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'Total War: Warhammer:' Embarking On The Grand Campaign

The Empire, led by Karl Franz, is slowly growing in size as it continues its conquest across various regions. By carefully siding with a few allies, Franz and his forces can focus on a single front as he attempts to bring the other human kingdoms under his control. However, he’s not the only one attempting this herculean feat; other factions and races, such as the Dwarves and Greenskins, are fighting each other in the mountains. The ghastly Vampire Counts are steadily plunging their enemies into an undead frenzy while the Chaos factions wreak havoc as they move from one place to another.

This is the world of Total War: Warhammer, the latest installment in Creative Assembly’s long-running strategy series. Whereas previous installations were focused on real-world, historic settings such as the Roman Empire and feudal Japan, Total War: Warhammer is the studio’s first attempt at a fantasy-based title. For Total War veterans, most of the game’s mechanics should be familiar, albeit with a few improvements in certain areas, but it also has brand new features that would be impossible to add on the battlefields of Rome or Russia. It’s these new additions--and one in particular--that makes the game so distinct from its predecessors, and what makes Total War: Warhammer an impressive entry in the series.

War (Somewhat) Changes

Depending on your play style, you can choose from one of four races (five if you pre-ordered the game and received the Chaos Warriors pack): Humans, Dwarves, Greenskins and Vampire Counts. Each group has pros and cons in areas of diplomacy, city management and even combat, so it’s to your benefit to see how each race performs in the game’s initial turns.

In terms of battle, most of the mechanics introduced were reminiscent of previous titles. You can still move your units in a single formation and can flank enemies to gain the upper hand. Obviously, the rock-paper-scissors mechanic between swordsmen, spearmen and cavalry is still around, but you’ll have to consider magic on the battlefield (more on that later).

The new setting also allowed for a change in the way you deploy Generals and Agents, which are now called Lords and Heroes, respectively. Lords tend to be more focused towards combat instead of city management (but that doesn’t mean they can't still manage your domestic affairs) while Heroes become jacks-of-all trades and can assassinate leaders, dismantle units, damage enemy buildings or improve one of your provinces.

However, both units have a multitude of skills to learn across multiple paths. You can tailor your Lords to be strong combat units on the battlefield or make them outstanding generals. Likewise, your Heroes can have a significant effect on the battlefield with their magic powers (this means that you can actually embed your Heroes in your armies) or they can find other ways to serve by killing enemy Lords or preventing an opposing army from crossing into your territory.

On top of that, you can equip Lords and Heroes with a retinue of servants that increase certain traits. You can also equip your Lords with various trinkets of armor and weapons to make them stand out from the rest of your soldiers. There’s so much to do with these special units, and you can build each one to suit your play style.

You’ll also have to deal with various Quests to keep you occupied in your campaign. Similar to previous titles, you don’t have to take on each Quest as it pops up, but if you want to make your Generals the envy of the land with their unique arsenal and skills, finishing these Quests is a quick way to gain the upper hand against your enemies, while also implementing some of the lore that makes the Warhammer franchise very popular.

Do You Believe In Magic?

Now we come to the feature that sets Total War: Warhammer apart from its older siblings. Magic is introduced for the first time in the series, which could turn the tide of battle in your favor. Just like your Lords and Heroes, you can utilize magic as an extra attacking force in your army, or as a way of fortifying or healing your units.

The world around you is full of pockets of the so-called Winds of Magic that determine the amount of magic power at your disposal at the beginning of each battle. From there, your magic-based Hero will have to pick from a Magic Lore, such as the Lore of Fire or Lore of Heavens, to utilize specific spells. Even though you don’t necessarily have to use magic in all of your battles (I certainly didn’t use them for a few skirmishes and still won the battle), it’s an ace in the hole that can mean the difference between victory and defeat. You can launch a smoldering fireball against a tough opponent or bolster your ranks with a protective spell.

With the various Lores and spells available for use, you can actually figure out ways to combine certain spells to create a one-two punch against your enemies. There are multiple varieties of spells, so be sure to experiment with many combinations until you find one that fits your needs.

Keeping The Peace And Watching For Threats

Outside of these battles, you’ll have to maintain your faction’s cities to keep the war chest full while satisfying your citizens through public order. One thing that really impressed me was the upgrade system for buildings, especially the military-based structures, because the UI now shows what units are available for production once a certain building is finished. That same UI also notifies you when you’re constructing a duplicate building that isn’t necessary, which saves you money, but it also expands the variety of buildings in each city.

The biggest threat to your empire, however, is the looming threat of the Vampire Counts and the Chaos factions. Both groups leave a wake of death and destruction that can crush armies and demolish cities. If that wasn’t intimidating enough, their armies come in large numbers. At some point, you’ll have to stop quarreling with your neighbors and pay attention to the bigger picture. These terrifying groups attack from the East, and if you want to survive, you’ll need to make crucial alliances, grow tough armies, and keep your economy strong (it also doesn't hurt to keep your public order stat high to prevent domestic revolts).

A Welcome Change In Pace

When the game was first announced, it seemed strange that Creative Assembly strayed from its historic roots to focus on a fictional world. However, the studio’s hard work paid off to create another addictive installation. The Warhammer universe allowed the developers to craft a unique world with interesting units and lore, all while keeping the traits of what makes the Total War series a memorable franchise.

For Total War fans, this latest game is more of the series you love and cherish. Those invested in the Warhammer world will find a new outlet in this game to see their favorite factions duke it out on a virtual battlefield. As for newcomers, there’s never been a better time to jump in than with Total War: Warhammer. It’s fun, strategic and full of spectacular battles. Go ahead and choose a faction. The Old World awaits.

Follow Rexly Peñaflorida II @Heirdeux. Follow us @tomshardware, on Facebook and on Google+.