The environment of a game is absolutely crucial, even in a strategy title such as Total War. It may not seem it, but every gaming experience relies on the quality of its backdrop. Without it, nothing would have context, and there’d be nothing worth fighting for. After all, characters and narrative are only effective if there’s a convincing origin for either. And without a well-designed setting, that’d be impossible.
As the backdrop for the all-consuming warfare, the series is built around, the world of Total War: Warhammer is no different. It’s the prize for your victories, and it differentiates the way factions play beyond their respective economies. Carving out your slice of that world is one of the most satisfying aspects of the game. But all of that would be undermined were it sloppily designed. Fortunately, it’s not. Quite the contrary, it’s designed brilliantly.
We’ll be showcasing the worlds of both titles, as they exist within the confines of the same map. And considering the sheer breadth and complexity of Warhammer lore, it’s unsurprising it took two games to encapsulate it. It may well be generic, covering everything from elves to orcs, but it’s incredibly extensive. It only makes the accomplishment of packing it all into the unflattering confines of game design more impressive.
Almost everything from Warhammer Fantasy lore, you could imagine is in there in some capacity. Admittedly, they had an easier task than most. They were working with someone else’s licence rather than creating the world parallel to development. But it’s nonetheless an impressive feat, and one worthy of recognition. So, let’s discuss it.
The Little Details
Total War is a series almost entirely built around maps. It has overworld maps, diplomatic maps, battlefield overworld maps, actual battlefield maps, all the maps. Should any of them be dull, the series would be compromised to a fairly significant degree. But, freed from the restrictive mould of human history, every single map in the game is bursting with character.
The overworld itself has settings befitting all roughly forty-three different playable factions available in the game. Everything from idyllic the jungles of Lustria to the frozen wastelands of the north, but it’s not in the biomes themselves where the game flexes it’s attention to detail but in their confines.
The sphinxes scattered across Khemri deserts, denoting the centuries of Nehekhara’s culture buried beneath them. The entranceways littering dwarven occupied mountains, signifying the labyrinthine underpaths beneath them. The ruined settlements scattered across the southern Badlands, ravaged by orc warbands. All the little touches that signify it’s a land with a rich history, rather than a blank canvas.
They may not seem all that important, but they mark the difference between a world befitting of the conflicts taking place across it and one that exists in ignorance of your actions. It gives weight to even the most minor of confrontations, as you fight to reclaim your homeland. And more than that, it shows the developers care for the IP they’re working within.
However, while the detail crammed into the overworld is impressive, the actual battlefields themselves more than rival it. In Total War games, the two exist separately of one another. The player enters a more confined space to control their army during battles, with a setting to match. The battles are usually a chaotic mess if you’re as bad as I am. You’re struggling to micro-manage dozens of individual units against an AI doing it far more intelligently. But the game doesn’t use this as an excuse to skimp on quality.
Every battlefield reflects the context it takes place in. Desert conflicts take place on endless dunes, with towering statues and Warsphinxes looming over it. Forest battles are thick with foliage and conflicts with the undead are suitably blasted and bleak. Skirmishes around minor settlements have hamlets depicted in the background and sieges have towering castles standing against intrusion.
They aren’t generic, though. Every castle is faction appropriate, with the black steel of Dark Elves and intricate stonework of Lizardmen kept distinct. It makes every battle feel like it takes place where it should, an accomplishment given how self-contained they are. You never feel removed from the setting in any of these fights, and each battle feels distinct. Considering it’s from a series built around bland historical accuracy and generic unit compositions, it’s a welcome change.
Giving it all Character
It’s not merely the environments that comprise world-building however. The characters and histories of these worlds are just as crucial to the setting as the worlds themselves. And while its environments are impressive, this is where Total War: Warhammer excels. It encapsulates almost every significant figure in Warhammer Fantasy lore you can imagine.
Krell, the barbarian warlord, turned to an unwilling slave of a rickety old necromancer. Lord Kroak, the borderline mythical champion of the Lizardmen, endured since their first spawning. Even Skarsnik’s pet cave squig Gobbla is built into the game to some extent. Along with lore relevant quests for them to reclaim Eight Peaks.
This measure of loyalty to the source material is everywhere. Settra, the undead eternal king constantly screams his refusal to serve. The Von Carsteins curse Sigmar’s name with every breath. To those familiar with the source material, it’s an eclectic and refreshingly faithful tribute. To those that aren’t, it provides a voice to what would otherwise be generic fantasy races.
It goes as far as to include lore specific animations to denote world events. Factions signing treaties overbroad and random tribes declaring war are all painted with care. It’s all overflowing with such character that it can’t possibly be anything besides love for the source material. They may well charge a decent amount for every incremental batch of lore post-release, but it’s generally worth it.
There are many things that serve to distinguish good licenced games from bad ones. Passion and a love for the source material are likely prime among them and both ooze from every nook and cranny of this game. It may not be the most intricately constructed and expansive game environment ever made. But if it was, there wouldn’t be a need to showcase it. This one merely deserves recognition for the care and attention to detail that clearly went into its creation. It gave me an excuse to be positive about a game for once, and that alone is worthy of mentioning.