At this past weekend’s EGX 2015 in Birmingham, we were treated to the latest playable demo for Creative Assembly’s highly anticipated turn-based strategy title, Total War: Warhammer.
The upcoming game is quite a departure from the historical scenarios traditionally found in the franchise, in favour of the high fantasy of Warhammer’s Old World. The pre-alpha build we spent some time with showcased one the game’s new Quest Battles, The Ambush at Thundering Falls, which had the recently revealed Dwarfs going up against a surprise Greenskins attack.
By the time the battle was over and we had suffered an agonisingly close defeat, we were left with many questions about the game. While it still fundamentally feels very much like the Total War games you’ll be familiar with, a whole lot has changed in the meantime. Luckily, we had Creative Assembly’s Rich Aldridge, senior game designer, on hand to answer some our queries.
Chris Mawson: How has it been bringing the high fantasy setting of Warhammer into the Total War series – which is more known for its historical setting – and what has it allowed you to do that you couldn’t before?
Rich Aldridge: They’re not polar opposites by any stretch of the imagination; they’re actually quite similar in a lot of ways. Whereas we might use Osprey books in the past to research about Romans, knights and Samurai warriors, now we’re actually using the Games Workshop lore books – the army books – which are full of wonderful content, like background stories on characters, legendary lords, the races themselves, the units that comprise their armies, so they’re actually very similar.
The other nice thing is that not everything is set out in stone in front of us. There are areas that we get to tackle, which Games Workshop haven’t had to do because they create miniatures which don’t move, so we now have to think well, ‘How does a troll move; how is going to attack?’ There are more obvious things, like the giant picking guys up and throwing them around, but it’s really taken the shackles off and allowed us to be very creative within the confines of their IP.
CM: So I guess a number of your team were already fans of Warhammer going in?
RA: You wouldn’t believe the number of people that have come out of the woodwork! We’ve got lots of people that like painting, like myself, and I love the background lore and all of the characters and races; we’ve got a lot of avid gamers, as well. I mean we’ve all been taking our races of choice and building a mini-army. We’ve got a Warhammer gaming room under development, actually. It’s got to that point where just having it in the kitchen wasn’t enough, so there’s going to be a dedicated room!
It’s great, because we get to try out all the mechanics, which we then look to try to introduce into our game – at least where they’re appropriate and where we can take translate them from one game to the other.
CM: Speaking of the mechanics, magic is something that Creative Assembly hasn’t really explored before, along with airborne creatures like dragons coming into the game. How has that influenced your game design?
RA: The fundamental Total War game is two lines coming together with some sort of rock-paper-scissors mechanic; well that’s now blown out of the water! You’ve now got flying creatures, which just go, ‘Thanks very much, I’m now going to go over the top and obliterate your artilleries behind or your line troops’.
A good example [on how things have changed] is the gyrocopters: they’ve got two bombs, which brings up a small mini-game almost, where you have to time when you want to release them to do the most amount of damage on your opponent. We wanted to allow some of that in the game, where there’s a little added gameplay involvement for the user, but we didn’t want to overburden them with too many special abilities across all the different units.
We’ve got more unit types now than ever before, and if you’re a Warhammer fan you’ll know a lot of them and understand what they can and can’t do. But we also appreciate the Total War players and general fantasy players; it’s all fresh and new. Things like giants, as a really good example: you’ve got a bunch of special rules in the rulebook; you can yell at people and knock them flying, you can put them down your pants, you can stomp on them – these are all things which are now rolled into their actual combat mechanics. But they’re weighted so you’ll see that spectacle moment, but you won’t have to actually go around physically clicking on buttons to make it happen. So you’ll get to be in, for example, this underground cavern, with people being thrown left, right and centre, and you’ll get to have that experience while also still being able to control, classically, your Total War rank-and-file.
CM: I was quite surprised when we played the demo how cinematic Total War: Warhammer is. Obviously that’s something you can’t get from the tabletop game, so where have you taken inspiration from for all of those elements?
RA: The artists have just ‘gone on one’, no holds-barred; the IP is there with some hints as to where to go – and we make sure everything we do put in the game goes through Games Workshop, so that they’re happy with it – but they’re free to go wild. You’ve got magic mushroom patches in there, you’ve got waterfalls going off into chasms, crumbled old bridges in which the spider riders will come in from…
CM: Ah yes, we got destroyed by some of them earlier. *laughs*
RA: *laughs* Yes, they’re pretty nippy.
CM: In the demo, we get to play as the Dwarfs and the Greenskins. What are some of the other types of factions that we can expect to see in the final game?
RA: Currently, you’ve got the Dwarfs and the Greenskins – which are comprised of the Orcs and Goblins – and then we’ve also got the Empire coming, which is a more classic [human] Total War faction, I would say. Well, I say that with a pinch of salt, because they’ve got Demigryphs, which are huge, half-bird, half-lion types of creatures, which can lash out and do devastating damage; you’ve got steam tanks, which have got a steam-burst gun and a cannon as well, which you can trundle around the battlefield; and you’ve also got your magic; you’ve got your wizards. You’ve also got your Vampire Counts as well, which will be in the mix.
Coming back to the wizards, because you asked earlier about magic. One thing that we didn’t want to do – which I imagine a lot of people will be fearing – is that magic rules the roost; that’s not what it’s going to be. It’s going to be another tool at your disposal. Spells will build up over time, because we’ve put a lot of effort into characters, with long skill trees and loads of customisation options. So your wizards – and your shamans, for the Orcs and Goblins, for example – will collect these spells over time.
We’re also going to have to have a finite amount of magic available in the battles. In the battle today, you’ll have seen The Curse of the Bad Moon; that’s a big vortex spell, which, once spawned, will obliterate anything in its path. And the nice thing about that is, it’s got random movement. So even though the old Goblin shaman thinks he’s as tough as nails, it might actually come back and bite him and run over him and all of his troops. So there’s the random element there.
CM: I understand a work has gone into all of the new animations in the game. Tell me about that.
RA: Previously, Total War games relied a lot on matched animations, so there it was a lot about guys kind of doing a little dance to marry up with one another, pulling out their weapons and shields and going at it. We do have some of that – like if a giant picks up a guy and chucks him around or if an Arachnarok tries to skewer them – that’s still there. But, the big thing is that we’ve moved away from that for a lot of the core troops, so now it’s more asynchronous; they don’t need to marry up; they don’t need to do the little dance – they can actually just run and charge and fly through the air and bring their axes and hammers straight down onto people.
So there’s much more of a sense of speed and weight behind stuff. Because we’ve got little Goblins all the way up to massive giants and Arachnarok spiders, you need that; you need to get that sense of big things pushing the little things around and doing a lot of damage.
CM: Can you tell us anything about the campaign?
RA: Although we’re not really talking about that too much right now, what I can say is that we will have the Underway stance as an ability in the campaign, which certain races like Dwarfs and Greenskins get in order to use the Underways. While you can move around the world a bit quicker and reach places that were otherwise inaccessible, it’s dangerous down there, so there’s a chance of interception and it might not go to plan.
Going back to the battle you played earlier, being on an Underway, that is also a battle type [Quest Battle] you’ll also get to fight in the campaign. While the enemy army is actually pre-described before being taken over by the AI, what you can take into that battle is totally up to you. So you might, say, want a whole army of Dwarf warriors or some Ironbreakers in there – you can mix and match, and maybe you don’t win it on the first occasion. But you can always go back again, and say, ‘I’ve tech’d up now, I’m going to take some Flame Cannons’, so you get to change up the game.
CM: We’ve also had a look at Total War: Arena, which uses very much more of a free-to-play model. Is that a route you’ve considered going down for the Warhammer games at all?
RA: Arena is a very separate product. It is more of a competitive, e-sport kind of a game, which is 10 vs. 10 combat. Warhammer, though, is your traditional Total War; just on a crazy, out-there scale. So we’re still staying in that market; we still want to appeal to our existing fanbase, and we also want to draw in the Warhammer fanbase – and just general fantasy lovers.
CM: If you don’t mind, I would now like to go to a couple of quick-fire questions submitted by a few of the more hardcore Warhammer fans on our staff. First of all, any news on Chaos as a playable faction – and will it just be one god?
RA: *laughs* All we can say at this time is that we are a trilogy of games; there will be three standalone games that all tie together, and all we’re officially announcing are the races I mentioned earlier.
CM: How has the WarScape engine changed?
RA: There’s a lot of stuff going on in the background. We still make use of a lot of what you’ve seen in previous games; we don’t just throw that away. We made a lot of effort to fix Total War: Rome II and again with Atilla, so it’s a real strong foundation on which to work. So Warhammer takes a lot of that, but we’re also bringing in lots of new features and systems as well.
CM: Will you be using DirectX 12 from launch; if so, how will it benefit the engine?
RA: We’re always looking to take on new technology; that’s something that we’re really interested in doing. More details about that will come out in the run-up to release.
CM: When will we get to see the Undead faction – and why isn’t it right now?
RA: *laughs* All I will say is Vampire Counts are very cool, and yeah, it’s a little ways off, but it will be coming – and it’ll be well worth the wait!
CM: We have no doubts! Thanks for your time, Rich.
Total War: Warhammer is scheduled to release for PC, Mac and Linux in 2016, and will be the first of a trilogy of games. For more information, be sure to check out the game’s official website.