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 less than eighteen months after the first 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 is 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 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, Lizardmen, and Skaven will all defend their respective continents and fight with their neighbours.
For an overview of all four and some educated speculation about who might join them as DLC, check out our Total War: Warhammer 2 race guide. We also have dedicated race guides for the Skaven and the Dark Elves (so far) if you'd like more in-depth information on how they play.
Total War: Warhammer 2 campaign map
The new campaign map is the same size or slightly larger than the Old World map in the original, and features four distinct continents: Ulthuan, Naggaroth, Lustria, and the Southlands.
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. CA have since released a second flyover exploring the entire map, so check that out for a look at Naggaroth and the Southlands, too.
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. You can read more about them in our campaign preview.
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."
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 solely, 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 giant 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.
You can win by kicking everyone's arses as usual, or by completing your Vortex objectives. However, if someone else beats you to the latter, then you lose - this is the first Total War with a game over screen.
The High Elves and Lizardmen are trying to stabilise the Vortex, while the Dark Elves and Skaven are trying to disrupt it, to claim its power. Whomever you play, you'll pursue your goal by earning a special, secondary currency, which will vary by race. 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 it. Some quests will award it, and you'll also find some by exploring ruins.
This currency is tracked in a bar across the top of the UI, with pips to mark each stage. It looks a bit like Bretonnia's Chivalry, but rather than summon the Green Knight at each pip, you can perform a new ritual. Rituals last ten turns, and will involve three of your strongest settlements. Whenever any race attempts a ritual, they will attract Chaos armies spawned by the Vortex's instability. To make matters worse, everyone else can try to disrupt the ritual by sending interventions.
Interventions come in three tiers of strength, each costing more gold. If you choose to buy one, it'll spawn an AI army of corresponding size near one of the enemy's three ritual sites. If they (or you) can take one of those settlements before the ten turns is up, the enemy ritual is disrupted.
Another big change is the new climates system, which simplifies the mutually-exclusive settlement system from the original game. You can technically colonise any settlement now, but each will have a local climate, and different races are suited to different climates. Try to settle somewhere you don't like, and you'll suffer big penalties to growth, building cost, and building time.
We got to play a couple of hours of the Skaven campaign in Warhammer II, and the changes go beyond what we can discuss here. For all the details on warpstone gathering, ruin-plundering, climates, and more, check out our Total War: Warhammer 2 campaign preview.
Total War: Warhammer 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 core races from Warhammer's eighth edition. 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 does, 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.
The mega campaign will drop some of the narrative elements from the Warhammer I and II campaigns. 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. Climates will also replace the locked-out settlements.
Speaking of which, designer Mark Sinclair 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.
Our first details of the Dark Elves' campaign mechanics came in this Let's Play, which features slavery, Black Arks, Names of Power, and an attempt to cast a ritual. If you're a Druchii fan, check out our Dark Elf race guide.
The full campaign map is revealed in this updated flyover, which takes you on a tour of the New World.
After the world's least subtle tease in the announcement trailer, the Skaven were finally confirmed as the fourth playable race in August with this gleefully grim massacre of a Dark Elf column.
Malekith's Darth Vader-esque slaughter of some hapless High Elves in the Dark Elf intro trailer is almost enough to make us forget his status as Warhammer's biggest mummy's boy. Almost.
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.