

I understand your complaints with the Norsca combat. For me it is not the most complex faction outright but I think there's a lot of fun maneuvering to be had and just in general rewarding units to send into enemy formations. Because the aspects all work together so well on Norsca, to me now later in my game as I finally have money to buy the top level units (some of which I could have bought long ago but couldn't really afford) it's really rewarding to just smash enemy units apart with them. I enjoy their hound type units and Skin Wolves because you can do a lot of maneuvering with them as well, to the point where they might as well be cavalry.

They are not the deepest yeah but for me I just enjoy the playstyle coverage in the game overall, and I am someone who has already run 2 full Dwarf campaigns, so I am used to more defensive armies with artillery. Their top level units can be so good in the right situation that I really just enjoy watching them do work. Bogging down Bretonnian cavalry and pouncing on them with Skin Wolves for example. The evil vikings thing goes a long way for me too lol.

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#6 Posted by ThePanzini (705 posts) -

@tennmuerti: Its good to know the option is there but as this is my first Total War and I don't fully understand the rules yet I'll probably stick with vanilla and pick up the sequel in the new year, and tbh I've gotten quite proficient at starting I can deal with chaos quite easily when they show its managing two full stacks and mass cavalry thats my problem lol.

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#7 Edited by ArtisanBreads (9107 posts) -

@thepanzini: The campaign for the sequel sounds more interesting overall in structure. It sounds like if you follow the quests, you can win without really doing that kind of big old fight. I like a lot of it but the end fight you are talking about is not interesting in the TW I campaign.

Like I wrote, I highly recommend the Norsca and they don't have this issue really but if you're going to wait for TW II I understand. There's so much there.

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#8 Edited by OurSin_360 (6064 posts) -

After seeing that there is a sequel coming out apparently(seems way too soon) i think i will pick this up when its on major sale and all dlc is released(if its not already). Haven't played a total war game since the original shogun, which i loved back then. My only worry is how this thing will run on an i5 processor.

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#9 Posted by Corvak (1915 posts) -

@oursin_360: I was surprised they didnt do something else before coming back to Warhammer. Most Total War games have at least one other game between sequels. Though they also have absolute freedom in the universe, since Warhammer fantasy is basically a dead franchise for Games Workshop. If they did Age of Sigmar or 40k, there'd probably be more constraints. Actually since most of their other games are historical, this is probably the most freedom they've ever had.

Also i5 should be fine, its more about which generation your CPU is more than i5 vs. i7, unless CA goes outside the box and starts using a ton of hyperthreading features. Most games avoid them purely because it makes it hard to scale for non-i7's.

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#10 Posted by Captain_Insano (3273 posts) -

@corvak: Total War: Warhammer sold more than all of the previous Total War titles from what I know, so it's no surprise that they are milking this cash cow. As a Historical Title fan (that's what I really really want next), it's a bit frustrating, because I don't care about the Warhammer universe at all. There's no denying though that TW: Warhammer is the best game they've made - I like all of the features of it - I just want those done to a Historical Title (Rome 2 broke my heart).

They are still working on historical games, but the quick turn around on this is due to how well it sold. I've only played 50 hours of it and still intend to play a fair bit more.

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#11 Posted by ArbitraryWater (15318 posts) -

I only put around 15-ish hours into the game (as part of a Dwarf campaign) and it helped me understand the appeal of the Total War series pretty well. I'm not great at the combat (Dwarves are pretty straightforward, which helps) but there's a lot of crazy, daunting shit you can do with formations, flanking tactics, and army composition that I started to get a loose grasp of. It seems like something I could get dangerously into, and I've been meaning to go back and give some of the other factions a look, especially since they seem so different from one another. Alas, the ever grinding backlog has put a hold on that for now, but I could see myself dedicating a decent chunk of time to it in the relatively near future.

Admittedly, I'm a little uncool with the DLC pricing (I bought a couple of the other factions, but some of them seem... rather expensive) and the whole sequel thing, but I'm sure I have plenty of game to exhaust before I need to even think about playing as the Beastmen or Elves.

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#12 Edited by ArtisanBreads (9107 posts) -

@captain_insano:I hope they take the lessons on making the strategy layer varied and different from faction to faction into historical games now. I am a TW fan and history fan so I also want a historical game but at the same time I was very down on TW recently so this won me back. A historical game needs to learn these lessons and do more on top, probably with stuff like diplomacy and politics, which have been bad for way too long in TW.

@oursin_360: @corvak: The thing about Total Warhammer II is that it is not a sequel in the true sense. The two games will directly interact so in a way this is all one giant package. There is a grand campaign mode that has two continents and all the TW I and TW II factions.

I was basically dubious of the model as well but I think it all works and as it all gets added in, it'll be interesting and dynamic. That's the right move. They can cover so many more races and the game works well as is. Just keep adding interesting races. The value proposition doesn't look great but if you do wait on some sales I think it ends up being great.

Right now, I bought TW I on sale for 30. I bought one small DLC pack on sale for like 3. I just pre-ordered II online for 50 and got Norsca for free with that. So I've spent $83 and I feel really good about it going forward, with how cool II is looking. The other DLC factions have still added to my game. And as I mentioned in my post, they added a free faction and a bunch of unique heroes and lords, and all the original factions just got overhauled again in a patch. The game has gotten great support.

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#13 Posted by Captain_Insano (3273 posts) -

@artisanbreads: Absolutely. The variable play style and different goals/missions of each race in Warhammer really drew me in (and I don't care for the universe). Rome 2's big problem was, even after they 'fixed' the game, is that the early game was a lot of fun - trying to build up your small empire. Then once your empire became medium/large sized it was just steamroll everyone near you - autoresolve every battle for an easy win, maybe a civil war happens? The units were not particularly 'unique' - which they absolutely could be if done right. I'm hoping for a new Medieval Game but don't know if that's on the cards (Rome is my favourite time period, but I'm aware that won't happen again soon). Warring States China could also be a new spin for them.

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#14 Posted by ToTheNines (1654 posts) -

I'd just like to say that the DLC factions are added to the base game just not playable. So you can buy the other races at your own pace and not feel like you're missing out.

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