Staff Editorials

Total Warhammer?
Posted: 10.12.2012 11:49 by Simonkey75 Comments: 30
It’s not often that a simple announcement about a publisher acquiring the rights to make games based on another company’s I.P. sends the internet into a universal proclamation of joy, but that’s what happened on Thursday 7th December, when Sega revealed that it had secured the license to make video games set in Games Workshop’s Warhammer fantasy universe - and that Total War studio Creative Assembly would be developing those titles.

One reason for the ensuing nerdgasm is understandable: Total War has over the last decade become one of the most critically acclaimed and iconic PC-only gaming franchises, and Creative Assembly one of the most respected development studios in the business. For the other reasons, though, we need to look back at the long and often tortuous history of Warhammer and video gaming.

The world of Warhammer first burst into view in 1983 as the setting for Games Workshop’s new tabletop wargame Warhammer Fantasy Battle. Previously primarily an importer of U.S. tabletop and role playing games from the likes of TSR and Chaosium, Games Workshop’s decision to branch out into its own I.P. soon reaped dividends, helped by their ownership of in-house magazine White Dwarf and miniatures manufacturer Citadel.

It was the release of Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay in 1986, though, that really put the setting front and centre. Warhammer’s world mixed the classic fantasy elements of Tolkien’s Middle Earth with a strong Renaissance-era Germany influence. The themes of Law and Chaos from the works of Michael Moorcock - to whom Fantasy Battle had been dedicated to - as well as a particularly British strain of surrealism and black comedy made it a compelling and distinctive world, and hugely influential on the young minds of many who would go on to work in the video games industry.

It helped that Warhammer’s art was stunning. Skulls and gothic architecture were everywhere, warriors were bedecked in absurdly large weaponry and shoulder armour, while Citadel’s sculptors went to town, creating a vast menagerie of races and monsters ready to be coated in paint by those with a steady hand.

By the turn of the ‘90s, Warhammer’s fictional setting had been fleshed out by innumerable campaign modules, White Dwarf articles and short fiction, and ever since novels, comics and more have added to one of the most memorable fantasy worlds ever created. Along with its highly developed gameplay mechanics, Warhammer should have been ideal fodder for a successful cross-over into the world of video games. But it never quite worked out that way.

Not that it took Warhammer long to make the jump. 1991’s HeroQuest and follow-up HeroQuest II: Legacy of Sorasil were pleasant enough isometric RPGs for the Amiga, but they were based on the licensed Milton Bradley adventure board game of the same name rather than the full-fat Warhammer experience. It would take another four years for a true Warhammer game to be attempted.


The result was Warhammer: Shadow of the Horned Rat for PC (and - bizarrely - the PlayStation) from developer Mindscape. Basing itself on the actual Fantasy Battle ruleset and featuring skirmishing on both a squad and squadron level, Shadow of the Horned Rat offered a wide variety of mission choices and paths to take through its storyline, as mercenary commander Morgan Bernhardt tried to foil the plans of the verminous Skaven.

The game certainly captured the feel of the tabletop Warhammer, and it and follow-up Dark Omen are fondly remembered today, despite a difficulty level that could kindly be referred to as “bloody hard”, as non-replaceable troops feel by the wayside and gold earned from battle was never quite enough to cover those losses with adequate replacements. Still, it seemed as if Mindscape had cracked the Warhammer video game formula with its real-time strategy gameplay, and a long line of titles based on the franchise would ensue.

Except that the Warhammer fantasy setting promptly disappeared from video gaming view for eight years.

When it did return, it was under the auspices of Namco Bandai, who - putting the PSP card game conversion Battle for Atluma to one side - attempted to resurrect the franchise as a strategy game with 2006’s Mark of Chaos for PC, with expansion follow-up Battle March also making its way on to the Xbox 360.


Though it still has its defenders, in the eyes of many Mark of Chaos, well, missed the mark, its graphical flourishes undermined by rather basic animations, and its highly linear single-player campaign marred by a lack of any true tactical depth. Namco didn’t help themselves with a marketing campaign that promised Warhammer fans a faithful conversion of the tabletop game they knew and loved - only to drop most of the gameplay elements that mattered.

Nor did it help that in the meantime Warhammer’s futuristic sister universe was getting stellar treatment. Seasoned RTS developer Relic produced the stunning Warhammer 40,000: Dawn of War in 2004, following it up with an excellent sequel in 2009, as well as a wide variety of expansion packs for both. Although 40K’s emphasis on smaller scale battles than its fantasy brethren suited Relic’s focus on squad-based tactics to the tee, Dawn of War still showed what was possible when a talented developer combined a masterly grasp of the strategy genre with a deep love for the lore of the fictional universe.

Not that Warhammer’s fantasy setting hadn’t played a big part in PC games throughout the 2000s - it just hadn’t done it under its own name. Blizzard Entertainment were undoubtedly big fans of Games Workshop’s output, and paid copious, ahem, “homage” to Warhammer, first with the RTS franchise WarCraft and then the MMO monster that was World of WarCraft. At a time when massively multiplayer games appeared to be a license to print money in the wake of WoW, EA clearly thought that going back to the source would be a smart move, the result being the 2008 MMO Warhammer Online: Age of Reckoning.

Despite strong initial sales and favourable reviews, Warhammer Online released into a market that was already over-saturated with fantasy MMOs, all of whom were having to deal with the fact that there was a ten-ton gorilla in the room with upwards of 10 million subscribers. The game’s own subscriber total collapsed alarmingly, halving in just six months after release, and contributed to EA reporting a loss of $1.08 billion dollars that financial year. The game limps on on a F2P basis with a handful of servers, but apart from a spin-off battle arena game Wrath of Heroes, EA appear to have washed their hands of the Warhammer I.P.


Which is where Creative Assembly come in. It’s too early to say exactly what their plans are for what remains a wonderfully fleshed-out yet sorely under-used fantasy universe, not least because no game is likely to even be in development yet. The fans’ fantasy may be to finally see an accurate and faithful rendition in video game form of the tabletop game - now in its eighth edition - but as Games Workshop’s current strategy is to sell increasingly high-priced products to a niche wargaming market, the creators of Warhammer are unlikely to embrace such any move on Sega’s part that could undercut that.

And while the announcement made clear that it was not the Total War team themselves - still busy on Rome 2 - but a specially created development outfit who would be handling the Warhammer franchise, it’s hard not to close your eyes, picture that series’ epic blend of turn-based grand strategy and mass army engagements and reskin the combatants with Orcish square jaws and Skaven-like snouts. Total Warhammer? Oh yes please.

Comments

By nocutius (SI Elite) on Dec 10, 2012
nocutius
That would be a dream come true :)

Whatever they're making it better be huge in scale, I don't want another tactical Warhammer, give me a strategy game please.
By SirRoderick (SI Elite) on Dec 10, 2012
SirRoderick
Agreed on that, go big or go home ^^
By lichlord (SI Core) on Dec 10, 2012
lichlord
lol the fact hero mentioned this a day ago was way to much of a coincidence
By JustCommunication (SI Core) on Dec 10, 2012
JustCommunication
Question is, what kinda game is it going to be? Are they going to try and create a unique Warhammer game or is it going to be Warhammer: Total War? Not sure which I'd prefer (I'm a 40K kinda guy anyway)
By lichlord (SI Core) on Dec 10, 2012
lichlord
yeah im also more of a 40K even so they can do both in time but as stated before don't want a tactical now i want bigtime startegy like on most total war games :P
By JamieSI (SI Core) on Dec 10, 2012
JamieSI
Hope it features Wood Elves anyway :)
By Kiam99 (SI Veteran Member) on Dec 10, 2012
Kiam99
Would be nice to see! :D
By SirRoderick (SI Elite) on Dec 10, 2012
SirRoderick
The Empire is somewhat less awesome in this universe, but I'd still LOVE to purge the unbelievers ^^
By DAmicoThunder (SI Core Veteran) on Dec 10, 2012
DAmicoThunder
This would be pretty fantastical. I would love to see it
By lichlord (SI Core) on Dec 10, 2012
lichlord
yeah well lets see how those guys end up with a few khorne beserkers going at it XD :P
By DAmicoThunder (SI Core Veteran) on Dec 10, 2012
DAmicoThunder
I'd imagine not too well.
By herodotus (SI Herodotus) on Dec 11, 2012
herodotus
"Shadow of the Horned Rat" and "Dark Omen" I played for hours on the Playstation, almost as much as "Warzone 2100". Brilliant games. "Mark of Chaos" I tried hard to enjoy, but it's badly coded graphics and bugs galore were too much.
I hope this will be a marrying of the "Total War" series with "Warhammer" and not the FPS IP CA were talking about some time back.

Thanks for the trip down memory lane, at least for me, Simon. Takes me back to the first PC and Playstation titles, the former being the turn-based titles set in both the Fantasy and W4K universes.
By DAmicoThunder (SI Core Veteran) on Dec 11, 2012
DAmicoThunder
Hey, as long as it's anything close to what it's supposed to be, I'll be happy with it.
By Hammerjinx (SI Core) on Dec 11, 2012
Hammerjinx
Shadow of the Horned Rat was the first game I ever saw that *required* Windows 95. It was an alright game, but not ultimately worth using 95.

Keep in mind that this was pretty much *in* 1995. Win95 didn't get ok until 95C... or possibly 98, depending on who you ask ;)

As mentioned, it was a hard game. Individual battles were fine, but if you lost too many guys then you'd end up in a battle you literally could not win. In a wider strategy game you could take time to replenish troops - In Rat you had to go straight from narrow victory to an even harder fight with only what you had left over from the last fight. You had to not only win, but win very convincingly in practically every battle.

I'd be into TW:WH. I hope they have lots of teams to chose from and do a good job bringing out the flavour.
By FoolWolf (SI Elite) on Dec 13, 2012
FoolWolf
I would really like a game that went back to the tactical and strategic table of game play and allowed more of the table top feeling into the game. I don't want a total war WHF - but of course - I take that over any other total war there is ;)
By DAmicoThunder (SI Core Veteran) on Dec 13, 2012
DAmicoThunder
I'll second that.
By herodotus (SI Herodotus) on Dec 13, 2012
herodotus
Look to another developer for that, now that SSI is dead, for CA aren't hardcore strategy types. More strategy for the masses with bells, whistles and gentle learning curves.
By Hammerjinx (SI Core) on Dec 14, 2012
Hammerjinx
I guess it depends on how tabletoppy you want to get. I love turn based games, but something like WH would be a slow paced game, especially with large battles, and **especially** with an overarching strategic game. There's definitely people out there with the time and inclination to play a game like that, but not many. That means selling fewer copies, which means they can't spend as long making it pretty, play testing, and ironing out bugs. Add to that the fact that, being a licensed IP, Games Workshop prolly demand a certain level of quality to protect their brand... They simply couldn't recoup the costs.

Sad, but true.
By SirRoderick (SI Elite) on Dec 14, 2012
SirRoderick
It's true that the more hardcore you want to go, the smaller said core is gonna be, that's pretty simple. We need a compromise in the middle, where there's plenty of options for the hardened vets yet the general RTS public and such can pick it up without flailing in a tank of laser mounted sharks (yes that's the right way around ^^ )
By FoolWolf (SI Elite) on Dec 14, 2012
FoolWolf
Well, I didn't say I think anyone will make me a a gmae that I like but since X-Com made a revival and shoving that turn based can actually sell a whopping tonne of copies and single player Skyrim skyrocketed even though it is a lousy ported console hugging dumb-down RPG game - all the self proclaimed suite guys have predicted wrong this year so if the game is just well enough designed and delivers on authemticity - there are a LOT of WH gamers out there. WH40k as a franchise is testament to that. Sure - 14 year olds that can't gold out a staring competition with a gnat might not like the game...

SirRoderick hits the nail - their obviously needs to be a balance and if there weren't some elements in the games - I would be much more out there trying to find players of table top games...
By DAmicoThunder (SI Core Veteran) on Dec 14, 2012
DAmicoThunder
FoolWolf, Skyrim, if you didn't know, can be played on the PC. You don't have to use a console.
Though, I do want to say the graphics had some minor bugs, such as the appearance of being stabbed by your own weapon when you sheathe it.
By SirRoderick (SI Elite) on Dec 14, 2012
SirRoderick
He did call it a ' lousy ported console hugging dumb-down RPG game', so yeah, he knows it's a port :)

Might I just say that's exactly what the only thing wrong with it is...it's forced to be less than it could have been because of the ancient console hardware.
By DAmicoThunder (SI Core Veteran) on Dec 14, 2012
DAmicoThunder
Oh, he did say port. I misread that.
And the AI scripts are off, too. Well, not off, but kinda "interesting." For example, many times I have slayed a Dragon and then immediately after I have been attacked by bandits.
It's like "Hey. You see that guy, who just killed a Dragon and ate his soul? Let's go rob him!"
It makes no sense. Sure, I get a bit of gold and possibly a couple of worthless items but.... At level 81, which is as high as you can get (or maybe it's 82...I haven't played in months), it's not worth it, in the long run. I'm just too powerful and too wealthy. But, it's still entertaining.
By SirRoderick (SI Elite) on Dec 14, 2012
SirRoderick
Throw all your stuff into a cave and fight everything with your bare fists and your loincloth!

I tried that once, but unfortunately I was a mage and it didn't matter :P
By DAmicoThunder (SI Core Veteran) on Dec 14, 2012
DAmicoThunder
Haha; I've done that. Believe it or not, I beat/killed a City Guard with nothing but my bare fists and loincloth in both Riften and Markarth. Both times, I just hid somewhere until every single one of the guards gave up. In Markarth, I believe I hid...I can't remember. In Riften, though, I hid up on the roof tower of the Mistveil Keep. I remember I think it was the Jarl's son that came out and I slaughtered him (unfortunately, I had to use my sword ;D). I also vaguely remember killing a Dragon with my bare hands (although, I fought him normally first and whittled down his health, then unequipped everything for a little challenge; you don't know how long that took, getting a Dragon to very little HP with my weapons considering my sword inflicts a wound and does a lot of damage by itself and my bow deals fire and ice damage [though, my secondary bow draws magicka; or is it magika?] and that didn't really help. It ended up being a regular Dragon, such as the one you fight in the beginning, which surprised because I both hadn't seen one in quite some time and, the last time, it was a two hit kill. Either way, it happened). Even so, the Dragon, even with almost no health, nearly killed me because I had no protection and my fists didn't do quite as my damage as I thought they would. Heheh. It was worth it, though.
By SirRoderick (SI Elite) on Dec 14, 2012
SirRoderick
Well there ya go ^^
By DAmicoThunder (SI Core Veteran) on Dec 14, 2012
DAmicoThunder
Hahah.
By herodotus (SI Herodotus) on Dec 14, 2012
herodotus
Back on topic *ahem* (I never go off-topic - nyah!), this could end up surprising us all in that it could very well be the launching of a new franchise along the lines of the badly received "Viking: Battle for Asgard" by Creative Assembly. Though a console port, it isn't too shabby by most accounts and as a multiplatform format this move would appeal to CA in that they cover all the bases - consoles and PC.

Strangely enough this is also on sale today only at GMG:
http://www.greenmangaming.com/s/au/en/pc/games/action/viking-battle-asgard/
...and no I do not work for them, nor have any children employed by them. Just like to pass on deals:)
By SirRoderick (SI Elite) on Dec 14, 2012
SirRoderick
GMG is starting to come onto my radar I have to say, interesting offers
By herodotus (SI Herodotus) on Dec 14, 2012
herodotus
Best prices as well. "Football Manager 2013" while on Steam for $80 and Gamersgate for $90, I was able to pick up for $25 on GMG (with a 35% voucher just for filling in a survey). It was a Steam key, so all is good:)