The first Total War: Warhammer campaign remains the series’ greatest
Where there was once a simple sandbox, Total War campaigns have evolved. Creative Assembly has been experimenting, trying to find a way to make both historical and fantasy wars have exciting outcomes. Total War: Warhammer 3 represents the pinnacle of this. This ambitious campaign combines conquest-heavy sandboxing with regular travel into the fairly linear Realm of Chaos to fight a scripted battle of scale.
Like Frazier in his Total War: Warhammer 3 review, with some reservations, but for all its excesses and travels to other realities, Creative Assembly got it right a couple of games ago, and the first Total War: Warhammer remains the most successful when it comes to spicing up the endgame.
Shogun 2 “Your rivals are creating a super faction intent on destroying you.
Attila – Horde migrations and climate change force everyone to fight for fertile lands.
Warhammer – A massive Chaos invasion attacks and destroys any provinces it can while increasing global corruption.
Warhammer 2 – Factions compete for control of the Great Vortex, performing rituals that also spawn armies of Chaos.
Three kingdoms – The strongest factions are declared the Three Kingdoms, then they fight.
Warhammer 3 fights for four demonic souls to defeat the demon Be’lakor in a decisive battle.
Massive strategy games like Total War tend to have an inherent structural problem: the moment the player functionally wins, the game happens long before it ends, so it takes hours to clear. Over the past decade, nearly every Total War game has tried to avoid this by significantly changing the game world before players get used to it.
These upheavals take a few different forms – sometimes they’re endgame, sometimes they’re a collection of story missions, and sometimes they’re the entire game structure, so “campaign structure” seems like a better term to use. Where in Warhammer 3 rifts open at regular intervals, spewing demons and inviting players into the Realm of Chaos, Warhammer 2 has factions racing towards the Great Vortex, and Shogun 2 has all the other clans simply uniting against you when you get strong enough.
All of these structures have three clear goals: they try to create restrictions or crises that prevent the campaign from going on for too long, they try to put pressure on the player when they would otherwise be too comfortable, and they are made to feel at home—a cohesive part of the campaign, not an arbitrary system. Either way, the original Warhammer does it best.
It works like this: about 75 turns into the campaign, the Chaos invasion begins. Chaos corruption is on the rise worldwide, which means the provinces need a little more work to stop them from revolting – a little economic pressure to slow down imperial expansion. Meanwhile, the hordes of Chaos begin to attack, the main body moving from the northeast into the center of the Empire’s lands, but with offshoots attacking the coastlines and heading south into the territory of the dwarves and greenskins. Since these are hordes, they wipe out every city they capture from the face of the earth.
Of all the attempts to shorten the duration of a Total War campaign, this one is perhaps the most successful because it not only reduces the number of turns it takes to get to the victory screen, but it also reduces the amount of time it takes for those moves to happen because you’re dealing with a lot fewer cities and, therefore, with armies (no less than in the corresponding situation).
The reason for the shortening of the campaign is simple: it’s not very interesting to know that you’ve won the campaign dozens of hours before the game recognizes your victory, as was the case in the old Total War games and most major strategy games. So Total War wants a pivotal moment, Waterloo, where the biggest and best of all sides clash in one final battle, and then the credits roll.
I still remember my first ever Total Warhammer campaign, where I sent two Dwarf armies far north to take the last stronghold I needed to win and stumbled upon the remnants of the Chaos forces in a two-on-two battle in Moria. I barely managed to win, but it brought me to the end of the game in a vast showdown – and one that came from emerging campaign patterns, not forced upon me. -how it goes.
Putting pressure on players in the mid and late games is also important because, as most strategy players know, the early parts of a campaign are almost always the most stressful.
Putting pressure on players in the mid and late games is also important because, as most strategy players know, the early parts of a campaign are almost always the most stressful. Any grave mistake can leave you far behind your rivals, and the bigger your Empire gets, the more room for errors you have.
The last two Warhammer games deal with this problem simply, if inelegantly. When the time comes when the quest part of the campaign becomes a priority, whether it be the rituals of the Vortex or the Chaos Breaking phase, a group of Chaos armies begins to appear to deal with. Both steps are timed, so the player must spend some time defending before recovering and returning to the regular Total War expansion.
But the original Warhammer, based on Total War: Attila, increases the pressure on players in a stimulating and effective way: the game world gets more minor as the focus of the quests increases. Chaos armies tend to destroy fringe settlements, which are so expensive to rebuild that players have to make a difficult choice whether to focus their energy and money on conquering and protecting what’s left or reclaiming what they’ve lost. Shorter moves and riskier decisions result in higher and more dramatic stakes.
None of this matters unless it’s Felt right. That’s why the campaign structure must add that pressure and narrative buildup without making it feel like it’s an entirely different game. It’s a Total War: Warhammer 3 problem that distracts your prominent leader from the main elements of the campaign for vast chunks of the match and culminates in overly scripted battles. Similarly, the quests that spawn Chaos in Warhammer 2 are pretty arbitrary, so I tend to avoid the Whirlwind campaign.
On the other hand, Warhammer’s Chaos invasion is perfect for an already apocalyptic setting where civilization is constantly at war to save itself. Even the supposed “heroes” are violent and violent. The campaign includes elements from the board game’s End Times campaign, where Games Workshop destroyed the Old World (and rebranded to sell more models).
The campaign warns players that this Extinction level event is coming before it spawns in one corner of the map and slowly starts moving south and west, smashing and devouring everything in its path. You have a significant buildup, a massive invasion, and the end of the world – a story arc with a weighty narrative, all without the need for extra cutscenes.
I mentioned the increase in Chaos corruption in the setting, limiting economic growth, but there are also diplomatic changes where all factions fighting against Chaos share a relationship. This creates a narrative thrust in which the warring sections have a systemic reason to find peace with each other as Chaos rolls forward, leading to Tolkien style, the last alliance of the less corrupted races. It also changes the game slightly to create emergent narratives, much like Attila’s slow food restriction over time.
Then comes the important part: when Chaos is defeated, that diplomatic impulse also disappears. So the alliance is slowly (or quickly!) disintegrating, and the former allies are left to fight for the wreckage of the destroyed world. This, again, is the perfect grid for the apocalyptic atmosphere of the Total War: Warhammer games and also creates a more engaging campaign ending where players now have to decide if they want to commit to a highly costly and slow process—rebuilding or focusing their smaller armies on conquering the remaining bastions.
As good as Warhammer’s campaign structure is, some critical issues still hold for the series as we wait for Immortal Empires’ final mega campaign to bring all three games together. Balancing this sucker proved incredibly difficult.
Firstly, there are constantly repeated battles with the Warriors of Chaos faction, especially with these cursed cannons that seem to destroy armies from all over the map. This issue has been somewhat addressed by adding other Chaos factions in later games, especially the Skaven, but the Chaos Daemons and their four different sections in Warhammer 3 should do wonders for making the apocalypse a little less monotonous.
The first Warhammer was the Mortal Empires’ campaign structure model, which combined the maps of the first two games but removed some of the Vortex while keeping the Chaos invasion. The second one is bigger: balancing on this sucker turned incredibly difficult. During the development of Mortal Empires, including post-release, the Creative Assembly never managed to achieve a balance of Chaos invasion appropriate for the size of the new map and the addition of so many factions.
There were a few patches before he even started behaving accordingly, for one thing. But even after it stopped, for example, sending dozens of armies directly at the player and only at the player, it still did not behave in a way that added pressure as effectively as the campaign from the first game. The northeastern part of the map, in particular, still bears the brunt of the apocalyptic invasion, but I’ve played campaigns on other continents where the attack was a bit of a nuisance. And the increased map size meant many factions weren’t close to being invaded, so they could never join in the fun of defeating Archeon, the big boss.
News to me about data mining Warhammer 3’s Immortal Empires map – roughly the same as the Mortal Empires map, but larger – has been the most significant clue so far that we’ll see more Chaos invasion structure in the super campaign. (The Creative Assembly said it was an old prototype but didn’t say what might have changed.) there was a possibility that Creative Assembly could go in a completely different direction, but a similar but larger campaign was always the most likely.
I hope that if this means we’ll see a similar campaign structure, Creative Assembly will use their experience developing Mortal Empires and adding Chaos Daemons to address existing issues, so we have the best part of the Chaos invasion in the Immortal Empires mega campaign. The apocalyptic atmosphere, the developing narrative, the shrinking map, and the clever transition to the endgame all combine to make this campaign the best of the Total War: Warhammer campaigns.