Total War: Warhammer

Total War: Warhammer Hands-On

We take another look at Total War: Warhammer ahead of its release in May.

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A few days ago Creative Assembly released a new trailer for Total War: Warhammer in which the new playable race - the Vampire Counts - was introduced. The Empire, Greenskins, and the Dwarves had already been revealed, and thus it was time to examine the fourth and final race that will be available upon release.

It's made abundantly clear during the preview event we attended that Creative Assembly are passionate about bringing together two huge licenses - Warhammer and Total War - and the hope is obviously to attract a whole new audience with this cross-over title. The formula will be familiar to fans of CA's historical strategy games, with a turn-based layer sitting on top of battles that take place in real-time, but the theme here is very different...

We asked Scott Pitkethly, lead programmer on Total War: Warhammer, if the research that has gone into this game has been very different this time around.

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"We have of course created many historical games where we usually do research through reading history books to bring the right level of detail to our units, their weapons and culture. This time we have replaced it with Warhammer books, so in that respect it has been quite similar. What is different is the type of content is so different to what we have done in the past. Therefore we needed to have a lot of time dedicated to the research. The characters have, for example, been static before in a book or as a miniature figure, but we have had to decide how they really move and attack."

Naturally we chose the Vampire Counts when we were given the opportunity to play the game. The combat doesn't look quite as impressive as we had hoped for. Upon closer inspection the camera reveals stiff, rigid animations and it doesn't look as if our character is actually hitting his enemies while he's attacking. However, zooming further away from the action makes things more impressive and to see the fighting from a birds-eye view is clearly very satisfying.

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The game follows the same rock-paper-scissors structure as in previous Total War, but the theme is now Warhammer and the various factions are distinctly different, to an extent we've not see in the franchise before. Sam Millen, development manager at CA, told us: "They are very asymmetric and that we wanted to keep. We had never intended to say that, for example, vampires do not have units with projectiles, because they always have. We wanted to keep as faithful to the original. Yes, this means a challenge as far as challenge goes, absolutely."

The heroes, in our case the vampiric warrior Carstein, also have magic available to them. Pitkethly explained how they work: "It works just as special abilities in the previous games. Each race has different abilities; vampires can heal and revive fallen warriors. You have to keep an eye on the Winds of Magic, which is the resource needed to use magic. On the campaign map, Winds of Magic blows stronger at different places at different times. This is good to keep track of when you enter the battles on the map. How many spells do I have? Should I attack the enemy over there where there is more Winds of Magic right now?"

The Mana-meter for our magic powers fills up over time, and the timing of these attacks are crucial, especially since you can't use them twice in a row all that often. From our time with the game it seems like the use of magic will be important, as it can turn a battle in your favour, and quickly. New in the real-time combat part of the game is the fact that the castle battles are now more open and the troops can be controlled more easily when manning the walls. Millen explains how they have been working on this part of the game: "We wanted to create more pressure on both the attacking team and defenders. It's more smooth this time. Siege towers and battering rams are returning, but we also have ladders now."

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Total War: Warhammer isn't just about the big battles. Making a return is the diplomacy system from previous games, although it is being elaborated on in order to make it work in the fantasy setting. After a successful battle you can choose to raid the area, to take it and make it your own, or completely burn it down. For prisoners there's the possibility of either enlisting them as part of your own army, cold-bloodedly murdering them, or showing mercy by letting them run free. All these choices affect what the other factions think of you.

Millen explained that "not all factions have the option of making diplomatic agreements with each other. Some factions you can't bargain with, with others, you can't make peace with them, because it wouldn't fit into the Warhammer world. We have tried to take the history of Warhammer and stick to it. As the Empire, you can, for example, try to use diplomacy with Greenskins, but you will have to work very hard to succeed, because they really just want to be fighting."

Vampires are the race that can make the most of diplomacy. They can start wars, bring peace, and even haggle. In the beginning, it's wise to build a good relationship with the other vampires, explained Scott. To win the campaign you'll have to use diplomacy cleverly, and carefully consider each move in order not to burn valuable bridges. We soon notice how other factions get wind of our conquests and losses. On several occasions, offering to either make peace, create alliances, or remain neutral in return for money. It is possible to say yes, but later betray these allegiances, which should ensure an exciting balance between risk and reward that you always have to think about.

Besides negotiation and the wars you wage, you must also take care of the cities you already control. You can teach your units new skills used either in battle, or simply open up new ways to negotiate. These skills include the Invocation of Nehek, a magic trick your hero can use to restore the health of units during combat. The currency needed to upgrade your base, or learn new tricks, is earned through completing different missions that constantly pop-up during the campaign.

Previous Total War games, especially Rome II, received a lot criticism for launching too early. In the version we tested, which included the first three hours of the game, we encountered very few issues of significance. Hopefully CA has learned from its mistakes (it's worth noting that Attila was a marked improvement over Rome II when it came to optimisation and polish at launch) and Total War: Warhammer is released in a decent state. There's a huge amount of potential here, should they get it right, so we're keeping our fingers crossed and hoping that they just that when the game lands on May 24.


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