Total War: Warhammer's campaign map focuses on faction asymmetry

We took the Greenskins to WAAAGH

Total War: Warhammer

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The slow, slow drip feed of Total War: Warhammer information continues, this time with a look at the campaign map. And I’m running out of ways to say “I think Total Warhammer looks more interesting than any Total War in recent memory.” Even if you, like me, aren't interested in Warhammer.

Creative Assembly invited me in to take a look at the campaign map a few weeks ago, and the main topic of conversation was race. Not like, NASCAR. And not different races of humans, as per usual Total War.

Greenskins, humans, dwarfs, and vampire counts. These are the four factions in Total Warhammer, and when I talked to Creative Assembly six months ago I was told all four would play differently—not just in battle but on the campaign map. This time around, I got a glimpse of all four factions and saw some of those differences. And I left intrigued.

Total War: Warhammer

A faction for everyone

Once again I was not given the chance to go hands-on with the game, so take this all with some appropriate, heart-healthy amount of salt. Optimization? No idea. Bugs? Don’t ask me. How long do turns take? Not something I can answer yet. How’s the AI? Hopefully better. The usual Total War caveats.

That said, I’m actually—dare I say it?—looking forward to Total Warhammer. I mentioned six months ago that it seemed like a much-needed shot-in-the-arm for the long-stagnant Total War formula, and the campaign map reinforced those feelings by giving me a look at some deeply ingrained asymmetrical mechanics.

Our demo centered around the Greenskins, so I can speak to their style of play with the most authority. However, Creative Assembly was liberal in comparing the Greenskins to other factions, giving me a decent idea of how all four work. And how they differ.

If you want a point of comparison for the Greenskins, look no further than Total War: Attila. In many ways a remix of Rome II, Attila also introduced the concept of migratory Horde factions—armies that double as cities.

Greenskins don’t go quite that far. They have real cities and can conquer territory. But their entire style of play is geared towards offense with highly mobile armies designed to operate behind enemy lines. Greenskin armies can go into “Raiding Stance,” making them stationary but allowing troops to replenish their numbers even in hostile territory and allowing for unit recruitment—albeit at a higher cost than you’d find in a real city.

Total War: Warhammer

Each Greenskin army also has a “Fightiness” rating that constantly decreases when not in battle or in Raiding Stance. Too low and your troops will start killing each other off. Get it high enough though and you’ll trigger a “WAAAGH!”—in Total Warhammer represented as a second, AI-controlled army that shadows your actual army and backs you up in battle.

It’s a faction designed for long, drawn-out military campaigns. Diplomacy is decidedly limited. Civil services are crude. But war, that’s a thing the Greenskins understand. Even their tech tree is military-centric, with Goblins slapping together research upgrades like ‘Eavy Clubs and Big Wheels.

The other factions? None of this applies.

Humans, for instance, play “more like a standard Total War faction,” according to Creative Assembly. Greenskins get most of their money from armies in Raiding Stance. Humans have a normal economy with taxation. Greenskin research focuses primarily on military matters. Humans have a tech tree that unlocks as you create more buildings.

And dwarfs, they have two tech trees—one for civil and one for military matters.

Total War: Warhammer

Also interesting: Cities are now faction-specific. “Humans would never occupy an orc city,” I was told by Creative Assembly—which is probably true, because orc cities are filthy. When humans conquer a Greenskin city, they have to raze it.

But when Greenskins conquer and occupy a Dwarf city, for instance, they make it their own. Literally. The campaign map now updates the art for each city, so a Dwarf hall high in the mountains might suddenly sprout Greenskin banners and scratched-out runes and rickety wooden contraptions to show who’s in control.

It’s a nice touch, though I’m worried that faction-specific cities mean a less modular map and, thus, less of the traditional Total War sandbox feel. Put that in the “Unknown” column until we get some real hands-on time with the game.

I mostly like what I’ve seen though, including the way the “story” is handled. Factions are led by Legendary Lords, which function sort of like hero units. They can take part in battles and level up, at which point they can either spend points on skills or on unique quest chains—recruit this unit, go to this place, et cetera. Quests then culminate in a massive one-off battle, like the Battle of Black Fire Pass I saw in my earlier demo. Win, and your hero gets to equip a new lore-related item.

Total War: Warhammer

Given I’m not a huge Warhammer fan, I don’t really care about these quests from a Warhammer lore perspective. It’s an interesting experiment for Total War though—and, again, I think some experimentation is something the series sorely needs.

I wish I’d seen even more of the other factions. The Greenskin UI, for instance, is still a bit too obtuse in its iconography for my tastes—the Rome II style, where you spend a lot of time wondering what the hell certain buttons do. I’m hoping The Empire and Dwarfs have a cleaner interface maybe, and the Vampire Counts are for all intents and purposes a mystery still.

It’s a good start though. Now we wait for the next trickle of information before the game’s release in April, 2016. And pray that the game doesn’t release half-broken, of course. As I said: the usual Total War caveats apply.

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