Total War Warhammer II is Creative Assembly’s second game set in the fantasy world of Total War. Known for their games that span empires whilst allowing players command of large armies, the developers definitely found themselves at home with a franchise featuring hordes of Orks and Vampires. But such aspirations come at a cost. I reviewed the first Warhammer and while I thought of it as a good game, a number of the game’s mechanical features didn’t quite fit in. So with the first serving having left a somewhat sour taste, would the second one be a tad better?
The first game was set in the Warhammer world’s “European” continent. In contrast, Warhammer II can be thought of as involving the game’s equivalent of the Americas and African continents. The base game features four new factions: High Elves, Dark Elves, Lizardmen, and Skaven.
The Big Four
Now let’s talk about the factions in Warhammer II. The High Elves are similar to Tolkien’s take on the race. These demi-humans are warriors and mages that can live up to hundreds of years. They also have a stable of dragons and phoenixes to aid them in their conquest. In contrast are the Dark Elves, these are elves that have turned perverse and are against the fundamental beliefs and values of the High Elves. The Lizardmen are what their name implies: bipedal lizards. They can call on mighty beasts (a.k.a. dinosaurs) to aid them in battle. Last are the Skaven, or Rat-men. They come in large numbers and often make use of it to overwhelm their foes.
As it stands, Warhammer II has a more robust offering as opposed to the vanilla Total War Warhammer. The factions are more varied and their playstyles are radically different from each other. From abilities, skill points, and how they play, each of the four factions have their own unique charms and weaknesses. They are so varied that you can think of the game as having four ways of playing it. Thinking about it economically, this is a good deal as Total War Warhammer II technically has a large playthrough time.
The Eye of the Vortex
The Vortex campaign is Total War Warhammer II’s story mode. It is fundamentally different from the “conquer all” type of gameplay the Total War games are known for. Instead we get a list of rituals that must be fulfilled at the shortest time possible. Think of it as a race. The first one to complete all rituals wins everything. But in this race, the each faction can employ mercenaries, make us of alliances and invasions, to foil the progress of the others. This gives a sense of urgency but on the otherhand, lacks the heavy handed drive to conquer and color the whole map in your faction’s colors.
To start a ritual, certain conditions must be met. Each faction must collect a number of artifacts to power up. These artifacts are resources which can be collected per turn in designated settlements. Once a ritual is underway, three of the faction’s settlements will be selected and they must be protected during the ritual. Failing to do so cuts the ritual. However, if captured, the player/AI has a number of turns to recapture the settlement.
I found it irritating that whenever you get to start a ritual, the game throws a curveball, spawning leaderless Chaos units across your dominion. Sometimes, they spawn in backwater territories, places left unguarded, making them ripe for the picking. The irritating part of this ordeal is that Chaos forces wantonly raze settlements.
Also, it is here in the campaign map where players can do research, build armies, and amass fortunes. The actions done in here have a direct impact on the battlefield.
One major change is that each faction can now capture all provinces and settlements. This can be done in the first game via mods, but the developers reneged and allowed players to do so in the base game. However, some places are suitable for certain races only. For example, the elves can capture the tropical provinces owned by the Lizardmen, but doing so would net them just a percentage of profit and would also lengthen their build and replenishment times. So why capture unsuitable provinces? As the campaign is a race, certain provinces provide materials to speed up the rituals. This alone can be enough reason for invasions and interspecies conflict.
Into the Fray
Not much has changed in this second installment. Whenever battles start, the player can opt to wait for additional points of magic or if a mage is absent, can go straight into battle. After deciding on how magic can affect the battlefield, the player can now position the units. Having a good idea of how the battle might turn out and finding favorable spots comes into play during this phase. Once ready, the battle can finally start.
Should there be any reinforcements available, they arrive during these early stages of the main fight. If the player is on the defensive, staying put is a viable strategy. If attacking, the player must find a way to push through the enemies defenses, and if need be, make use of the surroundings.
It is also important to know that Total War Warhammer II makes use of a rock-paper-scissors kind of approach. Spearmen beat cavalry and large units, Ranged ones essentially beats everything but come melee, they will be utterly destroyed. Monsters, while big and intimidating, are prime targets for fast moving ranged units. Careful consideration of each unit type is a must in winning battles in both multiplayer and singleplayer in Total War Warhammer II.
Magic, while strong, does not impact much aside from precision strikes and breaking units. They can either buff comrades, curse or even smite the opposing forces. Some generals can also make use of various abilities to tip the scale. Some Skaven Generals can summon Rats from underground, surprising ranged units with a surprise attacks and so on. Things like these make each battle a bit unpredictable and the AI itself is good enough, but still prone to making the same mistakes over and over.
Siege is basically unchanged. I personally think that this is one of the weaker parts of the game. Instead of being able to besiege and surround a settlement, the game simply offers a map with just one side of the city wall. This game design removes a large part in player creativity as it trims down sieges into a Side A vs. Side B affair.
Mortal Empires (Free DLC)
Though technically not part of the package, having the first Total War Warhammer in your Steam library nets you the Mortal Empires DLC for free. So what is Mortal Empires? It’s the campaign map made grander with twice the land area and hundreds of factions vying for supremacy. It is what Total War is all about.
As it requires the first Total War Warhammer, Mortal Empires combines the map of the first game with the second one, albeit with some alterations to fit the concept. This grand combination also encompasses the major factions of both games, together with their respective DLC factions. Wanting to ravage the Lizardmen with your Imperial Steam Tanks? You can now do so!
For me, this is way better than the Eye of the Vortex campaign. This is where the grandness of a Total War campaign shows and it’s also incredibly replayable. It also comes with major tweaks for the first game’s factions in order for them to feel at home in the new mechanics of Total War Warhammer II.
Is it good? Yep. I think that it is ways better than the first one. The variety of the units presented in this game pretty much eclipses that of its predecessor. In the first Warhammer, we just got humanoids fighting humanoids, with the occasional monsters/killing machines. Here in Warhammer II, we get rats, dinosaurs, and dragons. Seeing all of those units play in the battlefield is a sight to behold.
I also found the game to be more tactical as opposed to the “hammer beats eggs” in Total War Warhammer, wherein the more advanced units can easily fell lower ones regardless of tactics or strategy. Here, despite units being Tier 1 or 2, they can sometimes beat higher tier ones in certain circumstances.
The campaign map, however, leaves much to be desired. The race to complete the rituals enforces a sense of urgency in the matter. But with the major factions separated by large swathes of land, foregoing invasions and interaction is a possible strategy. As factions are of different races, the Vortex campaign doesn’t offer much in terms of diplomacy.
Now we go the DLC. If you have the first Total War Warhammer, the Free DLC, Mortal Empires, is automatically available. This DLC combines the factions and the world of the two Total Wars, allowing hundreds of factions, an incredibly large world, and for all the major factions of both games to beat each other to a bloody pulp. I personally liked this one more than the campaign offered by Total War Warhammer II. Not to mention the Tomb Kings DLC, which features FOUR Lords and gigantic moving Sphinxes.
So is it something you should grab? Of course! It’s way more better than the first one and despite it being a fantasy title, I found it very captivating and enjoyable. For lovers of historical Total War titles, this might not be your cup of tea as it offers a more arcade-y take on Total War. But if you love seeing fantastic mythic beasts chomping down on lizards and rats, then this is one game I can’t recommend enough.