Less than a year after Total War: Warhammer was released, part two of the trilogy has been announced, with a release date due later this year. We’ve seen a lush new trailer, had an announcement, and had a chance to speak with two of the talented team at Creative Assembly about exactly how the success of episode one has lit a fire under episode two. Read on for an overview of the factions, new campaign, new gameplay features, and how you’ll connect the sequel’s map to that of the original game.
Want more details? Here's everything we know about Total War: Warhammer II.
The new players
CA say there will be four factions in Total War: Warhammer II at launch. Confirmed so far are the High Elves, Dark Elves, and Lizardmen, though if you don’t mind, I’m going to treat the Skaven as confirmed as well, because come on. They put a rat at the end of the trailer and one of the new continents is The Southlands, which is dominated by Clan Pestilens.
The High Elves
“The High Elves are quite an insular race,” says game director Ian Roxburgh. Long ago, the Elves were the favourite (but not the first) creations of the Old Ones, the original gods of the Warhammer World, who also built them an idyllic island called Ulthuan. Thousands of years later, this has given their descendents a certain sense of entitlement; they look out only for themselves, and yet, because they also consider themselves the rightful rulers of the world, they stick their noses in everyone else’s business anyway.
“They have very elaborate spy networks,” says Roxburgh. “They trade with other nations throughout the world purely to see what’s going on, not because they need or want the money - they’ve got plenty of it. We modeled them based on the tabletop game - like we do with all the other races - so they've got their own set of features and mechanics that buy into the flavour of the High Elves.”
On the tabletop, the High Elves are a disciplined, elite army. Think of that cool bit at the start of the Lord of the Rings, where glittering ranks of elves take an orc charge and chop them up with cool efficiency, and you’ve a sense of their flavour. They have some of the best elite troops in the game, such as Phoenix Guard - who get a perpetual magical ward that makes them incredibly tanky for otherwise fragile elves - and a long-standing alliance with the dragons, so expect to see at least one more of them in the game.
Yet another thing they do brilliantly is magic, and it seems they’re bringing their biggest gun right from the start. The elven mage in the trailer? That’s no ordinary mage: unless someone has nicked the Moon Staff of Lileath from his room, that’s Teclis, one of the most powerful magic users in Warhammer. Expect him to be one of the High Elves’ Legendary Lords in the new game.
The Dark Elves
The Dark Elves are the High Elves’ twisted kin, separated from their brethren in a violent civil war known as the Sundering. The fire was by the corrupting forces of Chaos taking root in Ulthuan, then ignited - literally - when a prince named Malekith was rejected and burned by the flames that he had assumed would confirm him as the Elves’ new king. See what that Elven sense of entitlement gets you? The burns ruined his once-beautiful body, and now he’s sealed in a suit of armour, as you can see in the trailer - Malekith is the guy leading the Dark Elves, hiding his burned face behind that twisted golden mask. Expect him to be one of their Legendary Lords.
Anyway, he rejected the verdict of the holy flames and went to war with those who defended their integrity. He lost, was kicked out of Ulthuan, and now sulks in the bleak land of Naggaroth with his equally deranged mother Morathi, earning the derision of all Warhammer fans for being the world’s biggest baby. He and his followers harass Ulthuan and dream of ways to restore Malekith to the throne, because baby wants his bottle.
“We can’t talk about them,” says Roxburgh, “but they’ve got some very unique mechanics with them.” Since the Dark Elves practise slavery, worship an aspect of Chaos, and kidnap and sacrifice their own people once a year, these mechanics will not be pleasant, whatever they are.
On the tabletop, Dark Elves have many troops that imitate their High kin, but with a more aggressive, nastier twist: their knights ride velociraptors, their dragons are black, their elites are better at killing than tanking. And they have a ghastly cult of frenzied killer-women who literally bathe in cauldrons of blood so as to remain eternally youthful.
Remember how we said the Elves weren’t the first creation of the Old Ones? That would be the Lizardmen. They are “the most ancient of all the races,” as Roxburgh says. They’re the only faction to remember and keep faith with the Old Ones, and CA are “building mechanics in around that flavour”. Here he mentions the geomantic web - this is a web of earth energy that spans the planet, with each of the Lizardmen’s temple-cities as a focal point. The Slann Mage-Priests - that’s the giant red frog thing on a floating platform in the trailer - were able to tap into the web, like the Old Ones, and cast some incredibly powerful spells. One such spell, cast by Lord Mazdamundi, had a hand in the destruction of the Dwarfen Empire, so here’s hoping they don’t find out about that. We're told that Mazdamundi is the Slann seen in the trailer, but he usually rides a Stegadon (see below) so we're a little confused.
Otherwise, the Lizardmen are a cool-as-hell army of dinosaurs. Their frontline troops, Saurus warriors, are some of the meanest standard infantry on the tabletop, and they can also ride velociraptors. A carnosaur - that’s a T-rex - can be seen squashing a witch elf in the trailer (the six-horned saddle strapped to its back suggests its rider is the Saurus Oldblood Kroq-Gar, very likely one of the Lizardmen legendary lords.) Stegadons are house-sized stegosauruses that can carry magical engines or howdahs full of skinks (small Lizardmen) shooting poisoned blowdarts. And, outside of rare exceptions like Teclis, the Slann are the best wizards around.
“The idea is to take what we did with Total War: Warhammer that went really well, by making all these races play very differently, with new mechanics,” says Roxburgh. “We want them to be so diverse that you're not so much choosing what flavour of race you play as, but you're choosing what style of wargame you're playing.”
The Skaven (unconfirmed)
That leaves the Skaven, and while we should stress again that they haven’t been officially confirmed, we redirect you to our earlier comment: come on.
The Skaven are a vile race of giant and humanoid rats, supposedly created when a mysterious stranger - perhaps not unlike the one who appears in some pop-up events in the first game - caused a Chaos-tainted rain to fall upon a decadent city, hundreds of years ago. The Skaven capital, Skavenblight, now stands where that city did, and it should be on the swampy ground to the east of Tilea on the existing campaign map.
We imagine the Skaven will have given CA some headaches to make, because most of their territory is underground: from Skavenblight they tunnelled far and wide, invading the Dwarfholds beneath the World’s Edge Mountains, burrowing under the human Empire, even tunnelling under the ocean itself. This is why the inclusion of The Southlands as a continent makes us doubly sure the Skaven are coming; it’s practically the only contiguous territory over which they have any control. The rest of their empire is tunnels, with occasional cities popping up above ground like spots on a greasy teenager.
Anyway, Skaven are probably just as mean as Dark Elves. They too worship a Chaos god: a deity of disease called the Great Horned Rat. His children aid in his goal of bringing down civilisation by concocting and spreading awful plagues that have devastated the cities of the world on many occasions, and it’s Clan Pestilens - they who dominate The Southlands - who focus most particularly on this mission. The Skaven are divided into many other clans, whose habit of infighting is the only reason they haven’t taken over the world: Clan Eshin are spies and assassins, whose agents can be kitted out to kill enemy characters and conceal themselves in otherwise normal units; Clan Skryre are dastardly engineers who invent magical weapons, like the warp-lightning cannon, that are as deadly as they are unreliable; and Clan Moulder share their invention but apply it to living things, using the mutagenic properties of Chaos-tinted warpstone to create such Frankenstein-like monstrosities as Rat Ogres and Hell Pit Abominations, which are basically giant lumps of flesh with fists attached.
All of this should make the Skaven one of the most distinctive factions yet. Expect a hell of a lot of squabbling to resolve if you try to unite the clans, a varied and zany faction roster, and some truly unique strategic mechanics centred on tunnelling about, setting up ambushes, and spreading plagues.
The new game
So if those are the players, what’s the game? In keeping with their ever-escalating ambitions, and inspired by the looming Chaos invasion of the first game, CA are introducing an objective that “pushes the pace and lead-up to the conclusion of your campaign in a way we’ve never tried before,” says communications manager Al Bickham.
See, the Old Ones travelled between planets using stargates, only the gates on the Warhammer planet collapsed and started leaking Chaos into the world. It was around then that the Old Ones left the Lizardmen and the High Elves to clean up the mess, with the elven mage Caledor Dragontamer creating a vortex to drain Chaos away.
It’s that vortex, located on the Isle of the Dead at the heart of Ulthuan, that’s the central objective of the campaign in Total War: Warhammer II. “Something has happened to destabilise that vortex a bit,” says Roxburgh, “and each of the races in the world are looking to jump in and take advantage of this. A couple of them want to keep it stable, keep the status quo, keep Chaos at bay.” It’s safe to assume that these are the Lizardmen and High Elves, who are both good guys (or as close as you’ll ever get in Warhammer).
“Others want to destabilise it while they can so they can take advantage of the carnage that would ensue,” that’ll be the Dark Elves and Skaven. “So we've built individual narratives around each of the races now, and how they feed into the vortex. They've all got their own story.”
We ask how you’ll interact with the vortex, and CA simply say “rituals” are involved, which sound like they’ll comprise a quest line. Each race will “have different requirements to get to the point where they have to cast a ritual,” says Roxburgh. “The storyline for that individual race will tell you why and what's going on. As you go through the game you get to cast these rituals that will unlock a bit more of the narrative and unlock your power and control over the vortex.”
This creates an independent, parallel track to what you’d otherwise consider to be your campaign progress, and CA are excited about the wrinkle this will add to the endgame. “Now you can actually be beaten to effect the vortex by the other races,” says Roxburgh, in which case, you would lose the game even if you’ve conquered half the world. The idea “is to really do something with that endgame that keeps it exciting, keeps it challenging right to the end. You're never going to take your finger off the pulse and just auto-resolve and go through the motions.”
One challenge with having an island at the centre of your campaign map: there’s an ocean around it. This raises the question of naval combat, which isn’t new to Total War and isn’t impossible in a Warhammer setting - there is lore examining the world’s navies, and there have been games either made or licensed by Games Workshop featuring them. But it’s not happening.
“We don’t have naval combat in the game, I’ll be clear about that - we don’t have full, simulated naval battles,” says Bickham. “We pretty much decided from the start that Warhammer, the tabletop game, is land-based, and that’s where we’re gonna focus all our efforts.”
But there’s still that island, though, and yes, “there will be requirements to cross perilous bodies of ocean,” Bickham concedes. “Suffice to say, there’s gameplay built around naval passage around the map,” we just don’t yet know what shape it’ll take. Roxburgh sees it as an opportunity: “How do you make the crossing of these areas of water more interesting than just moving from A to B? It's going to be another part of Warhammer II that feels very different to things we've done before.”
Linking it together
It’s been a promise from the outset of this project that one day, you’d be able to play a world-stretching campaign with all fifteen armies from the eighth edition tabletop rulebook, and CA have said they’ll achieve this by allowing players to connect the campaign maps of each individual instalment, as well as having them work standalone. We’re now on the cusp of seeing how that’ll happen, and CA shared a little detail.
Total War: Warhammer II has its own map (which is “slightly bigger” than the Old World in the first game), with Naggaroth, Ulthuan, Lustria and a fourth continent, the Southlands. You won’t need any pre-existing content to play the New World campaign on that map with the four launch factions. If, however, you also own the original Total War: Warhammer, you’ll get a free update “shortly after” the release of the sequel, which will contain a new mega campaign map. You’ll be able to play the Old World and New World campaigns from both major games independently, but you’ll also have a third campaign, with both the maps and all the other content you own combined on this mega map.
“That's free,” says Roxburgh. “It's basically because we want to make that game and we know our fans want to play that game, so that will just be the biggest and most rich and diverse campaign we've ever done in Total War.”
We ask how the two campaigns will affect each other in the combined campaign - whether an old faction like, say, The Empire will get updated with the vortex objective. CA aren’t ready to say too much, but it sounds like some of the narrative richness of the new campaign will be jettisoned to accommodate all the old races that aren’t involved. “The elaborate mega-campaign will be more sandbox and have less individual narrative to do with each of the races,” says Bickham. But some changes from Warhammer II will be applied to Warhammer I, such as UI improvements and certain unnamed gameplay features.
It raises the interesting question of how retrospective CA are tempted to be, now that they’ve come so far in less than a year since the release of the original. Each new DLC seems to bring a further leap in ambition: the Beastmen were really just a mix of Greenskin and Chaos mechanics, but the Wood Elves were a big departure from the norm. Bretonnia, as a human faction, could’ve been every bit as vanilla as the Empire, but instead CA gave them really impactful, characterful mechanics like the chivalry and peasant economy systems. Are they tempted to go back over the original factions, and give them a few new tricks?
“At the risk of saying things I shouldn't, it's a trilogy that we're making,” says Roxburgh, cautiously. “So by the time we've finished we would like to have done the kind of thing you're talking about and really go back and do a sweep over most of the races.”
He mentions lords as a possibility, and Bickham points out that “we’ve done a little bit of that already. We tweaked Balthasar Gelt a bit, and Isabella and Vlad, who are now essentially their own Vampire Counts subfaction… Having a living game, and that's what this is going to be right across all three parts of the trilogy, constantly gives us the opportunity to go in and tweak here or push this.”