When Total War: Warhammer II was announced back in March, it came as a surprise. Less than a year after the original game, Creative Assembly were already looking to the future and a new game. Since then it’s gradually come into focus, and now the fourth race, the Skaven, has been announced, we have a picture of a game and a studio that is far from content to rest on their laurels.
One thing that this fantasy spin on the Total War series has done very well is make the different races feel more unique than, for example, Greeks and Macedonians in Total War: Rome II. It’s manifest both on the battlefield and on the campaign map, with some races more adept at magics than others, perhaps raising the dead as the Vampire Counts, the way that land can be blighted by Chaos, how the Greenskins need to keep their Fightiness level high. That remains true in Total War: Warhammer II, and if anything it’s being taken even further with the four new races included and the way that this part of the world has been recreated in the game.
The High Elves have their near impregnable Northern gates that defend their realms from incursion as they try to keep the Great Vortex in check, while also seeking to shape the world to their whims which gives their campaign a more political slant, while the Dark Elves have huge floating Black Arks that can roam the world as they seek to take new slaves, acting as cities which you can build up and recruit from. The Lizardmen seek to control settlements that link to their Geomantic Web, strengthening their power as they spread across the map in what might appear to others to be a random fashion. Finally, the Skaven act according to their Council of 13, seeking to gather enough Warp Stone to summon and control a hugely powerful demon. All the races are striving to gain control of the Great Vortex at the heart of Ulthuan, gathering power to perform various rituals around the map to turn it to their ends.
It’s fascinating to see all the contrasting motivations and ideas behind each race, and for the Skaven, they’re portrayed as conniving, scheming vermin, who hide in the shadows. Their settlements are subterranean rat hives that look to other players like ruined cities – imagine their surprise when thousands of rat-men spring forth. They also have a Stalking stance on the campaign map that give them a high probability of ambushing the enemy while on the move.
They’re also very, very hungry. As you search for Warp Stone to further your end goals, you also have to be aware of the food meter that can strengthen or weaken your forces. It’s not a simple resource that depletes over time, but one that you can use actively to give yourself the advantage. Before a battle starts, you can spend food to create summonable units that can burrow out of the ground anywhere on the map, potentially letting you distract or dismantle a particular defence, which will be particularly useful against archer and artillery heavy armies. Known as The Menace Below in a manner not too dissimilar to resurrecting the dead with the Vampire Counts.
That’s not the only fun that you can have in battle. The Skaven might start off with lots of rather weak units, but you’ll grow to play with things like the Hell Pit Abomination, Doom Wheel and other hellish mutated beast capable of tearing through other armies. Initially, though, you’ll have to rely on large numbers of clanrats the odd warp infused ranged units, and using cunning manoeuvres to get the job done.
Once battle is done, the enemy army crushed beneath your claws, one of the options is to eat your enemies, helping to replenish your forces more quickly in a most brutal fashion. Winning battles, sacking settlements, and building certain buildings in your own will boost your food stores. You can then use that food to help bolster a newly captured settlement, investing it to boost the buildings you start with to a higher level.
The early campaign for Queek Headtaker – one of two heroes – has you gradually growing in strength, doing battle with High Elves that get in your way and doing duplicitous deals of non-aggression with other races and factions nearby. The Skaven aren’t really ones to abide by non-aggression pacts, even internally, but it doesn’t hurt to let your rivals dream. However, it soon became clear that, even though I had a good start, I was going to be harassed from a distance by a High Elf fortress on an island sending regular armies and heroes. Naturally that would have to be dealt with.
A new twist to the races in Total War: Warhammer 2 is that they have large scale abilities called Rites. For the Skaven, the Scheme of Doooom! can be visited upon an enemy city, plunging it into the ground with an earthquake or sinkhole in an instant, while the Pestilence Scheme visits a plague upon your foes, potentially spreading through their ranks and weakening them significantly – the risk being that the agent who delivers these devastating blows might be discovered on the way. Meanwhile, the Thirteenth Scheme and the Domination Scheme work to boost your capabilities in campaign and in battle. They’re obviously not as flashy, but just as useful.
Creative Assembly have really worked to make the campaign much more dynamic than in the original game as well, where it was dominated by the encroaching forces of chaos. For one thing, you can now search ruined settlements for treasure, instead of taking them into your empire, and there’s new rogue armies of misfits that wander the map, preying on the weaker factions. More fundamentally, the Great Vortex becomes a shared goal for all four races, though you can still go and try to dominate the world in the traditional fashion if you like.
You work towards performing a series of rituals, during which you’re granted a significant boost for 10 turns, with which to fend off those that would wish to stop you. Prepare yourself to deal with multiple incoming armies, as the other factions try to prevent you from advancing. Even those on the other side of the map can try to intervene, putting down the cash to send AI armies to stall the ritual.
It might be little more than a year since the first game in what will be a Total War: Warhammer trilogy, but Creative Assembly are showing that this game deserves to stand on its own. It’s more than just adding new races and a new map, but they’re also considering the game itself, working to make it more engaging and raise the stakes and tension.