At PAX West 2017, I got to play Total War: Warhammer II for more than 40 minutes. Long-time Cosimaniacs (the nickname I have for anyone who reads my work, regardless of whether they like me or not) may remember the quest I undertook to play an early build of the game.
If not, here’s the short version. The folks at Sega offered to fly me out to San Francisco to get a look at the game. Immediately upon arriving at Los Angeles International Airport, Southwest Airlines piled on delay after delay until I was saddled with a 21-hour travel day & a sliver of my original Total War appointment. These conditions were less than ideal, so Sega and Creative Assembly set me up with an appointment at PAX.
I spent around two-and-a-half hours with the game’s campaign, mostly in an attempt to answer my own questions from my original preview. The brief amount I played helped me understand the moment-to-moment gameplay of Total Warhammer, but I was still curious what the macro game looked like.
“For our game, because it’s so complex, it’s got so many different levels, you need to teach players the macro first,” Total War: Warhammer II lead designer Richard Aldridge said in an interview conducted at PAX. “Basically, for Total War, you need to know a couple of things. You need to build armies, and you need to go capture cities. In the campaign especially, that’s how you’re going to progress.”
The tutorial I saw during my time with the game provided a very cursory glance at army building and city management, but I feel like I’m just starting to understand what sets Total War: Warhammer II apart from the other strategy games I’ve played. To be more specific: I do not know what differentiates Total War Warhammer II from the other games in this series, but I have a better grasp on what makes it different from games like Civilization V.
For example, in Total War: Warhammer II, army management is crucial. You can’t just leap from conflict to conflict, no matter how powerful your forces may be. Even trivial battles wear down your armies, like water lapping against a cliffside. That’s a really cool way to make each battle feel important.
Total War—at least in the early hours—feels more like a management game than a large-scale empire creation game. These cities over here need more housing. I need to win some battles so other characters don’t overthrow my guy. I need to corrupt the land around me so my Skaven hordes can be more powerful, but it can’t be too corrupt otherwise the whole thing falls apart. More than anything else, Total War: Warhammer II simulates the feel of being a leader; of making minute decisions with a long-reaching effect that you can only estimate.
If I had one regret, it’s that I didn’t have enough time to conquer an enemy city. That’s not Southwest’s fault this time; it feels like a mid-game objective, the kind of thing you can only accomplish once your empire is churning out plenty of resources. I walked away with an itch for more siege combat, especially after getting a look at some proof-of-concept videos during my initial preview appointment.
I’m happy I got to spend some extra time with Total War: Warhammer II. My thoughts on the game remain mostly unchanged, but now I have a better idea of what this game actually is. I think I might be a good fit for the Total War series, and Warhammer II seems like as good a place to start as any.