Best known for its depiction of epic-scale conflicts during historical eras such as Edo Japan and the rise (and fall) of the Roman Empire, Total War took a bit of a gamble back in 2015 with Total War: Warhammer. Combining the series’ sumptuously strategic gameplay with the fantasy setting of Warhammer was a no brainer on paper, but it needed the execution to make it happen. Outside of one or two hiccups, Total War: Warhammer was one of the best and truest adaptations of the Games Workshop franchise since the mid-1990s. Unsurprisingly, Warhammer II is even bigger and better.
Where the original game focused solely on The Old World and a cluster of familiar Warhammer factions, the sequel takes us west towards Ulthuan, home of the High Elves. Beyond lies the New World, featuring the untamed jungles of Lustria the ominous abode of the Dark Elves to the north. Besides the two Elven factions, the indigenous race of Lizardmen are also playable, as are the conniving Skaven – corrupted ratmen that infest just about every corner of the Warhammer world.
There are eight campaigns in total, with two for each faction, each with their own protagonist and story arc to follow. Warhammer II does a fantastic job of fleshing out the lore and setting of this established universe, allowing you to see it through the eyes of your chosen faction.
Although conquering your foes and expanding your territory remains a constant goal, there is something much larger afoot. Created as a way to siphon off magical power from the world and weaken the forces of Chaos, the Great Vortex at the heart of Ulthuan has been destabilised, giving all four races the opportunity to turn it to their personal advantage. No matter how you approach Warhammer II you’ll find your exploits contributing towards this overarching objective.
A bar at the top of the campaign screen shows how close you are to being able to battle for victory, topping up every time you turn in a quest or acquire special resources. This bar is cut into segments, however, and the only way to progress through milestones is to perform a rite. By clicking this command, you sign yourself up for a mini onslaught of Chaos as warbands come pouring in from the vortex. Not only that, but your three rival factions will also do what they can to obstruct your efforts or wipe you out altogether.
At times, Warhammer II can be pretty overwhelming. It’s a trait of Total War games and the strategy genre in general. Over many, many hours you’ll go from leading a main character and their single warband to controlling dozens of armies. With a grand strategy in mind, you’ll move them around the map, maintaining and upgrading them as well as any territories you control. It has to be said that Creative Assembly makes this journey as easy as possible, smoothing out the learning curve with helpful tips and tutorials as you play.
The only layer of gameplay that didn’t gel with me was diplomacy. There’s a complex menu to stare at, charting your relations with each and every other faction you’ve encountered. The thing is, there’s no sure-fire way to control or influence how they react to you. Even if you perform actions that they will approve of, allies can easily turn on you unless you go out of your way to appease them. These obscurities prevented me from playing the campaign as I had envisioned, making it almost impossible to forge alliances or manipulate enemies towards my cause.
The race you select has a significant bearing on how the game plays out. Each has its own menagerie of unit types, special abilities, and other traits that will influence your approach to certain situations. The Dark Elves and Skaven, for instance, have a loyalty mechanic where generals need to be kept in check, and will occasionally going rogue if not given enough attention, while the Lizardmen work to manipulate the Geomantic Web that they see spreading across the map. Meanwhile, the High Elves have can use their powers of influence to make and break alliances by changing their diplomatic standing.
Speaking of factions, you’ll encounter more than just Elves, Lizardmen, and Skaven. The marauding forces of Norsca patrol the icy wastelands to the north and other armies will pop up all over the map, made up of regiments of misfits from other races that have turned to pillaging the lands. It’s a clever touch that adds even more variety and one that sets the game up nicely for when Creative Assembly join the campaign map that joins this game with the original Total War: Warhammer in the near future.
While there’s certainly an addictive quality to arranging forces on the campaign map, Warhammer II’s action packed battles are the highlight. They’ll feel instantly familiar to anyone that’s played Total War in the past, but with a few Warhammer inspired twists. Aside from archers, infantry, and cavalry, armies can enlist legendary heroes, spellcasters, winged beasts, and monsters, and there are more than a few tricks that each race can fall back on. They help create unpredictable, dynamic battles that are a joy to watch on-screen.
For fans of the original game, Total War: Warhammer II is a great follow-up. Creative Assembly has created something both new and familiar, keeping that central core intact while transporting players to a part of this universe ignored in previous video game adaptations. That change of setting and the narrative drive of the Great Vortex will be enough for most, alongside a suite of smaller, more subtle changes. There’s also the exciting prospect of new armies, campaigns, and other features that are no doubt just around the corner.
Version Tested: PC