PREVIEW:

Sega’s The Creative Assembly plans three massive real-time strategy games set in the Warhammer universe. And today, it is taking the wraps off of Total War: Warhammer II.

The game is a sequel to last year’s Total War: Warhammer, which debuted in May 2016 and it became the most popular game ever in the 17-year-old Total War series. (Market intelligence site SteamSpy said it has 1.5 million players). Warhammer II will introduce four new continents, separated by an ocean with dynamic storms that could take out an entire fleet. The game will debut on the PC sometime this year.

It has four new races, including the High Elves, Dark Elves, the Lizardmen, and a fourth unnamed race. Each race is unique and will be very different to play, with iconic battlefield units, characters, monsters, war machines, and tactical formations. The mechanics and backstory come from three decades of lore in the Warhammer Fantasy Battles series. As I saw the devs fly over the campaign map, I felt engrossed by the details of the world.

“This is the second game in a massive fantasy trilogy,” said Al Bickham, communications manager at Creative Assembly, at a preview event. Sega will show live gameplay at the Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3), the big game trade show in Los Angeles, in mid-June.

Above: The High Elves bring a big dragon to a knife fight.

Image Credit: Sega/Creative Assembly

Sam Miller, lead development manager, said the whole effort has taken about four years so far. The first two involved merging Warhammer’s lore with the Total War game engine, and then launching the first game. About a year ago, the team started working on Warhammer II, which was easier because it built on the foundations laid earlier. The goal was to make the game accessible, so it can bring in both Warhammer fans and Total War fans in a bigger way.

It is an ambitious game, as you can fight a battle at any point in the giant campaign map. In Total War, you move your armies around the campaign map. When they meet, the game zeroes in on a battlefield, where two sides issue their commands to their troops simultaneously and watch the soldiers charge into action. You can zoom out to see the whole battle, or zoom in to see individual soldiers fighting. You can fight battles with thousands of troops, or, in this case, with all sorts of special forces such as dragons or mages or dinosaur-like Stegodons.

The combined campaign, the Vortex, and new races

Above: The Lizardmen aren’t happy.

Image Credit: Sega/Creative Assembly

Eventually, The Creative Assembly plans to link the campaign map of the first game with the campaign map of the second, making for a massive combined campaign. But first, Sega plans to launch an open beta test of Warhammer II. It will see how that goes and come out with the combined campaign later as a free update. I spent about 400 hours playing Total War: Attila, which came out in 2015. I can’t imagine how long it would take to finish Warhammer II’s combined campaign.

At the center of the map is something called The Great Vortex, a magical maelstrom above the Isle of the Dead in the center of one of the continents, Ulthuan, home of the High Elves. The Vortex was forged in a past age by a convocation of High Elf mages to drain the Winds of Magic from the world. It blasted a huge demonic invasion back to the Realm of Chaos from whence it came. The endgame of the campaign is to control the Vortex, which has become unstable.

Two of the races want to stabilize the Vortex, and two want to destabilize it. One of the surprises is that it is possible for the artificial intelligence players to beat the human player to the final objective.

“The fact that there’s still that race to the very end — you can lose a campaign at the end,” Miller said in an interview with GamesBeat. “We’re trying to deal with the problem Total War has had for a long time now, where you get quite late into the game and you own so much of the world that you’re an unstoppable force, even if someone else is of equal size to you. They’re still not a huge threat because it will take so long for them to take over your empire. We wanted to make sure the game remains tense and climactic right to the end.”

Above: The Lizardmen charge.

Image Credit: Sega/Creative Assembly

But the fighting won’t be just at the center of the map. You still have to build and manage an empire, engage in diplomacy with allies, research technologies, develop settlements, and all the usual Total War stuff. Miller said the territories include Lustria, Ulthuan, Naggaroth, and the Southlands. And the Southlands have ten different factions fighting over it. Part of your goal is to thwart the other races from reaching theirs.

The Vortex map is roughly the same size as the map in the first game, but the combination will wind up being twice as big. You do not need the first game to play Warhammer II, unless you want to play the combined campaign map. As for naval combat, it will only happen in “autoresolve,” where navies can meet in open water but the battle is automatically resolved. Warhammer II will be about land warfare, at least at the outset.

Each of the races will be playable in the single-player campaign as well as multiplayer. Each race has two Legendary Lords, each with a different starting position in the campaign. You’ll be able to play two-player cooperative campaigns with the same race. The High Elves, for instance, engage in a lot of political infighting. They also try to manipulate the other races to battle each other. They dispatch traders and emissaries to spy on the other civilizations.

Flying over the map, the developers pointed out things like massive fortresses, region-wide storms, sunken ships, a Vampire Count city, ancient ruins, rogue armies full of mercenaries, and mixed-race armies.

The Battle of the Fallen Gates

Above: Flying beasts help the Lizardmen.

Image Credit: Sega/Creative Assembly

In my preview battle, I played the Lizardmen, which are like “dinosaurs riding dinosaurs with Aztec space lasers.” The battle was part of the Quest battle, from the main campaign game.

The Lizardmen were quite upset that the High Elves came to their land and sought to do some magic at the Fallen Gates, a cosmic portal which sat on a giant hill with a single approach. The High Elves go to Lustria because they think they can use the portal to summon the Old Ones to help with the Vortex.

The Lizardmen come out of the jungle and approach the elven army from the bottom of the hill. They charge the enemy line, but the elves are on plateaus with plenty of archers who rain arrows on the dinosaurs. Both sides have dragons who can breathe fire on the enemies below.

“Fallen Gates not for them,” says the Lizardmen chief, Legendary Lord Kroq-Gar, as the battle starts.

The Lizardmen army has to pass over a bridge that crosses a big crevasse around the portal. Your military adviser tells you what to do at certain stages in the battle, like taking out the flying beasts.

Above: A beast on a rampage.

Image Credit: Sega/Creative Assembly

The Lizardmen have the ability to spawn a unit of feral Cold Ones (big dinosaurs) anywhere on the battlefield. When an icon lights up, that means you can spawn the units.

The units on the Lizardmen roster include Skink Skirmishers, Saurus Warriors, Temple Guard, and a selection of their bestial allies such as Feral Bastilodons, Stegadons, and Stegadons mounted with Solar Engines – a form of long-range, arcane artillery. Halfway to the gates, you also receive flying units in the form of Terradon Riders armed with Fireleech Bolas.

The Stegodons and Bastilodons are feral, meaning they’re kind of wild. You launch them at the enemy, and they start attacking in a rampage. But after that, you can’t really control them anymore.

The High Elves are led by Prince Amendil, supported by Eagle Claw Bolt Throwers, a base of Elven Archers and Spearmen, and two chariot-mounted Mages (wielding High Magic and Light Magic). Elite elven units include White Lions of Chrace, Swordmasters of Hoeth, Ellyrian Reaver, Silver Helm cavalry, and a mighty Sun Dragon (the biggest of the flying beasts) with a fearsome fire-breath attack.

If you kill two of the elven mages, you destroy their ability to summon magic, and the battle ends. I played it on a normal setting twice. In the first game, I lost. In the second game, I was victorious. But it was a Pyrrhic victory because I lost so many lizards.

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