For a computer gamer, one of the most magical times of the year is Christmas. It is when we get to experience something called, ‘The Steam Holiday Sale’! For the uninitiated, Steam is a digital delivery service for PC games – there are a few others but Steam is by far the largest. Popular new PC games can cost upwards of sixty dollars but a couple times a year Steam has a sale and it is possible to get sixty dollar games for a fraction of the price. If you’re ever on the fence about a game and don’t want to pay full price, Steam sales are a great time to take the plunge.
This past Christmas, I took the plunge on a game called Total War Warhammer (TWW). The Total War franchise is a series of popular strategy games which have been around for about fifteen years. There is a grand campaign strategic campaign, but the real draw is the tactical battlefield where you can control thousands of warriors in gloriously detailed mayhem. Rome, Feudal Japan, and the Middle Ages have gotten the Total War treatment.
On the surface, TWW represents a departure from the formula. Where the other games were grounded in history, Warhammer is a popular fictional fantasy universe. Unlike Tolkien’s better known fantasy world, Warhammer is a grimdark universe where a marginally bad xenophobic theocratic empire is the only thing that stands in the way of the evil forces of Chaos and a host of other baddies. Warhammer tabletop games are all about the horrifying spectacle of bloody warfare where the question isn’t ‘are you going to die?’ It is how gruesome is the death going to be.
In other words, it is the perfect world to get the Total War treatment.
For followers of the series, the gameplay isn’t remarkably different than what has come before. It has been refined though to the point where an enthusiast can jump right in and feel at home within five minutes. For the newcomer, the campaign mode can be a bit overwhelming at first with tons of options thrown at you. It doesn’t help that the sides in the conflict are asymmetrical so there is a lot of nuance one must learn to effectively execute their strategy. I could get it after a few tries but I think a newcomer might bounce off this level of the game.
But really none of it matters once you get down to the tactical battles and this is where TWW excels. The controls are quite intuitive and within a few moments, you are maneuvering hundreds of soldiers around the battlefield. The asymmetry and loads of options which are aggravating on the campaign level become interesting tactical problems at the battle level. TWW rewards good tactics and employment of forces – I couldn’t just throw everyone at the enemy, I had to consider where to place the spear wall, when to disengage the skirmishers, and when to launch the cavalry charges.
Ultimately, the highest praise I can give TWW is that it stayed in my mind long after I finished it. The atmosphere, terrain, graphics and detail all combined to lead into a gaming experience where instead of playing the game, I felt like I had lived the battle. I may have been in my living room but for a moment, I was on the side of a hill behind the shield wall repulsing the charge of the hordes of Chaos, arrows and musket balls whistling past me as the guttural war cries of the enemy signaled yet another charge.