In the 2000s, if you found yourself conversing with a Warhammer fan and mentioned video games, chances are you’d find yourself talking about Dawn of War. Back then, Relic Entertainment’s RTS series gripped many-a-fan of both the original Warhammer and 40k, and for good reason – they were fantastic games. It’s been seven years since Dawn of War II launched, and while rumours come and go every year, a third installment seems a while away.

In the meantime, there’s been an influx of Warhammer-branded titles, ranging from Hammerfall’s chess-inspired Regicide to Behaviour Interactive’s MMO Eternal Crusade. Arguably the biggest of these, though, is The Creative Assembly’s Total War: Warhammer.

I haven’t had all that much experience with the Total War games, and so jumping in on a preview of Total War: Warhammer was something that pushed me a bit out of my comfort zone. I spent what seemed like hundreds of hours playing Dawn of War throughout my high schooling years, but Total War is a completely different beast. However, jumping into the Vampire Counts’ campaign proved to be a challenging and enjoyable jaunt into the world of the original Warhammer universe.

Having only played a couple of hours of Attila, I at least had the basics of Total War and its mechanics down pat. I jumped in, was swiftly greeted by the advisor (the game’s tutorial of sorts), and started my campaign as the Lord Mannfred von Carstein.

The first thing that popped out to me was the plethora of options available, ranging from the handful of different skill trees used to upgrade units and abilities to the wide-ranging options the diplomacy section of the game allows. It all felt a bit overwhelming given the little experience I’ve had with the series, but the choices I was making seemed to at least be doing something positive.

There’s a focus on keeping your castle and captured provinces running. This was something I completely neglected at the beginning of course, but having gone through a handful of turns my income was dwindling and I needed to make trades with neighbouring factions to stay afloat. For a new player, I think trial and error will play a major role in keeping the game’s campaign going smoothly although honestly, all I wanted to do was jump into the Warhammer battles I’ve come to know and love. Fortunately, they were plentiful.

Total War: Warhammer is confusing, awesome

Total War: Warhammer’s battles possess the epic scale of Dawn of War and the intensity of Games Workshop’s classic tabletop game, and it’s on the battlefield that everything really clicked for me. (That’s also why I didn’t spend as much time as I should have running through the campaign’s other details.)

Taking control of the Vampire Counts meant the undead were at my disposal, and so my army was comprised of zombies, ghouls, bats, trolls, and wolves. My first couple of battles were fairly straightforward, and gave me a good barometer of how to best make use of the beings at my disposal, while also giving me the ability to try out different techniques and tactics. Each of the different sets of units I had could be used in a multitude of different ways, but they all had a primary use that could change the tide of battle.

Some examples: bats, while incredibly weak, were great at keeping a group occupied while my other forces on the ground made haste in their direction. The troll, slow and sluggish, yet incredibly powerful, could usually take on groups by itself, allowing me to gang up on other enemies.

the attention I’d given battles made other things like managing income, trade, and diplomacy fail fairly quickly under my leadership.
Total War: Warhammer is confusing, awesome
Total War: Warhammer is confusing, awesome
Total War: Warhammer is confusing, awesome

Throughout the handful of battles I played, the game’s soundtrack constantly reminded me of the scale of the world I was engaged in. Before each battle and as I deliberated over how to set my units up, the score was minimal, but as I made the charge forward, it slowly ramped up, finally blasting into a score that made each battle feel epic and spirited. It was one of the most striking things in the preview, setting the mood very well.

Something newly introduced into the Total War series is magic, which I only used sporadically. Having von Carstein at my disposal meant I had access to dark magic, with casting just a few button clicks away. The spell I made use of the most would drain selected enemy units’ health, making my job of killing that much easier. I can see magic becoming a fairly important tool in winning a battle and given that I didn’t use it all that much this time around, I’m keen to experiment with it further down the line.

One of the lessons I learned fairly quickly was that while the Vampire Counts had aerial units in the bats, they don’t have any ranged units, so all of the damage had to be dealt up close. This made planning and tactical awareness key to winning a battle. Other races like the Orks and the Empire have ranged units at their disposal, and so making use of both the bats and dire wolves to distract them while my ground units made the long walk across the battlefield was of paramount importance.

Each battle I played was enjoyable, with the last couple being particularly challenging. However, the attention I’d given battles made other things like managing income, trade, and diplomacy fail fairly quickly under my leadership. This wasn’t really addressed by the advisor, who for the most part came and went sporadically. Had I been playing at home with the intent of playing past the 30 turns I was afforded, I would have had an awful time thanks to the lack of any real tutorial to help me understand what happened off the battlefield.

Total War: Warhammer is confusing, awesome

Furthermore, the levelling system, the technology skill tree, and the use of dark magic – which also acts as a form of currency in the Vampire Counts campaign – wasn’t really touched upon, again making a newcomer’s experience confusing and often overwhelming. I loved the battles here, but everything else all seemed a little too much to take in at one time.

Total War veterans will probably be quite at home with these parts of the jigsaw though, and I’m assuming there will be a tutorial in the full release that will give newcomers a better understanding of how to operate everything. When I understand everything that’s going on in that side of the game, I’m certain I’ll have a much more fulfilling experience.

The massive battles in Total War: Warhammer were some of the most fun I’ve had in a Warhammer-branded game since Dawn of War, albeit on a very different level. I’m definitely keen to check out more and dive further into the lore and the campaigns that have been set up for the game’s other races, too. This is probably the most interested I’ve been in a Total War game ever, and the world of Warhammer fits within the series’ mould incredibly well.