Total War: Warhammer II, is the sequel to Creative Assembly’s landmark title Total War: Warhammer and is published by Sega. It is the second title in a trilogy of Total War: Warhammer games based off of Games Workshop’s Warhammer Fantasy Battle tabletop game. Warhammer II was released in September of 2017 and brings with it an abundance of new features to add to CA’s developing Warhammer series including a new narrative campaign, four new races, and an overhaul to many of the campaign map mechanics.
One of Warhammer II’s primary features is its new single-player campaign called the Vortex Campaign. Unlike previous DLC mini-campaigns in the first Warhammer, the Vortex Campaign covers an entirely new campaign map featuring the fictional New World continents of Lustria and Naggarond as well as the paradise island of Ulthuan and the Old World Southlands. The campaign is also the primary delivery vehicle for Warhammer II’s new mechanics and campaign overhauls such as the introduction of settlement climates and treasure hunting.
The narrative of the Vortex Campaign centers around the Great Vortex, a siphon of magical energy that keeps the demonic forces of Chaos at bay. The four new factions of Warhammer II, the Dark Elves, High Elves, Lizardmen, and Skaven, are each competing to gather a unique resource to perform five rituals which will grant that faction control of the Vortex and its immense magical power. In practice this involves not only the standard Total Warfare of engaging in expansionist diplomacy and warfare but also maintaining control of special resource sites and enacting the ten-turn rituals. Players also have to fight off attacking AI Chaos armies that target their ritual sites; and they can send special AI “Intervention Armies” against other factions to disrupt their ritual attempts.
Intervention and Chaos armies always target factions that are attempting a ritual, but Warhammer II also introduces rogue armies. These armies appear as their own distinct faction that starts at peace with all factions, but can be swayed or aggravated into attacking one or more factions. Rogue armies also merely occupy settlements and have a more limited, and sometimes multi-faction, unit roster.
As with the starting factions in the first Warhammer, Warhammer II’s four new factions each feature two legendary lords with their own subfaction and starting locations. Each subfaction and lord brings its own bonuses and penalties and for campaign purposes is fully independent of its other half, although only one of the two subfactions will enact the rituals for each race. Confederation is a much more prominent mechanic than in the previous title as numerous minor factions of the four races exist and it is the only way to acquire both of a faction’s legendary lords. However chances at confederation are highly variable among the factions, with the High Elves having an exceptionally easy time enlarging their territories while other factions stubbornly refuse even generous offers.
Each of the four playable factions’ units now have a racial trait indicative of their nature and in both flavorful and mechanical form. The Skaven, for example, are fast and cowardly and their units will often break quickly, flee from the fight, then recover just as quickly and are ready to be sent back in. High Elves are masterful fighters with an inherent bonus to their combat abilities, but this bonus vanishes as the unit takes casualties.
This ties in with the new climate mechanic, which causes settlements in regions that are unpleasant for a certain faction to suffer penalties to income, construction, and public order for that faction, to create very sharp distinctions between the races. Now even though each race utilizes many of the core Total War mechanics of base and empire building they feel very alien to each other and provide very diverse geo-political, strategic, and tactical experiences.
Tactics are another critical difference between the factions that is routinely highlighted when they meet in battle. The armies are not balanced around tech tree or unit equivalency, but in composition and application. Lizardman infantry are naturally stronger than the other factions’ equivalents and can rarely be defeated in a straight fight. Other factions like the precise and delicate High Elves must employ proper tactics to overcome the Lizardmen’s brute strength or routinely suffer defeat even when using their own high tier units.
The idea of tactics trumping technology has been present in Total War for decades but in Warhammer II it cannot be emphasized enough that equivalent tier units are not equivalent power units. This is best illustrated with the Skaven, whose heavy infantry are two-thirds of the cost and upkeep of other factions’ heavy infantry, but are totally outclassed in combat. As with all Skaven frontline units, their purpose is not to defeat their opponents in grim melee, but to hold out long enough for the Skaven’s many diabolic contraptions and monsters to get into position and do their nasty work. Baring a complete imbalance of numbers, there is hardly ever a situation where the aforementioned scenario does not play out in similar fashion.
Warhammer II’s primary accomplishment is to introduce a campaign experience that is distinct in its form and features from the first Warhammer’s campaign, and the interaction of the factions with each other, in combat and strategy, is a critical part of accomplishing that. Warhammer II’s Vortex Campaign is a complete package, with a fully formed campaign map and factions that clash or co-mingle in a variety of different ways depending on the player’s preferred strategies. Many of the Old World factions from Warhammer are present as minor factions that have carved out their own small sections of the New World, thus preventing stagnation in diplomacy and combat as the player’s empire expands.
Total War: Warhammer’s cooperative and competitive multiplayer modes return in Warhammer II alongside a recently released free DLC, the Mortal Empires, which combines the two game’s campaigns into one monolithic experience as long as players own both games. Mortal Empires can also be played in the multiplayer modes by players that possess the DLC. The DLC is not completely finished, as the new Norsca faction has not yet been implemented, but Creative Assembly has given assurances that everything will eventually be updated.
The multiplayer connection required for cooperative play and custom battles is very low but not very forgiving with little tolerance for de-synchronization, and Warhammer II’s graphics requirements are not as easy to accommodate. Modern computers should be able to run them without much difficulty, but higher end machines are required to truly enjoy the full experience that the detailed graphics and animations provide. Additionally, the Mortal Empires DLC highlights the need for strong processing power as over forty factions’ moves are processed each turn.
Creative Assembly has done a masterful job providing a fully developed sequel game that fits perfectly into its middle slot while still supplying very satisfying content for single and multiplayer gamers. Total War: Warhammer II’s difficulty curve is slightly higher for new players and it adds a few minor mechanics that are not very well explained, but fans of the first game will be able to pick it up with little difficulty. For newer players there is a wealth of online resources and tips to help them get a handle on another superb title in the Total War: Warhammer trilogy.