Emperor Karl Franz was having a bad day.
His army, once ten thousand strong, is now scarcely more than a hundred across a dozen companies. His men have fought almost to the last three battles in a row, fighting the absurdly evil Von Carstein family of vampires that are trying to take over the Empire of Man. He has retreated to avoid conflict, only to be chased, ever closer, to a mountain range. He cannot retreat any further. He has to fight.
He’s already injured, his army is….. thin… he’s covered in the blood of over a thousand zombies and werewolves and enormous freaking bats.
Yet here he is again, fighting again, against the vampires again.
Outnumbered 3 to 1, he let the remnants of his crossbows and spearmen take out the vast majority of the enemy forces, stumbling into a tired melee with the rest.
Then the big bad Von Carstein gets up to the battle line and starts trashing everyone. Franz is too hurt to hurl himself into the fight, yet…..
Finally Von Carstein has been poked and prodded enough by Karl’s regular soldiers to let Karl get a few words in, horse-wise. He charges into him several dozen times, and barely, BARELY, survives.
He gains 3 levels and a bunch of boons for murdering a whole buncha vampires.
This game, man.
I basically spent my teens and early college years playing all of the Total War games, from the first Shogun onward. Medieval always held a special place in my heart, mostly because the Arabian factions were accidentally broken (and thus their city militia were unstoppable against nearly anything), and I loved conquering Europe and ruining history.
The Total War series always had a flaw, though; it tried too hard to straddle the line between “realism” (see their weird partnership with the history channel using the Rome: Total War engine to show how battles were won) and arcadey nonsense (where a max-stat unit of men can wipe out several armies without batting an eye). Aside from this leading to some questionable design decisions in the name of “realism” (a forced Roman civil war between vaguely historical houses? A political system in a game known for huge Lord of the Rings-style battles? Get out of here). This also leads to lots of tedious arguments on the internet about how realistic the game really is, and endless mods to make it “super real”.
Total War: Warhammer 2 removes all reason for being “realistic” and goes straight for design decisions and making the game cool. It makes the reptilian bits of my brain very happy.
Emperor Karl Franz? He’s a regular human king…. except he rides a flying armored Pegasus into battle, has half a dozen extremely rare magical pieces of kit on his body, and wields a hammer about the size of his torso. He has at least 7,000 hit points. He can wipe out dozens of men at once with his regular attack. No big deal, really.
And he’s not even the best hero unit.
I have fought goblins, orcs, zombies, giant freaking bats, werewolves, angry goatmen, sentient trees, and other humans. I’m pals with dwarves and elves. And I haven’t even seen a fifth of the map (I’m playing the Mortal Empires campaign which combines both Total Warhammer games into one, boy howdy).
I just built some sort of fancy college for BATTLE WIZARDS, which means I can recruit the FANCIEST battle wizard, so he can do stuff like call lightning from the sky, hurl meteors, or play with the wind.
And this is just the human faction. There’s like 20 others and they all play differently. Wanna be a Necromancer? Play as the Von Carsteins and raise skeletons from the ground during battle, then eat the captives after you win. Wanna play defensively and build huge cities? Dwarves are your guys. Want huge hordes of angry green dudes? Orcs to the max.
None of this is part of any history, of course. I can’t tell if you’re supposed to take Warhammer seriously or not, but its “grimdark grr grr ” world is too delightfully ridiculous for me to care much. We’re all fighting over a gigantic magical typhoon that’s keeping literal Hell at bay? And I can recruit units the size of a city block? And I can have Gatling guns AND fireball-throwing wizards? Oh. okay. This is straight, one hundred percent pure teenage nerd fantasy injected straight into my brain stem.
Warhammer has been around long enough that each unit, hero, country, and territory has about 40 books worth of text written about it all. I’m sure it’s very fascinating, and a rabbit hole I’m bound to go down eventually, but at the moment I’m having too much fun conquering spooky Vampire Transylvania to bother.