Total War: Warhammer 2 put to the test - Achilles heel innovation
Game sequels simply don't dare enough anymore, play it safe too much instead of daring new ideas - new series parts have to put up with this reproach more and more nowadays.
A paradise for conquerors
But we don't notice anything of this problem at the beginning. The new world that opens before us surpasses the old one of the first Total War: Warhammer in every way. It's bigger, more splendid and a lot more varied.
Our campaigns lead us from the icy desert of Naggarond to the jungle of Lustria and on the way there we face an enormously diverse group of opponents. On the one hand, there are the four new races, one of which we are adopting ourselves: High Elves, Dark Elves, Lizardmen and Skaven. On top of that, all the parties of the predecessor hang around as AI colonies in the new world.
But we don't get bored on land either. This is ensured by its very own landscape constellations such as the elven island of Ulthuan. Your heartland is protected by a circular mountain range through which we can only break at enormously powerful peat fortresses . The new map requires its own strategies depending on the region.
It helps that the developers took one of the biggest criticisms of the first part to heart: We can conquer all the settlements again! We only have to pay attention to the climate zone, the lizard people in the hot tropics are happy about more productive cities and a happier population than in the frosty north. But if our strategy demands that we wrest a base from the hostile environment, then the game no longer forbids us - a clear improvement.
Full fantasy ahead
For a long time, choosing our favorite race was not as difficult for us as it was in Total War: Warhammer 2. The developers use their fantasy scenario much more consistently this time and pour it into more unusual mechanics for each race. It starts with the units. Dark elf witch warriors drive their enemies insane with poisoned blades, for example, so that they fight uncontrollably and no longer obey orders.
As far as wacky monsters are concerned, one race trumps the next: the elves throw phoenixes and dragons into battle, the lizards pack ballistae, archers and wizards on the backs of massive dinosaurs, and the skaven pound grotesque monsters of flesh and steampunk technology together.
Uniqueness vs. Purification
The parties also shine with more peculiarities on the campaign map. For example, the cities of the Skaven are treacherously disguised as ruins and the high elves incite other factions against each other with court intrigues (or make peace!). In addition, each side has four unique rites . They require sacrifices of resources and can only be performed again after a long cooldown, but unlock powerful advantages.
This is how the dark elves call their mighty black arks . We add buildings to these colossal ships like moving cities. Armies on the coast can recruit new troops and replace fallen soldiers directly from the ark. The pots also provide powerful skill fire support in the event of a field battle.
This is how Total War: Warhammer 2 plays on the campaign map a lot more interesting than its predecessor, which has been severely detoxified here. There are simply a lot more strategic factors and mechanics to consider! Only the provincial expansion is too simple for us this time. It doesn't take long before we get the hang of it and simply expand every province according to the scheme. The developers have also provided a little more flavor here. We are now discovering a lot more cities with special chains of buildings and monuments, which thus become attractive targets for conquest. After all!
Break through to new battlefields
When it comes to battle from the campaign map, we can also look forward to more variety. From a purely visual point of view, we will conquer everything from magnificent lizard people temple cities in the deepest jungle to disgusting rat-infested skaven tunnels. But these maps not only offer great atmosphere and graphics, but also more playful variety.
Siege cards now differ more in their layout. For example, the elven gate fortresses are in some parts of the wall inaccessible to towers and ladders, and many bastions provide more space for fighting behind the walls once they have been breached. In the open field, on the other hand, the bottleneck battles known from older Total Wars return. Here we have to break the enemy by storming narrow bridges - very cool!
It's just a shame that Creative Assembly sticks to some cuts in the first part in the field too. We also miss classic unit skills such as the phalanx for spearmen or the onslaught in wedge formation for riders. However, this is offset by numerous new spells, special unit abilities (fire-breathing dragons and hydras!) And supporting army tricks such as the bombardments of the black arks.
The eternal AI question
With all the interesting new mechanics, no total war test can do without the same question: But how does the AI fare? In fact, not that bad! Often she even performs quite competent maneuvers, falls over us or attacks vulnerable cities. However, she often makes noticeable blunders .
Sometimes it throws itself into hopeless battles, sometimes it splits up its armies unwise and lets us destroy a force that is actually superior bit by bit. However, we only saw a real complete dropout once. An AI force let itself be put down motionless by our shooters. Fortunately, this remained the exception.
Also pleasant: The AI has become less intrusive in some ways. Weak parties no longer beg for alliances every round and the computer no longer pounds us with hordes of agents. He still uses them - but in the first part they were so aggressive that the community even modded them down. In general, the developers have integrated some of the most popular mod changes (such as separate starting points for each lord) into the game from the very beginning. Praiseworthy!
The solution to all endgame problems?
What the AI does not manage this time either: To remain a real threat until the end. Sooner or later, as in almost every Total War, we reach the point where we are simply too powerful for the computer to cost us victory. This is exactly where the biggest innovation in Total War: Warhammer 2 comes in.
The great maelstrom is intended as a new victory condition to ensure that the campaign remains exciting until the end - and ends with a spectacular finale, before we have to clear the whole map of mercilessly inferior enemies in a long routine work.
That is why we are vying with the three other races for control of the magical hurricane over Ulthuan. We collect our own ritual resource by completing missions and occupying more cities. Each settlement delivers a small amount per turn, a few key areas even significantly more.
We then put these resources into five rituals over the course of the campaign. Once we have completed the fifth, we fight one final epic battle and then emerge victorious from the campaign. The highlight: The AI can do it before us, until the last ritual there is always the risk that it will overtake us. The problem: the rituals are incredibly annoying.
Chance instead of tension
When we ring in a ritual, our three most important cities connect with the Maelstrom. Then we have to defend them a fixed number of turns against invading armies of Chaos. However, they behave completely unpredictably. Sometimes they appear right next to our cities, sometimes miles away on the sea.
Sometimes they march purposefully towards the ritual cities, but much more often they whistle and prefer to maraud around in the hinterland. Which on the one hand means that the armies are failing their basic purpose and never seriously endangering our rituals. On the other hand, we had to go reliably after every ritual to clean up the surrounding area and pull up the one or two crushed small towns again.
Above all, the ritual attackers ensure annoying hard work that cannot really be avoided. After all, we cannot possibly secure all the villages in the vast area surrounding the three ritual cities in advance. But if we are attacked surprisingly at a vulnerable point in a strategy game, then please, because we missed scouting! And not because the game just spawns completely arbitrary AI armies under our noses.
Ignoring is the best strategy
Second frustration factor: While the ritual meter of the other factions is increasingly putting us under time pressure, there is very little we can do to slow it down. Because the four ritual competitors are spread over all corners of the cards. Sometimes that even makes for exciting moments! For example, when we desperately set sail for Ulthuan and arrive there much earlier than planned to interrupt an elven ritual at the last moment.
But then suddenly the skaven and lizardmen set off with their own and we just think: "How the hell are we supposed to fight our way into their capitals in time?" All parties can attack each other with AI-controlled armies for money rush. However, they are so weak that they really didn't do anything in our test. So the maelstrom sucks more fun out of the game. We are just annoyed by the constantly increasing time pressure that we cannot do enough about.
The absurd last chance
As soon as we reach the endgame, the last weaknesses of the maelstrom mechanics finally reveal themselves and it turns out to be a farce from start to finish. Because if an enemy creates his last ritual before us, we can still teleport our general to an intervention battle and stop him. Now, one last chance is actually exactly what this mechanic needs - but this fight is so embarrassingly easy, even on Hard, that it ridicules all previous efforts.
So we fall into a strategy that takes the whole system to absurdity: Ignore all rituals throughout the game, allied as our own - it's not worth the resources. Always kill enemies casually in the decisive battle for the final ritual. Then simply carry out all of your own rituals at the end. That means: sit around for 60 laps and defend the same three cities . What is much more practical than working through each ritual individually and letting the armies make a pilgrimage five times, first from the front to defend the capital and then back again! The maelstrom mechanics just missed the goal of a more exciting end to the game as badly as possible.
We would have loved to play a classic Total War campaign without it, because we really like all other areas of Total War: Warhammer 2! Unfortunately, we cannot switch them off, but alternatively you can do without your own rituals and win by eliminating all important enemy factions and preventing opposing ritual victories in a quest battle. Our tip: do it that way. Just ignore the innovation. Then you will have a lot of fun with Total War: Warhammer 2.