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Total War: Warhammer

28 June 2015 | Written by Maxxum

'Total War' has recently passed its 15th year. Starting in 2000 with 'Shogun:Total War', the Total War series is a real-time strategy title from Creative Assembly (CA) that takes a slice of history and turns it into playable, large scale theater-of-war campaigns. With the announcement of 'Total War: Warhammer', CA has expanded into the Fantasy genre, allowing them to bring their unique approach to RTS outside the bounds of this World's history.

Speaking with Jim Whitston (Campaign Designer) and Ian Roxburgh (Creative Director) of Creative Assembly, Roxburgh explained that "...we want to be very true to what the Warhammer fantasy IP is... we're treating it the way we treat history, y'know the history of Total War games is that we want to be authentic and accurate", further emphasizing that "we're sticking very close to what the IP is, and what the stories and the narratives are in the existing Warhammer lore".

Indeed, during our demonstration of the game we saw a number of elements from the Warhammer ethos. In the demo, the Empire forces headed by Emperor Karl Franz are pitted against the Greenskins, lead by Grimgor Ironhide. Grimgor's presence in the battle was interesting, because his usage has requirements according to the rules of Warhammer, specifically that he must be accompanied by a unit of Black Orcs. Though it wasn't mentioned by our host during the demo, the Black Orcs were present in the battle we observed - so, if yours is a group that strictly follows the Warhammer rulebook, you can expect that there is attention being made to those details in the game.

Additionally, the complexity of the combat elements one would hope to see are visually well displayed. For instance, when an Orc shaman casts "Foot of Gork" we saw an appropriately mythological spell destroy dozens of Empire troops in that a giant foot essentially appears from the sky and kills a bunch of humans with a large cloud of smoke and death. Unfortunately, this was not captured by any of the screenshots we were provided, but when the game is released, we don't believe anyone will be disappointed. We saw a number of spells being cast, but the Foot of Gork was notable because it destroyed so many troops - subsequent research on this spell indicates that this is how the spell works during regular gameplay and we expect many players will express the same frustration (or satisfaction) with it as they would with the boardgame.

One thing which players might find disappointing is that this Total War will use the Warscape Engine. CA has continued to make improvements, and the textures we saw in-game are more detailed than previous games in the series. I was expecting to see at least a few of the quirks (units suddenly sliding across the screen, or units dying when a weapon is thrust at them but doesn't actually hit) with character movement present in some of the older games using the Warscape Engine, but those did not appear during our demo.

We were largely impressed, but the engine is showing its age when compared against the latest offerings from CA, such as 'Alien: Isolation' which is a beautifully detailed game. Specifically, while character textures like those of the troll shown holding a soldier look well designed, and movement is convincingly lumbering and "troll-like", long time players of the game will recognize that this is the same, though refined engine that they first started using in 2009 with the debut of 'Empire: Total War'.

Gameplay appears largely unchanged, though being able to guide catapult launched suicide units as they glide towards their targets is an unexpected bonus for the Greenskins. One of the challenges explains Whitston "...when it comes down to the battles, obviously we've got all of these new units, flying units, giant units, magic... which we need to incorporate. We've got this very solid foundation, we already do the epic battles ... it's an exciting challenge at finding ways to incorporate these new kind of elements into that whole overall picture". Roxburgh added, "There's so many things you could do, where do you draw the line, what units do you not do because there's so many cool things in there... there's so much in there, the amount of variety - what we left in there is huge".

Something we were unable to observe during the controlled demo was how the AI reacts to the player, though Roxburgh explained that "It's pretty much an evolution of the existing Total War AI System that we've brought along leaps and bounds in the last few years. You see with the recent release with 'Total War: Attila' the AI's really improved a lot there, so what you'll see in Total War: Warhammer is very much an evolution of that to incorporate the new units". Roxburgh's comment on the AI of the new units foreshadowed something later explained by Whitston which was that the developers working on the game have been playing the tabletop version of Warhammer and that they've been using it to get a feel for how each unit plays and incorporating that into Total War: Warhammer.

Not being a hands-on demo, we can't offer more than what I've explained above regarding our impressions of the demo. However, during the post-interview chat, and as well reading through the press notes provided in the media assets, it was evident that CA has been performing their due diligence to stay true to the Warhammer title. I counted 15 Greenskin characters, and 17 Empire characters, as well as specific listing of spells, and references to previously established Warhammer battles for a game still being refereed to as alpha by our host.

Pending further data...

Photos by Creative Assembly