When Total War: Warhammer II was first announced I couldn’t help but be a little puzzled at the timing. After all, it’s not often that a game has a sequel announced before it’s even been out for a year. The question of whether Total War: Warhammer II should be priced and marketed as an expansion instead of a numbered sequel was naturally raised by fans and press alike. Having spent around 25 hours with the new Lizardmen faction in the Vortex Campaign, you can rest assured that Total War: Warhammer II does manage to justify its sequel status by not only bringing a huge amount of new content but also reworking and improving upon elements laid down by the original.
Joining the aforementioned Lizardmen are three other new factions: High Elves, Dark Elves and Skaven, all with their own military units, research trees and structures. The new campaign sees these four races vying to stabilise or take control of an enormous magical vortex that resides in the centre of the destroyed continent of Ulthuan. To do this you must conduct five rituals, each of which will provide faction-wide benefits (money, buffs etc) but also cause several huge armies of Chaos to march on your capital. In order to start each of these increasingly costly rituals, you must gather a resource separate to your normal money pool (Ancient Plaques in the case of the Lizardmen) by capturing specific settlements that generate said resource. Completing all five rituals is the campaigns main objective but of course, there’s still everything else that makes Total War games so addictive and satisfying including organising trade agreements and military alliances, crushing rebellions, levelling up generals and training assassins.
All the different races from the first game: Humans, Orcs, Wood Elves, Beastmen, Dwarves, Vampire Counts and of course Chaos make a return although they aren’t playable in the campaign. Creative Assembly have said that an upcoming patch will add a new game mode called The Mortal Empires, which will combine the map from the original Grand Campaign with that of the Vortex Campaign, for owners of both titles.
For the most part Total War: Warhammer II plays much the same as its predecessor, but those new to the series aren’t left in the dust with both the introduction and tutorial being far more user-friendly this time around. The first ten or twenty turns of my campaign were spent dealing with all the missions that were issued, which involved simple things like destroying a particular army or building a specific structure. After a time the rate at which I received these missions dropped off significantly, so it seems it’s a deliberate attempt to give new players more guidance. Actual quest missions (a series of tasks that culminate in a battle scenario unique to your faction leader) seem to have been pared back a bit, with only two being on offer for my Legendary Lord Mazdamundi. I got them both pretty early on in the campaign and finished them fairly quickly too, meaning that over the many hours I had left there wasn’t all that much to make my particular leader feel unique.
Another addition for each of the four new factions is the ability to cast rites, which are special powers that provide large benefits such as a greater amount of experience gained for all your armies for a certain amount of turns, or spawning an entire army full of literal dinosaurs (a Lizardmen exclusive, naturally). Rites cost a large amount of money and require certain buildings before being unlocked but are never that far out of reach. They’re definitely worth it: lining up my 12 dinosaurs in front of my regular army, sending them charging and roaring into the terrified enemy lines was a thrill that never got old.
When one of the opposing three factions begins one of their rituals, you are able to spend a large amount of money to instantly spawn an intervention force deep in their homeland. This army is AI-controlled, but will automatically attack the faction it spawns near until its destroyed. This may sound stupidly overpowered, but with the handful of intervention armies I forked out for, very few were successful. The first time I paid for one it was destroyed the same turn by High Elf defenders. This system works both ways when you start casting a ritual of your own, at any point a fully stacked army can turn up right near your capital, on top of any Chaos forces that might also be en route. This can lead to some intensely challenging moments because if any one of the three cities used in conducting the ritual isn’t under your control when the timer is complete, the ritual will fail.
In one instance I was faced with this exact situation. I had three Chaos armies marching toward my cities, as expected, but then also a high-level Skaven and High Elf army sitting right outside my capital. If that already wasn’t enough, the main bulk of my forces were far to the south waging various other wars. What followed was an extremely tense ten turns, where I had to muster new armies near my capital just to buy enough time for my main forces to return. These new armies were, of course, all fresh as can be and got absolutely minced, but they served their purpose. After a harrowing race, I was able to get my Lord Mazdamundi back home and, following a series of fierce battles, retook my capital before the ritual countdown was complete. This little tale is the perfect microcosm for the most notable improvement Total War: Warhammer II has over its predecessor: a real sense of rewarding challenge that is maintained throughout the entirety of the Vortex Campaign.
The ‘narrative’ of Total War games has always been player-made. Sure, you’re provided with a basic framework: overall objectives, flavour text, unique faction abilities and characters, but the story itself always arises from the decisions the player makes rather than any scripted scenarios. Successfully holding off wave after wave of stinking rat men with only two hundred Saurus warriors or sending your hulking Kroxigors barreling through the ruptured gates of some High Elf citadel – these situations aren’t ‘written’ or ‘staged’ which is exactly what gives them so much meaning. In the first game it didn’t matter which faction I was playing as I’d get to a point where I was essentially unstoppable. This was largely due to the lack of any goal structure aside from conquering your enemies. The Vortex Campaign in Total War: Warhammer II ensured that I had an ever-present objective to work towards, one that influences every decision no matter how big or small. I also never felt entirely safe, even towards the end when my Lizardmen empire spanned across continents.
The music and sound design are both phenomenal. To complement the rainforest environment of the Lizardmen I heard a lot more heavy drums, deep horns and pan flutes as opposed to the more medieval strings and woodwind instruments of the first game, although there’s plenty of that too. When a battle turned in my favour and the music rises to a crescendo with the addition of guttural chanting and singing… chills. The various roars and hisses of my dino subjects were similarly effective.
One negative is the absence of blood and gore which for the last few Total War games has been made available as post-release premium DLC. I’ve read different reasons for this from the developer themselves, one being that it allows them to release the game with a lower ESRB rating than if it came packaged with the blood and therefore to a larger audience, the other being that it, like any other DLC, was still being worked on and wasn’t ready yet. This is perplexing, however, because if it was due to the rating why not release it free, and if it just wasn’t ready why isn’t it ready for every game they bring out? It was fairly jarring going from playing hours and hours of the first Total War: Warhammer game with blood and gore enabled, to playing the sequel without it. To Creative Assembly’s credit, those who bought it for the first game will not have to buy it again.
Total War: Warhammer II doesn’t necessarily reinvent the wheel, but it never needed to. With a world as deep and rich as Warhammer, there’s plenty of factions, characters and lands to delve into and that’s exactly what this sequel does. Four entirely new factions and a whole new campaign that is completely unique to any they’ve done in previous Total War games (Warhammer or otherwise) make this a package well worth your investment. With an expanded tutorial and a more focused ‘story’, Total War: Warhammer II is a fantastic game for beginners as well as the most loyal of fans and you’d be a fool to pass it by.
Total War: Warhammer II was reviewed on PC using a Steam code provided by Five Star Games.