Heading west from the lands of man and the advance of Chaos from the north, Total War: Warhammer II takes us to Ulthuan and a fascinating mixture of different races from the Warhammer world. The High Elves stand tall, the Dark Elves ravage and enslave all they come across, the Lizardmen deal in mysticism, and the freshly announced Skaven are a skittering mass of furry and hungry bodies.
Having gone hands on with the Skaven campaign – catch our impressions here – we spoke to Lead Writer Andy Hall and Lead Programmer Scott Pitkethly about the game.
TSA: Looking back to the announcement for Total War: Warhammer II – which is still a bit of a mouthful! – how did the community react to having a full sequel announced less than a year after the first game released?
Scott Pitkethly: Well, Total War: Warhammer was always planned to be a trilogy, so we were just so eager to continue with the content that this felt like the right time. We’ve also got the historical games in development, so we’re kind of working on two titles at the same time.
Andy Hall: I mean, the team was well geared to do a sequel to Warhammer, so we hit the ground running. We’ve got so many animators at the moment – and that’s something you really need for a game like Warhammer with all these things that need animating – and we didn’t want to lose anyone [between games].
Scott: Exactly, and it’s such rich content that we wanted to treat each race with the love and the attention to detail that it deserves. We didn’t want to clone things and so with each race we put a lot of effort into producing the right assets and stuff. Each race for us is like a game in itself, so the amount of content we have to produce is immense compared to previous Total War games, where we’ve just have to worry about humans.
TSA: I guess it’s just the mental hurdle to overcome where you’ve also had races added to the first game as DLC, so where do you say you’re doing a new game? But because you’ve already got the engine in place, you can focus on the races, the story, the new map, and so on.
Andy: I think so. We were very keen from the start that this would be a sequel, and so you don’t need the first game to play this, but obviously if you do you get a few bonuses. That’s another reason to have these two reasonably close together so we can say we’re going to join up the campaigns.
Actually, for the guys that are spending hundreds of hours in this world, they’re saying it’s been a long time, too long!
Scott: If your race is not in the game, you’re going “Well, when is my race coming out?”
Andy: But we still wanted to make sure it’s a proper sequel, so it’s not just more races that could have been DLC, we’ve made sure that the Vortex campaign is a completely different way of playing Total War, it’s got a strong narrative, which is obviously something I was very keen to do, it’s got some very different mechanics in the way that you’re racing against the other races.
Ian Roxburgh was very conscious that one of the weaknesses of Total War is that once you reach a critical mass with your empire, then it’s almost just a steamroller procession to paint the map.
TSA: That is that classic problem that these grand strategy games have across the board; you struggle with it, Paradox struggle with it…
Andy: So the Vortex campaign is our answer to that. You’ve got to complete at least five rituals to take control of the Great Vortex, which is our MacGuffin, effectively. How you do that is up to you, though. You can do it via the narrative missions linked to you and the hero character, or you can take specific Vortex settlement zones and mine them – for the Skaven it’s Warp Stone, unsurprisingly. There’s several ways of getting the ritual currency you need to perform these rituals.
You can have this big army and this big empire, because that’s the way you play Total War, but if the Dark Elf AI has a smaller empire but is two rituals ahead of you, they’re probably going to win.
TSA: It’s nice that you’ve got this different tone to the game that gives you opportunity, I feel. The first game was all about Chaos coming down.
Andy: I mean, we did that with the first game, because that’s kind of what Warhammer is! Now it’s time to start experimenting a bit.
What I was going to say is you can do [the Vortex campaign] as a traditional race, or you can knobble your opponent, take their legs from under them by just conquering them and removing them from the race by default. There’s so many ways to play it and even if you complete all the rituals, you then go to this end boss battle, the biggest battle we’ve ever created. If an enemy race gets there, you come in to try and stop them, but if you’re the person there, then all the other races are coming to try and stop you!
Scott: Also there’s the grand campaign that will join the two maps together, which is a new big thing.
Andy: Yeah, so once you’ve done all that, you can just go, “OK. No story this time!” and dominate the whole world!
TSA: Turning to the Skaven now, I think one of the nice things is that you get to play a lot more with how an army works compared to the historical games.
Scott: Because everyone’s a man! [laughs]
TSA: Everyone’s a man, but here you’ve got the Skaven living in ruins, eating captives, and everything else. How do you go about choosing the races and then making them all feel different?
Scott: Yeah, so one of the classic things is just going back to the Warhammer army books. They’re so rich with information that we just take the Skaven book, for example, go through it, and one of the key phrases they used is that kind of nervous energy. They’re constantly twitching, so the first thing, when we look at the animations, is to instil that feeling. You’ll see they’re all moving erratically, one’s chewing their arm as well, and it looks like the one next to him is going to start chomping on him.
From the animation point of view, we mo-capped a lot of that stuff, so we had people trying to get into the mentality of the Skaven.
TSA: Al Bickham was doing a very nice impression during the presentation! [laughs]
Andy: It was spot on! Once you start talking like a Skaven, it’s very hard to stop! [laughs]
Scott: It’s just taking all that information that’s there. The Skaven are actually quite good because there’s not many other games that have done rat people, but then you’ve also got other resources like films for Elves, where you can take that information. The Lizardmen are another example, where you can look at Jurassic Park…
TSA: And everyone loves dinosaurs.
Andy: Dinosaurs riding dinosaurs with space lasers…
TSA: That is peak dinosaur! [laughs]
Scott: It’s an animator’s dream with all these crazy things going on.
One of the things for Warhammer II is to do more with monsters vs. monsters to match animations up. When we were playing the first game, one of the things we noticed was that it was fine when monsters were attacking infantry and we had matched animations, but when it was up against another one, it looked quite bland. It was one of those things that we wanted to do, but just didn’t have the time, so now we’ve got the Hell Pit Abomination doing a matched animation for when its fighting a dragon, to get that visual spectacle and make it more interesting.
Andy: My favourite animation in the whole game is when the Hell Pit Abomination does a suplex on a Carnosaur, so you’ve got this big Skaven tentacle monster doing a wrestling move on a Tyrannosaurus Rex!
TSA: Have you gone to greater efforts to make the set piece battles and quest battles more spectacular than before?
Andy: I think, going back to the end battle, that will be hopefully a gobsmacking climactic experience. And yeah, for the rest of them, we’ve tidied them up, made sure they’re not so long this time and that you get to a quest battle a bit sooner.
TSA: You’ve got this new system of Rites in the game for the races in the campaign, and then seem pretty…. powerful.
Andy: Yeah! They’re effectively campaign level spells, so we want them to do something really powerful. It’s a new feature as well, so again, it’s something that’s different from Warhammer.
TSA: It’s interesting that, for the Skaven, you’ve the two show-stopping Rites that can unleash a plague or drop a city into a sinkhole, and then you’ve got those that are just more general Empire-wide buffs. It’s tricky to know which ones are going to be more useful to you
Andy: Well yeah, I mean… play the game! [laughs]
Scott: I’m still learning now…
Andy: I’m the same. With the Dark Elves, you’ve seen a bit that they’ve got Black Arks, so they’ve got these big floating cities that are actually mobile settlements, which I think is a first for Total War, and then when they get close to a battle [they can bombard them from the sky] and you go “Wow! Well that’s helpful!”
Thanks to Andy and Scott for chatting to us about Total War: Warhammer II. You can catch our hands on impressions from the game and its Skaven campaign here. It’s out for PC on 29th September this year.