With four factions and four main campaigns, there isn’t a huge amount of story content but a lot of meat in the single player. Choosing a Lord to lead your faction and then slowly taking over the battlefield is the majority of the story content, as you are immediately thrown into a war torn country and tasked with conquering or uniting factions together. As each faction is so uniquely different, each campaign is different in terms of how they play out. While the general goals remain the same, territories, enemies and allies will be drastically different.The plot isn’t anything special, but the backdrop of the Warhammer universe really helps the game become alive. This is possibly the most unique and bombastic Total War game yet, and it really helps that the fantasy nature of Warhammer allows Creative Assembly to branch away from historical battles and get really crazy with the presentation of the story.Like all Total War games, the pure scope and breadth of watching huge armies battling in real time combat is absolutely breathtaking. The huge variety of units really stands out, as the push away from historical context allows Creative Assembly to really push the imaginative and fictitious playgrounds made famous by Games Workshop.
On a purely technical scale it’s impressive, watching thousands of units battle it out in what are mostly gorgeous backdrops. It’s something the Total War series always excelled in, and it’s especially fun to watch in the fantasy nature of Warhammer. In terms of pure graphical fidelity, it’s less impressive. While there have been an array of improvements in terms of environments and animations, it’s still quite repetitive in terms of assets used.
In a performance front, it’s very difficult to critique this part. As I had access to a pre-release copy, there are officially no drivers for nVidia GPU’s as of this review, and performance was pretty atrocious. As AMD has announced a partnership with Creative Assembly, drivers have already released for AMD users, and reports of decent performances in mid-tier cards have surfaced. Unfortunately, the true performance boost lies in the DirectX 12 upgrade, which is infuriatingly locked behind Windows 10 exclusively. If you’re a W10 user, feel free to download the DX12 update come June, which reportedly boosts performance and framerates quite significantly, but those who do not upgrade or choose not to are stuck with the less impressive DX11 performance, which suffers from poorer performance and lacks any benchmarks.With a mid-tier rig (i5-3570K at 3.4GHZ, 16GB RAM, GTX Geforce 970) I managed to squeeze a decent 30-40FPS during intense battle scenes on the medium settings. V-Sync would oddly lock the framerate to 30FPS instead of 60, with no choice to switch between the two, and with that lock the game would run at a very smooth 30. Even on minimum settings the V-Sync refused to lock to 60, so I have to assume this will be fixed in a patch or a driver instalment.
As many Total War fans may have deduced from previous instalments, Warhammer relies on CPU utilisation, which would explain my personal poor performance due to an older CPU. For those who are running less than new rigs, it’s a risky move to purchase as the performance isn’t as good as it should be. The 30 FPS lock is an annoyance, lowering settings to low results in some ugly looking textures and armies which is a real shame as the unique nature of Warhammer elevates the visuals into something that needs to be experienced. For Windows 10 users DirectX 12 reportedly boosts the framerate quite a bit, so bear in mind that since every PC is different each user will experience different performances.For Total War newbies, the series consists of two pillars of gameplay: the first being the bombastic real time battles between huge armies, and the second consisting of turn based strategy consisting of building your kingdom and traversing land, creating diplomacies between factions and conquering villages and castles.
Much like The Art of War, battles must be cleverly fought in order to win. Using the right units is key to success, and it helps that each faction is so drastically different. The Empire may be the most vanilla, with basic infantrymen and calvary, but the Greenskins have trolls, giants and spiders in their arsenal. There’s mages and shamans and necromancers, artillery and hoards of dwarves. It helps that each faction is so different as this is possibly the most varied Total War game in terms of visuals alone. Each faction has their own strength and weaknesses, and it’s up to the player, learning from their losses and victories to come out on top. What terrains work, what formations minimize casualties and what units work best, it’s all such a deep gameplay system that I can’t even begin to describe.In one of the small changes to the franchise, Commanders or ‘Agents’ are now deployable on field as a physical presence, with increased stats compared to basic units. Having these leaders survive is essential to winning a battle, as a loss of one will lead to a severe moral loss and units fleeing the battle. It’s another creative component of battles that will lead you to choose whether to put your Agent front and center of the fracas or to keep them safe from the back.
Perhaps most famous of Total War is the bombastic, huge battles which happen in real time between warring armies, which are always a joy to not only watch, but to actively engage in. Getting overwhelmed with the visuals is a quick guide to losing, as there is a lot of tactics required to win. Hit and run techniques, using the correct units to implement weaknesses, using the environment against the enemy; all of these are necessary for victory.The visually appealing nature of battles may make you think that settlement and the turn based gameplay may be terribly dull, but it’s quite the opposite. Having another modicum of strategy against the wonderful backdrop of Warhammer is refreshing as the battles are, and the necessity of building your castle and keeping moral up is paramount. Creating diplomacies is almost encouraged, as causing war between everyone will quickly lead to overwhelming losses in your fields, and it helps the incentives for peace are usually extra assets and gold. It’s a wonderful mix of brawn and brains that elevates the turn based strategy element of Total War to it’s very best.
There are an overwhelming amount of things to learn in TW:W, but it all comes together to provide a hugely satisfying strategy experience. One single player campaign alone can take you up to 30 hours, so there’s a tonne of content even playing offline.As the supposed first instalment in the proposed Warhammer trilogy, Creative Assembly have already set the bar sky high. The classic Total War gameplay is as refreshing as ever thanks to the new coat of fantastical paint the Warhammer brand doles out and is deeper than ever. The presentation is absolutely wonderful though the performance leaves something to be desired. Total War: Warhammer is a great installment of Total War, and bodes nothing but excitement for the next two. Fingers crossed we will see a Warhammer 40K installment.
The PC version of Total War: Warhammer was primarily tested for the purpose of this review.