Sega’s The Creative Assembly has about three decades of Warhammer lore to tap for its Total War: Warhammer II game that is coming out on the PC later this year. We were able to play a battle in the real-time strategy game coming from Sega’s strategy studio. And it’s going to be a pretty massive experience for Warhammer and Total War fans.
Total War: Warhammer debuted a year ago, and it was played by 1.5 million players, according to SteamSpy market intelligence. I met with Sam Miller, lead development manager for Warhammer II, at a recent preview event. He said that last year’s game was the most popular title to date in the Total War series. Warhammer II is the second of a trilogy.
It features four new playable races across four continents, all divided by a big ocean with lots of dynamic storms. In Total War games, you can manage your armies on a giant continental map, and then you can drill down into individual battles when armies meet on the field. And in those battles, you can send your troops into the fight in real-time, while the enemy does the same. You can even focus the camera on a handful of soldiers in the thick of the fighting. For more than 15 years, this kind of hardcore real-time strategy game has earned The Creative Assembly some loyal fans. But the Warhammer license has brought in even more gamers, Miller said.
We talked about the design of the game, the giant campaign map with four major races, and how it’s different from the previous version. Here’s an edited transcript of our interview.
GamesBeat: It’s been four years?
Sam Miller: We started the idea about four years before the first Warhammer came out. But there was a lot of time in the first two years spent working out what we wanted to do, how to best merge the Warhammer world with Total War, and then about two years of actual production. Then we moved in to Warhammer II. We jumped on that immediately after the first game, which was in May of 2016, I want to say. Just over a year.
GamesBeat: So the sequel has come pretty quickly.
Miller: Because it’s a trilogy of games, we built the foundation in the first one. That makes it a lot easier for us to then build on that and add in the new systems. Once we have the core we want—it’s important to us that what we do with Warhammer II connects with the first game. They support each other. We can’t go too far, into a new engine or anything like that, because we want to ultimately fit all three of these games together.
GamesBeat: The area involved looked like a new set of continents. Is it as big as the previous space, or bigger?
Miller: It’s roughly the same size, going from the Old World to the New World. But when they combine it’s obviously bigger than either.
GamesBeat: What were some things you tried to improve or expand on or just make bigger?
Miller: There are two main strands we’ve gone for. One is trying to go for some new things, some new ideas, like the Vortex and the rituals and the way in which there’s a race in the campaign. You need to collect this ritual currency to perform rituals. You can try to stop the other factions from being able to do their rituals.
The fact that there’s still that race to the very end — you can lose a campaign at the end. We’re trying to deal with the problem Total War has had for a long time now, where you get quite late into the game and you own so much of the world that you’re an unstoppable force, even if someone else is of equal size to you. They’re still not a huge threat because it will take so long for them to take over your empire. We wanted to make sure the game remains tense and climactic right to the end.
We have lots of new features on the campaign map, like rogue armies and treasure hunting. The thing that’s important with those features is that we wanted to make sure—like I say, it’s a trilogy. We want to improve the Warhammer one experience. If you own both games and you’re playing on the combined map and you go back to play as the Empire, suddenly you have rogue armies and treasure hunting to contend with. You have more stuff going on at sea. You have all the improvements we’ve made across the UI. Going back to play the Empire again, it’s a new campaign. That’s important. Not only do we make Warhammer II new and exciting, but we fulfill that idea we had of the trilogy – creating, at the end of it, one gigantic game.
GamesBeat: At sea you have those big storms. It looks like that can cause a lot of trouble.
Miller: They move around, and they can be of varying strengths, one to five. You have the reefs as well to watch out form, maelstroms at sea, big whirlpools. You have encounters as well, which are really cool. There are things like shipwrecks, treasure islands, things like that. There are positive things for you to find. When you’re traveling across the sea, you may encounter these things on your way to make your invasion that will help you once you get over there. They work congruously to the treasure hunting in the ruins on land. Something good may happen – maybe you find some treasure, maybe you get some ritual currency, maybe it heals your army – or you might find something bad that damages you. You have to make the decision. Do I want to just colonize this place, or do I take a risk and delve for some treasure?
GamesBeat: Whenever you have a big ocean to cross, that seems like a substantial barrier. It’s not easy to conquer someone across the ocean.
Miller: It can be challenging. We’ve had to make the AI understand that and manage intercontinental invasions. The sea gameplay and the four different continents definitely bring a new element to the gameplay, the naval invasions. But equally, there is still a lot of land. There’s a lot of factional variance across these landscapes. If you look at somewhere like the Southlands in the southeast, you have 10 different factions on that landscape. It’s not just like Ulthuan, where it’s only High Elves. There’s a lot of gameplay there.
Like we said in the movie, we’re bringing back the original Warhammer factions and putting them around the world. That’s what we would have wanted to do when we first conceived this. We wanted all of the factions in the eighth edition of Warhammer Fantasy, all to the quality we want. By doing the first game and then Warhammer II, we can bring in what we’ve done before and make Warhammer II better.
GamesBeat: How did Warhammer do as far as popularity compared to the rest of the Total War franchise? Is it one of your more successful games?
Miller: It’s been our most popular title to date. There’s definitely a new surge of Warhammer fans. A lot of Total War fans love it. We know that there’s still a lot of historical fans that want a historical game, and that’s still something we plan to provide. We see this as an alternating fantasy-historical — we feel we can do both strands. But it’s definitely pulled in a lot of Warhammer fans, and a lot of fans who are just interested in fantasy. The historic, possibly more hardcore nature of previous Total War games may have made them a bit wary. I think this was an easier jump in for them.
We’ve done a lot in terms of trying to push the accessibility of the game, while not interfering with the complexity and the depth of it. We’ve focused on trying to make it so you can more easily read information on the UI. You can understand what’s going on, why a decision will have a certain impact. A small example of that is the improvement to the trait system in the UI. Now, when you receive a trait, you’re told why you got it. If you killed a certain person and got a trait from them, you’re told that you got a trait from doing that, so the cause and effect is clear. You start to understand how your actions have consequences. Too much complexity results from just not understanding the results of your decisions.
GamesBeat: It does seem a bit complex as far as understanding the abilities of all these creatures and special units. If I send one creature up against another, what happens?
Miller: There is depth there, absolutely. There are all these things within the creature stats. Some are good against others due to armor piercing or because they have an advantage against a large entity versus a small entity. That complexity and depth is there. But we’ve tried to push it so that it’s not as critical to use an armor piercing unit against an armored unit. The amount that you’ll lose in that situation is not as crazy as in some previous games. There’s a slight leveling of the playing field. But if you know that depth, if you know the matchups that will win, that’s definitely to your advantage.
GamesBeat: On the strategic map, how many opportunities for battles are there? Is it more in the big landmark areas like we saw today, or is it anywhere along the map?
Miller: Anywhere. Bringing in things like the rogue armies is a way to have more fantastic battles more often. You have more opponents to fight. Anywhere on the map, a fight can occur. We’re adding in the choke point battles, so if you’re defending a bridge, that’ll load a different battle type. If you fight at fortress gates that will also load a different battle type. We want that play of, when you do something on the campaign map that’ll result in a certain kind of battle. You can use ambush battles in your favor.
Total War is all about the campaign and the battles serving one another. When you’re on the campaign map, you get into a strategic situation that gives you the battle that you want. Then, in the battle, you’re thinking, “Okay, I need to preserve my troops. This isn’t a throwaway level where everything regenerates at the end. I need to keep these guys alive in this battle, even if it means that my loss in a certain area is higher. I need these guys for another battle down the line.”
GamesBeat: Have you done anything to avoid more repetitive battles? In Attila, if you’re attacking a certain level of city, you may have fought that battle a lot of times already. You learn the exact way to defend it or attack it.
Miller: We’ve tried to increase the variance of maps across the board. We have a whole new suite of siege maps coming with Warhammer II. That adds to the pool of what we currently have. As I say, we’re bringing in more battle types, like the choke point battles. The quest battle locations, like the fallen gates, are very epic. If you want to fight at the fallen gates, you don’t necessarily have to be playing that quest battle. If you’re near that location, that’s where you’re going to fight.
We try to bring through lots of variance. The number of maps we’ve done is quite incredible, really. We have a new system in place, new tech that’s giving us more control over the landscapes in your standard land battles, the kind of battles you fight very often. We can more easily handcraft those and deliver them into this gigantic world.
GamesBeat: Is there anything else you’d like to point out?
Miller: There’s so much to talk about. The factional features, the mechanics that separate them on the campaign map, that’s something we’re pushing. The fans responded very well to that in Warhammer. We were worried about that when we were developing the first game, because we hadn’t pushed that level of difference before. We were thinking, if we give the greenskins the Waaagh! ability, are people going to be playing the Empire and wishing they had that feature? But giving the factions that differentiation, making them feel unique, is much more of a positive than just giving everything to everyone.
In Warhammer II, some the stuff we have, looking at the High Elves and Lizardmen specifically—the High Elves have Intrigue at Court, which is—through a series of political dilemmas, you’ll earn influence over time that you can use to manipulate the diplomatic relations of the other factions. If you don’t like either of these guys, but they like each other, you can make them hate each other. You can spend your influence and make them become enemies and kill each other off. I can almost wage war through that means. That adds a lot of cool gameplay to the High Elves.
GamesBeat: There’s some of Attila in that, where the Romans are always politicking with each other.
Miller: We look back a lot of our games for influence. We see ideas we tried in certain games and think, “Maybe that idea could work even better in this new context.” With the Lizardmen we have the geomantic web, this series of power lines across the world. If you go to build up your settlements in certain locations—if there’s a power line between two settlements and you build up those settlements together, that’ll strengthen their power bond. That will strengthen the power of the commands you can issue there. There’s real gameplay in working out, okay, I have this settlement here and this one there. This one is X level, this one is Y level. If I get that one, I’ll be able to power up everything that’s connected to them and use powerful commands that change the economy and other factors in play on the campaign map.
We also have free-for-all in multiplayer. That’s a four-way multiplayer campaign. Four players can play as whatever faction. If you have both games, you can play High Elves versus Empire versus Dwarfs versus Lizardmen and let all those guys fight each other. It’s a really fun battle type. Rather than just the one-on-one, you have much more to think about and play with.
GamesBeat: Have you shown anything of multiplayer so far?
Miller: Aside from the free-for-all support, it’s as it is in the first game. We’re looking at it quite a lot, through. We’re intrigued by multiplayer. We know we have quite a hardcore community that loves our multiplayer. Experimenting with things like free-for-all, for us—if we put something more in multiplayer to make it more fun and interesting, are people going to pick up on that? If we see people getting on that and building a bigger player base, that gives us more confidence in the next one to expand multiplayer a lot further.