Total War: Warhammer II Review

A pitch-perfect adaptation of the Warhammer Fantasy setting

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4.7

Total War: Warhammer II

Total War: Warhammer II

Lifewire / Thomas Hindmarch

What We Like

  • You can’t go wrong with a Total War game

  • Four factions and multiple free lords give you a lot of different ways to take on a campaign

  • The game is as micromanagement-oriented as you want it to be

What We Don't Like

  • High production values

 If you like fantasy and real-time strategy, and you don’t mind an overwhelming amount of darkness in your fiction, you really can’t go wrong with Warhammer II.

4.7

Total War: Warhammer II

Total War: Warhammer II

Lifewire / Thomas Hindmarch

This installment of the Total War franchise is set in the dark spin on Tolkien-style swords & sorcery that Games Workshop just calls Warhammer Fantasy. If you’ve played a recent Total War game, you’ll immediately be on comfortable ground here, although the Warhammer setting adds a lot of mechanics and considerations that usually aren’t present in the series. Flying units can make sieges irrelevant, magic can decimate entire armies at once, and any given map is a brutal struggle between a dozen factions of dark sorcerers, haughty elves, undead pirates, bloodthirsty lizardmen, and more. A lot of care has been taken to make sure that the magic and monsters of Warhammer’s setting enhance the Total War experience, rather than detracting from it.

Total War: Warhammer II
Lifewire / Thomas Hindmarch

Setup Process: Hit the download button and prepare for conflict

Warhammer II is exclusive to the Steam digital platform, so once you buy it, Steam does all the work for you. Just download it from your Library page in the Steam application, and launch it when you’re done. Warhammer II is still being supported by its developers, with at least one update coming out every month, and has a lot of free DLC available via Steam, as well as regular monthly updates from Creative Assembly.

Warhammer II is the rare example of a crossover product that actually makes both of its built-in audiences happy.

Notably, it does have a massive, free expansion called Mortal Engines that’s only accessible if you own both the Warhammer games in the Total War series, and the game does everything short of shaking you down to encourage you to buy them both at once.

That said, Warhammer II is the rare example of a crossover product that actually makes both of its built-in audiences happy. Total War fans enjoy its departure from the relative realism of the rest of the series, where you can liven up your sieges and artillery strikes with monsters, mayhem, and flying units. Warhammer fans like its painstaking recreation of the Warhammer Fantasy setting and themes, married to an elaborate and deep strategy experience.

Coming into it cold, you’re in for quite a ride, but it’s a lot more accessible than you’d think from that description, and Warhammer fans being who they are, there are several different painstakingly in-depth wikis on every topic you could possibly want to research. It’s really a shame that it leans so heavily on DLC, though; sometimes there is such a thing as too much content. 

Total War: Warhammer II
Lifewire / Thomas Hindmarch

Plot: Elves vs. elves vs. lizardmen vs. rat people

The base campaign of Warhammer II is called “Eye of the Vortex.” Four different factions struggle for control over the situation as the ancient maelstrom called the Great Vortex begins to fail. The Vortex, originally crafted to drain some of the loose magic out of the world, represents a great opportunity for anyone who wants to save or destroy it.

Tyrion (no relation to Game of Thrones), prince of the High Elves, works alongside his people and his twin brother Teclis to try to stabilize the Vortex, while simultaneously chasing invaders out of the elven homelands that surround the Vortex’s location. They’d prefer to keep the Vortex just as it is, particularly since it’s centered on the High Elves’ ancient burial grounds on the Isle of the Dead. The High Elves are this game’s closest thing to a default option, as they’ve got most of what you’d want in an entry-level fantasy experience: archers, armored guys, and typical economical concerns.

The Dark Elves, the High Elves’ traditional enemies, see a chance for conquest and revenge if they can take the Vortex the rest of the way down. Their leader, Malekith, is a former contender for the High Elves’ throne, but the rites required to become their Phoenix King didn’t work out in his favor. Now he leads the Dark Elves in a final all-or-nothing attempt to conquer his homeland. The Dark Elves have entire mechanics based around benefiting from enslaving and brutalizing their opponents, so if you like being evil for evil’s sake, this is your team.

The Lizardmen, led by Mazdamundi, come north into the elves’ lands to try to preserve the Vortex for their own reasons, which will involve the extermination of all other, lesser beings. The big takeaway here is that they have dinosaur cavalry, which is probably all you needed to hear.

Finally, the Skaven are ratlike monsters, split into four separate clans, who enslave and consume everything they see. These are the guys you want to go with if you enjoy being underhanded and sneaky, as well as drowning an enemy with superior numbers of dramatically inferior troops.

Each of these four factions has two point-of-view characters to choose from, giving you eight potential routes through the campaign (and four more if you spring for the additional DLC factions).

Total War: Warhammer II
Lifewire / Thomas Hindmarch

Gameplay: Conquer, enslave, sacrifice, loot, pillage, and so on

This is Total War, so your economy, support base, and settlements are at least as important as your army. Each faction enters the game with a small amount of available manpower and resources, forcing you to improvise and make big initial moves to shore up your power base.

Your faction also has a number of other concerns that you need to keep track of, such as currying favor with its dark powers or collecting magical waystones.

Even on low difficulties and in good situations, Warhammer II’s campaign is surprisingly good at taking you off-guard, with an AI that makes big moves out of nowhere.

In each case, you receive a series of missions as you progress through the campaign, few of which can be accomplished immediately, which will influence your choices and point your way towards your next major goals. You’ll conquer settlements, rebuild them into useful facilities, research new technologies, sacrifice captives to fuel dark rites, run a slave market, and/or a dozen other things. It’s all about taking the long view, and gradually invading or retaking the territory around you in order to construct a sturdy power base.

The actual combat is as elaborate as you want to make it. The game makes it clear that you tend to have better results if you go in manually and direct your troops from the battlefield, but you do have the option to skip over all of that and automate a fight. Even on low difficulties and in good situations, Warhammer II’s campaign is surprisingly good at taking you off-guard, with an AI that makes big moves out of nowhere.

Total War: Warhammer II
Lifewire / Thomas Hindmarch

Graphics: Fine-tuned brutality

Other Total War games are a little more elaborate graphically, allowing you to zoom into a battlefield map far enough to see up a pikeman’s nose in the middle of a pitched melee, but Warhammer II gets the job done.

There’s a lot going on at any given time, whether you’re fighting or just moving around the map, and while your screen is crowded, it’s easy enough to keep track of once you’ve got a little practice.

Total War: Warhammer II
Lifewire / Thomas Hindmarch 

Price: They really want you to buy both games in the series so far

Warhammer II still costs $59.99 on Steam, and is still popular enough almost two years after its launch that it’s rare for it to see a sale. You should probably expect to pay full price for it.

If you like fantasy and real-time strategy, and you don’t mind an overwhelming amount of darkness in your fiction, you really can’t go wrong with Warhammer II.

When you launch it, you’re gently encouraged to also own a copy of the original Total War: Warhammer, in order to unlock the free expansion Mortal Engines. This is intended to be the third of five major campaigns that will stretch across a total of three Total War: Warhammer games, the third of which has yet to be released.

Unfortunately for newcomers, much like Warhammer II, the original Total War: Warhammer is also still selling for its launch price of $59.99. If you get into this, then there’s a lot more waiting for you, but it’s gated behind ownership of the original game at the same price.

Granted, this is the kind of game that some of its fans haven’t stopped playing for the last couple of years, so a one-time purchase of $60 works out to a decent entertainment-per-hour value. You can also drop some extra money on “Lords Packs” like The Queen & The Crone, or Curse of the Vampire Coast, which add more playable factions and unique lords to the game’s already swollen roster.

Competition: Threats on two fronts

The question here is whether you’re looking for more Warhammer fantasy, or more epic real-time strategy in fantasy settings.

If it’s the former, Warhammer: Vermintide 2 is a 2018 cooperative action game that focuses heavily on bloodshed and mayhem, as you and up to four friends battle an evil race of rat-men. It’s only comparable in terms of its setting, however.

If it’s the latter, there are a lot of other Total War games to choose from, most of which are set in real-world historical periods. You can pick a random Total War game from the last 10 years and it probably still has a few die-hards on its multiplayer servers, although 2019’s Three Kingdoms will likely be your best bet.

You might also look into Microsoft’s Age of Empires series, in order to get up to speed before the inevitable release of Age of Empires IV. AoE III has its fans and recently received a Definitive Edition from Microsoft that was released on Steam.

Final Verdict

A dark, satisfying run through a long-running universe.

Total War: Warhammer II has a wide variety of armies to choose from, a well-designed central campaign, and a gameplay flow that makes intuitive sense. We’re a little surprised by how easily we took to it. This is a solidly designed game that takes advantage of its setting while not dumbing down the tactical systems of the Total War series, which might qualify it for some kind of game-development sainthood.

Specs

  • Product Name Warhammer II
  • Product Brand Sega / Creative Assembly
  • Price $59.99
  • Release Date September 2017
  • Developer Creative Assembly
  • Publisher Sega
  • Genre Real-time Strategy
  • Play Time 40+ hours
  • ESRB Rating T
  • Players 1-2 (story campaign); 1v1 or 4 free-for-all (multiplayer)
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