At E3, Gamnesia had the opportunity to sit down and discuss Total War: Warhammer 2 (or as fans rightly call it, "Total Warhammer 2") with Game Director Ian Roxburgh. Following the success of the first Total War: Warhammer game, which merged the Total War gameplay with Games Workshop's popular (and also dead) Warhammer Fantasy universe, what will Creative Assembly do to make the sequel even better, and what role does things like fan feedback and DLC play in that process?
Note: This interview contains many references to the first game, as well as the Warhammer Fantasy miniature game.
Two years ago I had an interview with Al Bickham at Gamescom, and back then there was talk of a trilogy: You've already done the Old World with four starting races and a bunch more that got added, and now there's the second game taking place in the New World with four more races, only three that have been revealed so far...
I think it'll remain that way, I can assure you.
So is there still gonna be a third game?
Then, if we do the maths, you're running out of races for the third game. If we count the DLC races and assuming there's going to be four in Warhammer 2—you only have three races left: You have Ogres, Tomb Kings and Daemons. Am I forgetting any?
From the official army books… yeah, I can't think of any others, but that doesn't mean that it's all going to be official races.
So are we gonna be seeing perhaps minor factions or…
*laughs* He's a genius this man, isn't he? Sucked me right into this one, hasn't he? Carry on.
Or are we going to see factions that have never received an army book such as Araby or Nippon…factions that we know exist because they're in the fluff but have never been playable on tabletop? Or could we be looking at minor factions like Kislev? If you're not gonna do major army book things, what's it gonna be? Now that I ask the question, I realize that you're probably not gonna give me an answer.
Haha yeah, we're not here to talk about the third game yet, but you're right. There are main army book race, and we will definitely cover all of them throughout the trilogy. And there are other races that aren't necessarily full army books in 8th edition of Warhammer that we will use in the full playable sense. As to what they will be, obviously that's not something we're going to talk about yet. But right from the beginning we designed the series to be a trilogy. So we always had this blueprint of how we'd distribute the content and while we could be a bit flexible as we go along, ultimately we had this plan of how it'd work and what would fit sensibly into each game.
That is very exciting. Now, a question about the blueprint: I first imagined that it would be three games with roughly five races in each. But you released a bunch of DLC races for the first game (Bretonnia, Wood Elves, Beastmen, Warriors of Chaos). Was that always the plan to release that much content?
Yes. As I said, the blueprint was laid out before we really did any detailed design on Warhammer 1. We haven't narrowed down exactly how we're going to do Warhammer 3, but there's been a plan that's always existed that we haven't deviated from yet. Now, at the moment we're focusing on Warhammer 2 and we haven't felt the need to re-examine that blueprint because everything that we've done so far, the fans have really responded well to. For example, we knew that we wanted to do Bretonnia as a Free-LC. That was something that was always in the plans.
I'm not saying we won't deviate from that blueprint in the future for whatever reason, but so far it's been working out according to plan and it's been great, and we really had to plan out the the entire scope of the project very thoroughly, way ahead of time. So… so far it's been going according to plan and I'm not going to tell you what's coming out next, haha.
*laughs* Fair enough. I want to ask you about the community and the feedback that you've been getting. What sort of feedback have you gotten from the first game that you've taken into account for the second game and what areas have you improved on from the first game due to community feedback?
To be honest, we respond to all of the feedback we get. Whether it's vocally out to the community or not, we are always aware of what's going on and we have a community team that feed into the dev team, and the dev team put themselves out there as well; so we're always acknowledging what the fans are saying because the fans are essential to us, for obvious reasons. We never want to feel separated from our fan base because we're making games for our fans to play. One high-profile example is the Warriors of Chaos DLC that we announced. It was received really badly and we didn't expect that, and because of how that was received we realized that this was a mistake and that's not something that we're going to do again.
We also look at features. For example, some positive feedback we received not just from fans, but from the press as well, was something that was kind of a risk in Warhammer 1, which is the difference between the races. For instance, Vampire Counts don't have any missile weapons. In a Total War history game we would have delved deeper into history books to find some examples of this faction using bowmen or whatever, because in the game they needed some archers for balancing purposes. But that's not what the Warhammer IP is. We want to embrace that, but then we knew that we had to put a lot more time and effort into those systems because that will be harder to balance. It paid off, though, because universally that was one of the most popular parts of Warhammer 1, and that will be felt even more so in Warhammer 2, where we really go to town with the differences between these races, way beyond the unit rosters and how they play on the battlefield. Campaign mechanics that determine how you play the campaign will be different for each race so that separation of races is something that Warhammer 2 has in spadeloads.
We also have some longer-term feedback that's not necessarily something specific to Warhammer 1, but something that's more of a general issue for a turn-based Empire building game and it's this situation where you're halfway through a campaign, you own most of the map… and you think: I'm not even going to bother finishing. I'm going to start a new campaign where it's more fun and challenging. And we just wanted to hit that on the head and do something about this. So in Warhammer 2 we brought in the Vortex that you have seen in the trailers and heard of in other interviews, and the idea here is that even if you own half of the map and you have massive armies, you're still going to feel challenged; you're still going to feel an itch that says, "hey, I could still lose this if I'm not careful." And visually, you see all the other races of the game pushing towards controlling the Vortex and while you can ignore it and just win the normal way...
It's going to be a factor.
It is going to be a factor.
I don't want to give too much away about how the Vortex works exactly, but the gist of it is that you have five stages to it, five rituals that you have to cast. You don't have to do them all at once. How you engage with the Vortex is up to you. We did some early focus tests with fans, and they would get to the point where they play the campaign and then they said, "actually, as much as we love the Warhammer 1 campaign, we kind of don't want to go back to that now" because the existence of the vortex gives that extra feeling in your head while you're playing that I mentioned before. It's better for the longer-term goal as well as it's feeding into a more comprehensive narrative for each race. So we've done all these things with Warhammer 2 because it was so well received from our focus tests and from Warhammer 1. I'm trying to think of a feature that wasn't received very well but…
For me, personally, the biggest flaw of the first game was something pretty small but very important: end campaign cutscenes. In the beginning when you start up the campaign you got a cool cutscene with the old man who's going to see Carl Franz or maybe he's going to the Orcs, feeling a bit uncomfortable, etc. Those cutscenes were pretty cool. Then you have the mid-game cutscene with the big invasion of chaos with Archaon standing there, menacingly — that was really cool. But then when I beat the campaign after all the hard work I get a little… information box; it doesn't even say "congratulations"… Of the previous games, the one I remember most fondly was Medieval 2 where at the end I'm sitting there on my throne and I'm the king of the world, and there's a parade in my honor and you really get the feeling of accomplishment. That was missing for me, and I feel that's also part of the issue you mentioned before where you get into this mode of owning half of the game and you're steamrolling everyone, and at that point you're thinking, "Okay, I could beat the Dwarfs for the long campaign victory, but am I going to see some cool cutscene of Manfred drinking someone's blood, ruling the Empire and relishing in his ego? Well, no. So what's the point?"
So that's another reason you wouldn't bother finishing a campaign?
Exactly! Like you said, then I might as well go back and start a new campaign. For me, that was a big one. I would like to know what the Warhammer world would like if the Orcs smashed the Empire to bits or the Wood Elves conquered all of the Old World. It'd be very interesting to see, especially if you're interested in the fluff.
Yes, I know. When you are looking across a project like this and the massive undertaking of it all, you always have to marry up how much effort you can put into the gameplay and balancing the mechanics and all of that, and at some point you can't do everything; and for Warhammer 1, one of the things that was cut was the end movies and yes, we would have loved to do them. We would have loved to do millions of things. But we do have those in Warhammer 2.
That is excellent news. And I hear you about the undertaking of the project. I think that everyone can see the effort that you have put into the first game. For instance, as the Orcs I hated fighting against the dwarfs. Because they never flee! So they have like two guys remaining in their units and I'm surrounding them with 100 black orcs and they're just like "nah, we've got this, guys."
But it fits, and out of that almost frustration, if you like it makes you think differently about how to deal with it.
Yes, it's frustrating, but it's positive frustration; it doesn't feel unfair.
And it makes you think about an alternative way to deal with them and that's something that's going to be even moreso present in Warhammer 2. So you might have an army that you've made and that you're happy with. One that works well against one type of army but then suddenly you have to fight a High Elf Army—for instance—and it's not working the same way. You don't usually get that in Total War, where you usually have your army that can beat everyone up. With Warhammer—in particular Warhammer 2—the races are so different, and that normal tactic you used before doesn't work anymore, and you might have to rethink your tactics and you might even have to create another style of army to deal with a particular race. As long as you can see that it has a role and that you can see a possible solution, that's a very positive thing.
I've been thoroughly impressed with the first game, and the second one has the Lizardmen in particular that, from the demo, seem to play very differently from others races. I mean, elves... they're almost human...
In terms that they have similar army composure. They have their infantry blocks, war machines, cavalry etc. But the Lizardmen are quite different because some of their infantry are almost on par with cavalry: they can run pretty fast, they can hit pretty hard... and they're terrifying also.
Oh yes. I've seen some of the animations you've put out and it looks like you've had a lot of fun putting those together.
It's been very fun, but it's also been challenging for the whole team. The art department and animators in particular. Sometimes they come in and say, "I've worked on Total War for 11 years and I've been drawing a variety of humans with swords or spears, and suddenly they're doing a dragon and other creatures with crazy animations". There's a spring in the step of everyone in the office where they have all loved making history games, but suddenly they're doing something different that challenges them and inspires them and it's been an absolute pleasure to us. Games Workshop has been absolutely brilliant as well. They are very passionate about their IP so they're similar in a way to us as a company (and they're based in England as well). We have a lot of respect for what they do so we've all been on the same page from the beginning. We want to do their cool IP in our game and we want to do the IP justice. And they said that they want their IP to be a Total War game, so there's been no friction or anything like that. Everyone's been on the same page in order to make [it so] Warhammer world come to life in a Total War game. It's been real good fun as well as hard work.
Have you seen that pay off both in terms of fan feedback and in terms of sales?
Yes, fan feedback has been very positive. Even the hardcore history fans that we kind of thought some of them might hate this game have come onboard a lot more than we thought they would, because they appreciate the mechanics and it still plays like a Total War game. You just have more tools to play with. And financially, it's been the most successful Total War game ever made, so obviously a commercial success and the DLC has been successful as well. There's always gonna be a bit of backlash from people who dislike DLC… and you, as someone who writes for the fans, understand that, and we at Creative Assembly understand that as well. But the sentiment from the fanbase was: "Please make more DLC beacause we want it." That is what enables us to do as much we are doing for the next game and the whole trilogy. We released Bretonnia for free, and that was at massive cost, but we can give back. Likewise, the combined campaign map that we are releasing after Warhammer 2 is completely free, and imagine the amount of work that goes into combining two games and all the content. But we can give back to fans and we want to.
So let's clarify the general sentiment that you probably heard before when it comes to preorders and DLC (and you mentioned the Chaos DLC that wasn't received). I think that over the past five years or so, a lot of gamers have preordered the games that they look forward to just to get really disappointed on release day. And I know that Creative Assembly has had some trouble with releases in the past. There's a bunch of glitches, there's people dying on the stairs and when this becomes commonplace in the industry, people feel like they don't have the confidence to preorder games anymore because they know that half of them are going to be the broken or subpar or they're going to be patched on day one.
Then, couple that with day one DLC. Then you get the feeling that's it a gamble, almost. "Should I put in money for a pre-order and save money for the DLC? But what if the game is unplayable on release?" And it comes across as a cheap way of selling. People who are generally interested in games are prepared to pay for good content. It's just that they have to feel that sense of security and trust. They need to know what they're getting, that's really important.
And a big part of the whole project was, from the beginning, to make a fundamental project pillar to actually guarantee that we release solid and stable games that we don't have to patch. You might have followed that whole Rome 2 thing. That hurt. It hurts us as developers but also as a company. Because we want to release high-quality content on day one because that's what we live for, that's what we're passionate about, and obviously for Warhammer 1 it was not only the case of just realizing the Warhammer IP. It was also to reestablish with our fans that we are committed to releasing quality on day one, and it was very relieving that it was accepted as such that it was a solid game on release. Having said that, even beyond with our DLC, we're still evolving our game and putting new content in, so it's not a fire and forget kind of thing. The trilogy means we can keep that up.
I think a lot of people are forgiving and they like to be addressed. You mention Rome 2 for example. Just coming out and acknowledging that you hear the concerns and you're going to work on it—that builds confidence.
It's important to note that there might be times where we see a thread that's raising a complaint about something and people wonder, "Do they even care?" We do. We have a community of eight people that report back every week. We may not all post but we are always aware of what's going on. That doesn't mean we do what the people in that forum think is the best solution, but we do listen. We always ask people internally what they think. We ask the forums what they think and we also look at metrics. It all feeds into the decision-making process, and it's important that we don't lose track of the fact that we make games for other people to enjoy, not just ourselves. Luckily, a lot of us are fans, so we're kind of one of you guys as well and we're playing the game at home, and when we see something, we're thinking ,"this is something I have to change."
I wanted to jump back to something you said earlier about the Vortex. You have the Vortex that adds some more story in the campaign, but then you also have the combined campaign map. Is the Vortex going to play a role in the combined campaign?
No, the campaign will be an absolute sandbox. It will have all the other new features other than the Vortex. So you will get the armies, their individual mechanics, the characters, the treasure hunting, etc. And we will have a brush up on all the existing races from Warhammer 1 as well, but the Vortex is very much about the Warhammer 2 campaign. It should also be said that the combined campaign is not exactly A+B, it's a morphing of the two. It is bigger and it combines two land masses, but technically it's a separate map. So it doesn't have every little region, but overall it has way more regions than any other map. And like I said, apart from the Vortex, all the content is present in that combined campaign.
For new players, strategy games can be a bit difficult to jump into. Is that something you've looked at?
It's a big part of what we started with Warhammer 1 and we're doing it even more with Warhammer 2. We understand that there are a lot of people out there that are coming in new to the franchise through Warhammer because of the fancy content, so to speak. It's a difficult issue to tackle because ultimately the essence of Total War is, what the people like you will appreciate—and what most of our hardcore fans look forward to—is the breadth and the complexity—not complication because that's a bad thing, but complexity—of a Total War game is a big part of what makes it great to play, and it's what makes people like me who've played the series for 15 years still play it till two in the morning even though I should be fed up with it (and sleeping) because there's so much you can do. But to get people to that stage from not knowing anything is a really hard thing to do because we don't want to dumb down what it is that makes Total War awesome. So what we're doing in Warhammer 2 is trying to improve how we explain how you're engaging with the units and what they do. This also goes for the campaign map, explaining what your goals are and what the features mean. So that whole onboarding process is refined. So in the campaign, your first few battles will be a lot more introductional. And you'll go in there and they'll lay it all out for you. That is, if you choose the main lords with their own story. We tried doing something a bit more with Warhammer 1 where we instruct you but also leave you to sandbox as you choose which worked well with focus testing. But when people choose that prelude mode—just for the first bit—we need to be a bit more hand-holdy, exactly because we realize now just how difficult it is for people who haven't played these games before. I mean, for someone who's played Total War before—even though Warhammer is a very unique Total War game in the series—you know the basics and you know what to expect out of the fundamental gameplay.
So would you say that for someone who's played perhaps historical Total War games and looked at Warhammer 1 and said, "Hey, it looks cool but it looks a bit crazy and maybe not my thing"... is the sequel gonna be the game to jump into?
Yes. That's what we're aiming for, and that's something we identified within the project. Like I said, we did focus group testing and you'll certainly see a lot of changes from Warhammer 1, and that's our attempt to do that. No one's ever going to pretend that that's gonna be perfect, because it's very hard in a game like Total War because you jump into the campaign map and there's a lot of concepts to talk about. But we put a lot of effort into it and we're aware that it's something we're gonna have to keep refining. So yes, I'd say—definitely—Warhammer 2 is the best one to jump into and is more user friendly and newbie-friendly than any total war game we've ever made. But at the same time we will always continue to evolve that side of it. We appreciate that it's a deep game and there's a lot of meaty goodness in there but there's a steep learning curve and we'll keep reducing that as we go along.
Well, thanks a lot for your time and we hope to see you again at Gamescom this August.
Yep, we'll be there.
And I heard that you might be announcing some cool stuff around that time…
Ooh… we might be… Haha, well I can't say anything. I've had a lot of people trying to drag information out of me but you've been closer than anyone to getting it, I think.
*laughs* I'll take that as a compliment. And thank you once again.
And thank you for reading our interviews! We'll do our best to get a follow-up interview with Creative Assembly in August. If you have any questions you'd like to see asked by then, be sure to leave a comment below.
Total War: Warhammer II will release on September 28, this year.