Forget the Old World you know: we’re going west, where the carnosaurs roam and toad-like mage-priests levitate in their palanquin-thrones. Total War: Warhammer II takes Creative Assembly’s trilogy-in-progress to new continents, but it’s no grab for territory - a new campaign shakes up the victory conditions too.
Creative Assembly made their name with the Total War series, at least one of which will probably always be on our list of the best strategy games on PC.
Read on for everything we know about the grand strategy sequel, and to find out how you can combine the two Total Warhammers in one big mega-map.
Total War: Warhammer 2 release date
Total War: Warhammer II will release on September 28, 2017.
That’s a very quick follow-up to the original game, but it's not so surprising when you consider that the studio have two dedicated Warhammer squads: a new content team, and the ‘main’ team, responsible for producing the expected trilogy of Total Wars in partnership with Games Workshop.
The game will be available in three flavours: the standard game, a limited edition variant, and the Serpent God collector's edition. The latter comes bundled with some Warhammer-themed items such as a stone puzzle sphere and some teeth carvings(!?).
Total War: Warhammer 2 campaign map
We know that the new campaign map is the same size or slightly larger than the Old World map in the original, and will feature no fewer than four distinct continents: Ulthuan, Naggaroth, Lustria, and the Southlands.
Seafaring, ruins, and rogue armies
We got a good look at both Lustria and Ulthuan in the campaign map flyover trailer, as well as three notable additions to campaign gameplay: ruins, rogue armies, and naval hazards. Since there's an awful lot of water between the new continents, you'll be spending a lot more time on the ocean. Naval battles between armies are still auto-resolve only, but CA have added storms and reefs to make seafaring interesting.
Applying the same philosophy to the land, ruins are new sites on the campaign map, which you'll be able to explore for treasure. Lead writer Andy Hall told us at E3 this year that they'll contain short branching narratives that will unfurl a little more Warhammer lore. Rewards include magic items and currency for Vortex rituals (more on that later), but you can also make bad decisions, and wind up with a curse. "They’re almost like choose-your-own-adventure experiences - you may encounter a druid who offers you a choice or a riddle," says Hall.
Finally, in a first for Total War, units from different factions can now mix in rogue armies. Campaign designer Mark Sinclair says these will function similarly to rebellions:
"It'll spawn an army of a few units, and that might be within your territory. You might have expanded out and have a really strong foothold, and then this army might pop up in the middle of your territory, which might not be defended so well. It’ll only be a few units to start with, but it’ll swell up over time. It’ll start off as a horde, which means an army by itself with no settlements, but can grow into a fully fledged faction. So it can actually occupy settlements, start dealing in diplomacy, and become a real threat in the game."
We asked if players will ever be able to mix units across armies in this way, perhaps in the custom battle mode. "I can see someone modding it," says Hall, "but whether we'll do it, I don't know. There's definitely no plans as yet."
Lustria has been the most prominently featured of the new continents so far, taking centre stage in the game's countdown teaser site and first few trailers. It's a steamy jungle full of hostile dinosaurs, most of which have been weaponised by the Lizardmen.
Check out the flyover trailer for a look at Lustria's topography and notable regions. Many armies from the Old World have a foothold in the new - the mad vampire Luthor Harkon has a castle on what's called the Vampire Coast, for instance, we see at least one Greenskin camp, and there's a brief glimpse of what looks like an Empire expeditionary force.
Off the coast of Lustria are the Turtle Isles, where we're told the High Elf Legendary Lord Teclis will begin his campaign. CA have been keen to emphasise how differently each campaign will play depending on your choice of leader, and these highly varied start positions are one of the reasons why.
Ulthuan is the once-idyllic island home of the High Elves, now partially ruined during the Sundering - the great civil war that split their race. To the east are the Shifting Isles, a maze of mists and magically-moving sandbanks, and beneath a ring of volcanic mountains slumber most of the world's remaining dragons.
A series of strong walls link these mountains to divide Ulthuan's inner territories from its outer ones; the latter are warlike, hardened by regular Dark Elf invasions, while the former have almost never been seen by outsiders. The elves' deepest secrets are protected here, including The White Tower of Hoeth, a hoard of arcane knowledge that'll probably grant some kind of campaign boon via a unique building, but the Isle of Dead is the biggest elven secret of all. Right at the heart of Ulthuan, this is where you'll find the Great Vortex that is the focus of the new campaign. Conjured by Caledor Dragontamer in ages past, it drains the Winds of Magic from the world, and is its chief defence against the power of Chaos. More on all that later.
Naggaroth, or the ‘Land of Chill’, is where the Dark Elves wound up after being kicked out of Ulthuan. It lies to the northeast of their former home, within reach of the Chaos Wastes at the world's north pole. It's a bleak and unpleasant place full of snow, volcanoes, and a vast expanse of hardened lava. A Creative Assembly environment artist reckons it's "probably the most diverse area of the map that we've ever had," but we don't know much more than that yet.
The Southlands are the continent that’s been least explored in Games Workshop’s existing fiction. Believed to have once been connected to Lustria, the Lizardmen have many cities in the jungle here, and there are also Dwarven and High Elven outposts nearby. The jungle is infested with Greenskins, with the Savage Orc tribes that dwell here considered barbarous even by orcish standards.
Perhaps the most notable inhabitants, though, are the Skaven Clan Pestilens, who kicked out their rivals in a bitter civil war and whose eventual dominance of the continent led to them being given a seat on the ruling Council of Thirteen. Thus the inclusion of the Southlands is yet another hint that the vile ratmen will be Warhammer II's fourth race.
Total War: Warhammer 2 races
Given the lands we’ve just described, the new playable races in Warhammer II will come as no surprise: the High Elves, Dark Elves, and Lizardmen will all show up to defend their respective continents and fight with their neighbours.
The Lizardmen are the oldest sentient race in the Warhammer world - the first creations of the Old Ones, and still their most loyal followers. As you might expect, they're a race of cold-blooded humanoid reptiles, in three broad configurations: the slight but dextrous skinks, the hulking Saurus, and the toadlike Slann. Saurus are some of the strongest core infantry in the tabletop game, while skinks fill the role of scouts and skirmishers, wielding weapons like javelins and poisoned blowdarts. The Slann are the leaders of the Lizardmen, and spend most of their days in meditation, contemplating the Old Ones' Great Plan. When roused, however, they are the most naturally powerful wizards in the Warhammer world.
Indeed, so powerful are they that you won't recruit them like normal Lords. CA designer Mark Sinclair told us at E3 that you'll first need to build a Star Chamber - a tier-five building - and then perform a Rite to awaken its Slann.
The rest of the Lizardmen army is filled out by dinosaurs with various weapons on their backs. Their full launch roster has been revealed, if you'd like to check it out - it has some gaps compared to their tabletop army book, so expect those to be filled in via DLC.
The Lizardmen Legendary Lords are Kroq-Gar and Lord Mazdamundi. Kroq-Gar is one of the eldest and deadliest of the Saurus, and rides a Carnosaur (basically a T-Rex) into battle. Mazdamundi is the eldest Slann still living, and thus one of the most powerful wizards in the world. He can be mounted either on a floating platform or another dinosaur - an ancient Stegadon named Zlaaq.
As for the Lizardmen campaign mechanics, we know they're based on the Geomantic Web - a network of ley lines that connect their temple cities. By improving those cities, you'll restore the web and be able to reap the benefits: as the Lizardmen, your provincial commandments have five tiers. "The first level is quite a weak effect," says Sinclair, but as you strengthen the links between two provinces by developing their cities, "that'll improve the level of commandment. So the first level may be weaker than other factions, but that fifth level, or even third or fourth, will be quite a lot stronger."
It also sounds like the Lizardmen may also get some unique commandments. Sinclair says "you can buff your armies... and there's also an aggressive [commandment] that increases your unit stats, increases the rate of experience you gain. It's really beneficial to upgrade the Geomantic web."
Hall chimes in, saying "the kick of it is, the commandment level is always the same as the lowest city in that grouping... it's probably better to have all your cities at level three rather than one at level five."
Finally, the Lizardmen will get a unique army stance: the Astromancy stance, which we can also see in the flyover trailer. It will "increase your campaign view range, so you can see more of the map," says Sinclair. "It increases your defence against ambushes and against factions using the Underway, so you’ll encounter the enemy a lot more. It’s a defensive, forward-thinking stance, which is really in keeping with the Lizardmen."
"They’ve foreseen it because the Great Plan has told them," adds Hall.
The High Elves are the direct descendants of the Old Ones' most-favoured creations, and the race they had appointed to govern all the others. Thus, despite a dwindling population and centuries of isolationist foreign policy, they still have a bit of a superiority complex.
Their love of politics and meddling is reflected in their campaign mechanics. High Elf spies enable them to see whatever their trading partners see, and they can earn 'influence' by using their agents or resolving events called Intrigue at Court dilemmas. You can then spend this influence in the diplomacy menus to manipulate relations between other factions: "You could make two rival High Elf and Dark Elf factions go to war, to weaken them both," suggests Hall, but you're not limited to toying with third parties; if you want to trade with someone but your relations aren't quite good enough, you can spend some influence to improve them.
"[They’re] really fun to play if you want to get that flavour of being a master manipulator," says Hall.
On the tabletop, the High Elves are a flexible and disciplined army with a huge army book and some of the best elite infantry in the game - most notably, Phoenix Guard, Swordmasters, and White Lions. They're a little light on artillery, but otherwise have options for every troop type, and are especially skilled at magic. Their launch roster for Warhammer II has been revealed in full, so click here to take a look. Watch out for those Star Dragons.
Finally, the High Elves' Legendary Lords have also been confirmed. Like the Lizardmen, there's a might/magic split, represented by the twin princes Tyrion and Teclis. The former is the elves' greatest living general and warrior, and starts in Lothern, capital of Ulthuan. His brother Teclis (who appears in the announce trailer) is physically frail, but one of the mightiest wizards in the world. As we mentioned, he starts far from Ulthuan in the Turtle Isles, surrounded by the Lizardmen. His campaign should have a very different flavour.
We haven't seen too much of the Dark Elves yet, but we can surmise a few things from the reveal trailer. Witch Elves and Darkshards (repeater crossbowmen) were both present, suggesting they'll be in the army at launch, and they were led by none other than Malekith himself - the dude in the twisted gold mask.
Malekith was once heir to the elven throne, but the sacred flames which anoint each Phoenix King burned and rejected him (hence the mask). When he insisted on claiming the throne anyway, he triggered the civil war that divided the elven race. He was beaten after much bloodshed, so went off to Naggaroth for a bit of a sulk. He's the obvious first choice for a Dark Elf Legendary Lord, and his presence in the trailer seems to confirm he'll be in the game. One of the stronger characters in the tabletop game, he has a ton of magic items, can use magic as well as fight, and rides a big black dragon into battle. As for the second legendary lord, our money is on Morathi, Malekith's vindictive mother and a deadly sorceress. But that's just a guess.
In the tabletop game, the Dark Elf roster is essentially a nastier, more aggressive version of the High Elf one. To get an idea of what they're about, consider the Witch Elves: a powerful sect who go to war in a drug-fuelled frenzy, restore their beauty by bathing in literal cauldrons of blood, and spend one night a year sacrificing some of their own people to Khaine, god of murder. The Dark Elves have also weaponised Naggaroth's native monsters, including hydras, harpies, manticores, and black dragons, but don't expect all of their tabletop units to make the cut at launch.
Though they've not been discussed in depth, we learned a little about the Dark Elves' campaign mechanics at E3. We know their unique currency will be slaves rather than coins, and that we’ll see their seafaring prowess reflected in some way. In the words of lead writer Andy Hall, "there’s a cool bit of seagoing IP with the Dark Elves that’d be weird if we didn’t have it." He may or may not be referring to the Dark Elves' infamous Black Arks - vast floating fortresses built on the backs of summoned sea monsters. It'd be great to see them in the game somehow. It also sounds like we'll see a darker side to the High Elves' predeliction for politics: when discussing that, Hall said "obviously the Dark Elves take it to the next level, literally knives in the back."
Obviously teased at the tail end of the announce trailer, but only recently confirmed, the Skaven round out Total Warhammer II's launch roster.
Let's be clear: the Skaven are mean. Supposedly spawned when a Chaos-tinted rain fell on an especially decadent human city, they are an ever-multiplying race of giant, humanoid rats who would most likely conquer the world if only they could stop fighting among themselves. They've burrowed a world-spanning network of tunnels from their capital of Skavenblight, which should make some interesting campaign mechanics.
Skaven society is split into clans, with the four most notable comprising most of their armies and reflecting a different aspect of their race's vile character. Clan Eshin are assassins and sneaks, Clan Skryre are harebrained engineers whose Warpstone-fuelled weapons backfire as often as not, and Clan Moulder are their biological equivalents - a bunch of deranged Frankensteins who create ungodly creatures like Rat Ogres and the Hell Pit Abomination. That's basically a lump of flesh with fists attached - expect it to be the Skaven tier-five monster unit.
That leaves Clan Pestilens, who will likely feature prominently due to the inclusion of the Southlands. They concoct and spread horrific plagues that decimate whole populations. Their troops include Poisoned Wind Globadiers (gas grenadiers, basically) and Plague Monks (frenzied infantry, made tougher by having contracted every known disease).
On the tabletop, the Skaven are a 'horde' army, comprised of huge numbers of expendable troops, reinforced by quirky and flavourful elites drawn from these four clans. They also have a ton of characters, so we wouldn't like to guess at their Legendary Lords.
Total War: Warhammer 2 Vortex campaign
This is where Warhammer II gets really interesting; this is a Total War campaign in which the goal isn’t territorial conquest. Not alone, anyway. We come to the New World at a time of crisis - just as the Great Vortex that has swirled above Ulthuan for millennia starts to fail.
The Vortex is a great plughole that sucks magic - the essence of Chaos - from the world. Every race has a vested interest in either saving or disrupting it. Campaign progress is made by performing a series of arcane rituals, and Creative Assembly say this struggle will lead to a “cataclysmic” endgame that will shape the fate of the Warhammer world.
The High Elves and Lizardmen are trying to stabilise the Vortex, while the Dark Elves (and almost certainly the Skaven) are trying to disrupt it. Whomever you play, you'll pursue your goal by earning a special, secondary currency. We heard at E3 that this currency varies per race (for the Lizardmen, it will be sacred plaques), and you'll gain it in a number of ways. Certain regions on the map will be rich in it, so you'll want to capture them and invest in a building chain that produces the currency. Some quests will award it, and you'll find some by exploring ruins.
Ritual currency will be tracked via a bar across the top of the UI, with pips to mark each stage. It sounds a lot like Bretonnia's Chivalry mechanic, but rather than summon the Green Knight, you can perform a new ritual at each stage. "And then there’s a period of ten turns when everyone starts attacking you," says Sinclair.
There appears to be an increased focus on narrative flavour, too. Certain combat scenarios, known as Quest Battles, have specific goals and include cinematic intros akin to more scripted RTS games. While the overall feel of the game will still be very much Total War, these Quest Battles will blend a little more of the lore and race personalities into what is traditionally a very player-directed experience. You can see one of these quests - The Battle of the Fallen Gates - in action above.
Total War: Warhammer 2 mega campaign
From almost as soon as they announced Total War: Warhammer, CA have been clear that their ultimate goal is a trilogy of games whose maps will link together to create a unified campaign featuring all fifteen of the Warhammer races. The first step towards this will come via a free update for owners of both Warhammer I and II. It'll release shortly after the sequel launches, and add a second 'mega campaign' alongside the sequel's Vortex campaign and the original's Old World campaign, which will remain as it is now.
However, the mega campaign will drop some of the narrative elements from the Warhammer I and II campaigns. CA say it won't feature the Vortex objectives, and it may not feature the Chaos invasions that distinguished the Old World campaign (that's an educated guess by us). But it will combine the territories and races from both, as well as from any DLC you've bought, in an epic sandbox campaign that'll play more like classic Total War.
Better yet, everything will be updated so that the old races fit with the new. For instance, the Dwarfs will get new grudges for Lizardmen and Dark Elves, and because the sequel's dragons now have breath attacks, they've been added to the OG dragons too.
Sinclair also told us that capital settlements in each province will have eight building slots, rather than six, and that some new buildings have been added: "a lot [more] areas now have legendary buildings that can only be built in that region, and that's when you get some really strong units and powerful abilities." This should result in way more building configurations across your empire.
"It’s almost like we’re turning it into a hobby," says Hall. "We want this game, Warhammer I, to be almost like a living game." He's quick to talk down comparisons with so-called service games like League of Legends, "but we’ve got to make sure that these races that were first designed in 2014 are going to be competitive with what we bring out in Warhammer III," so expect restrospective updates to be a regular thing. "That helps us ensure it’s gonna stay on the digital shelf for a while, so it makes business sense, too."
Total War: Warhammer 2 trailers
If any of this is failing to coalesce in your head, perhaps some video footage will help. See below for all the Total War: Warhammer II trailers released thus far, in chronological order.
Take a flying tour of Ulthuan and Lustria in this overview of the campaign map, which is possibly our favourite trailer so far. CA's attention to detail is even more meticulous here than first time round, which should delight fans of the lore.
Released at the PC Gaming Show at E3 2017, this trailer sees the High Elves and Lizardmen clash at the Fallen Gates in Lustria. We see a little more of both armies, including Saurus Cavalry and a Sun Dragon.
The Lizardmen take centre stage in this trailer, teasing the Battle of the Fallen Gates and showing off the game engine at its most cinematic.
Here's the original announcement trailer, which sees High Elves, Dark Elves, and Lizardmen clash in a magically-charged conflict that reflects the focus of the new campaign. Note the cheeky rat at the end, which effectively dispels any mystery CA were hoping to build about the identity of the fourth race.
“The success of the first game has increased our ambition,” game director Ian Roxburgh says, and that’s already evident.
The more we know, the more we’ll print here - so check back for more info, and share your excitement in the comments.