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
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?
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.
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.