Total War has transformed in a lot of different ways over the last few years. The factions have grown more distinct, diplomacy and economic systems have been pushed closer to the centre, and we've got daemons running amok. All of this is excellent stuff, but for me there's one thing in particular that sits at the top of the pile of welcome changes: Total War has quite a bit of RPG in it now.
Warhammer has played a significant role in this. Sure, it's a tabletop wargame, but one that's very much RPG adjacent, abundant in ridiculous characters with thousands of years of fictional history. In the setting of Warhammer's fantastical Old World, Creative Assembly has found an outlet for its more adventurous ambitions, and I'd love nothing more than for that to continue in a dedicated Total War RPG.
Narrative campaigns, quest battles, magical gear and leaders with some actual personality—everywhere you look the Total War: Warhammer trilogy has introduced nods to roleplaying. And with Total War: Warhammer 3, its influence is unmistakable, courtesy of the Daemons of Chaos and the closest thing Total War's had to a protagonist.
The faction itself is unique to Total War, but it's the Daemon Prince, the faction's Legendary Lord, that really makes you feel like you're playing an RPG. You'll first meet him in the prologue, prior to his fall to Chaos and transformation into a huge, winged monstrosity. The tragic end of his mortal life and the beginning of his daemonic one sets the scene for the main campaign.
What makes the prince special, aside from his origins, is that he boasts not only the RPG-like skill tree and inventory that lords and heroes have had for many games already, but also a detailed customisation menu that lets you build your own evil tyrant. You've got a whole bunch of styles to explore, with limbs themed around the Chaos gods both in appearance and function, so you can flit around one battle as a big, buff bird, then stomp around the next one as a spiky red daemon with a belly full of fire.
Now, Warhammer 3 is still firmly a strategy game; it just has a nice handful of RPG tricks sprinkled over the top. But what if the balance was the other way around? An RPG, but one that's still got a fetish for strategy. This is why I don't want Creative Assembly to just make any old RPG—it should still be a Total War.
Back in 2005, Creative Assembly actually did something similar. Spartan: Total Warrior was the studio's attempt at a Total War for consoles. Since the huge real-time battles were never going to work on something like the Xbox or PS2, instead the team put together an action game with Greeks, Romans and magic. It was surprisingly decent, like a Mediterranean Dynasty Warriors with a dash of God of War.
That's not what I'm suggesting here, but there are certainly elements of Total Warrior that show how a Total War could be adapted into another genre with a very different perspective. It was full of small battles featuring soldiers and the odd mythological creature duking it out, while you carved up enemies and completed objectives. Being just one soldier in an army, even if you are blessed by the Greek gods, is a thrilling way to experience the pitched battles and sieges you'd normally be staring down at in the strategy game. Had it been on PC, the scale of them could probably have been a lot larger.
A Total War game needs to have gargantuan fights with thousands of people trying to decapitate each other, or what's the point? And there's no reason why an RPG couldn't facilitate this. After all, Lost Ark already does it, with the occasional epic siege or massive battle to cap an adventure. The tricky bit is figuring out what a Total War RPG should have between these big fights.
Well, not too tricky. There are already quests, journeys into daemonic realms, hunts for powerful weapons and all sorts of other RPG mainstays in the Warhammer trilogy. Three Kingdoms, meanwhile, has all the character relationships, rivalries and even the occasional romance that give RPGs that necessary humanity. Nearly all the ingredients are already present, they just need to be fleshed out and pushed even more into the foreground.
A grounded historical RPG like Kingdom Come: Deliverance, but with much larger battles, sounds quite tempting, but given Creative Assembly's existing relationship with Games Workshop and the enthusiasm with which it has embraced Warhammer, I'd be even keener on a Warhammer RPG. And that mix of roleplaying and huge brawls fits Warhammer like a very comfortable gauntlet.
Just thinking about the spectacle, I'm getting all tingly. You're shoulder to shoulder with shit-scared infantry in the front line, laden with magical nonsense gathered from countless adventures and misadventures, and over the crest of the hill you see them coming: daemons or orcs or whatever other horror Warhammer might want to throw at you, now towering above you, primed to squash you with big feet and cloven hooves. And then you're in it, the big mess, hacking and slashing and firing off spells as the screen fills with corpses and gore.
I can think of few studios better suited to this. Sure, Creative Assembly has never done RPG-style combat before, or needed to figure out how it could relate to its epic battles. And it would need to decide how players engage with these battles. Can you grab a unit and take command of it like Bladestorm, or are they just duking it out beside you? My preference is the former.
But the team has already reconfigured its games around the idea of individual heroes in Warhammer, Three Kingdoms and Troy. These units all have fantastical abilities and are generally much tougher than whole units full of regular soldiers. They can slaughter enemies by the truckload with sweeping attacks and arcane onslaughts, and in the case of the latter two, get into dramatic duels with other heroes.
A Total War RPG is considerably closer to what Creative Assembly already does than, say, Alien Isolation, and thus wouldn't necessarily require a brand new team. On the subject of Alien Isolation, it's evidence of the flexibility of the studio, and how even if it needed to bring in a lot of new people, the studio philosophy and way of doing things was able to adapt to a dramatically different kind of game.
The more I think about it, the less it seems like a radical departure. The scaffolding is already up. Total War wants to be an RPG. Even in the arguably more conservative historical series, you can see it pushing against strategy game conventions, embracing personal stories and conflicts between people, not just nations. And the result has been some of the best games in the series.
I think I've made a pretty good case. Sega, Creative Assembly, you've got my email, and I have more ideas.