Total War: Warhammer II has just been announced, and we were lucky enough to be given the opportunity to discuss the strategy sequel with game director Ian Roxburgh and communications manager Al Bickham shortly before the big reveal.
As we found out during our interview, Warhammer II is a standalone game, so you don't need the original to play a new campaign that brings new races (high elves, dark elves, lizardmen, and a fourth that they'll be talking more about "in the future") to the digital table. It's coming later this year (we're not sure exactly when) and it promises to expand on the foundations laid down with the first game. As Ian Roxburgh explained that they're "looking at taking on four new races. It's a different chunk of the world," and they're "looking to expand on the feature set, evolve the gameplay, and generally take it from there."
"Warhammer II will have a completely different standalone campaign map that is just a full scale map," Roxburgh continued, "the same size as it was in Warhammer I, but a different chunk of landmass. And at the same time the team's also working on a separate mega campaign that will combine all of the content from Warhammer I and Warhammer II and all the DLC that we've released in-between, to create the biggest, most rich and diverse Total War campaign game that we've ever made... That will be available for purchasers of Warhammer I and II, for free, shortly after the release of Warhammer II."
Given how the new "mega campaign" will play out across the entirety of the campaign map, it'll require players to own both games. Those who do so will thus have three campaigns to conquer, with the third one spanning the land masses and factions of both games. As you'll read later with regards to their plans for the final game in the trilogy, it sounds like it's going to be a trick they repeat when it comes to Warhammer III.
One of the biggest departures from Total War: Warhammer when considered against CA's historical games, is the asymmetrical nature of the different factions. As Roxburgh explained, they're looking "to develop that [asymmetrical gameplay] further, expand on it, make everything even more unique, and play to the strengths of the things that people liked and enjoyed, and really go to town on it. And you'll see throughout the DLC that we've already done for Total War: Warhammer, we've already started doing that even more; with Warhammer II we'll just take that to a whole new level. We want people to feel like you're not so much choosing which race you're going to play as, but you'll be choosing what style of Total War game you want to play."
The different races might provide contrasting unit types and require a unique tactical approach, but as comms manager Al Bickham explained, the narrative in Warhammer II will bring them together in a way we've not seen from the series before, this as they look to continue their recent trend of embedding deeper narrative into their games.
"The one thing that does bind them all together is that we've got this - and it's probably the most adventurous bit of narrative we've ever built into a Total War game - we've got an overriding piece of narrative that is driving all those races via their objectives, in a kind of a race.
"And it's all based around this thing called The Great Vortex, which was forged by the high elves in ages past, to basically blast a massive chaos invasion back to the Chaos Wastes, back the Realm of Chaos. And this vortex, which is hovering above Ulthuan - you'll see it on the campaign map kind of swirling away, it's the heart of the campaign map effectively - has become unstable (an event has happened in the world to make it unstable), and each of the races needs to get there first through a series of neat in-game mechanics."
Roxburgh explained further: "It creates a narrative within the gameplay, but not in a linear way. Again, people can play the game and just play the normal sandbox Total War style, not engage in all that, and just go for world domination. To us that sandbox gameplay is sacrosanct to Total War. But if people want more of a story line and a narrative to give a bit more context and build the world out and the flavour of the world, then it's there for them as well."
Not only will that mean more "flavour", but it also means that the end game will hold more of a challenge for players. As Roxburgh explained, players will need to keep their wits about them all the way until the (potentially bitter) end: "You can actually lose the game even if you've conquered vast amounts of territory and you own most of the world," he warned, "whereas previously in Total War once you get past a certain tipping point it's pretty inevitable that you're just going to go through the motions and win the game. So we wanted to keep everything tight and challenging and exciting right to the end of you achieving your victory conditions, so at any point you could be pipped to the post and beaten to that final game."
Once the campaign has been beaten, CA is once again preparing to add in more longevity by giving players access to modding tools. "We released mod tools just after the launch of [Warhammer I], we'll be doing the same thing with Warhammer II as well," Bickham revealed. "Shortly after launch we'll be launching the Assembly Kit for Warhammer II, so people can start doing their mods. We'll add in Workshop support, so people will be able to upload their mods to Steam Workshop and share them around... I think over the course of the first game's development and all the content drops we've done and all the tweaks we've made along the way, it's given us quite a lot of confidence and ambition for the next two games in the trilogy."
Finally, we asked the pair where the studio is in terms of development, and this is what they had to say. "We're still pre-alpha at the moment with Warhammer II, so we're still putting in the last touches of features in getting the game up and running, but it's already very playable," Roxburgh told us.
"It's out for release later this year, but as we said before it is part of a trilogy. This is part two. So eventually there will be a Warhammer III, and we'll be looking to round the entire trilogy off in a big way as well. So as we go along we're building new and innovative new ideas, and by the time the trilogy is complete we're hoping it'll be just one massive smorgasbord of all the races you can possibly imagine from the Warhammer universe, all in a giant mega campaign, which is again the game that we'd always wanted to make from the start but couldn't in one game."
Al Bickham then summed things up pretty neatly, saying: "No-one's ever gone to the Warhammer universe and built the whole thing before. I think we're the first people to do this, and it's really exciting."