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A proper look at the Total War: Warhammer campaign

Plus a walkthrough from the devs.

Variety has always been an important part of Total War. Leading one of the great Roman families in a Rome: Total War campaign was meant to feel like a very different experience to the one you'd encounter as a Gallic chieftain. One promised discipline and infrastructure, the other was all about numbers and brute strength. More recently, with Total War: Attila, we've played as nomadic tribes, with no cities to call their own, or fallen empires, holding onto what remains of their power. This is a series that's always encouraged multiple playthroughs from different perspectives - but I don't think it's ever looked as varied as it does in Total War: Warhammer.

The hands-off demo I watched was from the perspective of a Greenskins campaign, and it was absolutely full of ideas and challenges that seemed so specific to that race. In Warhammer lore, the Greenskins (a mix of Orcs, Goblins and other like-minded creatures) are driven by a desire to fight: warfare and violence are almost always their primary motivations. This is represented on the campaign map by a 'fightiness' rating that each army must contend with: simply put, the more fights a force is involved with, the happier they'll be. A few quiet turns could see this rating plummet, and you'll soon start losing troops as they tear each other apart. But if you can instead ensure that an army sees plenty of action, they can eventually trigger a 'WAAAGH!', which summons a full force of AI-controlled Greenskins to follow you around and join any battles that take place for as long as you can keep those battles coming.

"They're all about building up momentum," says Games Designer, Rich Aldridge, which sounds perfect to me. The Greenskins are not supposed to be great builders or diplomats; they live to sweep across the land as one unstoppable green tide, and I'm okay with the game forcing my hand a little to make sure that happens.

The Greenskins' second legendary lord, Azhag the Slaughterer.

Aside from their primal need for battle, there's also an economic incentive for the Greenskins to stay on the offensive. The campaign I was watching was probably somewhere around the mid-game, and although the player had a huge amount of loot to draw upon (the resource used for almost everything, from unit upkeep to constructing buildings), their expenditure was enormous. The Greenskins' cities and tech are almost entirely focused on improving their military might, and they didn't seem to have any reliable income of their own. To prevent bankruptcy, the player would need to loot enemy cities and raid provinces instead. If you play as the Greenskins, you're always on the warpath. And once again, I'm completely happy with that. Sure, it encourages a certain playstyle, but I'm not convinced it would feel right otherwise.

The Total War series has always been known for nudging players towards certain goals anyway, and this can be a useful way of ensuring that everything feels thematically sound. But there was one rule that caught me a little by surprise. Although I didn't get much in the way of specifics, there will be certain restrictions as to which cities can be occupied by each race. The Dwarf campaign, for example, is all about reclaiming what they've lost.

"Their objectives either come down to reclaiming their holds from the Greenskins," explained Aldridge, "or completing a number of grudges, which are essentially missions that are either predetermined or they can appear dynamically, depending on what happens during your game."

And everyone's favourite Dwarf lord! It's Thorgrim Grudgebearer.

Okay, fine. The Dwarfs want their cities back from the Greenskins - that makes sense. However, if you were to attack a Greenskin city whilst controlling the Empire, you'd only be given the choice to loot that settlement or raze it to the ground. The Empire, it turns out, don't want Greenskin cities. They have no need for them. This strikes me as a little too restrictive and I worry that it could mean that although each race plays very differently, replaying the same campaign may not offer much in the way of flexibility. Why bother, if you need to make a lot of the same decisions?

Other than the Dwarfs, I don't really know what to expect from the victory conditions just yet, and this will likely be the defining factor. The Chaos Warriors, I'm told, will remind players of the Huns as they grow more and more powerful throughout the course of a campaign before potentially launching a huge invasion across the Old World. I think we saw that one coming, to be honest.

"Some races will be tasked with taking out another race, or accumulating a certain amount of wealth, or a number of regions," says Aldridge. "They might need to claim specific regions or kill specific characters. I don't want to spoil too much, but hopefully this all plays into the feeling that each race offers something unique."

If you'd like to see some of this for yourself, I've included a developer walkthrough of the campaign map just below. I'd recommend that you pay particularly close attention to the names assigned to some of the goblin heroes as you watch. I'm a big fan of 'Grom Bogroff'.

Watch on YouTube