Interpreting Established Lore Into Game Design: Warhammer Beastmen
The Minobus is coming, and everybody's running
One of the most significant challenges a developer faces when designing a game with an established universe is simultaneously remaining faithful to the lore while making the game experience fun for the player. In Total War: Warhammer II, Creative Assembly has managed that balancing act. It took the studio a while to get it right, but it’s struck that delicate balance with the Beastmen in the game’s latest update.
Previously, the Beastmen adhered to most of the mechanics that the other races used — in particular, the basic fact that it cost money to put armies into the field. For a horde-centric faction like the Beastmen, this could cause significant issues: most of your roster are chaff units that flee when a stiff breeze blows their way; and money is for “civilised” people, which has no place in the bacchanalian existence of the Beastmen.
With that in mind, when Creative Assembly released The Silence and the Fury, which revamped the Beastmen and added my best boy Taurox the Brass Bull, I was excited. Okay, more than excited. The Beastmen finally felt good — and most importantly, true to their lore and flavour.
Getting the feel of something unique is immensely difficult, especially when nothing else in the game works quite the same way. One of the critical things the DLC did was rework how Beastmen campaign across the world.
It was particularly unsatisfying when you had rampaged across part of the Empire and burned the major cities as you went, only to have another faction swoop in and rebuild. I tore down the walls of Altdorf, so what do you mean Todbringer came down from his winter wonderland and resettled it while the Ungors were swarming?
With the new mechanic Blood Grounds, it finally feels like your hordes flowing across the civilised world have meaning, like you really are an unstoppable force of nature. Once an area is desolated, no one can rebuild until they tear down your idols to the Dark Gods, and that just feels true to the idea of the Beastmen as established in Warhammer Fantasy background. Walking that delicate line between making the feeling of playing Beastmen match the way they’re depicted, while not upsetting the balance of the game as a whole, is no mean feat.
Another huge change that Creative Assembly made to bring the Beastmen closer to their lore is that hordes are now raised differently. You have a pool of basic troops and you can always reinforce from them, as long as you are in a replenishment stance. They aren’t good troops, but in a way, that’s the beauty of this rework: you take a bunch of chaff and overwhelm with sheer numbers until you can focus the horde’s direction into better unit options.
That last sentence alone might be the quintessential description of the Beastmen, and the fact that Creative Assembly nailed the flavour so well is a testament to their ability to both pull from established lore and make the gameplay work. It would have been easy to make the mistake of going too far in one direction, such as having the game overrun by hordes of cheap chaff in the first turn.
This is not to say that Creative Assembly ignored the Beastmen’s better troops, either. Far from it, in fact; they actually received a wonderful tweak so that now, you unlock the better troops by creating destruction, whether it be by siege, victory in ambushes or quest completion. This allows you to tailor your army to what you desire thematically.
Lords and heroes also reward maintaining a theme. Minotaur Lords grant bonus abilities to minotaur units, and thus reward leaning into the angry Minobus build where you have maybe 300 troops routing forces of thousands as they crush the enemy into paste and drink the resulting blood gruel. Beast Lords favour more of the swarm of Gors, overwhelming your enemy by pinning them in place and launching ambushes from the flanks or rear to break their will. You can, of course, mix and match these two styles of army composition, but I love that the design rewards you for following the lore-centric thematic approach.
This whole expansion comes together as a glorious rework, melding existing mechanics with a respect of the established lore that is rather rare in adaptations.
You frequently find that one aspect is forced to take a back seat, and the fact that Beastmen were the last DLC for Total War: Warhammer II might prove that Creative Assembly didn’t know quite what to do with them. However, for a world as large as Warhammer Fantasy, it would have been easy for the developers to simply ignore the Beastmen entirely, to have them be a non-playable faction with basic mechanics meant only to mildly inconvenience the player. Creative Assembly instead buckled down and built a faction from the ground up that is now a delight to play. It’s one of the few campaigns I played on Legendary and thought to myself “man, I’m going to actually ride this one out.”
Speaking of that campaign, I’d like to regale you with the tale of a lone Brass Bull, who rampaged his way across the universe in a glorious crusade to bring the blood-grounds to all civilisation.
He went through the Dark Elves and humbled Malekith, before turning to Lustria and destroying the entirety of Mazdamundi’s empire, and shores beyond. This glorious blood bath continued by seizing the Sword of Khaine and rampaging through the ancestral lands of Ulthuan, destroying all the puny Elf folk who dared challenge his might. Finally, battling the King of Bretonnia and the Emperor Karl Franz, he brought the age of men to a close. All in all, the campaign lasted about 30 hours and it was an exhilarating ride as I took the brand new Beastmen out for a spin.
Personally, although I think the team at Creative Assembly has nailed most of the factions with regards to lore and game mechanics, the Beastmen were perhaps the hardest to get right and it’s impressive and gratifying that they managed to do it so well. I’m super excited to see what Creative Assembly does as it branches out into Total War: Warhammer III and bring to life some factions that never really received much love in the tabletop setting.
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