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Game Info:

Total War: Warhammer
Published by: Sega|
Developed by: Creative Assembly
ESRB Rating: M
Available on: PC
Release Date: May 24, 2016
Genre: Strategy
Number of Players: 1 - 2
Price: $59.99
(Amazon Affiliate Link)

Total War: Warhammer is the first non-historical game from the folks at Total War.  It combines the gameplay and feel of Total War titles with the lore and setting of the Warhammer world created by Games Workshop.  (For fans of the franchise, this is the Old World setting before the Age of Sigmar reset.)  The player controls one of the many factions in the game and must use diplomacy, trade and military power to expand and secure their empire.

While the game is very similar to previous Total War offerings, I found the learning curve to be incredibly steep.  Then again, I was playing the Empire faction which relies heavily on synergy and very precise tactics to find success.  This is actually very similar to how this faction played in the Warhammer: Fantasy Battles game this is based on so in that sense the game was very successful at capturing the feel of the tabletop game.  My friend tells me it's much easier if you play Vampire Counts because you can resurrect dead troops and add them to your army without needing to spend resources recruiting.  Orcs are also represented here with their style being pretty brute-force based.  Sadly, my beloved Bretonnia is not a playable faction in campaign mode (at least as of the time of this writing), but it is playable in multiplayer.

At one point one of my fresh armies was attacked by an Orc army of smaller size (Man, those things can move across the campaign map like greased lightning).  Confident because of my experience playing other Total War games as well as Warhammer itself, I chose to fight and teach these greenskins a lesson.  Well, it was I who got schooled that day.  My army was all but obliterated.  Clearly I need to climb higher on the tech tree and get better units or this campaign's going to be very, very short.

The game plays in two modes.  One is the campaign map where the player can manage settlements, move armies and conduct diplomacy.  This is the turn based strategy element.  I disliked the interface here because instead of the map looking like an actual, flat campaign map it is rounded as if the player were up in low orbit looking down on the world.  It was aesthetically very interesting, but it's hard to get a sense of the scale of the world around your settlements and as your empire grows it becomes harder to see how things are going at a glance.  

To be honest, I also dislike the look and feel of the UI.  Yes, it's very Warhammer-like and successfully captures the look and feel of the Warhammer fluff.  My problem is that the Warhammer style is very Gothic and busy looking with lots of decorations and Roman numerals.  Having been used to the simpler, cleaner UI of previous Total War titles I found this distracting.    

What's interesting in campaign mode is that you can also see areas where the Winds of Magic are blowing strong, so if you have wizards in your army these are good places to try and get your enemy to fight you.  The Winds of Magic do move around, so a wise general needs to know when to try and catch up with one and when it's better to wait. 

As of the time of this writing, Warriors of Chaos and Beastmen now can be added through downloadable content.

Total War: Warhammer
Highlights:

Strong Points: New tactical options, faithful rendering of Warhammer
Weak Points: Steep learning curve
Moral Warnings: Strong violence and occult themes

The second mode is where battles are fought.  Here, the player arranges their army on their deployment zone and when all is ready, the battle begins.  The player can zoom around the battlefield anywhere their units can see in order to get different views or angles on what's going on.  Sometimes the beginning of the battle gets boring as the two armies slowly cross the field to come to grips with each other, but the player can speed up time a bit which helps.  Units will fight until they take enough damage that they become panicked and run away, though it is sometimes possible to rally them back into the fight.  Unlike most other Total War games, individual heroes are not part of a unit, but can run around the field alone, and are devastating combat murder machines.  It's still important to support them as they can be overwhelmed and killed if surrounded, but it's amazing how long they can last and how much damage they can do just on their own.

Moving units around the field is simple, and just like previous Total War offerings.  Units can be selected individually or in groups, and their formation can be adjusted easily by right clicking and dragging the mouse across the unit's destination to set the number of columns in width.  Attacking an enemy is done by right-clicking the target and a set of buttons located along the bottom of the screen provide a way to use special abilities and orders.  Essentially, the gameplay is good because Total War gameplay in general is good.  I haven't found much about this particular version that's an improvement over other Total War titles, so it feels like a missed opportunity.   

By and large the regular units are blocks of infantry or cavalry, though some factions have access to war machines like field trebuchets or catapults.  In the later campaign the player can also field wizards or monstrous creatures like wyverns or gryphons.

The multiplayer game is as straightforward as any Total War offering.  The opponents are allocated a number of army points to build their force from, with a default army already assembled for those who are still learning that faction or who just want a quick fight.  There are lots of playable factions available, including my beloved Bretonnia.  It is something of a culture shock though for those who are used to the tabletop game.  I can't decide whether it's awesome or cumbersome to have a unit of a couple dozen Pegasus Knights where I'm used to them flying around in groups of only three, or to have a triple battery of Field Trebuchets instead of just one or two in the back field.  Units from the tabletop game are carried over faithfully here, so veterans will be able to easily understand how they work.

The graphics are good quality and will give your video card a workout.  Again, the Warhammer aesthetic feels like a disadvantage here because the world looks so gloomy and sinister.  This is strictly a matter of personal taste of course, but I like my environments brighter and greener.  The other visual wrinkle I noticed in this game is that differentiating between units can be very tough at a distance.  It's a problem when you can't tell a unit of heavy knights from a unit of light cavalry at a glance (especially as Bretonnia).  The unit cards at the bottom of the screen also suffer from the Warhammer aesthetic.  Instead of a simple image depicting the unit there's artwork showing the unit in action, but it's small enough that you have to look close to really appreciate it, which is something there's no time for in the heat of battle.  I think a better selection of images would have been great here.  The new arrangement of unit command buttons feels less user friendly than previous titles as well.  Overall it just feels like a step backward.  

Score Breakdown:
Higher is better
(10/10 is perfect)

Game Score - 74%
Gameplay - 16/20
Graphics - 6/10
Sound - 8/10
Stability - 5/5
Controls - 2/5

Morality Score - 66%
Violence - 4/10
Language - 9/10
Sexual Content - 10/10
Occult/Supernatural - 5/10
Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 5/10

Realtalk:  Warhammer Fantasy Battles doesn't visually translate well into the PC environment.  It just doesn't.  One of the major characteristics of the tabletop wargame was the ability to push beautifully painted models around on the table and admire the artistry of the sculpts and hopefully the skill of the players.  Hero characters tended to be elaborate, beautiful models that were just fun to look at.  Unit sizes were small enough to distinguish individual troops and enjoy the artistry there was well.  Total War: Warhammer takes all of that and turns it into a massive soup of huge units on the field.  Even highly colorful units like Bretonnian knights just look like a drab bunch of guys on horses unless you zoom in so close that you can't fight the battle.  Heroes are just little splotches with a unit banner running around the field and it's incredibly easy to lose track of them when battle is joined.  A huge effort has been made here to replicate the Warhammer visual theme, but that's not a good thing.  It just makes everything look drab, worn and visually busy.  For all the graphics quality and polygons, the game just looks "meh" to me.  Why do I bring up the tabletop version so much?  Because this game is really aimed at the Warhammer fans who always wanted to play Warhammer on the PC.  That's what they're going to compare this game to and measure it against.

I didn't experience any graphics problems in either the campaign or battle modes other than some performance degradation.

The sound effects are adequate though not terribly memorable.  Human voice actors provide the voices of characters and the in-game advisor which is always preferred over digitized voices.  

I didn't experience any crashes or glitches so overall it was a good experience from a stability standpoint.  The most frustrating part is that selecting units during battle felt a bit finicky.  The player can click right on the unit's banner in order to select it and that can be a little tricky when the unit is moving or when it's bunched up among other units during melee combat.  There was also a tiny lag between my clicking the mouse button and the unit actually responding, which can be a real problem when the battle is heated up and things are happening fast.  I had a tendency to try clicking faster and often I just wound up selecting the wrong unit or selecting then de-selecting the one I wanted.  I'm not sure whether smoother game performance would have helped on a more powerful machine, so this may not be the fault of the game itself.

If you've ever played any form of Warhammer game you know what to expect from Games Workshop titles.  Brutal combat and violence are the primary items to be aware of.  Games Workshop games like their violence graphic and bloody,  though that's mitigated in this game since you generally won't zoom in too close to what's happening during a battle so everything is seen from a distance.  

The next big element for these games is magic, which is usable by all factions to some degree.  The magic system in Warhammer makes no distinction between arcane and clerical type power so a wizard is no different form a priest.  Speaking of religion, each of the factions has some sort of god or pantheon of gods, none of which has anything to do with the Bible.  Some of the gods are benevolent, some apathetic, some evil and cruel.  The nature of a deity reflects upon the faction that follows it.  For example, the patron god of the Empire faction is Sigmar, an ancient warrior and former Emperor.  The Chaos factions may worship one of four chaos gods who represent different aspects of corruption: violence, plague, deceit and extreme pleasure.  This doesn't directly affect the game beyond the available units and abilities for each faction, but it is an essential element in the fluff. 

While all factions have some access to monsters and mythical creatures, some can use demons of various types.  

The game doesn't enforce any particular moral approach and so the player is free to be a tyrant or a benevolent ruler during the campaign.  The game is open ended, so it can reflect a wide variety of play styles.  That means it doesn't force the player to do anything particularly unethical, but it also allows for the possibility of some underhanded actions.  The game is about conquest though how the player brings that about is an individual decision.

As a fantasy setting for adults the language is PG level.  Mild swearing like one might hear in a sitcom are in this game, but it doesn't push any envelopes.    

Total War: Warhammer is a good option if you enjoy strategy war games with a fantasy twist or if you really loved Warhammer Fantasy Battles.  If you're just interested in a Medieval strategy game you're better off playing Medieval II:Total War which is cleaner, smoother and more tactical.  It isn't a bad game it just feels like a better option would have been to release a Warhammer mod for Medieval II rather than retool the UI to prioritize the aesthetic over usability.  I probably won't play much of this game unless Bretonnia becomes available to play in campaign mode, myself.  That makes me sad, because I have eagerly been awaiting a game like this for years.  If I suddenly felt the urge to fight a Medieval battle on my PC right this minute, I'm more likely to open up Medieval II than Warhammer.

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Christ Centered Gamer looks at video games from two view points. We analyze games on a secular level which will break down a game based on its graphics, sound, stability and overall gaming experience. If you’re concerned about the family friendliness of a game, we have a separate moral score which looks at violence, language, sexual content, occult references and other ethical issues.

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