Sega’s Creative Assembly has taken the wraps off of Total War: Warhammer, and it is a very impressive real-time strategy game. It brings together the factions of the fantasy universe of Warhammer into an epic battle with huge armies clashing in hand-to-hand combat.
The Total War series is now in its 15th year and it has dedicated fans like me who have played it from the beginning. The studio is working closely with Games Workshop, creators of the well-known Warhammer Fantasy Battle tabletop war game and an accompanying set of miniatures.
The combination will take Total War away from purely historical titles and move it into the realm of fantasy. The battles in this game will include flying suicide bomber goblins (Goblin Doom Divers), legendary heroes, flying creatures, and Empire wizards with devastating spells. That’s going to make survival as an infantry grunt on the battlefield a difficult task.
I caught up with Ian Roxburgh, project lead at Sega’s Creative Assembly studio, at the Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3) in Los Angeles last week. He showed me a demo of the game’s The Battle of Black Fire Pass and did a one-on-one Q&A with me about the title, which is the first in a trilogy.
GamesBeat Next 2023
Join the GamesBeat community in San Francisco this October 24-25. You’ll hear from the brightest minds within the gaming industry on latest developments and their take on the future of gaming.
Total War: Warhammer will come out on the PC, Mac, and SteamOS soon.
Here’s an edited transcript of our conversation.
GamesBeat: As a little preamble, I think I put 450 hours or so into Attila. Played the campaign four or five times or so. I might have even won once. I’ve played them since Shogun, most of them.
Ian Roxburgh: So you know Total War pretty well by now.
GamesBeat: I wouldn’t say I’m good at it, but I enjoy it. This one looks a little more refined graphically, compared to the detail in Attila.
Roxburgh: Across the board we’ve been playing around with the engine to accommodate all the different unit types, the way they work mechanically, and the way the combat works as well, to make it more visceral and dynamic. Everything’s a bit more active.
GamesBeat: Is it the same style, where you have the UI for giving orders and the campaign map and all that?
Roxburgh: Right. We have this move into fantasy for the first time, but it’s still very much a Total War game. A turn-based campaign, empire-building, and realtime battles. Everything’s the same except that instead of history, we’re taking this awesome fantasy universe that throws so many cool things into the mix. It gives us some extra toys to play with — tactics, gameplay features, campaign.
We’re looking to use the storyline and narrative that are so rich in the Warhammer universe, all these characters and their stories and backdrops. We’re bringing more of that into the game than in previous Total Wars. We have things like the quest battle system. If you’re playing as Karl Franz and you want to unlock some of his unique magic items, you can get to them on the skills tree and it’ll send you on a quest that might end up at one of these quest battles. It’s a particularly challenging battle, a big scale, and if you win you get the reward at the end.
In the process of getting to that quest battle, we can tell a bit of a story, bring that Warhammer world alive to people, but without doing it in a way that stops it being a sandbox game. The players decide where things go. We don’t want to make it linear because that wouldn’t be Total War anymore.
GamesBeat: Is it the same number of units on the battlefield?
Roxburgh: Yep, 20 units on a side. The way we’ve reworked the engine means that we can have even more numbers on there, though. Per unit we can have more.
GamesBeat: In Attila reinforcements added to how many you could have on the battlefield.
Roxburgh: Right. In Attila you could choose to have two armies and thus 40 units to control at once. We’re going back to 20 again, because we felt like that was too much to control. It didn’t feel right. But again, you can waves of reinforcements coming in. In one of the quest battles you’ll see that the enemies will come in waves as well. You get a much better challenge. Even if you rout one army, there will be more coming in.
GamesBeat: There’s a lot more individual action there, it seems like. Do you almost want to zoom in more to see that?
Roxburgh: It’s very much a player choice in Total War. Some people never want to and some people zoom in quite a lot. It’s up to the player. But because there are so many more cool moments to watch, people are more likely to want to zoom in. Certainly with the heroes — the witch hunter, the warrior priest — there will be lots of single units running around dealing damage. You might want to go in and watch them in combat.
GamesBeat: This guy here is pretty funny, the flying one.
Roxburgh: That’s something we took straight out of the Warhammer tabletop game. They’re artillery pieces that fire a goblin. You get an extra dice roll to home in on the enemy. We thought we’d do that in a Total War game and let you have control. It’s so much fun. You just want to load the battle up and keep firing shots.
With Total War there was always an element of humor in there. It’s the same in the greenskins army here especially. Warhammer is a serious, gritty world, but there’s also humor in it. We want to be true to that. Little things like the Doom Diver are fun.
GamesBeat: Are there things that you definitely want to change or do differently because this is a fantasy world?
Roxburgh: What we really want to do is make sure that when you play a game and choose one of the races, the feature set makes sense for that race. If you’re playing the greenskins, it doesn’t make sense for you to tax your population of orcs or manage your economy. We want to make sure that the feature set for orcs is more about getting your armies out and fighting and keeping momentum going.
There’s a concept in the Warhammer universe, the Waaagh! A big warboss goes and pillages enough cities and beats up enough armies to get a reputation. Orcs and goblins come from far and wide to join his army and he gets this mass of momentum up. We’ve modeled that in the game as well. When you play as greenskins, you can get your momentum going and gain a Waaagh!
The other thing greenskins have is animosity. These orcs and goblins are so violent, if they have nobody else to fight, they just fight each other. If you have an army on the campaign map that’s not doing much, they’ll start tearing themselves apart. That whole mechanic isn’t there if you play as the Empire, though. They have different things. They might manage an economy a bit more. We take in the flavor of the races from the Warhammer universe and translate it into the feature set of a Total War game. Playing as a different race is like an entirely different Total War game.
GamesBeat: How many individual soldiers can appear on the battlefield?
Roxburgh: You have units of 200 entities within one unit, and you can have 20 of them, so in a multiplayer battle you could have, whatever, 4,000? In the context of the campaign game they average around 3,000 troops in a battle. It’s a similar scale that you’d expect from previous Total War games, but we do have massive units now as well. A unit of goblins might be between 160 and 200. It’s quite a big scale still.
GamesBeat: Was this an interesting idea for the team to embrace? You’ve been doing history for so long.
Roxburgh: There’s a lot of history buffs in the studio, for obvious reasons, but we’ve wanted to make a fantasy game for years. Over the last three or four years we’ve been recruiting heavily to beef up our skill set and train people up so that we have the ability to have two Total War teams working in parallel with each other. We can carry on making our history games and also do a Warhammer game without impacting the schedule for either.
Imagine what it’s like for artists and animators and designers. Even the coders — just playing with these things is genuine excitement. We love our history games, but this is something completely different. It’s a real fresh start.
GamesBeat: The only issue with Warhammer is that there are a lot of games out there. A lot of games have been done. They’ve embraced games for a while now. How do you want to distinguish or differentiate this game from other Warhammer games?
Roxburgh: To be honest, just the fact that it’s still a Total War game is quite enough to differentiate it already. You’d never see another Warhammer game with thousands of troops in one battle. Also, the campaign side of things — as you know, it’s a very rich, detailed strategy game. When you look at the amount of depth we go into with each race, how many unit types they have, there’s no other game at all that compares to the way we’re doing the Warhammer universe.
Just think of the environments themselves. That’s Blackfire Pass there, a well-known place in the Warhammer world. It’s the only way through this mountain range for the greenskins to go pillage the Empire. It’s not easy to get another game that can display that in the context of a massive battle, the way a Total War game can. It’s unique by the nature of it being Total War.
GamesBeat: Is the fiction big enough to have a big campaign map, an Attila-sized map?
Roxburgh: They have volumes and volumes of stuff. They have novels about parts of the world. We’ve recruited people who, for 15 years, wrote books and stuff on the Warhammer lore. There’s a massive depth of storyline and narrative that we can go into.
Our first game will have four playable races, but we’ve already announced that we’ll be doing a trilogy. We’ll have another installment with another chunk of campaign map and new races. It’ll be a stand-alone game, but if you own this first game as well you can bolt them together and have an even bigger map. Then we’ll have another installment after that. By the time we finish the trilogy, you’ll have the biggest Total War map and game you’ve ever seen.
GamesBeat's creed when covering the game industry is "where passion meets business." What does this mean? We want to tell you how the news matters to you -- not just as a decision-maker at a game studio, but also as a fan of games. Whether you read our articles, listen to our podcasts, or watch our videos, GamesBeat will help you learn about the industry and enjoy engaging with it. Discover our Briefings.