To­tal war: warham­mer II

Cry havoc! And let slip the mas­sive di­nosaurs of war

Games Master - - Contents -

Armies of rat-men and di­nosaurpeo­ple clash in epic war­fare. It sure makes Rome look bor­ing in ret­ro­spect.

“The Skaven go into batt le be­hind a mass ive hamst er wheel that shoots light­ning”

The game we’re prob­a­bly not meant to call To­tal Warham­mer gets a se­quel a mere 16 months after its ini­tial launch, lead­ing to con­cerns of an As­sas­sin’s Creed-like re­lease model given that the orig­i­nal game was still re­ceiv­ing DLC in Au­gust. We needn’t have wor­ried. While Warham­mer and Warham­mer II are very much like two halves of the same game – and in­deed join to­gether into one enor­mous cam­paign (out now via a patch) if you’ve got them both in­stalled – the dif­fer­ent Warham­mer races and some tweaks to the in­ter­face make this a tri­umphant reprise for the se­ries. For any­one new to this, wel­come. You’ve come at a good time. To­tal War is the quin­tes­sen­tial PC fran­chise, un­playable with any­thing but a key­board and mouse (al­though at­tempts have been made to get it go­ing on iPad, with shaky lev­els of suc­cess), and with hun­dreds of high-res mod­els on screen at once, all mov­ing, and charg­ing, and fight­ing, and gen­er­ally not do­ing the same things as one an­other. It’ll cer­tainly get the fans on your graph­ics card spin­ning, and the se­ries is no­to­ri­ous for mak­ing high de­mands of your rig. The first Rome: To­tal War, from 2004, had a set­ting to desyn­chro­nise an­i­ma­tions across units, and it brought many a frame rate to its knees.

Oddly, the sys­tem re­quire­ments for re­cent in­stal­ments seem to have re­laxed a bit, with TW: WII re­quir­ing merely a re­cent i5 and a GPU backed by 4GB of VRAM to run at 1080p. It’ll still take up 60GB of space on your hard drive, though. The game matches a turn-based strate­gic map with real-time bat­tles, trig­gered when­ever your march­ing army – you can have sev­eral in play at once – en­coun­ters an­other bunch you’re not on good terms with, or lays siege to a city. You can run away or have the fight­ing au­to­mat­i­cally de­cided, but the real meat of the game is on the field of bat­tle.

Model be­hav­iour

The match­ing of Warham­mer, a table­top fan­tasy bat­tle game in which blocks of hand-painted troops smash into each other and ex­change fran­tic blows, and To­tal War, in which sim­i­lar things hap­pen but with in­vis­i­ble dice, is just about a perfect one. The rich lore of Games Work­shop’s Tolkienesque fic­tional uni­verse leads to acres of back­ground reading to dis­cover just why ev­ery­one hates ev­ery­one else.

The races that come with the base game this time around in­clude two flavours of elf, the Aztec-in­spired, di­nosaur-rid­ing Lizard­men, and bad-tem­pered, Warp­stone-huff­ing techno-ver­min the Skaven, who are the real draw. Be­ing able to skulk around the map as a mass of rats, spread­ing cor­rup­tion wher­ever you go, be­fore go­ing into bat­tle be­hind a mas­sive weaponised ham­ster wheel that shoots light­ning is worth the trade-off of some du­bi­ous courage lev­els that can turn the end of a lost bat­tle into a se­ries of

yakkety-sax chases as your forces scat­ter and exit stage left, pur­sued by an elf.

War, be­ing based on de­cep­tion, suits the Skaven, as they lurk in ap­par­ently ru­ined cities, travel via un­der­ground routes to avoid be­ing spot­ted, and burst forth onto the bat­tle­field from their rat holes at just the right mo­ment and in the right place to take out, say, some pi­rates’ heavy-duty can­nons.

Wan­der­ing armies are a part of the game guar­an­teed to an­noy. In one of our cam­paigns, a band of cor­sairs landed and turned out to be enor­mously pow­er­ful, har­ry­ing our Skaven war­band, which was en­camped and try­ing to build its strength be­fore cap­tur­ing the Warp­stone re­sources in a nearby cave. De­spite re­treat­ing twice, the pi­rates wouldn’t give up, and we ended up fight­ing and los­ing to them badly.

The loss of an army and its as­so­ci­ated hero char­ac­ter – who can be up­graded and given ex­tra equip­ment – isn’t the end of the game, how­ever, as you can launch a new raid from a nearby friendly city. The map this time around con­cen­trates on the left-hand side of the Warham­mer world map, play­ing out on the con­ti­nents roughly anal­o­gous to the Amer­i­cas, plus the curv­ing At­lantis-alike that is the High Elves’ home of Ulthuan. To keep fo­cus in what could be a sprawl­ing, freeform world, you’re all in­volved in a race to take con­trol of the Great Vor­tex on Ulthuan be­fore any other fac­tion.

This in­evitably means smash­ing your way there, as even with a slightly un­der­whelm­ing diplo­macy sys­tem that al­lows for al­liances and non-ag­gres­sion pacts, no fac­tion is go­ing to give you a free run at the prize. Add to this the need to com­plete five rit­u­als to con­trol the vor­tex, which means pro­tect­ing your rit­ual sites for ten turns against ev­ery­thing the game can throw at you (there’s no such thing as a quiet rit­ual, ap­par­ently) and the al­ter­na­tive vic­tory con­di­tion of sim­ply wip­ing out ev­ery other fac­tion starts to look at­trac­tive. Pile on top of this the need for the Skaven to con­stantly move about thanks to their in­sa­tiable need for food, and the re­bel­lions that can start if you’ve got too many slaves in your Dark Elf econ­omy, and the sheer com­plex­ity of the game’s sys­tems starts to show it­self very near the lushly tex­tured sur­face.

Lizards and wizards

The playable races this time around are a lot more sub­tly drawn. Whereas in the pre­vi­ous ti­tle they were each de­fined by one dom­i­nant char­ac­ter­is­tic, here they’re more so­phis­ti­cated. While the Skaven are fun, the Dark Elves of­fer an ini­tially eas­ier ride with their mas­sive support ships and ad­di­tional dis­ci­pline, and the High Elves are skilled in diplo­macy and can in­flu­ence oth­ers, of­fer­ing a more strate­gic game with fewer hasty bat­tles. All races have ac­cess to rites – not rit­u­als – that con­fer global bonuses on your troops in re­turn for a sac­ri­fice, be that of slaves, or food, or what­ever your fac­tion holds dear­est.

To­tal War may have aban­doned his­tory for fan­tasy, but le­vi­tat­ing lizards and Skaven en­gi­neer­ing in­san­ity have brought so much fun to a pre­vi­ously po-faced se­ries it’s im­pos­si­ble to be­grudge the jump. Whether you’re a Warham­mer vet­eran or a new­comer, this is the best the se­ries has ever been. It’s a game of huge tac­ti­cal depth which prompts strate­gic think­ing un­der huge pres­sure thanks to the need to rush to­ward vic­tory rather than set­tle down and build an em­pire, and the fact it looks great too – all glint­ing metal ar­mour, ver­dant jun­gle, and pseudo-In­can ru­ins – is sim­ply the glossy top coat on a well-painted model.

Hover your pointer over a unit on the bat­tle­field and you’ll get a read­out of what it’s do­ing and how it’s feel­ing.

Lizard­man Lords lit­er­ally lev­i­tate, giv­ing them a smooth move­ment around the map.

Turns are ended by click­ing a but­ton, but the game will nag you if it thinks there are things you haven’t done.

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