In the lobby of Sega’s offices in Santa Monica, California, I’m watching a massive dinosaur toss ranks of soldiers into the air like clods of dirt. These aren’t just any soldiers, however. These are High Elves, and in the lore of Total War: Warhammer 2, they’re supposedly the most disciplined, most highly-trained warriors around. But compared to a feral stegadon, one of the units in the new Lizardmen faction, they’re simply no match.
Warhammer 2 will feature four new races, including the High Elves, Dark Elves and Lizardmen, all drawn from the more than 30 years of lore that has built up around the Warhammer tabletop miniatures game. It will also include an entirely new map which, when combined with the map in the original Total War: Warhammer, will double the size of that game.
Fans who own both titles will be able to play any faction from either game and lead them to victory — or defeat — over a combined world map.
And that’s not the only upgrade coming down the pike.
Yabba dabba doom
The Lizardmen are, in the lore of the Warhammer universe, the oldest living race on the planet. Their faction, therefore, has some very different ... features than the games’ other races.
“If you'd like to sum up the Lizardmen in a couple of words,” said Andy Hall, the series’ lead writer and narrative designer, “we like to think they're dinosaurs riding dinosaurs with Aztec space lasers.”
There are multiple species within the army, including gigantic creatures that look like ankylosaurus or triceratops. Those that were deployed in the demo were feral, meaning that after they’d been engaged in combat, there was a certain point when they would stop responding to commands. But there was little reason to stay their hand, as the High Elf formations broke and ran soon after first contact. Later, other dinosaurs — bastiladon with massive lasers strapped to their backs — would saunter in to mop up the stragglers.
But, not to be outdone, the High Elves eventually called in one of their support units: a fire-breathing red dragon. In the hands-on demo that I played later, the dragon incinerated my melee troops before falling on my army’s leader to do hand-to-hand combat with his mount.
So, when I casually call the battles in Warhammer 2 “epic,” understand that I mean to say that they are the tyrannosaur-grappling-with-a-red-dragon kind of epic.
Best of all, nothing felt cheesy. Units that I had never taken control of before behaved in predictable ways based on their size and armaments. The enemy’s artificial intelligence, especially on the high difficulty, stood its ground and at times took advantage of my mistakes.
In the tradition of all the great games in the Total War series that had come before it, this latest effort from Creative Assembly felt remarkably solid. That’s in part because of the amount of time the team has spent balancing it.
“We've got a really clever system,” explained Al Bickham, Creative Assembly’s development communications manager. “When everyone goes home at night, it takes over their work PCs and uses them for auto-testing. It’s sort of like Folding@Home. It's a distributed system that just grabs spare CPUs and runs the latest build in the background.”
When the team comes back after the weekend, the system has run through turn after turn at super-fast speeds, with multiple AI playing against one another. When they check out the results, the goal is to find surprises.
“We want all factions to have an opportunity,” said lead development manager Sam Millen. “I think what we also look for is that, through multiple campaigns on the same version of the game, it actually plays out differently. We don't want ... the High Elves to always win and always dominate. We want sometimes the High Elves get killed off early. Sometimes they go over to the west and sometimes they go down south. We want variation in the campaign, but also as much balance as we can achieve.”
Warhammer 2 is the continuation of an ambitious plan to faithfully recreate every faction in the eighth edition of the Warhammer tabletop miniatures game. The team at Creative Assembly consider it to be as much an upgrade of the original as it is a sequel.
When it launches later this year, the game will expand the original with new systems and features, and it will also introduce a so-called “combined campaign” mode. In it, players will be able to take the reins of any of the game’s eight factions and march across the entire, combined land mass of the two games.
“You've got Total War: Warhammer, which is the Old World campaign,” explained Bickham. “Then you've got Warhammer 2, which is the New World campaign. And the combined campaign as well. But, when you get Warhammer 3, you'll have its own campaign and a new combined campaign with extra land mass on it as well. So it grows with every single one. The idea is that you can play any race that you own on that combined campaign map.”
Races you do not own will show up as adversaries, and with new mercenary armies being added with Warhammer 2, they’ll be able to pull in units from multiple factions.
“They're all found the deep, dark archives of all of the Games Workshop literature,” said Millen. “As an example, there's one that's led by a goblin beast master. His army is filled with beasts. So there's Squigs from the Greenskin army, there's feral bastiladons from the Lizardmen army, and there's Wolf Riders and Boars and all of these different units from other races.
“That's an army you would never be able to fight against ordinarily, but now you can since they’re mercenaries banded together. So it makes for interesting gameplay.”
We’ll be able to share our own gameplay in video form in the next several weeks. Sega expects to have hands-on demos at this year’s E3. Look for more E3 2017 coverage later this month, kicking off when the first press conferences broadcast live on June 10.