Review

Total War: Warhammer 2 Review

  • First Released Sep 28, 2017
    released
  • PC

Skulls for the Skull Throne!

Stepping back into the world of Warhammer is always a fantastical journey, and with Total War: Warhammer 2, never before has an adaptation of the source material felt quite so natural.

With the second installment in its massive strategy game trilogy, developer Creative Assembly has begun flexing its design muscles. Battles are bigger and more expressively animated, and scores of soldiers of all different types--be they ghastly undead or blood-thirsty dinosaurs--sound impeccable, but the improvements run well beyond the aesthetic and into the fineries of tactical and strategic play.

Where the first entry in the series kept to standard Total War form with an open-ended, Risk-inspired campaign of territory control, now there's a directed focus--a vortex which is said to seal away legions of Chaos Demons.

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Within the context of the Warhammer universe, Chaos is an all-consuming malevolent force that corrupts and distorts. Long ago, a ritual helped quarantine the forces of Chaos behind a seal so that normal life could thrive. Now, though, you, and a number of other forces across the map will be racing to take control of that seal--to whatever end.

Your target takes the form of a swirling Vortex comprised of magical energies. As you progress through a pre-made set of special quests, you'll be able to start performing rituals that will, in time, allow you to wrench control of the Vortex from everyone else. But, since all the other races of the world are pushing towards the same end, your progress will be marked along a track with five milestones. Each time you (or anyone else) performs one of the five successive rituals, the pace of the entire campaign picks up.

This mode still balances Total War's signature dualistic design. As you're worrying about the stability of the Vortex, you'll also need to manage cities and tax your people, as usual. You'll research new tactics, weapons, and monsters, and conduct diplomatic consorts with the various races of Warhammer. And, should talks break down and two or more armies meet, you'll be ushered into a tactical view that will task you with micromanaging your troops.

Rituals often take quite some time to complete, and, in the interim, three of your most powerful cities will be marked. Opposing factions will try to sack, capture, or raze any of them. And, if you don't control all three by the end of the ritual timer, you'll have to try again; and still deal with the invaders you directed to your lands.

Completing rituals marks major steps in the game, in part, because you'll need to ensure the safety of your home front while you presumably press battle lines across the map. It complicates play with an interesting, macroscopic challenge that every player will be able to approach a little differently.

The global quest tracker/countdown has been seen before in Masters of Magic-descended strategy games, but here it's backed with specific quests that play to the lore of each race within the Warhammer universe. Lord Mazdamundi, for example, is struggling to revive the great Slann mage-priests who once guided the feral Lizardmen on the fields of battle. And your quests will revive and recruit the long-slumbering Slann to use in your own armies. That's quite distinct from the approach the Dark Elves or the rat-like Skaven will take to victory, for example. The former specializes in naval combat and tailor-made invasion vessels known as Black Arks, while the chittering clan rats of the Skaven are better suited to hit-and-run attacks. Their whole civilization being subterranean means they need not worry so much about foes razing their ritual sites.

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As you progress through the campaign, your foes become more numerous and the evil forces of Chaos will filter onto the map in an attempt to stop you. During the late-game, after 50 hours or more of play, they will be monstrously powerful. These are tests, in a sense, as they'll gauge how well you've distributed your forces and managed the challenges posed to you thus far. And they encourage you to seek help from your neighbors, as it's difficult to pull together the might all on your own. That brings up one of Warhammer 2's most engaging consequences of the Vortex rituals.

Progression yields huge impacts for diplomacy, encouraging you to forge alliances with those of your own faction. This make sense, in play, because each group's broad goals are distinct within the lore. Lizardmen, for example, believe themselves to be the only ones following the will of the old gods and they are among the closest this universe gets to an unambiguous "good." Dark Elves, by contrast, are fueled by torture and slavery and causing pain to others. Should they wrench control of the Vortex, they will, of course, use it for their own violent ends. This confluence of goals can lead to the creation of confederations, which are a fancy name for one of the most useful ways to build your empire. Like minds can, over time, be persuaded to let themselves be absorbed. This merges politics, economies, and research trees, and gives you a quick, sudden expansion of territory, often with a new legion of eager soldiers for your command.

This keeps the game from chugging in the middle and latter stages, where you'd have to take back razed cities from marauders only to carry the dead weight of a developing province for a while before seeing any return. The new system both fits thematically and boosts the importance of diplomatic and factional ties on the map. Generally you'll get along with your own groups better, but you'll also find yourself stepping into long-standing political alliances, many of which aren't always the easiest to navigate. The focus, of course, is still on the battles, but this breaks up long stretches of action with some careful maneuvering from time to time.

As you pick up more subjects and commission larger and larger armies, you'll no doubt unearth some of the other major new additions to play. Choke point maps, for instance, give you a lot more to consider in your approach to special in-game locations. Some will funnel your forces through a bridge, giving you a very narrow front on which to concentrate, others will use different types of land to give bouts more depth.

Through a thousand tiny tweaks, they've refined the experience into one of the most intriguing and exciting strategy games ever.

The effect on play with that alone is huge, as it means many powerful strategies aren't always applicable. At the same time, you may find that a holdout army formed of all cavalry can repel a far stronger force in the right conditions. In time, you'll learn where these battlefields lie on the map. That, in turn, opens up countless other broad-scale strategies designed to guide foes to the points where you've got the strongest defenses. You could always do this to a degree, of course, but the results are far starker here, on top of adding much-needed variety to play. Combined with the pacing changes that the race to control the Vortex brings, Total War: Warhammer II feels fresh, even though you'll be stepping into the same universe as last time.

Eye of the Vortex, as the single-player mode is called, is among the best a campaign of this type could be. It encourages the right amount of conflict to keep you moving, paces itself well, fits plenty of in-universe lore for diehard fans, and fine tunes about every other facet of its predecessor. Plus, as the game wears on, you can rest assured there's a definite, clean ending. Someone's going to complete the rituals--even if you don't. At the same time, the multi-part and complex victory conditions can often lead to some of the most nail-biting matches around, made that much better by diverse maps that encourage novel tactics with each bout. Nothing feels quite as exhilarating as holding a key province against multiple unsuccessful assaults thanks to your own cunning.

Every piece in Total War: Warhammer II is designed to force you to innovate and create new plans on the fly, testing your prowess over and over in new and exciting ways. In fact, Warhammer II surpasses its predecessor in nearly every respect. Everything except the camera--which doesn't zoom out far enough and has been a source of frustration for several Total War games now--and multiplayer..

The complaint with its online multiplayer is simple: there aren't enough factions for competitive play. At present, you can only use the four groups featured in the Eye of the Vortex campaign--Dark Elves, High Elves, Lizardmen, and Skaven. Given that the first game started with five for multiplayer and rapidly expanded from there, it feels like a step backwards to have so few options for now. Not being able to pit vampires against dinosaurs is a shame. And it'd be cool to see how Elven dragons fair against the mighty Dwarves, but that'll have to wait. There are some planned free content expansions coming, including a massive campaign map that spans the lands and races covered in both games, but that's some time off. Those fans who were put off by the monetization of content in the first will likely have the same complaints, though they can rest assured that the base game is robust on its own.

With Warhammer II, Total War doesn't reinvent anything so much as it iterates on the ideas that made the first so special. At its heart there's still the marriage of Total War's big-scale strategy and Warhammer's precise tactical play. But, through a thousand tiny tweaks, they've refined the experience into one of the most intriguing and exciting strategy games ever.

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The Good
Top-notch fantasy combat
Campaign has tight pacing and forces creative, interesting play choices
New races and creatures provide radically different strategic and tactical options
Diverse map types provide plenty of encouragement for new tactics and strategies
Stellar visuals bring out the depth and detail of the monsters and warriors on the field
The Bad
Few playable factions in competitive multiplayer modes
Camera still doesn’t zoom out far enough
9
Superb
About GameSpot's Reviews

About the Author

Dan Starkey's been playing RTS games for more than 20 years, and he's always excited to see one try new and creative ideas. He spent two weeks playing through two full Warhammer II campaigns and a few multiplayer maps using pre-release code provided to GameSpot by the publisher.
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Avatar image for deactivated-5ae060efb3bf6

Sounds like a lot of work with tons more expansions coming, question is would be -is it fun or stress filled click fest.

Avatar image for Mogan
Mogan

This is giving Prey real competition for my Game of the Year.

Avatar image for wexorian
wexorian

Microtransactions and story "still Chaos wins heheh" turns me off, i'l wait for deeper reviews for a month maybe :)

Avatar image for Mogan
Mogan

@wexorian: There aren't any microtransactions in Warhammer 2 (or 1, for that matter). And Chaos only wins if you lose at the game.

Avatar image for Gelugon_baat
Gelugon_baat

@Mogan: Some people can't differentiate between day-one DLC and microtransactions though.

Avatar image for wexorian
wexorian

@Gelugon_baat: It's same shitt when playable races are Locked behind pay wall like in first game i'v paid 60$ to look at 6 locked playable race at least , No thanks i'l wait for Bigger review from people.

Avatar image for Mogan
Mogan

@wexorian: Warhammer 2 doesn't have any races behind a paywall yet. And there are about 8, I think, playable factions in it right now.

And Warhammer 1 had four, not 6, DLC races. Plus the 5 races you get with the first game end up being as much content as any other Total War game, seeing as they're all actually unique races this time around, and not reskins of two or three archetypes.

Avatar image for Gelugon_baat
Gelugon_baat

@wexorian: Reading your post made me cringe. It's like you are barely looking at your screen or fingers when you wrote this and instead were focusing so much on your thoughts.

Anyway, you can always wait until a discounted bundle comes over - if ever. I do know that Sega puts up sales very often, not just on Steam but also at Humble Bundle.

Avatar image for deactivated-5bda06edf37ee

PC is on a killstreak!

Avatar image for RogerioFM
RogerioFM

@groowagon: Isn't it always?

Avatar image for Utnayan
Utnayan

Another Total War game I may buy on sale a year from now.

Avatar image for deactivated-5ae060efb3bf6

@Utnayan: Thinking same thing, maybe this will move me to finish the first one and buy the rest of the never ending expansions for the series.

Avatar image for SirNormanislost
SirNormanislost

crap.. i didn't realise this was coming out so soon, Divinity 2 is still absorbing all my gaming time and i don't think I'm even halfway through

Avatar image for Freakshow046
Freakshow046

@SirNormanislost:

That's when you're like "Sweet, by the time I'm done with this one the next one should be on sale" :D Because those Divinity games can certainly be a massive time sink.

Avatar image for Daian
Daian

This is a great week for fantasy games fans.

Avatar image for SirNormanislost
SirNormanislost

@Daian: not if you want to play them all

Avatar image for Mogan
Mogan

@SirNormanislost: If you don't want to play Divinity 2 and Warhammer 2, are you actually a fantasy game fan?

Avatar image for SirNormanislost
SirNormanislost

@Mogan: i WANT to play warhammer 2, the problem is i don't want to stop playing divinity

Avatar image for Gelugon_baat
Gelugon_baat

Would you still play this if you knew that canonically, Chaos won? And that Games Workshop has officially buried the Warhammer Fantasy IP (and replaced it with an absurdly high-fantasy IP)?

Avatar image for Smosh150
Smosh150

@Gelugon_baat: Doesn't Chaos always win (The series would have to do even more crazy than what it already does to defeat them completely)? Even in 40k the likely outcome imo is still Chaos winning out (Not so much the mortals as fighting the Nids will decline them even further). Not that Chaos powers can affect the Nids, but it's doubtful that they can live forever.

They are a pretty much immortal power that outlives everything and I still doubt it will be possible to destroy it.

I'm not really knowledgeable in Fantasy, but 40k shares enough commonalities to know about Chaos (At least I think, correct me if wrong though as like I said I don't know much about Fantasy).

Avatar image for Gelugon_baat
Gelugon_baat

@Smosh150: The End Times and the ending of the World-That-Was is the first official IP-ending Chaos victory in the history of Games Workshop's IPs. "Chaos always wins" is something that the Chaos fanboys would say (and they say that a lot ever since the End Times concluded).

That said, pushing the "Chaos wins" button is indeed a very easy way for Games Workshop to just end an IP for good.

Avatar image for Mogan
Mogan

@Gelugon_baat: I think most folks interested in Total Warhammer here already know that, and that Chaos doesn't have to win in this game.

Heck, Chaos isn't even in THIS game.

Avatar image for Gelugon_baat
Gelugon_baat

@Mogan: Well, one could argue that the Skaven are a part of Chaos, albeit not of the pantheon of the Four Winds.

(I know, I know, I am being facetious. But really, it's the Skaven's actions that brought about the destabilization of the ley-line system that the Old Ones put in place, thus contributing to the victory of the Dark Gods and the Great Horned Rat.)

Avatar image for Mogan
Mogan

@Gelugon_baat: One could also argue that the skaven are nothing but a bunch of dirty ratmen and need to die.

Avatar image for Gelugon_baat
Gelugon_baat

@Mogan: Oh, there are plenty of detractors of the Skaven alright. Some people said that they are a joke race. Fucking rats that walk like men, yeah right... even sillier than Warhammer's Orcs.

Yet, they are perhaps the most anarchic and anachronistic faction, as well as being the most dastardly. There is not a lot of narrative needed to justify throwing the Ratmen into the meat-grinder, and I have read that some table-top players like watching their Skaven die, especially the meatshield press-ganged slaves.

(The Skaven enslave - and eat - their own kind, by the way.)

Avatar image for SirNormanislost
SirNormanislost

@Gelugon_baat: Total wars are what if games, when playing medievil 2 it never stoped me from conquering all of europe as england just because i know that france, Spain etc aren't really under british rule

Avatar image for Gelugon_baat
Gelugon_baat

@SirNormanislost: Yet Medieval 2 has the advantage of having a fictitious version of the real world in the past.

This one has a fictitious version of a world in fiction. You like to play make-believe twice, I suppose?

Avatar image for Freakshow046
Freakshow046

@Gelugon_baat:

I think you last comment gave me a brain aneurysm...

It's making own story and not following any pre-set story canon that you MUST follow. Hence why he said they are "what if" games.

Avatar image for Gelugon_baat
Gelugon_baat

@Freakshow046: There are really better "what if" games out there than any that Creative Assembly could ever make. For one, Paradox Interactive's Crusader Kings series is a far better 4X game than any Medieval Total War would ever be.

(I know, I know, Paradox's games don't have the real-time battle component that Total War has. Yet, in recent years, Creative Assembly has been going down a path that I don't like, i.e. focusing on the real-time battles, at the expense of the 4X elements.)

As for Total War Warhammer here being a "what if" game, although it's thus far the most competent representation of the source material, it's still not making much use of its source material.

(Besides, the moment I heard that the second game would be set in Lustria, I had the impression that Creative Assembly is chopping up the lore to make as many games as possible.)

I would be more convinced that Total War: Warhammer is a "what if" game if it did things that the table-top game did not even do - like introducing factions that never got army books, like Cathay and Nippon.

Avatar image for SirNormanislost
SirNormanislost

@Gelugon_baat: you ignored it so I'll say it again

It's a what if? situation, who actually wins is irrelevent since you play the game out how you want to, my first battle for middle earth playthrough i played as mordor

Avatar image for Gelugon_baat
Gelugon_baat

@SirNormanislost: Alright, alright.

I just don't find the "what-if" fun to be worthwhile, since the IP which it is based on is already officially defunct.

This game and its predecessor still give me the impression that Games Workshop just scraping the last of the revenue to be had from its Warhammer Fantasy IP.

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SirNormanislost

@Gelugon_baat: I was always more into 40k in my youth my only real forrays into the lore were the games (shadow of the horned rat, dark omen?) but I've heard about what they've done with the lore which is why i get the bitterness

oh Sega has become an expert at fleecing total war fans so this deal with GWS makes sense BUT if theyre going to scrape the last of the money out of the IP they could do a hell of a lot worse than what they've done with total warhammer

Avatar image for Gelugon_baat
Gelugon_baat

@SirNormanislost: I would say that this is already the bottom of the barrel.

Games Workshop has already lost its partnership with Fantasy Flight. The only that it has left is to shell out licenses. You have noticed that there are other Warhammer-licensed video games right? Like Mordheim, or that Left 4 Dead knock-off?

("Potions here!")

Avatar image for SirNormanislost
SirNormanislost

@Gelugon_baat: GWS have been doing this for years, for every 20 crappy games they license out we get one good one

Vermintide was awful (and it's 40k terminator counterpart as well) but i quite like mordheim

Avatar image for Gelugon_baat
Gelugon_baat

@SirNormanislost: I don't like Mordheim though. It lacks the intrigues of that setting. It focused more on the motley crew element of bands looking for riches and trouble in the Mordheim spin-off than it did other narrative elements.

Avatar image for xantufrog
xantufrog

@Gelugon_baat: I'm a tabletop warhammer fan, so yes I know this and yes I would (do) still play this. As I said in my own review of the first one: the fact that this game exists is great because it helps keep warhammer fantasy alive in a quality video game

Moderator
Avatar image for Gelugon_baat
Gelugon_baat

@xantufrog: Okay... But Karl Franz still hasn't gone Super-Saiyan.

Avatar image for TenraiSenshi
TenraiSenshi

@Gelugon_baat: Yep. What ultimately matters is whether or not the game is fun. And who knows, maybe the popularity of these titles will encourage Games Workshop to revisit the old world fantasy setting.

Avatar image for Gelugon_baat
Gelugon_baat

@TenraiSenshi: Oh man. I hope they don't. Games Workshop fucks shit up.

If I want a revisiting, it's when the IP is pried off Games Workshop's bloody corpse.

Avatar image for alien33
alien33

The camera will be fixed with a mod like in the first game where it is the most downloaded mod in the workshop.

Avatar image for donutking7
donutking7

The microtransactions put me off from the first one. Saw that ingame and just made me want to play less.

Avatar image for razeandjadith
RazeAndJadith

@donutking7: Honestly just ignore them and play it. The game has a HUGE amount of content without even getting a single paid DLC. When the main game is so jam packed with gameplay, I don't mind being able to pay for more. I only bought the elves expansion for it, it was great but the main game was totally worth the price.

Avatar image for sbkline
sbkline

@donutking7: I don't think the term microtransactions should really apply here. More like paid add-ons. Microtransactions in total war would be more like being able to purchase gold, or dark power for your campaign, which doesn't exist. These paid add-ons add decent enough content for the price, entire new units, and races. I'm not saying I like it that much, but the production value is good enough not to warrant it as microtransaction.

Avatar image for mr_indiff
mr_indiff

Do you need to play the first one to understand this?

Avatar image for razeandjadith
RazeAndJadith

@mr_indiff : If you like this one, go back and play the first. Also, owning both will allow you to play on a merged map with all races later on when they patch it in. That alone could be worth getting TW:W 1 also.

Avatar image for Bastion00
Bastion00

@razeandjadith: Wait they are? Could you send me that info? That sounds amazing.

Avatar image for TenraiSenshi
TenraiSenshi

@mr_indiff: No, you should be able to pick it up fine without issue irrespective of whether you played the first or not (the first didn't involve much story, so you didn't miss anything in that regard).

That being said, having the first does have its advantages, because they will add a mega campaign that combines the maps and races from the first game with the second, which you can access if you have both games.

Avatar image for mr_indiff
mr_indiff

@TenraiSenshi: Cool, thanks! Hence the trilogy, huh?

Avatar image for TenraiSenshi
TenraiSenshi

@mr_indiff: Pretty much. It's quite nice to see that all the work put into each game won't go to waste when the next one comes out. Their end goal is to have a huge campaign combining all three maps with all races once the third game is out, but it will be interesting to see how they manage to achieve that. I'm sure there will be technical hurdles to overcome.

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Total War: WARHAMMER II More Info

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  • First Released Sep 28, 2017
    released
    • Linux
    • Macintosh
    • PC
    Total War: WARHAMMER II is set in a whole new part of the Warhammer world as it introduces four new playable races in a storming narrative campaign that builds to an earth-shattering crescendo.
    8.1
    Average Rating39 Rating(s)
    Please Sign In to rate Total War: WARHAMMER II
    Developed by:
    Creative Assembly, Feral Interactive
    Published by:
    Feral Interactive, Sega
    Genre(s):
    Real-Time, Strategy
    Content is generally suitable for ages 13 and up. May contain violence, suggestive themes, crude humor, minimal blood, simulated gambling and/or infrequent use of strong language.
    Teen
    Alcohol Reference, Blood, Mild Language, Mild Suggestive Themes, Violence