Total War: Warhammer Pre-Launch Review

By Jason Parker (Ragachak)


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WAAAGH!!  That’s the last sound the victims of the Greenskins tend to hear. But what makes Total War: Warhammer so special, so deserving of notice?  Total War is a well-established franchise, but what makes this one truly unique is that it is the first dip into fiction, particularly high-fantasy, the fantasy world of Warhammer. I’ve always wanted a Lord of the Rings or Wheel of Time Total War, so perhaps if this is a success, we’ll see just that. This particular addition to the franchise does a few new things, and spends a little less on other things. You don’t spend quite as much time balancing nobility and marriages, things of that nature. This one’s more focused on combat, assassination, magic, and carnage.  The end goal is to rule the land, and to do that you control one of the major Warhammer factions: Greenskins, Empire, Vampire Counts, and Dwarves. There’s also going to be the Chaos faction, which I’m incredibly upset I did not have access to straight away in my review copy. From a variety of stances, cool missions, differing faction and faction heroes… there’s so much on offer here.

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For the most part, I’ve been thrilled with Total War: Warhammer.   Depending on what faction I’m playing, there is a very different approach that has to be taken. For example: The Greenskins [Goblins/Orcs] have “Fightiness”, and need to be in constant battle. That’s going to make a lot of enemies if you have a few lords going around picking brawls with other Greenskin tribes.  But there is a positive to this: The stronger your faction is, the greater the chances the other, weaker tribes will surrender to you, making your own territory swell. Yell WAAAGH and charge forward! But all the long-term goals tend to be the same. Control X Territory, Control or Destroy X Territory, et cetera.  The quests are interesting [historic battles taking place in the Warhammer franchise] and the leveling of these encounters appears to balance with your current progress. I do like that each faction plays differently, but I don’t know that they are all that balanced.

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Sure, Total War fans might complain that “Vampires have no ranged units!”, but that’s just how the tabletop is. It’s been pretty accurate to what I remember of the tabletop.  Going into this with the Traditional “Total War” mindframe isn’t going to be as efficient as you might think. Lords and Heroes can stand on their own, and fight in the middle of the fray. It’s advisable to have them near your troops, and casting spells/abilities. Like most of the Total War game, it’s a pretty challenging game, and each faction has its own difficulty rating listed on top of the campaign/battle difficulty. There is a differing challenge per faction because they play differently and not always in a good way. I hate to keep talking about Greenskins, but they’re a prime example, with their “Hard Rating”.  If their “Fightiness” rating drops too far, from losing battles/ not fighting, they might just rebel! You could lose a huge army due to not fighting.

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One of the best things about Total Warhammer is the Quest Battles. Quest Battles are the secrets to unlocking Real Soviet Power.  Ridiculous weapons, etc. Do you want to play Warhammer without spending hundreds of turns getting to specific quests/historic battles?  Under “Battles”, in addition to all the other options, you can just jump into whichever of the Quest Battles you desire! The game gives you a set amount of units under a particular faction lord, and it puts you right into the battle! There’s no auto battle here, or in regular [campaign] quest missions either.  I really appreciate being able to just do the specific battles anytime I want, but I don’t always agree with the unit choices they give me, since my playstyle might be different from what they apply to the battle. But I love this because it’s a challenge. Performance in this battle comes down to strategy and skill [and whatever difficulty you apply to the quest…] Of course, then there are “Custom Battles”, where you can set any map in the game and set whichever attackers/defenders you want to practice against. That’s how I treat it: Practice. Is there a campaign or multiplayer scenario you want to work against? Do you know how your best friend plays, and want to prepare for unit set ups they use? This is a fantastic way to do just that. Then there’s quick play and multiplayer which has individual battle as well as campaign choices.

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Combat still works the same as it always has; real time, moving units, flanking, things like that. Units that are near your leader tend to have a buff or boost, so it’s useful to move your army pretty close together with the occasional flank. You can cast spells, fire siege engines, and pre-battle you can siege using engines to batter down the enemy’s defenses.  The downside to this is you can be ambushed by Lords/Heroes in Ambush Stance. Once in combat, it’s a good idea to focus the enemy leader, if possible. If they are weakened, flee or are destroyed, the morale of the enemy force falters, and you can simply mop them up with ease. I tend to push units until they retreat away [briefly], then focus something else. Figure out what units makes them tick, and push them out of your way.

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What makes Total War: Warhammer special?  Magic! The ability to cast spells, split the sky with horrific storms, raise the dead, melt enemy armor, you name it. Even Greenskins can WAAAAGH to decimate their foes. But it’s not instant and not completely unstoppable. Not to mention, there’s a feature called “The Winds of Magic”. The Winds of Magic blow and howl, shifting across the landscape seemingly at random. It can make your magical powers stronger or more plentiful, depending on the circumstances. However, certain battle stances and heroic actions will allow you to adjust this, thankfully. I don’t like that it’s random at all, but I do like being able to have some modicum of a say-so.  If you see a foe casting a spell, or have someone on your side casting, damaging them will interrupt it, so that’s a definite sign that you need to get to work and stop them. Depending on how your army is put together, you have only so much magical power, so don’t spam them either!  The style of spells vary, and each of them has their place. Personally, my favorite spell is “Raise the Dead” by the Vampire Counts. You can use it to resurrect an army behind your opponent and flank, or raise them in front of a fleeing unit. The options are virtually endless. Instead of bombarding you with tons of facts, here’s a few of those options:

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Augment: Healing, Buffing, Giving Stat Buffs that can also have very sneaky purposes.

Ward Save:  Powerful barriers that can protect or nullify enemy spells. Pay attention to what the enemy does and plan accordingly.

Breath:  A cone shape of magical damage.  Think Dragons.  Use it to blast a hole in an enemy formation and charge in with your own units.

Magic Missile:  Enchant a unit [preferably a flying or powerful tanky unit] to cast ranged magical bombardment. Mobile Battery Go!

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Factions are important. You won’t get far in campaign mode without knowing each faction’s power points. Personally, my favorite are the Vampire Counts, followed by the Chaos Army [even though I can’t play them yet]. I’m personally miffed that the Dark Elves aren’t represented, but that’s neither here nor there. Don’t war with everyone, all the time. Sometimes you need to make peace and trade agreements to get more steady income flowing in. Factions can’t rule all cities of all factions though, so these trade agreements are key. Vampires can’t live in Greenskin cities, for example. Greenskins can only live in Greenskin or Dwarf settlements, et cetera. So, they have things you want? Sometimes you have to let them go so you can prepare to smash them to pieces.  It’s also important to note that while there are “Hero” units, you have to have some sort of requirement in order to get them, typically a building crafted. Each campaign gives you two different characters that offer bonuses to their own play style. Pick whichever suits you best.


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Rejoice! A Knight of Bretonnia provides your shield.

The Empire is now ruled by Karl Franz: Prince of Altdorf. Untested in his new capacity as ruler, he mixes both might and magic in an attempt to unite the people. The Empire has six Hero types to recruit: Empire Captain, Witch Hunter, Warrior Priest, Light Wizard, Bright Wizard, and Celestial Wizard. The main game mechanic of the Empire is “Confederation”; the main objective for the Empire is to gather the humans in a confederation, building relations through truce or force to form a larger, more powerful, singular entity.

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The Empire has one, lofty goal: the destruction of the Vampires, the eradication of the Greenskins, and keeping the threat posed by the forces of Chaos at bay. The humans of the Empire have some of the more diverse units in the game. Demigryphs, for example, are possibly the most powerful cavalry available. The Luminark of Hysh does insane AOE damage, but if you can’t keep it defended, its efficiency is lost. Their tech trees are also similarly diverse; focus on infrastructure and armory technology to ensure your potentially low-defense units are well armed-and-armored against any onslaught.


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Dwarven Kingdom:

A Grudge born too long is no good. A united front and firepower will win this war.

Thorgrim Grudgebearer is honestly just an amazing name.  I may not care for Dwarves, but I love that name. Dwarves have Grudges, and that is your game mechanic. There are Dwarven Strongholds across the map, and you have to free/acquire them for yourself. The “Great Book of Grudges” is on your screen [lower-right corner icon of the Campaign Screen].  As you go forward, even the slightest thing can wind up in the Book of Grudges, and you don’t want them to accumulate. There are consequences to leaving Grudges unfinished. But your ultimate goal is to forge the Dwarven Kingdom back into one giant fighting force.  And to probably destroy those damn Greenskins.

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They don’t care to be called “Stunties” after all. Ungrim is the Slayer King and joins Thorgrim, and he’s excellent at slaying things. Monsters in particular. Their heroes are typical Dwarf things: Runesmith, Master Engineer, Thane.  They have so many great ranged and flying units too. Irondrakes, Gyrocopters, Gyrobombers, etc. They can use flamethrowers, torpedos, and just make people absolutely miserable from a nice distance. But don’t forget powerful Dwarven armor! They also make terrific melee units.  They are likely to utilize their income multipliers to become rich and forge impressive armies, and ally up with other Dwarves as well as Humans to fight the local Greenskins.


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I can’t say it enough: WAAAGH!!  Greenskins are a collective of Orcs and Goblins under Grimgor Ironhide, a mighty Orc with the Fightiness to do the job at hand. That leads me to their main game mechanic: FIGHTINESS. Low Fightiness leads to animosity, and units might fight each other instead of the enemy. To improve Fightiness, you enter Raiding Stance, or you win fights.  At the maximum Fightiness, a WAAAGH state is entered, and an AI Unit will join you.  It’s powerful, it acts on its own, and as long as you stay in WAAAGH state, it will kill/support for you.  You want it. You NEED it. SO START KILLING.  But you don’t want to alienate all your neighbors though… Downside?

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You can’t have a Tech Tree to research until you build the right building, which you can’t do until you have a level 3 Main Base. So it takes quite a bit of time, but it’s worth it.  Greenskins have access to three Hero Types: Goblin Big Boss, Night Goblin Shaman, and Orc Shaman. Boar Boy Big ‘Uns and Black Orcs are the meat and potatoes, if you will, of your army.  One of the coolest things about Greenskins are Doom Divers though.  Being able to FPS snipe units is amazing, if you practice with it enough. Build alliances with a few neighbors, then smash the other Greenskin clans. Just because Greenskins aren’t that smart, doesn’t mean you don’t have to be. Take it slow, win your fights, and crush them one at a time, until you have the heavy hand it takes to obliterate the Dwarves.


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Vampire Counts:

Unlife is power; Carsteins are the only ones fit to wield it.

The Dead rule in Sylvania, and the Carsteins are fractured. Mannfred Von Cartstein teamed up with Heinrich Kemmler to put the relatives in check before spreading Vampiric Corruption across the land.  In addition to Chaos Corruption that spreads across the land, Vampire Counts have their own: Vampiric Corruption. Certain heroes as well as buildings generate this corruption, and if it spreads into enemy territory, they will be weakened by plagues of Vampires. Yes. Plagues of Vampires can spread into your opponents’ lands. But Vampires take damage in non-corrupted lands, so you want to send Vampiric Heroes to spread the evil before your army marches forward into the light. Corruption also lowers public safety in non-Vampiric territory, so those Vampiric rebellions are very much in your favor. Vampires also have zero ranged units, matching the tabletop.

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To make up for it, their flying units are second to none, and are definitely a force to be reckoned with. Wight Kings, Necromancers, Banshees, and Vampires are the heroes to recruit in this force. One of the best things about Vampiric forces, is Ethereal. The Hex Wraith is a mounted Ethereal unit, which means they all but ignore Physical armor, and non-magical damage isn’t even relevant against them. Black Knights, Vargheists, and Cairn Wraiths are all very powerful and should be utilized often. The Tech Tree consists of four ancient Grimoires, each with their own purpose. But here’s a tip: The fourth book is primarily for stuff in the campaign. Growth, Corruption, et cetera. Once you have a province, you can settle in and build your forces, preparing to spread corruption. You gain income [Dark Magic] pretty steadily with a few cities under your thumb. I’d consider allying with the Humans or Dwarves, but probably not both. You’ll want something to corrupt after all. . .


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Score: Great – Allies, Action, Excitement

So it’s not alliteration. I tried, damnit. All told, this is a surprisingly powerful addition to the Total War Franchise. Is it perfect? No. But it doesn’t need all the factions right away. I hope more show up though, to really muck up the waters. But there are so many things I probably didn’t cover here. Is it easy? Probably not to non-Total War vets. Is it accurate to the Warhammer franchise? I’d like to think so. Looks like they did their homework, and it’s a relief. I’ve seen some awful Warhammer games in my day. There’s been a lot of footage going around for this game, and for good reason. One of the big things that stopped me from immersing myself into the Warhammer franchise was money. I don’t have 1200 bucks to spend on a ludicrous army, not to mention the time to sit down and paint them to look fancy and shiny. It’s just too much. I can spend roughly half that time on playing a PC game where I can combine tactical, turn-based strategy with real time strategy, using some of my favorite Warhammer styled units to battle computers or other players. Stances, powerful magic, corruption, alliances, betrayal. This game has it all. My greatest fear is that the Dark Elves, Lizardfolk, Ogres, etc will come out, cost money, and be ridiculously powerful. While sure, I WANT my favorite factions to be gross, I don’t want people to be able to pay to win online matches. Please don’t.


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+ A pretty simple to follow story; each faction has their own drive to conquer, their own enemies. Historic Battles take the form of Quests, which emulate actual battles in their “history”. Don’t let history repeat itself!

  • Cutscenes only really appear in Quest Battles; I feel like the long/short term goals are the same for every faction. That’s gonna get boring. Thankfully the factions are pretty different. . .


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+ Each faction feels unique and individual in their own right, without being ridiculously broken or worthless. Some just take more work than others.

  • Only four factions out of the gate. That’s a little bit of a let down. Chaos Army won’t be out til launch of the game as DLC, but at least they’ll be free at the start. If they wind up charging and Chaos Army is more powerful than other factions, that won’t be good.


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Combat and Magic:

+ Real Time Combat does this game serious favors: The Total War engine is a good one for Warhammer; a combination of the turn-based strategy mixed with action that you can slow down or speed up is great. The addition of Magic to the game engine is amazing.

  • However, not having Magic will probably be a serious damper. If you aren’t using a powerful Lord that has access to magic, you could be crippled.



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