It still feels like a pipe dream to be talking about Total War: Warhammer mods at all, given that just last year Creative Assembly told us not to expect any support. Having routed the army of licensing lawyers halting their progress, however, they’re now promising an Assembly Kit in the mould of Rome II and Attila, plus the ability to upload, browse, follow and install mods in the usual Steam Workshop fashion.
Will Total War: Warhammer stand in formation with the best strategy games on PC?
Anybody with a copy of the game can direct the database editor to alter armies, swap starting positions and the like - and there’s a battle map editor to come later in the year. Here’s what we’re hoping they’ll be used for.
Model painting, without the fumes
For all of Warhammer’s adaptations, game developers have only ever succeeded in transmogrifying half of the hobby to the digital realm. Beyond rolling die to determine just how badly your cannons have backfired, tabletop players derive at least as much fun from piecing together and painting their models, lovingly daubing their hero units in Mournfang Brown and never quite getting around to decorating the rank and file with anything other than base coat black.
Though Total War: Warhammer’s units don’t stand in static poses, and their shading is handled by a lighting engine, modders could achieve something special by opening up some of the tools of the database editor to players - providing an easy interface through which to apply colour schemes and washes. Even a simple palette swap would go a long way to making a prescribed Greenskin tribe feel like our own.
We’re talking the digital equivalent of Green Stuff, the strange and expensive putty used to mod and malform models in the tabletop game. The malleable clay allows for tentacles, terrible growths, and The Darkness-style mouthy extremities - nominally the influence of the Chaos Gods, but also attributable to hobbyists who got carried away with the modelling knife.
Total War: Warhammer has the Forsaken - Chaos Warriors whose demonic ‘rewards’ have turned out to be more hindrance than help. But fellow Old World adaptation Mordheim went further, with Chaos mercenaries rolling random mutations as they levelled up - mace-like limbs, wyrdstone horns or entire extra faces. Something similar for veteran units of Total Warhammer - with attendant stat differences to reflect the movement or perception advantages of an extra leg or third eye - would only benefit the blessed of Tzeentch.
More campaign-playable factions
Creative Assembly have made the Empire, Dwarfs, Vampire Counts and Greenskins playable in their campaign, and only the first resemble traditional Total Warfare. But the map is filled with minor AI factions too - like the lost norse dwarf clan of Kraka Drak, beset on all sides by barbarians, and the Savage Orcs who eschew civilisation, refusing to capture towns. There’s also a fully-fledged faction reserved for skirmish matches - the Bretonnian knights, perched on Pegasus mounts.
Surely each of these lesser-served races deserves to be turned into a campaign option? Perhaps modders can do as Creative Assembly have done and extrapolate from AI characteristics - noble, capricious, bloodthirsty - to work out how those races would interact with the map. A Savage Orc campaign would presumably resemble Shogun: Total War’s Mongol expansion - asking you to raze and trample through the Old World where others dig in and fortify.
Enough Skaven to fill all the Empire’s skirting boards
Total War: Warhammer has rendered vast swathes of the Old World conquerable, as well as some of the passageways beneath - but they haven’t touched the Under-Empire that runs below the entire human realm and beyond, to the icy mountains in the north and the dank swamplands in the south. It’s home to Warhammer’s most entertaining race: a cunning and cowardly rat-people with a penchant for warpstone and dangerously unreliable artillery. Their politics is guided by pettiness and jealousy, and their battle lines are punctuated by rat-ogres and gatling gunners. Rat-at-at indeed.
Unlike the more Tolkien-esque corners of the universe, the Skaven are wholly Warhammer’s own and iconic for their unpredictability. And yet they’re not in Total Warhammer - perhaps reserved for a sequel in which the anthropomorphic rodents will rise to the surface, or perhaps not. The fact is, it’s not really Warhammer without them. Help us out, modders.
Go on, then: space marines
The Chaos Warriors already have the shoulder-pads and the demonic servants of Khorne. The Orcs and Goblins of the Greenskins are only missing Big Shootas and a kicking K to make them Orks. There’s enough of Warhammer Fantasy’s sister 40K universe already in the game to make a crossover mod a tantalising prospect.
Though Relic seem to be upping the scale with Dawn of War III, introducing huge walkers capable of putting down half an army, there’s still scope to go even bigger with a Total Warhammer 40,000 mod: imagine ordering massive formations of Imperial Guard forward with the threat of an officer’s pistol, and whipping Eldar about the battlefield in hovering Wave Serpents. As for the environments? Pick a planet with a climate not unlike the Old World’s and you’re halfway done. There’s potential for more ambitious fare once that map editor arrives.
A jump through time to the Age of Sigmar
The fiction of Total War: Warhammer, like that of most recent games set in the universe, is frozen in time. The tabletop game last year ripped up almost all of what came before - burning the Old World in an apocalyptic war and killing the vast majority of its population. In its place is the Age of Sigmar: centering on the return of the Empire’s titular god-figure, and featuring reimagined, gladiatorial versions of the beloved Warhammer races.
With future Total War: Warhammer games likely to build on the older Old World, modders are left to colonise newer terrain by themselves. How would the smaller skirmishes of Age of Sigmar play out in Creative Assembly’s engine? What would a post-cataclysm campaign map look like? These are questions we’d like to see answered.
The return of the Total War modding elite
The Total War mod scene is among the most developed in all PC gaming, and has cultivated some fine talent. That’s clearly something Creative Assembly recognise: they’ve asked community mainstays Magnar and Dresden for a mod each to launch alongside Total Warhammer. Darth meanwhile, the AI genius behind the mod that bears his name, may have had a rocky relationship with the studio but has since graduated to indie development with Ultimate General: Gettysburg.
Total War games are complex machines with many interlocking parts; sometimes the gears don’t quite mesh, and inevitably, something in Total Warhammer will want fiddling with. If we’re very lucky, the modders who step in with deft design solutions will stick around, providing us with choice add-ons and eventually becoming top strategy brains in their own right.