Along with our group-selected 2016 Game of the Year Awards, each member of the PC Gamer staff has independently chosen one game to commend as a personal favorite of the year. We'll continue to post new Staff Picks throughout the rest of 2016.
Games Workshop and The Creative Assembly finally had a baby together, and it's a pretty fun baby. Warhammer's vivid factions fit perfectly into Total War's hybrid turn-based/realtime strategy formula, and the game does a good job of making each race's campaign feel different. The gorgeous world map and faithfully-modelled units capture the Warhammer fantasy tone, which is a point of nostalgia for fans of the tabletop game. As Warhammer continues to evolve into the spectacular high-fantasy Age of Sigmar setting, Total War: Warhammer is one of the last fragments of the Old World for long-term fans.
Nostalgia aside, this is the only Total War I’ve found myself able to snack on. I enjoy a short Chaos campaign here, a Dwarf campaign there. It’s easy to move between forces because Warhammer units are more immediately readable than historical warriors. It takes some learning to understand the strengths and weaknesses of half a dozen varieties of Roman cavalry, whereas the roles and specialties of a giant, or a phalanx of Chaos warriors, are obvious from their broad armour, big weapons and stompy demeanour. The setting also means the game can handicap factions in interesting ways. You will never train a zombie to fire a bow, however fancy your magic, so running a Vampire Counts army becomes an interesting exercise in managing an army with almost zero capacity for ranged attacks (you can raise the dead though, so swings and roundabouts).
The special rules attached to each faction—the book of grudges for the Dwarf kingdom, the Orcs’ ability to build a waaagh—establish personable playstyles. As a fan of Games Workshop’s output it’s wonderful to see the source material captured in such detail. The units, and heroes in particular, look very close to their plastic, resin and metal tabletop counterparts. On the world map the game’s art directors have relished the opportunity to create thematic biomes that reflect the factions that live in each area. I enjoy the way major dwarf strongholds are built into the mountains, and the fact that someone (probably Orcs) carved enormous skulls into mountains in their territory—a fitting Mount Rushmore for the World That Was. The idea that undead and chaos can corrupt the earth, changing its appearance as they do so, is another nice touch.
I find it difficult to remove the game from my longstanding enjoyment of the Warhammer universe. Is it a great Total War? It is certainly one of the most accessible, and while I miss the vast multi-theatre trade wars of Empire and the extraordinary pitched battles of Rome 2, TW: Warhammer provides more interesting short term goals via its focus on local feuds. The decision to allow factions to capture certain settlements seemed odd on paper, but in practice it pushes you into intense regional spats between ancient foes. The Dwarfs fight off the endless tide of Orcs from the wastelands; Empire knights and footsoldiers face the morale-sapping horrors of the neighbouring Vampire Counts; Chaos fights anyone finds, but can only pass through provinces as they raze or enslave towns rather than hold territory as a traditional empire. With smaller territories you end up spending less time on logistics and empire management, and more time on army movement and grand battles. That’s exactly what I want from a Warhammer game.