The scenes are similar in the latest Total War, but the actors have all changed. Where once I led legions of sword-wielding Hastati into the barbarian ranks, now a group of zombies shuffles down the hillside. Scout cavalry have been replaced with massive bats that dive and swoop through enemy troops. A flanking charge is conducted by wolves, backed up by skeletons on shadowy steeds.

And above it all, the guttural cries of the devious Vampire Count Mannfred Von Carstein, true lord of Sylvania. He wades into foes alongside a Vargheist (a ten-foot tall bat) and a banshee, killing troops with a single blow and then feasting on their blood to regenerate his own health.

That’s way cooler than anything the boring ol’ Roman Empire ever did.

Further reading: Total War: Warhammer DirectX 12 performance preview: Radeon reigns supreme

To war

This is Total War: Warhammer ($60 on Amazon) or, as it’ll be known for the rest of this article, Total Warhammer. As you’ve no doubt guessed from the title, it brings a bit of the fantastical Warhammer tabletop universe to Creative Assembly’s Total War series.

It’s a big shake-up, following on fifteen-odd years of historical hybrid-4X/RTS campaigns. The maps and factions and units of Total Warhammer make for a massive change after Japan (twice), Medieval Europe (twice), Rome (two-and-a-half times), the Colonial Era, and the Napoleonic Age.

More important: It’s a refreshing shake-up. Total Warhammer not only surpasses the low, low bar of “Best game in the series since Shogun 2,” it also represents a direction the series should embrace more generally.

Which is not to say Creative Assembly should stop making Total War games based in history. I’d love to see another Medieval game or, you know, an Ancient Greece or World War II or whatever the hell CA wants to dabble in. And obviously those settings are constrained by human history, so no ten-foot tall bat units or zombies or what have you.

Even so, there’s quite a bit to like about Total Warhammer. For one, the fact that all four (five, with DLC) campaigns play measurably different. Dwarfs, for instance, field small numbers of high-upkeep, high-power units—Hammerers, Longbeards, et cetera. A standing army is expensive, but they counter that by mining for gems and precious metals.

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