Creative Assembly has just announced Total War: Warhammer 2, with a trailer confirming three of the four playable races we can expect (High Elves, Dark Elves and Lizardmen). We're yet to see any gameplay, but given the time we've spent with the first game in the series, we have some idea of what to expect from this sequel.
That being said, there are still a few important questions to be answered. Since the release of Total War: Warhammer, we've been told to expect this trilogy of games to slot together somehow, allowing players to experience a grand campaign on an incomparable scale. Is that still happening? And if so, how will it work? And what about day-one DLC? Are we going to see a repeat of the controversial Chaos Warriors DLC?
I spoke to Total War: Warhammer game director Ian Roxburgh and communications manager Al Bickham at EGX Rezzed this week, and put some of these questions to them. Here's what they had to say.
Okay, let me start with the question you won't answer. That was the Skaven you were teasing at the end of your trailer, right?
AB: What's a Skaven?
IR: Yeah, they don't exist. Aren't they something the people from Middenheim made up?
Fine. I get it. I had to ask. Can we talk about the setting instead? So, the Vortex shown in the trailer is above Ulthuan, right? Then given the other two races you've confirmed, it'll be Lustria and Naggaroth too?
IR: That's right. There's also an area called the Southlands.
Who lives there?
AB: We're not ready to talk about that yet.
IR: But together these locations are known as the New World and in fact, it's not just one race per area, there are a lot of sub-factions dotted all over the map as well.
Oh, including factions from the races we've seen in the first game too?
IR: Yeah and in fact, if you look at the Warhammer lore, there's loads of examples of these kind of sub-factions, so we had a lot to draw upon. It also, inevitably, makes for a more interesting gameplay experience as you're not just interacting with the same handful of races.
Now one of the big features you've talked about since the first Warhammer game was the idea that these maps would be able to slot together. Warhammer 1 and Warhammer 2 could be combined somehow. I noticed you didn't mention this in your press release, is it still happening?
AB: Yes, it is. We're going to have a fully-fledged standalone campaign for Total War: Warhammer 2, featuring all of these new races, each with their own unique victory conditions. It'll be a full Total War experience, but for those who also own the first Warhammer and any DLC, we're going to be introducing the option to play a mega campaign, shortly after the release of Warhammer 2.
Is that what you're calling it? The 'mega' campaign?
AB: We're not sure yet! We've been playing around with other names, but maybe we should just go with mega campaign?
IR: When players start one of these, they'll be playing a campaign which includes both the Old and New World. Any DLC they've bought, or FreeLC they've installed, will be included. It'll be one giant map.
That sounds incredible. How will it actually work? Mechanically, things like the time it takes between turns seems like it may be an issue here. Already, it can take a little while as you wait for each AI faction to make its moves. This is only going to be a bigger problem here, I'd imagine?
IR: It will probably mean that some of the smaller factions will need to be cut, but we don't want to sacrifice too much here because of the time it takes between turns. If players get into a campaign like this, they're going to want everything to be there. There's a lot we can do in terms of optimisation and it's not just a case of bolting two land masses together, there's more to it than that.
Is there anything else you've needed to tweak for this mega campaign? In the first game, for example, you've got a big, end-game invasion from the Chaos Warriors. If you're playing a race from Warhammer 2, what kind of impact does that invasion have on your game?
IR: These are all things we've been working through at the moment, but we're not able to talk in detail about this sort of thing now. But they are there. If the Chaos invasion happens through Kislev and in the lore, didn't happen for the High Elves, then so be it. They'll have their own set of challenges to worry about. But as a principle, what we've said with this mega campaign, is that ultimately it is a sandbox. We're not going to build an entirely new narrative, as long as the victory conditions make sense...
So if a player is controlling the High Elves and wants to go and get involved in that conflict, they can, even if, narratively, they may not need to?
IR: Yeah. Really, we think that mega campaign is just 100 per cent sandbox. We can't create new narratives for every race, but the Vortex victory conditions in Warhammer 2 is all about that. We're doing a lot more with the narrative there.
The Vortex plays a role in the victory conditions for each of the four new races, right? Either they'll want to control it, or corrupt it, or whatever that may be?
IR: Ultimately, each of the races will have various mechanics to be able to cast rituals. Stage by stage, this will increase their ability to affect the Vortex in whatever way they need to. Some of the races want to keep it in its integrity and some want to destabilise it so they can use the chaos that ensues to their own nefarious end.
AB: It is almost a race between the races, to see who can reach that final, race-specific ritual. So, you can lose the game.
Without even being wiped out?
AB: Exactly. You may be doing all your good nuts and bolts Total War: expanding, unlocking technologies, expanding your infrastructure and armies, all that good stuff. But that final stage in the story can still happen for another race.
In Warhammer 1, it was either a case of completing your victory condition, or getting wiped out...
IR: And it has been in every Total War game we've ever made. We did sit down for Warhammer 2 and talk about this. In various Total War games in the past we've tried to do a new end-game thing and it's never really created any tension in the end. With this, we said, one of the things we really want to do now is create that challenge right up to the end, so people don't just stop their campaign before they've even finished. And so the Vortex is the mechanic for that and it means you can lose the game, even if you own over half of the map. Everyone is racing towards this and there are things other than the capturing of territory that can progress you in this race.
It keeps you having to push and having to race, right up to the end. But, having said that, it's also a vehicle for telling narrative as we go along as well. Each of the races has their own individual take and storyline to do with the Vortex. If you do want to ignore that, you can just go and do world domination, but there's this alternative route and other races will run for the Vortex, if you don't wipe them out.
I don't want to get too bogged down in the smaller details here, but say you're playing a mega campaign and you're controlling a Warhammer 1 race, does the Vortex matter? If one of the other races completes that objective, is it game over?
IR: No, in the mega campaign they won't be concerned with that. We're not really talking in any detail about how that'll work yet, but don't panic!
Strategy game interviews are always like this. We can't help it. You faced some criticism with Warhammer 1 for the Chaos Warriors being offered as pre-order DLC. Has this changed your approach to the fourth race in Warhammer 2, that may or may not be the Skaven?
AB: We can't talk about it yet, but what I will say is: we do listen very carefully to what people think of the stuff that we do and the content we release. It will be appropriate, let's put it that way.
On the flip side, one of the things you nailed with that first game was your approach to DLC, both free and paid, following the release of the game. Is that something you want to replicate in Warhammer 2?
AB: For sure. DLC, freeLC and tweaks along the way as well.
In a similar fashion to that first game?
IR: It'll be the same blueprint in terms of DLC for Warhammer 2, but then we've got the mega campaign, which is effectively building on that as well.
AB: We think it worked really well for the game. Without having to wait for years to release a new game with all that new stuff in it, it gives us a way to drip feed all the content we want to make. The Warhammer universe is so huge. As long as the game keeps being successful for us, then we can keep doing it.
IR: And for us, as developers, it's brilliant to be able to continually work on that game and keep chiselling away and keep refining it in the way that we want to. I don't think there would be a developer anywhere that would release a game and not want to do anything else. You always want to and it's given us that opportunity.
And as this is my last question, just to confirm, the mega campaign will include everything that players have bought and installed? If you've bought Warhammer 1 and Warhammer 2 they slot together, and then any DLC you own just plugs into that?
AB: That's it. Yes.
That sounds brilliant.