Creative Assembly have been busy lately, taking their celebrated Total War franchise into new waters with mobile and free-to-play, but it's been the success of Total War: Warhammer that looks set to cast the biggest shadow over its future. Based on their own announcements and our own interviews with CA, here's everything we know about what one of the UK's biggest developers are up to.
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.
Total War: Warhammer sequels and DLC
There are two Warhammer teams: the 'main' team and the new content team. The main team are working on a trilogy of Total War: Warhammer titles, the second of which may soon be revealed. There's a countdown on the Total War page against an animated backdrop of a steaming jungle, or possibly swamp. In the background is a pointed structure, which looks very, very much like a Lizardman pyramid. That countdown coincides with EGX Rezzed, where the original Total War: Warhammer was playable last year.
Our guess? Total War: Warhammer 2 will be revealed at Rezzed next week, and will take us at least as far as the lizard lands of Lustria. If that seems soon to release a sequel given that part one only came out in May last year, bear in mind this is where most of Creative Assembly's resource is dedicated; on our trip to preview the Wood Elves DLC, we were told that the main Warhammer project team is the biggest in CA. Brand director Rob Bartholomew says work on episode two "has been underway for some time already and is now a key focus for the studio. It's time to travel to new lands and discover new races."
The timing makes more sense when you consider that, after the launch of the Bretonnia DLC, CA confirmed that work on part one has largely drawn to a close. There are still some pieces of free content due according to this schedule, but don't expect any more premium DLC.
We also know the next two Warhammer games will be standalone releases with their own campaign maps, and that each will have a "quartet" of starting factions exactly like the first, in Bartholomew's words. He also told us that future maps will be "as big or bigger" than that of the first game.
The most exciting feature of the forthcoming sequels is that, as well as being standalone games, they will also 'bolt on' to the first, expanding its map and its faction roster. If you own all three games, you'll be able to play a grand campaign straddling three theatres of the Warhammer world.
So let's talk a little about the shape of what's to come (some of what follows will be speculative). Bartholomew told us that the success of the first game means CA has "re-evaluated our ambition about the whole trilogy". Given that CA have stated they want to deliver all 15 factions from the eighth edition of tabletop Warhammer, this raises the question of how much more ambitious they could get. Well, with 25 years of Warhammer history to draw on, the answer is a lot - hypothetically.
Indeed, tabletop fans may already have spotted an issue with Bartholomew's "quartet" statement: with its DLC, the base game now has eight factions, meaning that to add four in each of the next two games would total 16, which my calculator confirms is more than 15. This is to assume no more DLC races, which have been a staple of post-launch content for the base game.
We touched on this during a talk with lead designer Rich Aldridge during our visit, and asked whether CA are looking at the past or minor factions that didn't get full support in Warhammer eighth edition.
"We want to bring the major races to the game as soon as possible for everyone to enjoy and play," he said, reiterating CA's commitment to the core 15. "The other more minor, more subtle races around the edges - absolutely, they're of interest to us, and they're something that we know have to exist in our world in some capacity." That's not a promise to make those races fully playable, of course, because minor human factions like Estalia, Tilea, Kislev and the Border Princes exist in the game already, using Empire-derived units and dialogue.
But if CA are prepared now to be more ambitious, fleshing out these minor races would seem an obvious place to start. Taking Estalia and Tilea as an example, they could easily be developed using the fifth edition Dogs of War army book. If the world map will one day expand to include the Ogre Kingdoms, then it will also have to encompass the Dark Lands, where the Chaos Dwarfs live. They, too, have plenty of lore and some old, thin army lists that could provide the basis of a roster.
Aldridge says CA's partnership with Games Workshop enables them to consult the guys who came up with the IP to fill in the blanks where a faction feels incomplete, and we've seen this with the Bretonnia update, which added several units that weren't in the most recent official Bretonnian rule book. These included hippogryph knights, foot squires, peasant mobs and blessed trebuchets.
We asked whether this would be necessary during our visit back in November, and Aldridge was quick to emphasise that all proposals are run past Games Workshop and must come back with their approval. So CA are going beyond the rulebooks, but not beyond the lore, which is reassuring. Either way, if it can be done with Bretonnia, why not with lesser factions?
Based on this, we can make some guesses about what the second game will look like. We've speculated before that the second game in the trilogy will look west, adding the High Elves in Ulthuan, the Dark Elves in Naggaroth, and possibly the Lizardmen in Lustria. That last thought has definitely been shored up by the Lustria-like background we mention above, but fair warning: everything else that follows is entirely speculative.
If Lustria, a new continent, is in the sequel, and if it indeed possible for players to connect its map with the original, I don’t see how CA can avoid adding naval combat. Navies could draw unit concepts from such games as Dreadfleet or Man o' War. But since it needs four factions, a simultaneous southern expansion to the map could add the Lizardmen in Lustria and the Tomb Kings in Khemri.
That would be a huge map expansion, so perhaps Khemri would be left for later and Skaven added instead. Their capital of Skavenblight is technically already on the map, but with CA wrapping up the first game, it doesn't look like they're coming in DLC any time soon. As a popular race, they could well be added with the launch of episode two - their thing is to spread all over the world, including Lustria, so they're not as limited by geography as other factions.
For the third game, we'll need to see the Ogre Kingdoms, meaning a big eastward expansion. Daemons are also probable, with Rob Bartholomew saying in a blog post that they will be distinct from Chaos Warriors, and that "later on in the trilogy, you'll be exposed to the full horrors of the Realm of Chaos".
As a footnote, a Russian datamine in June claimed to expose full details of the trilogy's schedule. It suggested the first sequel will add the High and Dark Elves plus Lizardmen with one big expansion, and that the second will add the Daemons as four separate armies, one for each major Chaos God. All other factions will supposedly be added as DLC, with minor map expansions for each where needed. This datamine correctly predicted the Beastmen (down to the names of their tribes) and the Wood Elves, but even if it's genuine, it'll lose accuracy with respect to plans further in the future, especially as CA have said their ambitions are being "re-evaluated".
Historical Total War goes to a new era
So here's what we know: history has a different team than fantasy, and they are actively working on the next full-sized historic Total War title. These are the guys who brought you Attila. The big news, coming via brand director Rob Bartholomew on our preview trip, is that the next history game will be set in "an era we haven't tackled before".
This was reiterated in the announcement that accompanied the Bretonnia DLC, when Bartholomew said "our historical team are also working on a major triple-A title in an era we’ve not visited yet. Over 1.2 million people play Total War every month, with the majority playing our previous games. We haven’t forgotten that."
As for the release window, a blog post back in March says “it will be some time before we reveal this title... It will be huge, it will be historic. It will not be soon.” Bartholomew skimmed over this in a talk at the Yorkshire Games Festival in November last year, saying it's due out "in a couple of years' time." We tried to get more in our interviews, but CA understandably declined to be more specific since the project is still early in development.
So what's this new era, then? What follows is speculation, but is not without basis. I concur with the many fans who have already guessed that we're heading to the late-industrial or modern eras, beginning perhaps thirty to fifty years before World War One and culminating with the so-called 'war to end war'.
We already know that the modern era is "on the list", as Total War creative director Mike Simpson has said in previous interviews, and after all, if it's an era that hasn't been done yet, that narrows things down pretty drastically. The Iron Ages, the Dark Age, the Medieval/Renaissance period, and the pre-industrial/industrial eras have all been done by Rome I and II, Attila, Medieval I and II, and Empire and Napoleon, respectively. Maybe CA could go pre-Roman, from Sumeria and Babylon to ancient Egypt and Greece before Rome's ascent, but otherwise there's not much history left.
There is an argument that, as with Shogun I and II, CA could focus on local conflicts, such as the American Civil War, or China's Three Kingdoms. But I think CA's rhetoric suggests something on a grander scale: on our trip there, Bartholomew said that sales of Total War: Warhammer and its DLC have exceeded expectations - the phrase "off the chart" was used - and they were clear that this has enabled them to be more ambitious than ever. "We have more capability now," Simpson told us, when discussing the impact that Warhammer's success will have on the future of the franchise.
When you consider the challenge in developing systems for the diverse weaponry and tactics used in World War One - trenches, tanks, barbed wire, gas, long-range artillery, planes and so on - you can see why CA might have been hesitant before. But the impression they left us with is of a studio flush with cash, confidence and ambition. Consider also that they have just finished engine tech to enable flying units for Total War: Warhammer, and magical bombs falling from the sky. In no other period would this tech have a purpose, but biplanes strafing No Man's Land? Zeppelins or artillery shelling trenches? That works.
The period in the run-up to World War One also has everything a Total War game should: technological advance, political intrigue, shifting alliances and numerous local conflicts in as many theatres as CA would like to tackle. It's worth repeating: this is speculation. But I'd be willing to put some money on it, if anyone will offer me odds.
Total War: Arena may get another beta soon
Arena, which for some reason CA spell in block capitals, is a ten-versus-ten, free-to-play "massed battle strategy game", something halfway between a hero-based MOBA and a StarCraft-like multiplayer RTS. The game has had periodic closed beta tests, one of which we called "unexpectedly excellent".
It's still in development within CA and offline for now, but there was the recent news that CA have partnered with free-to-play multiplayer experts Wargaming to publish it. When discussing Arena's periodic closed betas, Mike Simpson also told us during our visit to CA that "we're now ready to start that process again", so keep alert for a possible new beta phase.
Here's its Steam page.
Total War Battles Kingdom: no news
Billed as "the Total War for everyone, everywhere; this is TW redesigned as a mobile, cross-platform game for tablets, phones and Mac and PC." Gameplay aims to deliver quick-fire strategy gaming, with both empire-building and tactical battles.
TWB Kingdom launched in March and it's still supported within CA, but Simpson said they're "gonna take a pause" on it for a while due to the realities of the mobile market, which is its primary platform. So don't expect to hear much more about Total War on mobile.
If you're curious though, it's free to play on Steam now.
The Alien: Isolation team are on Halo Wars 2
Wonder where the Alien: Isolation guys went? They went here. Working in collaboration with Microsoft and 343 Industries - the present developers of famed console shooter franchise Halo - the Alien team is now making a sequel to one of the few strategy games to even slightly work on console. Being a Microsoft property, it'll come to PC as part of the Universal Windows Platform, and has a release date of February 21, 2017.
These plans broadly follow the roadmap laid down in a blog post back in March, but were reconfirmed in that Yorkshire Games Festival talk by Rob Bartholomew and again on our trip, so we're pretty confident that this is what CA's internals look like (so to speak).