Pairing Total War and Warhammer almost feels too obvious in a way. Though cast partly in real-time, Total War has always had that massive wargame feel to it - a look that can't help evoking Warhammer's famous miniatures. Given how ubiquitous Warhammer has become in the video games space, my only question is what took so long for these two properties to finally unite.
The union between Total War and Warhammer is partly what has spurred me to finally get serious about this series. I've dabbled in the past, but whether because I didn't care as much about ancient warfare, or because my PC wasn't up to snuff, I never got that far. Warhammer, though, is squarely in my wheelhouse; and happily, Total War does a great job of staying true to the spirit of that universe.
It begins with the factions, each of which has their own objective, playstyle, and built-in enemy. If you play as the Dwarves - the most straightforward of the four races available out of the box (with a fifth that can be purchased as DLC) - you battle the Greenskins pretty much out of the gate, your main task being to unite the disparate Dwarven factions. By contrast, if you play as the Greenskins, you have to be almost constantly looting and pillaging lest your minions become bored and unruly.
Faction diversity has always been something that Total War has done particularly well, and it fits Warhammer - a game where players automatically self-identify with particular races - like a glove. Right from the beginning it strives to put you in a particular race's mindset, opening with a handsome cutscene and an epic voiceover, then patiently explaining their unique mechanics. The Dwarves step into battle almost immediately as they try to clear Greenskin invaders from their lands. The Empire is in a more balanced position, relying more on diplomacy than the sword in the early game as they try to build an empire, but are soon hit hard by the Total War equivalent of the White Walkers - Chaos. As for the Vampire Counts, they're more the cloak and dagger types, being focused on spreading corruption throughout the land.
As usual, the strategy portion of the game is interesting, but it mostly exists in the service of the big showpiece battles that have long set Total War apart from its competition. On these battlefields, thousands of soldiers clash in an arena-like battlefield, looking like so many ants as they merge together and hack away at one another. Unlike the strategy portion of the game, which is turn-based, Total War's battles are real-time, albeit much slower than your average StarCraft match. They are meant to evoke the epic clashes of Lord of the Rings or Game of Thrones, with individual units comprising dozens of soldiers bearing banners and yelling war cries. It is the focal point of Total War, and the area in which it is most similar to Warhammer.
Which is not to say that the strategy portion of Total War is totally without merit. As you expand your empire, you have to balance income with happiness while building up a strong army, which becomes tougher the larger you get. Cities are already established - no building towns from scratch in this one - with construction being limited to a couple expansion slots, so you have to think carefully about what buildings you want to add. Pubs can be great if your population is unhappy, trading posts provide extra income, and various mines and training centers will afford you special materials needed to build up your army.
Each faction also has their Lords - powerful heroes that serve at the head of their respective armies and bring with them their own special skill tree. Lords are extremely powerful in Total War Warhammer, frequently being able to take on several units by themselves, and their defeat is usually key to breaking an army and sending it fleeing. In that light, properly utilizing your lord and equipping them with the right items - there are some pretty strong RPG elements in Total War Warhammer - is paramount.
From an accessibility standpoint, it's all very well laid out and constructed, making it easy to quickly grasp the various forces at work within your empire and start experiencing success. Creative Assembly has been working on this particular series for a long time now, and their experience shows. It's nice that they now have some new territory to explore.
In the long run, Warhammer is just what Total War needs to get some much-needed momentum. The series certainly has its diehards in the strategy community, but it stumbled out of the gate a bit with the problematic Total War Rome 2, then got a little bit too niche with Attila. Historical nerds may feel that Creative Assembly and Sega are selling out in partnering with Warhammer, but I personally couldn't be happier to see the series going in this new direction.
As always, Total War occupies its own niche in the strategy game landscape. If Civilization is all about building up an empire across hundreds of years, and Paradox is about historical fan fiction, then Total War is more for the type of people who listen to Dan Carlin's Hardcore History podcast and think about Mongol military tactics. It has some decent diplomacy options, including the ability to forge conferederations and trade deals, but combat is inevitable. That's why Warhammer is such a good fit for Total War.
On the flipside, Warhammer brings its own very specific flavor to Total War. Personally, I prefer the dystopian sci-fi of Warhammer 40K to Warhammer Fantasy, but there's no denying the appeal of Lord of the Rings-like battles and the allure of RPG elements. Total War even brings with it a quest system of sorts for your army that will net your Lord some pretty choice loot.
I'm not scoring Total War Warhammer because I haven't spent nearly enough time with it to do it justice - each faction is almost an entire game unto itself - and I haven't had time to jump into multiplayer. That said, I've enjoyed my extended foray into the Total War universe, and I'd be interested to dive a little deeper into each faction and see what Total War Warhammer looks like after a 30 hour campaign. As it is, if you like strategy games but you haven't tried out Total War yet, this seems like a pretty good entry point. And if you're a longtime fan and you're feeling burned out, this refreshing take is probably just what you need.