Total War Warhammer II is a fantasy game where you manage your faction’s day-to-day affairs, like diplomacy and movement, on a turn-by-turn basis. Combat is conducted in real-time that can be paused for issuing orders and assessing your tactical situation. This is a game of exploration, expansion, and conquest.
Total War Warhammer II is definitely worth getting. It has a tutorial that will get you off to a great start, lots of action with little time for boredom to set in and four playable factions with ten leaders to choose from and if you own Warhammer 1 you have a total of nine factions with twenty-eight leaders to choose from.
I played several turns as each of the four factions in the Vortex campaign, which are the High Elves, the Dark Elves, the Lizardmen, and the Skaven. If you also own Warhammer 1 you can play the Mortal Empires campaign, which lets you play factions from both games. I briefly played as the Dwarfs to get an idea of how that campaign works.
If you’re interested in a tutorial there are only four faction leaders who offer one, Tyrion of the High Elves, Lord Mazdamundi of the Lizardmen, Malekith of the Dark Elves and Queek Headtaker of the Skaven. Except for a few differences between factions the tutorials are almost identical, so if this is your first game you can be comfortable with starting out with your favorite faction, you really won’t miss anything. Although it doesn’t say it’s a tutorial ticking the “Enable campaign introduction” box when selecting your faction will enable a detailed tutorial.
The tutorial will literally trap you into finishing the first turn, there is no option to save any progress although you can exit out of it without saving if you need to. Since this takes 30 to 45 minutes to complete, you’ll need some uninterrupted game time for the tutorial.
There is literally very little downtime as the game goes on, there is almost something happening that you need to take care of. I wanted to experience action with all four factions in the game so I played 10 to 12 turns as each faction with the tutorial enabled. Since I played with the tutorial on all for the factions all the campaigns started out basically the same, but this gave the opportunity to compare them on the same basis.
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Total War Warhammer II High Elves
The High Elves are the noblest of all the factions in the Vortex campaign, they’re the clean-cut good guys. Intrigue, espionage and combat skills are their strength, plus the get a 20 boost in relations with other High Elves. One of the first things you’ll take on if playing the tutorial is combat. For the High Elves campaign you’ll be matched up with some Chaos forces, and each side will have an equal number of units under their command. This particular battle is designed for you to win, the main objective is to teach you how your armies fight and how to move them. Without going into too much more detail about the tutorial I can say it does a very good job teaching you the game basics.
My overall strategy when it came to combat for the High Elves was to use cheap infantry men at the front lines and almost as many archers behind the lines so I could pummel the enemy from a distance while the infantry defended them, plus a few calvary units to charge any artillery units they might have. This combo worked well for me when fighting Chaos.
For me it’s all about growth and gold at the start of a High Elves campaign, and for most others Factions for that matter. Whenever I won a battle I ransomed the prisoners for gold and focused on growth buildings first when it came to my settlements, plus I leveled them up whenever I could. Even when I conquered a town I sacked it at least once before occupying it to get more gold for my treasury.
For the High Elves technological research is an easy decision at the start of the game since Military Advancements I is the only thing available. The other technology branch, Trade Advancements, is unavailable until the Elven Embassy is built. Since I planned to use Archers a lot in my armies, I planned to research Archery Prowess and Cartridge Ammunition as soon as they became available.
With Tyrion as my leader I chose the Route Marcher ability first, this gave me a little more range with my army so I could respond to threats or chase down an enemy.
Warhammer II Dark Elves
The Dark Elves are the antithesis of the High Elves. Whereas the High Elves are pure and noble the Dark Elves are treacherous and deceitful. One of their strengths is their naval units. They have the ability to safely bombard enemy armies from a distance. Chaos uses slaves to improve their economic output and if they kill enough enemies in battle they gain an increase in their fighting ability during combat.
With the tutorial enabled my army squared off against the Skaven, Once again, this is mainly a tutorial battle designed to teach you combat, and it is designed for you to win. The same as the High Elves I chose Route Marcher as the first ability unlocked for my leader, Malekith.
Warhammer II Lizardmen
The Lizardmen are unique and their leader, Lord Mazdammundi, is a glorious site to behold on his flying throne! He kind of reminds me of Jabba the Hutt. Their race has a geometric web which links their settlements together, making their commandments more effective. They also get access to “powerful Blessed Variants” for some of their units, and they have beasts that are sometimes uncontrollable during battle.
In the tutorial your first battle is with the Skaven. Lizardmen research is conducted by Skink Researchers, and once again, at least in the tutorial version, choosing which technology to research first was easy since only the Tablet of Spawning is available. The Lizardmen are not good at diplomacy although they can get nonaggression pacts with a few factions at the start of the game. Settlement upgrades and growth buildings, like the Skink Foraging Camp, are a high priority. They also have more different units available for recruitment at the start of the game than any other faction in the Vortex campaign (6).
The Lizardmen can also uncover ancient skills, which have their pros and cons. For example, the Lizardmen can find “long-lost building techniques” that they can chose to ignore or use. Using this particular skill will reduce construction costs by 30%, but at the expense increasing the construction time for all building by 25%.
Total War Warhammer II Skaven
The Skaven, or Ratmen, tend to be the most intriguing faction of all in the Vortex campaign. They have the capability to hide from enemies in plain sight and can build warrens directly underneath their enemy’s cities. They also can gain more units called clanrats through Skaven corruption. One neat thing about them is that, like any rat, they can spread a plague easily, which actually strengthens their military and develops their settlements.
The Skaven have the most unique gameplay of the four factions in the Vortex campaign as well. Their armies require a stockpile of food to function effectively, and they have the awesome ability to summon clanrats into battle. These units pop up from underground and can be placed at the rear or the flank of an enemy, giving you the advantage of surprise during a battle.
What I Like About This Game
There are a lot of things I like about this game, and the first thing is the intense battle action and voiceovers. The voiceovers are superb and I find myself constantly pausing the battle so I can make those fine tune adjustments I need to make as a battle progresses, although I sometimes I find the facing of the units to be frustrating.
The graphics are outstandingly beautiful and the soundtrack is top-notch. I’m a big fan of cut scenes and Warhammer 2 is full of them. These scenes are rendered in great cinematic detail. The scenes flow smoothly with little to no stutter. The voice acting is incredibly good as well and the soundtrack for this game is great!
When I compare this to a game like Crusader Kings 3 there are a lot of similarities (both technically set in medieval times for example,) but there are also some significant differences. Each game is rich in lore and each game can run deep in its tactics. The main difference is that Crusader Kings 3 focuses more on a family dynasty and preserving it, with combat being one of many paths to pursue, while Warhammer II has a much bigger emphasis on combat. CK3 also has no victory conditions whereas Warhammer II does. If you like the action of war with a clear winner at the end of the game, then Warhammer II is the obvious choice.
The Difficult Parts
The most difficult part of the game for me is the battles. 90% of the time the best I do is a close victory, which slows down my expansion since it takes longer, plus more resources, to replenish my armies. The battles are a very good representation of an actual battle and the confusion that occurs during one, and I really like that, but I always have trouble paying attention to each unit and have to micromanage a lot just to achieve a close victory. The unit facing is also very problematic for me as well.
Another thing I find lacking in the game is the diplomacy, it is too shallow and too repetitive.
Easy To Learn
This game is pretty easy to learn, it does not have the complex, interacting systems like a Stellaris or a CK3 game, and sometimes that’s good. Oftentimes there’s nothing better than just smashing your enemies without a lot of complexities to worry about, and it can be a refreshing change of pace. You basically expand as fast as you can, but you need to be slow enough in your expansion to be able to defend what you’ve conquered and not crash your economy, but not expand so slow that you don’t find the magical items you need to gain control of the Vortex before someone else does.
Warhammer II Tutorial
The tutorial is good and is especially important to go through if you’ve never played a Total War game before, or if it’s been a while and you need a refresher. It takes up the first turn and can take anywhere from 30 minutes to 45 minutes to finish.
Besides giving you pointers on how to conduct battles the tutorial also explains menu items and what they do. It shows and explains money and how much your predicted income is for the next turn and walks you through the province overview panel plus it explains what everything means and how to bring up more details about things you’re most interested in, like the growth of a province. It’s also intuitive after the first turn and pops up whenever you encounter something new for the first time. It will get you well started in the game.
This game grabbed my interest right from the very start, even with the tutorial on, since my capital, which was all I had left by the time my forces arrived on the battlefield, was being threatened by an enemy army, so combat was a must right away. The combat is, by far, the most engrossing and exciting part about this game. Since I’m a warmonger at heart this game drew me in right from the very beginning.
Although some of the basic resources are the same for all factions some of them do vary from faction to faction. All factions have a treasury of money, plus the predicted income for the next turn. Hovering the cursor over the predicted income displays a tooltip telling you where your income comes from and how your funds are being spent. You gain income from things like taxes and trade and spend it on things like army upkeep. This is the same for all empires.
Slaves are a unique resource for Chaos factions and the Scrolls of Hickarti are what they utilize to perform Rites to gain control of the Vortex. There is also a progress meter at the top of the screen indicating how much progress you’ve made toward wresting control of the Vortex and bending its forces to your will. This progress meter works the same for all factions in the Vortex.
As I previously mentioned the Treasury resources are the same for all factions so I won’t touch on them anymore and the progress meter is also the same for all the Vortex factions.
The unique resource for the High Elves is Intrigue. One thing Intrigue is used for by the High Elves is recruiting Lords and Heroes. The magical items they use for Rituals are Way-Fragments, the tooltip provides the total amount, the amount gained in the current turn and where the gains came from.
Lizardmen unique resources are the Ancient Plaques they recover, which are used in the attempt to gain control of the Vortex.
The Skaven’s resource bar is significantly different from the other three factions in the Vortex campaign. They have the typical income breakdown for money and predicted income. Food is a major resource for the Skaven and they have a food status meter with a detailed breakdown of the production and consumption of food when the mouse cursor is placed over the food icon. Food is broken down into five stages, with the lowest (red, starving for food) indicating that you’re taking massive hits on the population growth, income from looting, raiding, post battle victories and public order for your faction. At the opposite end of the meter (green, food is plentiful) you gain significant bonuses in growth, leadership and public order. They have their own unique items they need to collect for Rituals, which are Warpstones.
Since this is a look at Warhammer II that focuses mainly on the Vortex campaign (not everyone has Warhammer I) I’ve not mentioned resources for factions in the Mortal Empires campaign, and they are different, so that will be handled in another article.
Read More: Aversion is something I didn’t touch on in this article. You can learn how to avoid it and how to cope with it here.
Total War Warhammer II Buildings
The building tree for the cities is interesting since it varies from city to city, and faction to faction, plus some cities have rare bonuses, sometimes not found anywhere else.
City improvements are probably the biggest concern. Until you upgrade cities and settlements certain building types, and the resulting unit types or other benefits are not available. Anything unavailable to be built is grayed out.
The rites are a great addition to the game and give you another path to victory besides the typical Domination Victory. Perform all five of the Rituals to get to the final battle and come out victorious to gain control of the Great Vortex and win. It’s not easy though because there will be settlements you need to defend until the ritual is complete. Your opponents just aren’t going to sit still and let that happen.
Rites can do a lot of things for you, like increasing Mage experience gains by 50% for five turns or making your armies immune to attrition for 10 turns, but you need to meet the requirements first before they become available. For example, you can’t use the “Invocation of Hoeth” until you’ve built the Archive building.
The diversity and replayability for this game comes from the four factions, each with its own style of gameplay. The High Elves and Dark Elves each have three Lords you can choose from, and the Lizardmen and Skaven each have two Lords to choose from, which adds more variety to the game. If you own Warhammer I it gets even more diversified. You still have access to all the factions and leaders you have in Warhammer II, but you also gain everything that was available in Warhammer 1, which is 5 more factions. The Empire, Dwarfs, Greenskins, and Bretonnia each have three Lords to choose from while the Vampire Counts have five. Lots of depth in the choices, which amounts to having a different game each time, which means a game with excellent replayability.
Something else that adds to the diversity of this game is the amount of DLCs available for the game, both free and paid. At the time of this article there are 20 DLCs available, 11 of which are free.
Unlike most Paradox games (this is not a Paradox game), which are among some of the best, this game does not have a warscore system, which really doesn’t hurt it any. What you conquer is what you keep and what you lose is lost until you regain it again. You don’t need a Casus Belli either, if you don’t like someone you can just declare war on them. This game keeps it pretty simple when it comes to making war.
Combat, at the start, is not unlike most other games involving combat prior to initiating it. At the Battle Deployment Interface you get an estimation of the relative strength of your army as compared to the enemy, what units the enemy has if you have enough info available (sometimes you don’t know what some of their units are). You get the option to manually battle it out, let the AI auto resolve it, or retreat from battle. Unless the battle is clearly one-sided you should manually fight your battles, and even when auto resolving a battle you might still lose a unit that you may not have lost if you fought the battle yourself.
Once you decide to fight a battle manually, you’ll be taken to the Battle Interface. Here you still have the balance of power indicator that changes one way or another, depending on how the battle is going. There is also an Army panel, Winds of Magic indicator and a radar map showing the positions of the units. There are also time controls that can speed up or slow down the action and pressing the “P” key will pause the battle if you need to issue orders.
The battles are where Warhammer II, and all the other Total War games, stand head and shoulders above everybody else, but it also the game feature that can cause you the most frustration. At the start you are in the Deployment phase, and if magic is involved, you’ll be given the chance to gamble to increase your reserves of magic if you think it’s too low. During this deployment phase you can arrange and place your units anywhere in the deployment zone.
During battle you can monitor each unit’s health, how much ammo it has left if it is a missile unit, and whether it’s winning or not during combat. The battles do an excellent job of simulating the confusion and chaos that occur during a pitched battle. A unit’s card will also start flashing if it’s beginning to become frightened and is ready to run from the battle.
Ranged units will typically engage from a distance but that can be overridden. The ensuing chaos of battle can be frustrating but a lot of fun as well. The most frustrating thing for me is that I never seem to get combat just quite right. My flanking maneuvers are usually easily countered by the AI, and my typical victory is marginal at best.
At the end of a battle you’ll get a battle summary telling you what kind of victory you achieved, like a close victory. If you’re the victor you will be given the choice of ransoming your prisoners, executing them, or enslaving them.
Frustration and Custom Battles
The most frustrating part for me is the unit facing and flanking maneuvers. It seems like they never face the right way or take the formation I assign them to. I also like to fight the battles zoomed out so I can see the battlefield but need to zoom in pretty close when it comes to facing a unit or changing it’s formation. If I don’t I can’t tell which way the facing triangles are pointing. There is a way to improve your skills without taking severe losses in the game while you’re learning to fight battles and that’s custom battles.
In a custom battle you get to choose what faction you want to use and what faction you want to fight. Each side has a set amount of gold to use to build a custom army with. You can also choose the difficulty level, time limit and the amount of funds available for your army, plus there are a few other options as well. I found this an excellent option to increase my poor skills at facing units and tried several battles before I was happy with myself. This also is an excellent way to learn about your units and how they perform.
Game set up is pretty straight forward. There are the typical options for changing graphics, sound and control settings but there is very little for adjusting the actual gameplay itself. You can set the level of advice you’d like to receive and defaults, like guard mode and skirmish mode but there are no settings for things like adjusting character or faction attributes. One nice feature that I don’t remember seeing in other games is the colorblind mode. If you have trouble distinguishing between colors it would be worth checking out.
When it comes to starting the game you choose your Faction and Lord. Before you start the interface will give you a rundown of the Race Attributes and Faction Effects. You can also set the difficulty level for the Campaign and Battles. Once satisfied click on “Start Campaign” and the game starts.
There are two victory conditions in this game. One is a Vortex Victory. To win you need to complete all the Rituals and win the Final Battle. The other is a Domination Victory which is won by destroying certain factions, depending on what you faction is, and m