I’m not sure if I’m necessarily hooked on Total War: Warhammer, but I do happen to have spent 100% of my gaming time playing it this week. And going to bed much, much later than I have any rational reason to.
Basically, I’m treating the game as a Warhammer Civilization. Civhammer, if you will. Every army clash is resolved via auto-complete, for good or ill. The reason for that is because I still have no idea how these battles are supposed to go. Scratch that, I know how they are supposed to play out, but I am having an incredibly difficult time actually getting my troops to behave that way. Selecting multiple units already in a formation and clicking 100 feet forward causes them to disperse in a huge line. Why? I have no clue.
There is also an incredible amount of cheese I have organically discovered and am exploiting judiciously. By default, there is a “reinforcement” mechanic that allows you to combine one or more armies for a particular battle as long as they are nearby on the campaign map. Makes sense, I guess. The issue is that the reinforcement army might not have had any movement ability left, e.g. not had the ability to actually attack the army themselves, but now they can contribute their military might in 3+ nearby battles. The AI in this game uses this quite often.
That said, there is an ability that your army commanders can learn around level 6 called Lightning Strike. This ability allows you to attack armies without the benefit of reinforcements for either side. As noted before, the AI leans on the Reinforcement mechanic pretty heavily, and so Lightning Strike can (and did) completely change the battle calculus.
Just recently, for example, I was fighting the last strongholds of the Vampire Lords, but was unable to siege anything because of their two full-unit armies kept combining with the garrison to smoke me out. Unfortunately for them, only one army can occupy a city at a time, so I used Lightning Strike on the army left outside the walls and slaughtered them. Then I attacked the survivors again – Lightning Strike has unlimited uses – completely wiping them out.
At this point, I’m in the endgame of my first playthrough of Total War: Warhammer, with all victory conditions engaged aside from stopping the Chaos army advance from the North. While there is a part of me that is interested in starting another round up once this is done – to check out the other races and their armies – the other part of me wants to move on. We’ll see how things go.
P.S. If anyone knows of some good Total War: Warhammer (or prior titles, for that matter) videos showing how exactly to manually control armies to unlikely victories, it would be appreciated.
People say that the definition of insanity it doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results. This is precisely me when it comes to strategy games.
After hearing about all the crazy stories with Crusader Kings 2, I got it on sale and… played all of two hours before uninstalling. Total War: Shogun 2 was a similar situation, which was quite disappointing as I enjoy that setting. Enter Total War: Warhammer.
Verdict? …probably the same.
The first few hours were awful. Then I got hooked after some early victories. Then pissed when the AI started marching armies out of the fog of war and then razing my cities to the ground with zero chance to react. I know, I know, I’m supposed to have expensive hero units roaming about to keep tabs on my borders. But then there’s bullshit like an army moving to a city, killing the defenders and looting the place, moving all the way to a second city, then killing and looting that one, all in one turn. How the shit does that work, temporally? Were they all riding unicorns?
Don’t get me started on Hero units, which have to be the most outrageous bullshit I’ve seen. These are units that can run around with impunity and get a 20-30% chance to assassinate your leader, delay your armies, damage some buildings, and all sorts of similar nonsense. Huge army with 20 divisions? It’s fine, park your hero right next to it and get turn after turn of a chance to murder their high-level leader. The other counter-play appears to be deploying heroes of your own to roam about and try to counter-assassinate. But as we learned in Overwatch, heroes never die, they just go AWOL for 5 turns before getting back to their usual shenanigans.
It wouldn’t have been so bad if I were not trying to wipe out the last of the Crooked Moon goblin clan. Razed their capital and another city off the map, but the final city was way, way to the South. Every army I send down there ends up headless, as I had neglected to counter-hero the spider-riding goblin spy, who is now level 14. I am currently sending two full armies and three heroes down there to try and get a handle on things, but now I’m nervous that the Emperor himself is going to get whacked before that leg of the campaign is done.
As for the combat system itself, I couldn’t tell you much about its improvement or not from prior titles. All I particularly know is that I suck at macromanaging. Micromanaging individual little units? Sure, it’s fine. Directing the calvary around and flanking with the sword troops and moving generals and getting the archers to turn the fuck around what are you even doing ohmygod… not so much. I’m using auto-complete on most battles and things are mostly going well.
So, we’ll see. Maybe I stick with it, maybe I don’t. The game was $12 in a Humble Monthly bundle, so I’m not out much either way.
Warharmmer: End Times – Vermintide
Falling for the oldest trick in the subscription book, I failed to cancel my Humble Monthly Bundle subscription for January. This netted me Warhammer: End Times – Vermintide immediately, and some mystery games by Friday.
At this point, I am entirely reliant on the mystery games to make up for the $12 I inadvertently spent.
This is not necessarily saying that Vermintide is a bad game. It is pretty much exactly Left 4 Dead set in the Warhammer fantasy universe, with ratmen replacing zombies. Like, pretty much a 1-to-1 copy. There are rat tanks, rat smokers, rat hunters, rat spitters, and so on. There are some variations though, like rats in armor that only die to headshots, and the character classes themselves have different abilities, e.g. Bright Wizard shoots fireballs, etc.
My problem with Vermintide is that I never really liked L4D in the first place.
Perhaps that’s not exactly true. I enjoyed the kind of story-mode in both L4D and L4D2. But after three Vermintide games on Easy, two of which failed at the very final step, I was reminded how much I hate that sort of gameplay. What makes it a bit worse in Vermintide is that there is gear progression, and you only get loot if you’re successful; losses grant you crafting material as a consolation prize, but it’s not much in comparison to an entire piece of gear.
Indeed, there are grimoires and other special items hidden about the levels that, if held onto until the very end of the mission, guarantee a certain amount of loot. The problem is that these items take up item slots of health potions and the like, and since they affect the whole surviving group, there is a rather large incentive for people to search and hold onto them. Which means we’re right back to WoW-esque grinding dungeons, where there are acceptable places to stand during horde events, treasure location memorization, and drama when randoms aren’t following orders.
Yeah, no thanks.
That said, if you enjoy the L4D gametype and have a consistent group of friends to play with, I could recommend trying Vermintide out as a change of pace. The melee combat does actually feel pretty satisfying (not quite Dying Light, but close), the different classes are refreshing, the banter between the characters does a surprisingly good job of fleshing out the Warhammer universe, and the game looks fantastic.
…it just simply holds no interest for me. If I was in the mood for this sort of co-op gameplay, I would probably start playing Dungeon Defenders or something.
Instant Gratification vs Fun Investment
All this talk about Magic: the Gathering makes me want to revisit a topic I briefly touched on last week, in the comments here and elsewhere. Namely, the sort of denigration of “instant gratification” and the elevation of investing in “long-term fun,” which is presumably shorthand for “doing a series of boring things for a reward later.”
The choice between instant gratification versus an investment in long-term fun is a false dichotomy. Gaming is an instance in which you can have your cake and eat it too.
One of the examples activities that was used to illustrate how “boring gameplay” can lead to bigger returns in fun was painting figurines in a tabletop game like Warhammer. Simply purchasing already-painted figurines would just not be the same despite having no direct gameplay relevance. I agree. I also agree with the notion that, say, using cheat codes to become immortal, having infinite money, and so on right at the start of the game likely diminishes the overall amount of fun you can derive from it.
But here’s the thing: someone who paints their Warhammer figures probably finds the act of painting them fun.
I used to play a lot of Magic: the Gathering back in high school. The games were nothing serious, just some 3-5 person chaos multiplayer amongst friends. However I would routinely spend about 10 hours crafting decks for every 1 hour a given deck would actually see play. In fact, if any of my decks began to routinely win, I stopped using them and built new ones.¹ And I had fun!
Deck-building was almost better than playing the actual game for me. There is something deeply satisfying in seeing a complicated scheme all fall into place, top-decking the one perfect counter that changes the game right when you need it to. But running all those scenarios through my head, pouring over all my available options, whittling down a pile of 250 cards I wanted to use into a perfectly-tuned 60-card machine was pure entertainment in of itself.
Another example: D&D. I ran a 4-year campaign throughout all of college, and a little beyond. As a DM, I let my players have ample freedom, but I made sure the world they inhabited was scaffolded in lore such that they had a place in it. In other words, I wanted to give them the ability to take the world as serious as they wanted to. Of course, most sessions started and ended with them starting a bar fight rather than the existential pondering I secretly wanted them to do. But it is not much of a stretch to say that I spent 20 hours per week in preparation of one 3-6 hour session. Never once did I consider those 20 hours a chore. I was excited to DM those games because it gave me the opportunity (and justification) to spend all that time world-building.
Now, clearly, what an individual finds fun is going to be subjective, and possibly something that changes over time and circumstance. But my point here is that the sort of activities necessary for long-term enjoyment – figure-painting, deck-building, world-creation – can be fun in of themselves. Not only can, but should. This extends to all in-game activities.
I do not buy the argument that something like Darkfall/EVE’s AFK resource-gathering systems is fun “because it gives you the time to do something else.” An activity doesn’t become fun by adding in a separate fun thing; an activity is either fun in of itself or it isn’t.² An unfun thing can become tolerable when mixed, but that is not a point in the base activity’s favor. Being punched in the face is alright if you give me $1,000, but I would rather just have the $1,000. Is desiring just the money considered “instant gratification,” or is that simply rational?
You can rightly question why I am not currently building Magic decks or constructing D&D campaigns if they are so fun in of themselves. The truth is that without the payout, without the destination at the end of the journey, these (investment) activities are not as fun to me. However, while they might not be as fun – that is, they are less fun than other things I could be doing instead – keep in mind that they still are fun. An actual destination acts as a force multiplier, if you will, to the entertainment of the journey. Contrast that with many of the in-game “investments” we are tasked to complete which make no sense to perform at all without reward, e.g. they are the punch to the face.
The distinction is important, because I feel it is far too easy to for us gamers to fall into the cognitive dissonance trap of “retroactive fun” and Sunk Cost fallacy. “I spent 5 hours farming herbs, it must have all been worth it!” Even if there is no real difference between actual fun and retroactive fun in practice (and isn’t that a depressing thought?), it does matter when comparing games mechanics in the moment.
All things considered, you should desire the mechanics that are both fun now and even more fun later. We simultaneously can and deserve to have both.
¹ A successful deck was a sort of “proof of concept” for me. Could my infinite damage combo reliably work in an actual hostile environment? Coming up with combos was a lot easier than constructing a deck capable of pulling them off, after all. Plus, my goal was never to craft a (P2W) deck that beat my friends 100% of the time; that sort of thing is never fun to play against anyway.
² It’s probably more accurate to say fun is a gradient rather than a binary distinction, one that can shift from one moment to the next. But I still believe that the unfun half of the scale hits zero right near the border.
Review: Warhammer 40k: Space Marine
Game: Warhammer 40k: Space Marine
Recommended price: bundle/$0
Metacritic Score: 74
Completion Time: ~5 hours
Buy If You Like: Warhammer 40k, mindless 3rd-person action
Let me start out by saying that I am a huge fan of the Warhammer 40k universe. The setting gets a lot of flak for being grimdark and violent and possibly even juvenile, but whenever I start hearing phrases like “Adeptus Mechanicus” and the “God-Emperor of Man” I put on my game-face and settle down for some fun. Up to this point, I have almost religiously played the Dawn of War games and all the expansions up to Space Marine and generally loved them all (Dark Crusade being my 200+ hour ultimate favorite).
After the ending credits to Space Marine, I came away… well, curiously disappointed.
You take on the role of Captain Titus, one of three Ultramarines sent as vanguard to the fleet coming to the rescue of a besieged Forge World. The basic game structure is 3rd-person mayhem in the styling of Devil May Cry/God of War without the fighting depth, or Darksiders without the exploration/puzzles. Part of the promotional campaign involved making fun of other 3rd-person cover-based shooters (“Cover is for the weak”), but around the 30% mark it becomes quite clear that the health regeneration from executing stunned enemies won’t, ahem, cover the increasing volume and severity of ranged fire. In fact, in the late stages of the game, you will be reduced to peaking your head around crates to take pot-shots at uber-laser troops while actively running away from anyone trying to melee you.
There are a few cool moments for 40k fans, and the levels where you get access to Jetpacks really cements the feeling that I’d love an MMO or more free-ranging game in this universe. In between these moments of fun, however, are about 60+ thinly-veiled elevator loading screens, repetitive battles, large empty spaces devoid of any reason to explore, and a vague sense of hollowness. Darksiders gets away with long stretches of nothing happening because you’re solving a puzzle, but here you’re frequently just stomping around for 5+ minutes inbetween the small pockets of button-mashing. Watching my hero units in Dawn of War felt more exciting than playing as one in Space Marine.
Bottom line, if you were primarily interested in Space Marine because you like the Warhammer 40k setting, you can safely skip this entry into the franchise and have missed nothing of note. If you don’t care about the 40k setting, well, you aren’t missing anything either.