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Total War: Warhammer Review

  • First Released Apr 28, 2016
  • Reviewed May 19, 2016
  • PC
Chris Damien on Google+

More blood for the Blood God!

Screeching gears, rhythmic boot steps, and the soft crunch of fresh snow. These were the first notes of my invasion. I sought the Dwarfen capital of Karak Varn. The Dwarfs, hardy and resilient though they may be, were a thorn for my new allies, the green-skinned Orcs and goblins. I held my siege for weeks, and while my foes’ numbers dwindled, mine grew. After each clash, I wrenched the newly dead from the earth and added them to my fiendish, Vampire hordes. Siege engines ready, and carried yon by fresh Dwarfen zombies, I steeled my undead warriors for the final assault.

When the battle started, I surrounded my enemy's commander with Vargheists--monstrous, man-eating bats--and sent battering rams for the gates. But that wasn't enough, not nearly. Dwarfs are hardy. They rarely break ranks or flee in terror no matter how ferocious their opponent. I needed more. When the gates broke, I rushed in with ethereal cavalry, immune to normal weapons and equipped with scythes that bypassed even the sturdiest armor. In minutes, my ghastly corps had torn through Karak Varn's defenders. This was Warhammer, and this was Total War.

The Total War series has, until now, balanced historical realism with strategic play. During campaigns (which you can play either alone or with others) you’ll refine your statecraft, research technology, and manage your economy to keep your armies well-supplied. All this takes place on a continent scaling political map detailing borders, important landmarks and troop detachments. Should two opposing forces meet, the game will pull in to show the skirmish. Here, you’ll micromanage movement and use battlefield tactics to out maneuver foes. Your decisions and political position throughout the game would have major effects on the sorts of troops and supplies you could field for any given battle. Warhammer, however, has always been about tactics, and for more than 30 years, it's been one of the most popular fantasy settings around, with a rich lore and vibrant tournament scene for its tabletop miniature game. Mixing the two raised a lot of questions about how Creative Assembly's attentiveness to historical detail would work with vampires, demons, and magic. But, the result is a sight to behold. Not only is it one of the most faithful adaptations of Warhammer's mythos, it is also far and away the best Total War has ever been.

That is, in no small part, due to the natural marriage of Warhammer as a setting and Total War's gameplay as a foundation. While troop movements and formations have always been an essential part of Total War, you were always playing with human beings as your pawns. That foundation in real-world history kept the series somewhat limited. Yes, it was a joy to see elite Celtic warriors square off against Caesar's legions, but there are only so many ways those fights can go.

Warhammer shakes that up in a big way. With the addition of irresponsibly large cannons, apparitions, gyrocopters, and powerful spells, the amount of time you need to spend learning what you and your foes can bring to bear on the battlefield is staggering. But it's worth it. Skirmishes are an artful dictation with two (or more) minds jockeying for control, prodding weak points, breaking lines, and exploiting new fronts of attack. These fights don't get old.

Total War: Warhammer is an interlocking network of smart decisions. Integrating the Warhammer universe with Total War's systems was the first of these.

Part of that comes from how distinct all of the main factions are. The Empire is a Roman-esque monolithic force. They're organized, effective generalists. Bretonnians, an Arthurian band of humans, use pegasi and holy lances to cleanse evil. The Greenskins pull from Warhammer's own brand of classic fantasy orcs and goblins. Silly, obnoxious, and blood-thirsty, they come with complex internal politics. If you're not waging enough war, measured by a stat called "fightiness," other factions will sprout and make with the killing that you haven't.

Vampire Counts are a genuine undead faction. They bolster their lines by draining life from others and reviving the dead from massive battles. They can swarm the field with countless warriors and can even raise more midway through a bout. In exchange, their units usually fall apart. They will never run in fear, though; instead, they crumble as their will to press on after death fades. Dwarfs are their opposite, with heavily armored and armed troops. They pull in staunch defenders that will hold a battle line long enough for their enemies to be ripped to shreds with machine guns and cannon fire.

Like its tabletop namesake, Total War: Warhammer balances these disparate forces well. Each faction has a bevy of gameplay options that mesh, but there is no one right way to play--leaning into their strengths and mixing it up with the occasional oddball tactic works here. That's supported with magic, which can turn the tide of all kinds of fights. From chasing down an opposing lord and sapping his life with a Vampiric curse to causing an enemy unit to chafe and itch, magic augments formations and movements and only ever broadens your scope of tactical choices.

Because most magic users are lords and heroes, this also means your leaders play a critical role in battle. They can often handle entire battalions on their own, and when you lose one, it's much more akin to losing a queen in chess than a beefed-up soldier. While protecting a lord was important in prior games, now it's vital, and maneuvers tend to reflect that. Because of their strength, it's advantageous to have them at or very near the front lines. So you're faced with a choice in how you protect the lord and maximize his potential without risking a loss.

That, in turn, influences your other choices. As the Vampires, do you want to take ethereal cavalry and press against enemy lines thereby leaving your often less-than-mobile lord undefended? Or, based on the spells you've taken to battle, will you charge in with your leader, summon a few squadrons of zombies to hold your foe, and sweep with your support units? Your choices are augmented and modified by everything else at play--such as the terrain, which you can use for surprise attacks--as well as the minutiae of your foe's plans. Everything matters, and every choice has an impact.

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Campaigns throw even more variables into that mix. Like previous Total War games, you can take command of a country and balance your strategies (economic, cultural, etc.) and your tactics (individual battles). Here things go from beautifully intricate to elaborate master stroke.

Each of the four major factions (that is Empire, Vampires, Greenskins, and Dwarfs) have their own campaigns with major battles, quests, and goals. Unlike previous Total War games where you'd have a smattering of small distinctions to separate each group, these races are distinct. Vampires are reviled by the living (for good reason) and have a hard time with diplomacy. To survive and remain stable, they have to poison and corrupt the land. Dwarfs and Greenskins can travel underground, and have constructed settlements that only they can capture.

The Empire is all about forming tight diplomatic bonds and working together with the other nations of men. Collectively, each of these groups is preparing for the coming Chaos--an absolute evil corrupting force that marches from the north. The Warriors of Chaos have some of the most powerful and devastating units. They also spread their own corrupting force, which can, on its own, cause rebellion and terror in living and unliving empires alike.

Again, each of these pieces works together and helps texture the overarching narrative. At first, these races push their own petty agenda. But as the Game of Thrones-y threat grows in the north, you can try to band together with the others and hold off the impending invasion. At the same time, you'll have proximal, race-dependent goals for victory, which strain how you'll manage these larger threats. Vampires, for example, not only have to help stop the Chaotic onslaught, but also conquer the Empire and spread their vampirism. And holding off one monstrous, powerful foe while chipping away at your so-called allies is no easy task. As the campaign progresses, you'll have to manage multiple conflicts on many fronts, putting your skills to the test.

Taken together, the campaign is brilliant insofar as it forces your hand and pushes you to take bigger risks, which, in turn, taxes your abilities as a tactician. As with many similar games, armies require upkeep, but in Total War: Warhammer, many of these are expensive. It's often more advantageous to build up rather than out. You can fortify and hold, but after a while, you'll need to start pushing back. Doing that means pulling soldiers away from your main settlements, opening up holes in your defenses that other races will be quick to exploit. Managing that conflict becomes a core concern in the late game, and it's a stellar way to test your mastery of your race's key traits.

The campaign is brilliant ... it forces your hand and pushes you to take bigger risks, which, in turn, taxes your abilities as a tactician

Total War: Warhammer is an interlocking network of smart decisions. Integrating the Warhammer universe with Total War's systems was the first. Massive battles are more challenging because of the addition of magic and flying units, which can flank and break battle lines if you're not attentive. New brands of artillery and different types of units are engaging and keep you changing up your approach. Total War: Warhammer has also seen a massive upgrade to its AI. Where before you might see a AI opponent rush you when you had strong defensive position, now the CPU will employ advanced flanking maneuvers, or use cavalry to pull away key defenders.

Audio design too has picked up an interesting overhaul. The Total War series has always had excellent sound effects that help sell the scope of its battles--especially with a base heavy system and a camera zoomed down to the troop level. But here it’s even more noteworthy because of the fantasy elements at play. We know what a Roman gladius striking a rawhide shield sounds like. We can create that sound here in the real-world. But what about Dwarfen organ guns? What about the off-kilter shuffle of Orcish armor? There’s no proper equivalent, and that goes for the Vampire Count's monstrosities and the demons that form the ranks of the Warriors of Chaos. In every case, these combatants sound glorious.

Everything here hasn't just been improved, it's been damn near mastered. Total War has always been about balance--between strategy and tactics, realism and engaging play. Warhammer's characters, its history, and its creativity is a shot in the arm for a series. My complaints from a few years ago with Total War II's camera still hold. When pulling the camera out to get a better view, you can’t go very far before the game switches to a full overhead view. That be somewhat troublesome and limit how much of any give battle you can see at once, but it’s a minor frustration.

When you're in the middle of a siege and you're coordinating an assault with a friend, Total War: Warhammer approaches perfection. You’ll be tested on all fronts and asked to manage complex battles with broad, nuanced outcomes. Every system and piece feeds into others, and your choices make all the difference. It's a triumph of real-time strategy design, and the best the Total War series has ever been.

Back To Top
The Good
The Warhammer Universe meshes naturally with Total War's gameplay
New races and creatures provide radically different strategic and tactical options
Massive AI improvements
Stellar audio design
The Bad
Occasionally uncooperative camera
About GameSpot's Reviews

About the Author

Daniel Startkey's been a fan of the Total War series for years. He spent several days going through a full campaign with the Vampire counts and running through a few hours with the other races. He also ran a couple dozen skirmishes including several online multiplayer matches with the developers. He received a copy of the game from Sega for the purposes of this review.
487 Comments  RefreshSorted By 
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Avatar image for xeno1ith

This is the first turn based strategy game I've tried to play because I thought it looked pretty darn good in the reviews. The three battles I tried in the game, I lost them all, badly, even though I had the stronger army and with the difficulty set to normal.

I'm sorry, but this game is not forgiving for first time TW players. Not by a long shot. The majority of my time playing was spent just trying to figure out the UI and trying to figure out how to best build up resources and resupply my army between defeats. Forget about trying to figure out how to manage things like technology, training, and diplomacy, I never got that far because of my total frustration in just trying to gather the basics in an effort to survive.

The game seems too much like work to me, but I can see why it could be challenging and fun for someone else who's experienced at this type of game. For someone like me who's totally new to it, and appearantly totally awful at it, I found nothing fun about it.

Avatar image for isomage

@xeno1ith: My suggestion is to stick with it! The more trouble you are having initially will only make it that much more rewarding when you finally start to get it figured out.

Try the easiest setting (no shame there, especially if you haven't played total war before) and maybe watch a few battles on utube.

I vaguely remember your frustration from when I picked up my first total war game decades ago ("Rome" I believe). It wouldn't be rewarding if it wasn't challenging....and once you start to beat the AI you'll feel great and wont be able to put the game down....all while developing new cognitive skills that will come in handy when our real society finally collapses and you are made the head of the New Continental Army.

Avatar image for syler4815162342

I always wanted a fantasy total war! must be great!

Avatar image for alien33

My first Total War game. I played for 8 hours straight yesterday, I couldn't put it down, dammit!

Avatar image for isomage

@alien33: Good for you....I'm sure you are glad you stuck through the initial learning curve if you haven't played a Total War game before.

For your sake I hope you are not in school, married, or have a demanding job because, well, Total War is essentially crack disguised as software.

Avatar image for alien33

@isomage: He he, so true... I have cloaked about 200 hours until now. I have also made a few mods and one proved quite popular (New Zombie Units), so I'm glad I contribute to the community a bit :)

Avatar image for stabby_mcgee

I really enjoyed the game and it's pretty addictive but there are a few big problems and a lot of little annoying issues that become glaring later on.

For example, one big bug that they still haven't fixed is that when you change the army size in the graphic settings, spell damage does not scale. The ultra army size is 4 times as big as the small army size and spells still do the same damage. So spells are much more powerful on small army size. It's especially bad since the spells don't seem to be balanced for the same army size. Like the healing spells are very ineffective with larger army sizes but death spells are reasonably good on ultra army size and super overpowered on small army size. So there isn't really an army size you could set for the spells to be balanced.

In terms of some of the smaller problems, there's a lack of diverse factions in the single player campaign. The majority of the campaign map is controlled by human factions but they all use either Empire or Bretonnian units, and Bretonnia only has like half the number of units as the other races. So even though there are tons of human factions, you'll basically be fighting the same units over and over again. It's especially bad since in the lore, these different factions are supposed to have their own unique units.

Avatar image for isomage

@stabby_mcgee: I would love to see Bretonia developed as a full robust faction.

On that note though, check out "King Arthur: The Role-Playing Wargame" by Neocore games. It's the spiritual predecessor to this Total War game so much that when I first played it I thought it was a rip off of the Total War series until I discovered they did it so much better (pre-Warhammer), especially with regards to spells and the fantasy setting.

Avatar image for Gelugon_baat

Can anyone tell me whether Karl Franz goes Super Saiyan in this game?

Avatar image for Gelugon_baat

Heh, the weather roll gameplay element prior to the start of the battle has been converted into a facsimile of the Winds of Magic mechanism in the tabletop games.

I have said before that it would be easy for Creative Assembly to redress its Total War formula to accommodate Warhammer Fantasy.

Avatar image for phili878

i am having such a blast with this game.... man!

Avatar image for budah78

are there any games like this on the xboxone? any closeness will do

Avatar image for Itzsfo0

@budah78: why would you even want to switch from a console to a PC . this is what the PC offers, boring sim games...this game is another waste of time, stick with your console (if your already bored then theres nothing to be done lol) but trust me you will get bored with sim oriented games.. only true master race = the one who owns them all (if you only game on PC = missing % of the games out there) how is that a master race ? lol besides after the time invested + $$ really truely doesn't 'feel' like a master-anything but if you do end up wasting money on some high end PC and gay ass high end dedicated graphics card (that 22 year old-in-mothers-basement-types get) once your older and working and out on your own its easier to plug n play PC-master-blue-screen-headache-update-pop-up-ABP-anti-virus-slow-down-constantly updating ram/vid card/-race lol if that is what you want...., then I guess get this ...8 hours in you will put it with most Civilization games, sim-this, sim-ant, sim-earth, sim-my-pants, tactics this, tactics that, warhammer this...its more fun in table-top form (and even then it gets boring pretty quick) if its your thing then...uh cool I guess but I wouldn't switch platforms purely for a game just b/c it got a "9" on gamespot lol....

Avatar image for isomage

@Itzsfo0: It kind of sounds like ltzsfo0 is not smart enough for the sort of elements that demand a PC rather than a console.

No shame in sticking to your dumbed-down console point-and-shoots, but don't bash something you clearly don't understand.

There is a reason that great games like this or XCOM are PC only (or far better on PC and may exist on console only to grab market).

Avatar image for Grazen

@budah78: PCMR

Avatar image for budah78

@Grazen: huh?

Avatar image for alien33

@budah78: Personal Computer Master Race

Avatar image for normanislost

@budah78: Halo wars 2 at some point, but I honesly can't even think of an RTS on consoles other than that

Avatar image for Sakina

I so want to play this.. but games are so expensive in canada right now. i think im going to have to wait for a price drop but its on my to buy list!

Avatar image for mulder_000

@Sakina: You can get it on Humble Bundle Monthly for $12 Cdn.

Avatar image for Sakina

@mulder_000:That is pretty awesome yeah! i guess its time!

Avatar image for krayziestryker

I don't know if i really want to spent 60 Euro for this now. It looks really fun but since Total War Shogun 2 i didn't find the Total War that fun anymore.

My Favorite is still Shogun 2 and i don't feel like playing any other in the next years lol.

But really it looks fun :D

Avatar image for alien33

@krayziestryker: You don't have to buy it from Steam. It sells for 36 euros at my local games store right now (Greece)

Avatar image for krayziestryker

@alien33: Ah hi i bought it, i did spent 50 euro though via my favorite games key seller and at least here in germany i won't find it cheaper than that, but thanks for the info :D

And it is really fun, but the battles are really to short if you know which unit counter each other you basically defeat anything in minutes, the units morale breaks to fast.

Avatar image for alien33

@krayziestryker: No problem :) I haven't bought it yet, but will definitely pick it up until the end of the year. Let's hope the developers fix remaining bugs and a few good mods come out too.

Avatar image for xantufrog

I'm loving it so far. I'm a long time warhammer fan, but new to Total War. It's surprisingly involved - and I love it

Avatar image for richreason

Some of my observations: Game play is very smooth, I am playing on ultra with a 970 and it is very very good... no major bugs to find as of yet. The strategy side has been dumbed down a lot by turn 50 I had already upgraded my main province fully... economy is a bit different too. I wouldn't call it broken just a different approach then previous games. Battles are awesome watching your calvary smash into infantry and having the infantry tumble about has a fantastic feel to it reminds me of Rome 1. Have only played the empire and it gets very hard playing them once chaos starts attacking... over all a great game.

Avatar image for thomasn7

Played it for 2 hours. Didn't like it. It certainly isn't new player friendly.

Avatar image for Leeric420

@thomasn7: Play it on easy.

Avatar image for alien33

@thomasn7: I've heard that the TW games are very overwhelming for new players. I'll still get this some time though.

Avatar image for Vojtass

@alien33: TW overwhelming? Haha. Someone has never played Paradox strategies. :D

Avatar image for alien33

@Vojtass: No, but I'm guessing the TW games are piece of cake compared to them right? :P

Avatar image for Vojtass

@alien33: TW games are definitely much more player friendly from the very beginning.

Avatar image for Niner0

@Vojtass: Tone down the elitism. I could say the same thing about Paradox games and Dwarf Fortress.

Avatar image for steadymercury

My only real complaint would be that I think there are some balance issues between the races. I had a heck of a time getting anywhere with the dwarfs. Very quickly my Greenskins were able to unify the goblin tribes and completely neutralize me. They never attacked my main province to finish me off but I was left essentially ineffective in a sea of Greenskin provinces.

I tried again with the Vampire Counts who are supposed to be harder and made more progress in the first 20 turns then I had after 80 as the dwarfs. Considering the dwarfs are supposed to be the easy campaign I think some work might be in order.

Avatar image for deactivated-5a1d4b615a3a3

Only W3: Blood & Wine will separate me from this game.

Avatar image for phili878

Just one more turn....40 turns later, just one more turn...

Avatar image for croxus

Perfectly stable for me, the only issue was that i had to wait for the early hotfix i didnt need, quite a long time and finally called it a day.

Though i was rather dissapointed by Chaos and will dedicate myself to the vampire counts!

Avatar image for deactivated-5ae060efb3bf6

I could not get out of the game or close Steam after playing. Used task manager to shut it down and reboot the pc. Other than that seemed pretty good. Not sure why I can not get a pdf game manual to read on the ipad when not playing. Hate reading manuals on the desktop.

Biggest problem is finding time to dig int this game.

Avatar image for boctober27

@Triton: Did you ever think to use the Command Prompt to fix your problem? Of course not! You are a point and click Windows user and not a real computer person. Go to school son!

Avatar image for TheEternalGamer

@boctober27: Your comment in no way helps the poster above. Thanks for wasting everyone's time reading that.

Avatar image for isomage

@TheEternalGamer: Yeah....just a troll...nobodies impressed.

Triton is right about the time required...the game is crack disguised as software.

I used my employers printer to print out the PDF and leave it laying around the house to read while eating lunch or whatever...but most of it is more fun to discover on your own.

Avatar image for SirNormanislost

just one more turn, I'll just play this battle, oh well I better end the turn, oh it's 3am and I need to be up for work at 6....

great game but there isn't enough caffeine in the world currently

oh and as of yet no real bugs

Avatar image for isomage

@SirNormanislost: I know, right!?!!

Stupid work and other obligations that serve only to get in my way of playing Warhammer.

Avatar image for deviltaz35

Not surprised this was so well received, it looks to be incredible. Read a massive preview on this game a little while back and in early stages it still looked well thought out.

Total War: WARHAMMER More Info

  • First Released Apr 28, 2016
    • Linux
    • Macintosh
    • PC
    Total War: WARHAMMER will take the series to a realm of grand high fantasy for the very first time in its history. Our rules have changed, and with change comes war on a scale as yet unimagined.
    Average Rating101 Rating(s)
    Please Sign In to rate Total War: WARHAMMER
    Developed by:
    Creative Assembly, Feral Interactive
    Published by:
    Sega, Feral Interactive
    Turn-Based, 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.
    Mild Blood, Mild Language, Violence