Several new gameplay footage videos have been released over the last week by the Creative Assembly team for their upcoming PC strategy title Total War: Warhammer (price $59.99). With the upcoming April 28, 2016 release date drawing nearer, the videos showcase some of what potential buyers can expect in this blending of well-known franchises.
A little background shows why high expectations, and significant concerns are high, surround the ambitious project. Creative Assembly has had fifteen years to develop its Total War franchise. Sega is now attempting to match that development expertise with the Games Workshop licenses it acquired in 2012 in an effort to bridge out beyond Total War's historical period roots by incorporating a much older fantasy brand. The Warhammer Fantasy universe is ancient even by tabletop standards, with an established fan-base that literally stretches generations. The rules for the tabletop game Warhammer Fantasy Battles has gone through nine editions (if you include Age of Sigmar) and has produced decades of literature and lore. As such Total War: Warhammer's biggest challenge may not be delivering a well-rounded game, but in staying true to its source material.
The first promotional gameplay video, uploaded to the Total War YouTube channel on February 26, 2016, showcases the games RTS dynamics in a play-through of a battle from Azhag’s 'Ard Armour Quest.
At first glance the graphics look rough. Even when taking into account that it's a pre-release build, the visuals are arguably on par with those of Total War: Rome 2 when that title was released 2013. With just under two months to go until the game hits the Steam, it looks like it will need much more than just a quick polish to satisfy the high expectations of Total War fans. The battle mechanics and UI layout should be familiar as they mirror Creative Assembly's most recent title Total War: Atilla. One important note that should delight some players is that the "guard" button is returning from its hiatus since Total War: Shogun 2, allowing players units to take a defensive posture and refuse to give chase after engaging a unit in melee.
Gameplay basics aside, a significant concern for fans of either franchise is how well Creative Assembly will be to integrate the fantasy-side of the Warhammer universe. Magic, massive mythical creatures, varieties of monstrous mounts and flying unit mechanics are all new areas to a franchise whose most exotic elements previous to this title were war elephants and flaming pigs. The Azhag's 'Ard Armour Quest reveal shows how Creative Assembly has tackled transforming tabletop Warhammer's turn-based magic system into a real time battle mechanic.
Magic seems to work within the game in the same way that general abilities did in previous Total War titles. Warhammer's "Lores" of magic, as well as race-specific magic lores, are represented in the current build and hold true to the Warhammer Fantasy standard. The "winds of magic", an element familiar to tabletop Warhammer players, has been integrated as a slowly filling pool to be drawn from. Concerns regarding how this new magic feature would affect game balance were addressed in the video's commentary. Apparently magic will not be powerful enough to completely annihilate a unit and takes more of a support role than a massive force in its own right. This represents a compromise position between the two franchises to make the game more fair. It is a well known fact in tabletop Warhammer communities that a terrible/amazing magic round could completely change the tables in a match with the single roll of the dice (and also create awe-inspiring rage quits).
Real-time battles make up only half of Total War title and a more recent campaign gameplay video, uploaded March 3, 2016, demonstrates the turn-based strategic side of Total War: Warhammer.
Like the prior video, the campaign map seems to be a continuation of the Total War standard since Rome 2. Regions and provinces are the standard unit of territorial measurement and most of your strategic choices take the form of diplomacy actions, technology trees, and army movement over a stylized map. Where things differ is the addition of character items and unique faction traits, a prime example being the Dwarven "Book of Grudges" showcased in the video. This should offer more distinctiveness between faction play styles rather than minor differences unit stats, starting positions and skins.
Whenever a Total War title comes to market, there tends to be plenty of negative buzz to go with it. Prior concerns have been raised regarding the DLC strategy that SEGA is taking, particularly making the Chaos Warriors faction same-day-DLC as a means to encourage pre-order sales. If you're feel like you're experiencing deja vu, you're not alone. Factions sold as seperate DLC packs were at the core of Sega's marketing strategy with Attila and Rome 2. Attila's "mixed rating" on Steam is directly tied to the backlash Sega generated after pushing three faction packs and the "Blood & Burning" texture/animation DLC within the span of less than two months. The choice to utilize the Chaos Warriors faction in this particular way could be considered particularly egregious however as they are central to the Total War: Warhammer's core lore. With the release of Tyrants and Kings edition (March 4th), missing about half of Attila's DLC to date, Sega is already generating more negative hype just before the release of their most ambitious project yet.
The pre-release gameplay footage offers much to be hopeful about for fans of Warhammer and Total War alike. At the same time significant concerns linger underneath the surface. With the April release date coming fast, the ghost of Total War: Rome II seems not that far behind. Is Total War: Warhammer going to sink before it can swim?
Quick TakeWhile somewhat speculative at this point, this could very well evolve into a DLC nightmare. Not only could individual factions be sold, but they could broken down further with individual units placed behind paywalls. Creative Assembly was quick to establish a precedent for this in their decision to call the "Wurrzag Da Great Green Prophet lord" a "Free-LC" for the Orc's & Goblins faction. It's not too far of a leap to presume that other such individual characters/units could arrive with a price tag. What do you think?