Creative Assembly’s announcement that Total War: Warhammer II was in development did not come as a shock to fans of the Total War (TW) franchise. The company had previously expressed an interest in continuing the fantasy series to form a trilogy. However, for the game to be available for release on September 28, 2017, so soon after the official announcement back in April, is rather impressive. To get a taste of what the sequel to 2016’s Total War entry is like, OnlySP journeyed to 2017’s E3, where a demo of Total War: Warhammer II was available for play. Understanding what the demo entailed is important before describing the quality of the experience, however.
The demo began with a cinematic video describing the situation of TW: Warhammer II’s world, and some of the various races, highlighting the High Elves, who are attempting a ritual that will surely mean doom for their enemies, and the Lizardmen, who have mobilized to prevent the High Elves from completing their ritual. After the narrative-video finished describing these races in the Old World (the continent on which players campaigned in the first game) and summing up the player’s objective (slaying the High Elves’ sorcerers before they complete the ritual), the real experience began. Thrust into a battle against the High Elves, players must use the Lizardmen to ravage enemy forces at the Fallen Gates (presumably representing the Cosmic Gates familiar to Warhammer fans). Gamers start out with only a handful of units, but reinforcements arrive to embed themselves into the player’s army as the battle progresses. Moreover, normal to Total War, a variety of units make appearances in the demo, from missile, sword/mace, and spear troops to artillery, cavalry, and heavy units (monsters, in the case of Warhammer I and II).
The battle commences similarly to any other Total War encounter, with one exception: players cannot position their troops before clicking the “start battle” button at the top of the screen. However, everything else remains true to Total War’s mechanics in that players can select multiple units to create groups, put units in different formations, activate different abilities (skirmish mode for missile troops, toggling the “move fast” ability on/off, etc.), and left-click on the terrain to deselect any units. Now that the scene has been described, understanding the demo’s quality within the context of the aforementioned battle should be easier.
Graphically, TW: Warhammer II appears much more impressive than the game’s predecessor. The first game’s graphics were outstanding, but unit variety was rather vanilla, bordering on unimaginative despite their picturesque appearances. In TW: Warhammer II, however, each unit type (cavalry, infantry, missile, artillery, monsters, etc.)—and even the subunits of each type (spear cavalry versus sword cavalry, spear and halberd infantry versus mace and sword infantry, etc.)—offers more variety and detail than the previous game. While the differences are small, they are still noticeable and an important factor in the minute improvements between the two games. Furthermore, the terrain, from the wavy, green grass to the brush and stone ruins below a swirling azure vortex (part of the ritual) is crisp and does well in immersing players in Warhammer’s fantasy world. TW: Warhammer II is a picturesque game that does the high quality of modern graphics cards justice. Simultaneously, the game is a clear sibling of its predecessor in more than just name. While the visuals are improved, they are also akin to that of their predecessor’s. Given that only a year and a half will have passed since TW: Warhammer released when TW: Warhammer II launches this September, the amount of improvements being small should come as little surprise.
Along with those small visual enhancements, TW: Warhammer II’s audio seems on par with the first game. The lack of improvement is not a drawback, however, because TW: Warhammer’s sounds were impressive, delivering both heart-throbbing battle noises (clashing swords, yelling, screaming, terror, explosions, gunfire, monster screeches, the thwomp of cannon fire) with great precision. However, where Warhammer II has an edge over the first game is the use of cutscenes, which is something the first game underused. Along with those cutscenes, voicework is needed, and TW: Warhammer II provides excellent use of voice actors to deliver convincing narratives and immersive drama before, and during, a battle.
Playing through the battle in the demo brought back a lot of fond memories of previous Total War titles. Naturally, the first TW: Warhammer comes to mind when ordering the fantasy troops around in order to outmaneuver the enemy. Nonetheless, TW: Warhammer II’s mechanics do not stray from the precedents put in place by earlier Total War games, including Shogun 2, Rome 2, and Medieval 2. TW: Warhammer II does, however, make the process of selecting troops and commanding them smoother than previous titles. The first game in Creative Assembly’s newest fantasy trilogy was not exactly choppy or rigid, yet the development team has somehow managed to strengthen the current title’s engine to provide a more fluid combat system. The game feels improved, like moving from sleeping on a plush bed to sleeping on a cloud—a minuscule improvement, but an improvement, regardless. Outside of the demo’s feel, the rest of the battle mechanics are largely the same. Left-clicking selects units, right-clicking orders them either move or attack, and grouped units can be ordered to maintain a specific formation while they move across the battlefield. Based on the demo alone, the totality of similarities between the two games cannot go unnoticed, but those similarities are to be expected. Only so many changes and improvements can be made between sequels in a relatively short time period while remaining true to the core of what makes the games so popular.
Not much of TW: Warhammer II’s story was provided during the demo. However, what little players were able to witness was well-delivered, vastly improving upon the lore in the first game. TW: Warhammer’s use of story devices felt rather lackluster, relying more on gameplay for players to shape their own tales than the use of cutscenes and character interaction. If TW: Warhammer II’s demo is any indication, however, storytelling will have a heavier impact on the gameplay by offering a better blend of narrative, cinematics, objectives, and user interaction (battles, campaigns, etc.).
Overall, TW: Warhammer II seems greatly improved from the first game due to a number of minor enhancements to the graphics and the smoother gameplay. The demo stayed true to the Total War franchise as a whole and, more importantly, to both the first TW: Warhammer and the Warhammer universe (albeit, with small changes due to creative freedom).
Be sure to stay tuned for OnlySP’s Total War: Warhammer II review later this year. Total War: Warhammer II releases on September 28, 2017 for PC.