Total War: Warhammer 2 is not a good game — it is a bloody good game, and I mean that in its purest sense. The game has stakes, my decisions matter, the world could change, races could die (OK, that already existed), but most importantly… I could lose.
The game adds four new races (three can be seen below) and eight factions to play as in this new (and it is very new) game.
Rituals and rites alone change how you play this game, providing a narrative to the action. But that's not all that's new — there are new gameplay styles for the new races. Dark Elves get portable bloody cities, High Elves can screw with everyone from afar (something I learned whilst reviewing), Lizard Men are bolstered by the Geomantic web, and the Skaven (right, below) just want to corrupt everything.
I played purely as the Lizard Men, because I like to dive in to something fully when I play a game like this. But my approach is less on these particular gameplay ticks, which I think have been covered elsewhere to great effect (and some very good let's plays from Total War themselves on YouTube).
The first thing that you'll notice is how this seems to somehow be more beautiful and expansive than Total War: Warhammer 1. It feels like an obviously larger map, but they seem to have somehow made everything render much more nicely.
The thing is that I don't necessarily see that the engine has changed (and DX12 performance is still not fabulous). So I'm left feeling that it's either the developers getting to grips with the engine more, or it's just a nicer environment than the first. It's likely the latter, and it is fabulous — even though in my roughly 40 hours of play, I've barely left Kroq-Gar's starting position. It's a starting position on a map that feels a good three times the size of the previous game's playfield. This might not necessarily be true if the map I've found (above) indicates anything, but it does add another layer on to enjoying this much more robust single player campaign.
That epic feeling that this isn't just me versus a few others for superiority, but something that affects a whole world. Still this could simply be a scaling issue, the map would seem to indicate both and Total War: Warhammer 1 and Total War: Warhammer 2 have the same map size.
That inability I mentioned about barely leaving my start region brings bizarrely remembering old games that are completely unrelated. As I said earlier, it's the first time in recent memory I've realised that I'm playing a computer game, and that I can lose.
If that sounds bizarre, think of it this way: there's a "game over" screen here. Yep. If an opposing race or faction completes their rituals before you, that's it — you're done. It doesn't matter how badass your ranks of troops and coverage of empire are; if they take that vortex, you are screwed. This means that you really have to balance what you do out there. It also means that you care, too. You need a decent income, which means you must consider expansion. Plus, you need to consider your trade options heavily. I was heartbroken to see two factions break trade and non-aggression in one turn.
It's a testament to the programmers that my mind immediately went to thinking that it was one of my top five strength-rank enemies manoeuvring other factions against me. Probably those haughty bloody High Elf bastards; they devastated my capital (look at those dragons below) during the previous ritual and we've been vying for vortex superiority ever since.
Well, in all probability, it was. If you watch the first two minutes and 15 seconds of the High Elf video (from the previously mentioned playlist above) you'll see that their power is to manipulate other races to hinder their opponents. See? I'm emotionally tied in here; there's a mortality to my campaign that (to me) equals three lives in a nameless legendary platformer.
This isn't an odd comparison I'm making here; I'm talking about a game where you don't feel like it's cheating by the machinations. A game where you really feel that it's a challenge. I completely reviewed my approach to my third ritual when I realised that those pompous pointy ears were going to come knocking again, and now I scramble to get my strongest armies to the prone capitals. This ensures that I don't have to rebuild each time two or three factions decide to attack them all simultaneously. If this sounds like I'm despairing, I am — and that's good. I don't want to fall into the spike pit and lose my rings! Peril!
So it's things like this that give you an incredibly well rounded experience. There's also the addition of treasure hunts and wrecks out to sea (I actually have a lord simply for treasure hunting) and the cutscene narrative building that actually manages to perform in an otherwise sandbox environment. Before, a cutscene basically just said "Yeah, these guys exist now; kill them." Now it's furthering your story, and sure, you're clawing for power where you can get it — but it's no longer just a simple jump from one fight to the next.
I love the context that this game now gives you. It's a context that is emboldened further with the tech tree now being dependent on your actions in the game — not the other way around. It feels more natural that I'd not be able to research better methods of rearing or using Stegadons without first building a building that helps me do that. Below are the tech trees for Lizard Men and High Elves.
So what about any drawbacks? Well, I thought the camera height issue might have been resolved, but now I'm not so sure. Perhaps it's a tiny bit more levitated at full height, but it's unclear. This said, perhaps the camera height mod (every player needs this) goes even higher which warps my measurements. Either way, it's still restrictive without the mod.
As a secondary notation down this road, DirectX 12 is still in beta, and it still has issues. For example, I couldn't actually switch to 1440p without crashing, and I've not yet checked the DX12 shadowing oddities (invisible campaign movement boundaries) in the snow. There's also still no "Battle Strategy for Dummies" setting, or even a paper-clip "you appear to be crap at the war thing; send the mounted troops through that forest". Showing the user how to do things gives an appreciation of which tactics would do what, and better yet, lead the player to make the move themselves. Well, that's worthy of a chef kiss — mwah!
I would love to learn from my (many, many) multiplayer losses, but I keep putting my hand back on that hob unit, and it is still hot. I also see no real terrain bias on show here. I'm not talking hills for archers; I'm talking macro-terrain features. Jungle and desert advantages for Lizardmen, woodland for Elves, mountains for Dwarves, etc. Perhaps they exist, but I've not seen much other than the fact that my race might not like some environments.
Obviously I can't leave on that, so I thought I'd note the sound design. I've been playing the game with surround sound, and it's so brilliantly immersive. From the atmospheric incidental stuff in the side and rear surrounds to the embattled shrieks and war cries in the midst of a full melee, this truly delivers. If you thought that sound design had no place in a game like this, I can happily prove you wrong.
All of this is a welcome endorsement of a wholly involved experience in a massive sandbox realm that you'll just get dragged further and further into — and not just for one more battle. This is better than the first, for sure, because you care more about what's going down instead of simply levelling everything up and carrying on. Get both, though, and in two weeks' time, Creative Assembly will let you join the maps. Holy crap.