I want to get this out of the way first: Despite the fact that Total War: Warhammer 2 currently includes no playable dwarven faction, I will do my best to give it the fair honorable treatment it deserves. I was truly, TRULY, disappointed when I first saw the roster of races starring in the sequel to one of my favorite games of 2016 and noticed its distinct lack of dwarf, but… after playing through the races that are present, I’m starting to get over it.
With that bit of honesty out of the way, Total War: Warhammer 2 is pretty great. It takes the already stellar gameplay of TW:W and improves on a number of areas that were either bugged or not quite fleshed out. To start, the campaign offers a fleshed out story for all four of its races, giving the campaign a true finish line aside from the standard “destroy these factions” or “clear all the grudges out of your grudge book no matter how long it takes.”
Following along with the campaign introductions, it appears that years ago, when the land was cared for by the Old Ones, an ancient spacefaring race, and their chose liaisons, the Lizardmen, the gates that the Old Ones used to travel about collapsed, allowing the daemons of Chaos to flood the world. The elves, led by two heroes, seeking an end to the fiery tide of death that followed in daemons’s wake, created a huge vortex to suck up and contain the excess chaos/magic that was keeping all those baddies around. This system of containment worked quite well, until the twin tailed comet, known for its signalling of tumult throughout the world, makes an appearance and begins to weaken the bonds of magic holding the vortex together.
The races of TW:W2 all see this weakening as their time to make a move. The High Elves, responsible for the creation of the vortex all those years ago, see an opportunity to unite their split empire under the Phoenix Throne again and save the world. The Dark Elves, led by Malekith, seek vengeance and view the vortex as a way to greater power. The Lizardmen, the Old Ones’s chosen protectors of the world, join the elves, whom they secretly helped to create the vortex, in wanting to protect the world. All this leaves the Skaven, a race of *shudders* humanoid rats chasing after their own bid for power by claiming the vortex as their own.
To accomplish their goal, each race is chasing waystones, magical tchotchkes that would power rituals all with the aim of either shoring up or gaining control of the vortex. The waystones are tracked at the top of the screen by a rather handy gauge, providing an excellent view of where you are the other races are in regards to the rituals themselves. This method feels far less stressful than the previous games nebulous announcement that the “Forces of Chaos are on the move” and provides a real basis for just how well you are doing and how much is left to accomplish. It’s also not just some far off goal; the race for the vortex is very real and exceptionally visual.
Playing as the High Elves first, I was amazed when I, and the 3 other factions, all reached the first ritual at the same time. Flowing waves of power, emanating from the main capital/province of each of the races, cross the world map until they meet at the vortex, at which point you have 10 rounds to both defend your wave/cities from a rushing Chaos army, and try to disrupt the rituals of others, either directly, through your own armies, or by hiring mercenaries to do the work for you. It almost goes without saying that if you want something done, you should do it yourself, but the option to hire out some mercs, especially during the early rituals when you might not have 3-4 armies to send screaming out all over the known world, is welcome, even if they are not always super successful at their hired job.
Of course, while the vortex serves as the overarching goal, the true meat and potatoes of TW:W2 lies in the round to round duties that fall to not only keeping your kingdom running, but also expanding it through armed military engagements. As with TW:W, you control any number of lords who in turn each command an army. Buildings built throughout the cities in your provinces both determine the types of units that you can command within the armies, as well as creating income to keep up with all the various costs that fighting, capturing and raiding across the land incur. The world itself is a different portion then what was available in the first game, and in fact, at some point DLC is planned to allow a giant campaign across the entirety of both landmasses.
Not much has changed when it comes to the battlefield portion of TW:W2. You still have full command of groups of units, who are comprised of infantry, think spearmen or sword and shield soldiers, ranged, archers or spear throwers and the like, and artillery, comprised of things like giant crossbows or dinosaurs with a sun-powered laser on their back. There are some new additions, like Dark Elves or Lizardmen armed with hand crossbows, allowing for both movement while they fire and a firing radius that surrounds the unit in a circle rather than projecting out in front of them. Many of the races also have large, monstrous units that join them in battle, like the Lizardmen and their wonderful dinosaurs, the Elves and their dragons, or the Skaven… and I mean it’s called a Hell Pit Abomination, and that’s honestly about as much description as you need.
Gods, the Skaven. Every other race, whether it be both sets of Elves or even the Lizardmen, has some kind of analog that is immediately identifiable when you hear the name. You know what an elf looks like. You have some idea of what a Lizardman is. You have NO IDEA the kind of body horror skeevyness that the Skaven bring to the table. Nearly everything about them makes my skin crawl in one way or another, and yet they are a riot to play as. Their units are literally rats in armor, and where a unit of elven spearmen might consist of 40 or so elves, a squad of clanrats could be a hundred or more of the squirming, armored bodies. Much like the Chaos or Vampire factions from the previous game, Skaven corrupt the land around them as well, making it possible to call groups of rats right out of the ground in the middle of battle. On top of that, they make their homes underground as well, infesting whole cities that appear like uninhabited ruins on the main map.
The Skaven also share a loyalty meter with the Dark Elves, measuring their lords loyalty to the main racial champion. If it gets too low, the lord and their army may rebel, forcing you to deal with they on top of the myriad of other dangers the world throws at you. Making things a bit less dangerous though, is a slightly improved Diplomacy action. I was surprised by the amount of factions that came out of the woodwork to make non-aggression pacts or trade agreements with my clan of Lizardmen, or other groups of Dark Elves that would broach a peace accord with Malekith.
Also improved are Heroes. Separate from Lords in the fact that they themselves can’t control an army, Heroes are nonetheless important in the round to round activities of your playthrough. TW:W had a real issue when it came to getting and leveling your heroes, as well as making them useful through specific hero actions without being outright slaughtered by super successful heroes from opposing groups. Those issues seem addressed in TW:W2, as I have had no problems leveling up heroes through both successful and unsuccessful hero actions, and the prevalence of nearly omnipotent opposition heroes is almost nil. I am sure this would change at some of the higher difficulties, as the simulation feels like it just “cheats” more to make it harder, but on Easy and Normal I found the experience very much improved.
There are little things beyond those that help make the game feel like a step up from the first, but at its heart, it’s still a Total War game. I wish there was a bit more explanation that didn’t require digging through some extensive documentation to show you how to properly use some of the units in battle, but the beauty of these games is partially born of figuring that kind of thing out for yourself. Little touches to each of the races, like the Skavens having food as one of their race defining currencies, or the High Elves playing the great game of elders by trading influence for favors, serve to not only make playing each feel different, but also to highlight portions of the game you might not have considered by sticking to only one.
Total War: Warhammer 2 is fantastic. It is everything good that the first game brought with enough fixes and flourishes to make me not feel bad about ther not being any damn dwarves for me to play. Well that and supposedly I’ll get to play them with all the new stuff when they bring in the old world, but we’re not there yet and frankly, it doesn’t matter. TW:W2 is a gem of both the fantasy and strategy genres, and if you are a fan of either, you owe it to yourself to not miss this one.
Reviewer and Editor for Darkstation by day, probably not the best superhero by night. I mean, look at that costume. EEK!