Don Rowe lives out his childhood dreams on the battlefields of Total War Warhammer, the best thing to happen to strategy games since priests went ‘wololo’.
The far shores of Lake Rotoma in the central North Island seem a strange place to find a small child painting warhorses, but I was always a strange child. Sadly, Warhammer figurines are made with larger children in mind – namely grown men with disposable incomes – and are priced accordingly.
Thus my dreams of commanding rank upon rank of meticulously painted soldiers were limited to a single box set, split down the middle with my friend Myles. For something like $50 each we got thirty-odd orcs, a chariot drawn by pigs, 40 human soldiers and a cannon. I painted mine with modelling paint, he painted his with car paint. We never played a single game.
So when I charged two hundred cavalry down a forested valley into ranks of fleeing goblins on Total War Warhammer, I was pretty Goddamn stoked. From the treeline, fifteen of the cannons I never used mowed down three hundred of the orcs that Myles melted with car paint, several squads of spearmen fought a giant and above Emperor Karl Franz rode through the sky on his griffon Deathclaw, battling Red Baron style with a hideous Wyvern.
This game is everything I ever dreamed of: it’s the perfect blend of Lord of the Rings and Age of Empires, it’s Braveheart with trolls, Troy with pegasus knights. Total War Warhammer is far and away the most enjoyable, polished and well-executed of the franchise’s storied history. Playing this game is like grabbing an electric fence of nostalgia and having my brains blown out my bloody skull.
Amidst the grand scale of Total War Warhammer, it’s the little things that make all the difference. The scream of the artillery, the hiss of hell bats, the thudding of hooves, the acidic hate spew of a squadron of mountain trolls, everything combines in a maelstrom of chaotic warfare where every moment has cinematic potential. Getting down amongst thirty peasants as they throw their lives at an incoming giant, or riding at the head of a glorious last charge into the ranks of a thousand crawling undead instills the game with the roleplaying spirit of the original tabletop series (which relies on it entirely).
As one would expect from a Total War title, the campaign mode is just huge, and thus far I haven’t managed to get a whole lot done. What I can say is that the fantastical diversity of the Warhammer universe means the campaign map is more beautiful than even the medieval Europe of Total War Atilla, and the character models follow suit. Quest battles give expansion a purpose and the unique racial mechanics mean the different factions truly require a different approach, both playing for and against.
Now I’m not the first to say it, but Total War Warhammer does suffer from one serious flaw and that is a lacklustre siege system. Where previous titles allowed for multi-layered defences, with a fight for the walls followed by a running battle through the streets and a final last stand in the city centre, Total War Warhammer essentially stops after step one. The walls are everything and once they’ve been lost it’s generally a matter of mopping up the remaining defenders. With all the potential of underground cities, mountain passes, metre-wide bridges spanning endless chasms and so on, Total War Warhammer leaves players with a linear and repetitive wall contention simulator that is likely to have ramifications for replayability if nothing else.
But on the other hand, flexible custom battles mean things as ridiculous as a WWI reenactment restricted to cannons, tanks, organ guns and infantry is entirely possible. Well, all that stuff and a couple flying griffons, that is. It’s great fun and serves also to illustrate some of the concepts we learned at the birth of the 20th century, like the fact that men don’t do so well against artillery – as demonstrated here by my entire core of veteran handgunners being crushed in a single barrage. Fans of the original tabletop game will probably have their own, lore-friendly scenarios to play out.
And besides, with the original Warhammer models recently made obsolete and replaced with this new Age of Sigmar shit, it’s truly cheaper to build a gaming computer than to buy and paint an army. You need less imagination, too.
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