Total War: Warhammer – Well, That Was Cathartic

Today’s Memorial Day for the States, and a considerable number of US streamers are apparently awake in the morning for marathon game sessions.

This made Twitch.TV a lot livelier and more interesting than it usually would be at my peak night time play hours.

Two hours ago, I managed to idly flip channels to see that CohhCarnage had -just- started up a Greenskin campaign… and looked totally new and unused to the whims and quirks of general Orciness.

As in, wasn’t paying attention to Obedience rating in settlements, was leaving his armies in settlements while Fightiness took a nose dive, hiring inaccurate Orc archer boyz, and so on.

Heh, dis wuz goin’ ta be gud.

Like probably a good half or more of stream watchers everywhere, who only stick around when there’s a chance to see a rage quit or some kind of conflict or drama, I decided to settle in and watch the impending train wreck.

Mind you, I also had the motivation of the other half of stream watchers everywhere, which is to learn useful tips from watching someone else play.

CohhCarnage has a lot better grasp of basic Total War battle controls than I do, for one.

So I was enjoying seeing how he grouped his units, and spread them out in formations, and managed to make them walk in straight orderly lines (completely opposite to what -I- can usually produce) and was filing away in my head “things to try out the next time I play.”

Watching him also gave me an idea of what distances archers might be able to shoot arcs over the heads of infantry at (I’d thought they were kinda useless once behind infantry, because all my prior attempts yielded Obstructed errors.)

And his opening maneuvers with micro’ed cavalry looked very useful for distracting and disrupting enemy lines, not to mention put them in perfect position for rear and flanking charges once the proper battle started.

Seeing how much income was actually possible with an orderly takeover of a single province, while maintaining a single army stack, was also fairly encouraging for my next go at starting a campaign. (As opposed to my limping mostly negative income economy for my first campaign.)

Of course, the train wreck was just a matter of time, because he was demonstrating very little racial-specific knowledge: eg. that Orc leadership values / morale absolutely suck and that Dwarf range was far superior and their melee ain’t half bad cos their morale is like a frickin’ unshakeable mountain.

Orcs have a couple advantages over Dwarves – speed, cavalry (which ties in with speed and mobility) and numbers (which in theory, means lots of movement and flanking/rear attacks are needed.)

Granted, I’m not sure I could do any better when push comes to actual shove, at the moment.

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Which was why watching this play out was so frickin’ cathartic.

It was like, good, I’m not the ONLY person in the whole wide world getting owned by insufficient understanding of Total War nuances.

Especially while struggling with the vagaries that is the Orc and their piss poor morale.

This tunnel interception was the last straw for CohhCarnage. It turned into a full fledged rout, that was a total army wipe since it was in a tunnel.

Then he decided to quit this campaign and go back to the Dwarves he was used to.

Took two hours.

Highly entertaining hours.

It does make me want to start another Greenskin campaign to see if I can play out the initial opening moves with a little more grace than my first attempt though.

Maybe if I actually survive to turn 100 again, I’ll be slightly better at tactical combat and Total War battle controls by that time, and finally ready to fight Chaos.

Total War: Warhammer – We Interrupt This Campaign…

…to practice a very important skill. Attempting to not suck.

Before we get down proper into a discussion of how badly I’m playing this game, a quick digression.

This is particularly important in the wake of the impending slightly late but always welcome Newbie Blogger’s Initiative that is being organized / celebrated in June this year.

Y’see, I’ve seen posts popping around the blogosphere along the lines of “oh, I’m just a beginner, or a newbie, or an ultra-casual that just happens to accidentally play a game or like a geeky hobby for a couple hours every week, not some fantastic nerd/geek/pro/expert/e-Sports celebrity… therefore, I am totally not qualified to comment, talk about, write about and certainly NOT blog about X. Or Y.”

In between being intimidated that some self-declared expert will jump down their throats for not doing something “correctly” or in a sufficiently hardcore manner, and feeling like they have nothing “worthwhile” to contribute, blog posts fail to get written and a valuable voice drifts off into silence.

Bah, I say.

Bah, to that.

I will happily WALLOW in my noobness and talk about it.

Some people will find it fascinating, seeing something they’re familiar with from a beginner’s perspective.

Some people will enjoy helping and teaching the beginner, offering helpful comments that will speed the learning along. (eg. Portable Tank in Minecraft’s Thermal Expansion mod – had no idea that you could save the liquid inside it with a crescent hammer. Well, now I know.)

Still other people will appreciate learning along with the post, cos they’re beginners too. And they’ve been searching high and low for a post that hasn’t been written in jargon-filled gobbledygook that they can actually understand.

All these people will like the newbie’s perspective post.

(As for everyone else, well, they won’t make it to the end anyway, so they’ll self-select themselves right out and you’ll never hear from them.

In the extremely unlikely event that they are -that- dedicated to actually put in the effort to make a nasty comment, well, the blog owner is the absolute authority as to what shows up, and clicking the trash can icon is a lot less effort than typing words.

Trust me, you’d probably be happy that someone took the trouble to read what you wrote and felt sufficiently moved -positively or negatively- to respond.)

Ultimately, the more voices, the better the conversation.

Ok, so that’s my “being a newbie is totally okay / come join us” spiel done.

Now I can share why my first Total War: Warhammer Greenskin campaign feels like it’s about ready to grind itself to a halt.

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This was the state of the political situation some tens of turns back.

Having gotten into some trouble rather quickly on an initial aborted campaign (internecine civil war between orcs, and a whole bunch of dwarves trooping down to swallow my one or two settlements,) I’d paid significantly more attention to managing faction relationships in this official “first” campaign.

Karak Azul was an odd case of a dwarf faction who appeared to feel threatened by way too many orcs around, and arranged a non-aggression pact really early on in the game (like a couple of turns in.)

Since I was way too busy warring elsewhere, I said “sure!” and both sides respected the peace ever since – the NPC dwarf faction had a “reliable” trait, and I guess I’m an honorable kind of orc.

Fortunately or unfortunately since, they’ve been eaten up by the Top Knotz.

Man, the Top Knotz. They’re a Savage Orc faction. They are -extremely- aggressive. And have a trait to match.

They are also, oddly enough, given the traits of Underdog (meaning they don’t seek to be ultimate ruler and would like to confederate up with a stronger party) and Unreliable (presumably meaning they’re not that great at honoring agreements.)

We agreed to non-aggress each other really early on too.

Somehow, this developed into rather friendly relations, presumably because they approved of my going gung-ho on the initial Greenskin rival of Red Fangs and then going after nearly every dwarven stuntie north of me.

In the meantime, they were busily swallowing up every other Greenskin faction there was and taking over pretty much all of the Badlands territory. They were pretty durned scary and intimidating in overall faction strength, staying at ranks 1-3 for quite a long time.

The good news was, they weren’t attacking me. They liked me. And I wasn’t about to do anything to change their opinion of me any time soon…

…so somehow, over time, we went from non-aggression, to a defensive alliance, and to a military alliance.

This is all very well, but I’m a little grumpy now, because I apparently can’t confederate them the same way I can all other Greenskin tribes. AND they actually need to be wiped out, to fulfill my victory conditions, short or long.

And, narrative-wise and strategically, it doesn’t make any sense to attack them. We’re both orcs. We’re really friendly with each other, just slightly different culturally. (They like being nekkid. We like lots o’ spiky armor.)

We present a really strong united orcy front that has been giving the humans and dwarves no end of trouble.

They’re also a fantastic buffer for angry humans crossing the river in reprisal for orc raids, whereupon the humans are utterly demolished and presumably eaten by a thousand screaming naked green orcs.

Up on the north side of things, the one remaining non-me Greenskin tribe were the Bloody Spearz.

In a similar fashion of non-aggression developing into long-term super-friendly relations, I’d cultivated them as my northern buffer zone to protect against angry dwarf incursions (plus I knew that Chaos would eventually come in from that direction too.)

I’d consolidated a small and not-terribly sufficient couple of territories, and was venturing westward into human lands to raid and juust but not quite barely make up for the lack of infrastructure.

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Most unfortunately, these scary bastards finally arrived around turn 100 or so.

As expected, they ran around doing horrible things to much of Empire territory, ventured a little into Vampire Count-controlled Sylvania, then started ganking both dwarves and Bloody Spearz alike opportunistically, while the dwarves and Bloody Spearz and me were still kinda busy up there ourselves trading dwarven holdfasts between each other.

One Norse tribe (allied with Chaos) also pushed in from the southwest, taking over two of the Top Knotz settlements.

In a slight panic, I tried to rush my Waarghs down south to help them out (we’re military allies, after all), fearing an unfettered Chaos horde rampaging around the Badlands and then coming up to smash my soft, unprotected southern region.

I discovered a couple of things.

One, that goddamn map is huge when you’re trying to move from north to south in a hurry (and I wasn’t even that far north, only around Peak Pass or so).

Two, orcs that aren’t fighting get kinda unhappy. Especially when you tell them they’re not allowed to go raiding because a) they’re in home territory and b) they’re in allied territory.

Three, you don’t get enough money coming in when unhappy orcs are not raidin’ and fightin’ and sackin’ and pillagin’.

5-7 turns later, I was barely hanging on, with a few hundred gold in my treasury and about to go bankrupt next turn; my two orc armies were in danger of losing their attendant extra Waargh army from lack of fightiness rating; the dwarves that I’d abandoned killing to try and respond to a Norse incursion were taking back their territory (reducing my meagre income even further)…

… and to add salt to the wound, the Top Knotz -wiped out- the Norse tribe by themselves before I had even reached the settlement in question.

As in, wiped out. Really. The faction notice came up. I-forget-what-it-was-called Norse faction is no more.

I was like, “Really? Me orcs don’t have anything to fight now?! They’re about to go into rebellion if I don’t get more gold, stat!”

In a desperate maneuver to stave off next turn bankruptcy, I pulled up the Diplomacy screen and sought out the Bloody Spearz.

I asked them to confederate.

They agreed.

They were a weaker faction than me, and they handed me some really chewed on settlements up north, in imminent danger of getting swallowed by dwarves or razed by Chaos.

Fortunately, that sudden expansion of territory to extort money from shifted me up from negative income into positive income.

To solve the crumbling fightiness, I took my two Orc armies across the river into long-suffering Border Prince territory, where we leapfrog raided and looted our way back up north to deliver the final solution to those damnable dwarves once and for all.

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But now, the world map looks like this.

Chaos is Ascendant.

It is way WAY Ascendant.

That crazy bird has been destroying all of the Empire and leaving a swathe of utterly useless razed settlements behind it.

See, the problem is that -I- need to raze or sack quite a number of different settlements for MY win condition.

If Chaos gets there first, I can’t do anything with it.

Also, my win condition necessitates getting rid of the Top Knotz and I just can’t do it.

Seriously, it doesn’t make sense. Chaos is fucking up everything north of me, and I turn south and try and eat up my fellow orcs? Isn’t that what Chaos -wants-?

South is out.

So I’ve got to go north and maybe west into human and dwarf and maybe even vampire territory (except that me and the vampires have been having a mutually happy ignoring-each-other non-agreement since the beginning of time, and I’m kinda scared of changing that state of affairs. I don’t know what a vampire army fights like, for one.)

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Except that Chaos is also messing around that very area, and I gotta admit it – I, the player, not the funsie orc that I’m pretending to be, am seriously outmatched and intimidated by a high tech level Chaos full army stack of 20 units. (And there’s two or three of them up there.)

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I mean, look, this was a teeny tiny raiding party on a not very garrisoned settlement of mine (accidentally obtained via Bloody Spearz confederation and promptly lost.)

I can’t auto-resolve my way out of this.

Chaos doesn’t bother leaving the settlement there for take-backsies. They just burn the fucker to the ground and leave it in ruins.

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My one not-absolute-colossal-defeat was this rather insane battle wherein my garrison stood no chance, but it was furiously snowing and I ran into some forests.

Then I ran out again, and miracle of miracles, the AI did not follow but remained glitched in place. Presumably lousy pathfinding or something.

I dunno. My story, and I’m sticking to it, is that my brave garrison of outmatched orcs lost them in the forests, wherein Chaos spent the next hour searching for but failing to kill them in the poor visibility of the snowstorm.

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Turns out, that if you go AFK and fast forward through the default “one hour” timer, your hopelessly outclassed army qualifies for a draw.

Sadly, the Chaos bastards attacked me again the very next round, and I lost the will to live and accepted the auto-resolve. My settlement and my brave orcs proceeded on into a state of nonexistence.

These were just raiding parties.

Archaeon the fucking Ever-Chosen and some goddamn Tzeentch-bird-sorcerer-thing is tromping around up there.

I completely do not know how to deal with it right now.

I understand about 25% of the battle controls at the moment, for crying out loud.

So that’s where I am. Easy difficulty campaign stalemated by an unfamiliar control scheme.

Luckily, I have discovered something equally fun and manageable that can be played in almost Overwatch-sized snippets of time.

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Total War: Warhammer allows you to set up your own custom battles, be it with or against real people or computer-controlled opponents.

You can set a custom amount of funds, and then pick your own units from an army roster, almost like building a Warhammer miniatures army from an agreed on number of points, and then select the computer faction and auto-generate units or custom build your own resistance.

This has been -perfect- for practicing my very poor grasp of Total War battle controls and exceedingly limited understanding of Total War tactics.

Reading tons of Reddit threads led me to two semi-helpful sites:

The latter especially provided a bit more of an understanding as to what precisely one should be aiming for in combat:

ie. solid infantry lines, support by skirmishers, micro’ing cavalry charges into the flanks and rear of the enemy.

Also, the realization that Total War does -not- handhold you and provide you with any semblance of noob-friendly unit deployment in the initial phase of battle.

No, you are expected to prearrange every single unit to your liking and set their formations with some manner of tactical sense and then lock it in said formation.

Aka OMG, I’ve been deploying my multitude of orcs and goblins all wrong, in really poor formations.

I still can’t say that I’ve gotten it -right-, but I’ve been stretching them out a bit more and making some nicer looking 3, 4, 5-deep stacked rectangles of greenskin power and they seem to be performing better than previously.

I can even begin to see that my vast orcish number means my longer infantry lines can actually wrap around and flank smaller-sized enemy units.

That is, if I can actually CONTROL them appropriately.

I’m still working my way through the first screenshot guide… and I also realized in retrospect that these little nitty gritty nuanced controls are mentioned – in a really offhand fashion – in-game, under the battle controls sections, in little text sentences under an “Advanced” tab category.

It is totally not muscle memory at this point in time.

I have to remember and refer back every so often to realize that ok, “if I want to move my unit in formation but just tweak it positionally a little, hold down ALT, then LEFT-click and then drag the yellow formation that appears to where you want it.”

“If I want to -rotate- my unit, I have to do the same but hold down CTRL, and then LEFT-click and drag to rotate said unit.”

“If I want to both change position and rotate said unit, then it’s CTRL+ALT together and LEFT-click drag” and my fingers tangle up and get confused.

To add a little insult to injury, accidentally right clicking issues some kind of move order, that may or may not ignore formations, depending on if you locked the formations beforehand.

Holding SHIFT meanwhile queues up your orders, which is eminently possible to also accidentally mash on while juggling CTRL+ALT and dragging.

Oh and CTRL+right click (not left) tells the units to walk or something.

Double-right clicking makes them run/charge.

Confused, yet? I still am.

So I’m basically putting my money where my mouth is.

In my beginner’s guide to GW2 movement and combat, I exhorted newbies to MMO controls to be patient with themselves, to break it down into small parts, and practice bits at a time, until it all becomes muscle memory.

I’m doing the same thing with myself in Total War.

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The really nice thing about custom battles is that I do -not- have to deal with a full sized army stack of 20 units.

I experimented with army costs and figured out that 4000 gold gives me a nice range of two melee Orc units, two cheap expendable goblin spearmen (long pointy things like pikes and spears are good at staving off cavalry, apparently), one set of nastily effective night goblin skirmishers, one unit of speedy goblin wolf-mounted cavalry and one boss character to lead the gits around.

This lets me practice micro’ing a small but balanced army around the place, aided by the pause key and my new favorite speed – slow motion.

I begin to grasp really basic but previously poorly understood and not articulated knowledge (that veterans find so common-sensical that it’s not worth mentioning) of stuff like “cheap expendable units like goblins are quite important and have their place. I can spread them out a long way in thin lines to cover my more valuable infantry. They can be meat shields to absorb missile file, cavalry charges, whatever.

I suspect I’m going to be spending the bulk of my time in this part of the game for a while yet.

I might start another faction’s campaign once I feel a little more well-versed with the controls.

But as for fighting 20+ Chaos units with two stacks of 40+ Orc armies, with magic, artillery, monsters and all, eh, that’s going to have to wait for a really long day in the far future.

Random Newbie Tales from the Warhammer Old World

It’s 1.30am, and I just realized I haven’t done my GW2 dailies yet.

I work tomorrow.

I started playing Total War: Warhammer at 7.30pm.

 

Dang.

It’s got that addictive Civilization “one more turn” thing going.

I don’t actually know what I’m doing.

I wussed out and set it on easy difficulty, while I started the seldom attempted process these days of poring over game guides and tips online…. mostly at the moment trying to figure out the battle controls.

I’m sure it’s familiar for a Total War player.

For someone who keeps buying the various volumes of the franchise when it drops to 5 bucks and then never gets around to playing them, it’s a little less easy.

There’s something about the spectacle of fantasy warhammer battles that really makes me want to learn a fairly unfamiliar game genre/jargon/controls which all the previous historical battle sims couldn’t though.

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Even when you’re on the losing end of a lost battle, it’s still entertaining to try your damnedest.

The dwarves attacked my barely defended minor settlement early on in the game. I had some 3 goblin spearmen and 2 basic orc boyz, against solid ranks of crossbow-wielding dwarves and some axe and pickaxe infantry.

It was totally hopeless, with no Ork boss to keep order and inspire leadership, I knew the units would keep breaking under heavy fire.

Still, the goal was to try and take out at least one unit before dying horribly. So I issued the orders to run to high ground, to run to forests… preferably before the dwarves got their missile units in range.

One unit of melee dwarves gamely turned our way while the rest marched on, following some oblivious directive of admittedly-cheaty easy AI.

T’was then I realized that the dwarves really have kinda short legs, and Total War must somehow simulate that through speed stats or whatever.

Because we were able to swarm and nearly overwhelm that faster group of dwarves before the rest of the army ponderously turned and jogged toward us…

…whereupon I sadly had to try and give the order to break away. Four units successfully ran, but one got caught by the incoming crossbow fire.

That was the beginning of the end. Suffering heavy casualties, that unit broke and routed, shaking the morale of the others.

I got them into the forests for a last stand (I have no idea if the terrain does anything, but it looked cool) and the poor remnants of the garrison were slaughtered.

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Obviously, that slight cannot go unavenged.

(I’d probably make a good dwarf player too – I like turtling, being defensive, shooting things full of holes from a long distance away, having sturdy melee units, and boy, can I hold a grudge.

Also, the dwarves are freakin’ scary because they don’t seem to break and run at all. They fight to the very last dwarf, or something.)

I did eventually figure out the basics of Greenskin warfare, which appears to be produce a massive swarm of intimidating numbers, while raiding your arse off in order not to go broke and get stuck with one’s empire disintegrating from infighting around you.

Also, putting armies in close proximity with each other lets them reinforce and join the same battle. (Thanks, specific Total War trivia fact I had to learn.)

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No kill like overkill. 5000 orcs against 400 dwarves. My kind of fight.

The mildly sad thing is that I still don’t really trust myself with the battle controls, so I end up auto-resolving most of the battles that are way in my favor… so as not to actually screw it up by bad tactical commanding on the battlefield.

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My main battleforce is actually pretty buff now, after a whole bunch of combat.

A second faction of dwarves caught my group traveling through the tunnels (both dwarves and orcs can quick-travel using a special movement stance that ignores overland terrain, the downside is that armies can intercept each other and the losing team is wiped out completely.

These dwarves gambled… poorly.)

I guess they get xp and become veterans and such, and the lord and heroes are lavishly bedecked with all the loot I’ve ransacked from said battles. (And, of course, it’s on easy difficulty because first game, total war noob and all that.)

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This was a rare opportunity to actually fight.

Again, a garrison defence.

A group of rather angry Empire decided to visit my nearest settlement, cos my two armies complete with attendant waargh NPC armies was busy raiding and pillaging through their territory.

(Greenskins aren’t allowed to capture human cities, so it’s either sack them and leave them in the hands of the owner or raze ’em to the ground. Far be it for me to destroy my rice bowl. I need that gold. I’s farmin ‘umies.)

Fortunately, said settlement was a little further along the tech tree by this time, and had a respectable garrison to protect itself.

Not overwhelming, but fairly even odds (with easy difficulty skewing things further in my favor, this was a good chance to actually practice -some- attempt at tactical play.)

I tried a tactic I read off the interweb. Place missile units in front, turn on skirmish mode, let them soften up the incoming enemy and then retreat through the ranks of the melee units. Who then charge when the groups are in range.

Even nicer, I outnumbered them and had some cavalry, so of course, flanking / pincer maneuver was attempted and the extra units ordered to charge in from the sides.

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Freaking textbook victory.

The one thorn in my side was the Empire captain, who was tearing apart the orcs fighting him. Had to charge two or three units at him, and pepper him with arrows (for all I know, the friendly fire might have hurt me more) before he finally was unhorsed, and then broke and ran.

The other tip I read was to let the battle go on for a while to let your victorious army have a chance to cause more casualties to the losing party.

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Also, it was just hilarious to watch the imagined humiliation of this “hero” legging it, while a hundred some orcs jogged after him, hacking away at him.

He had ridiculously high hp or armor though. It was going down little by little, but barely. So out of curiosity as to whether we could actually kill him, I let the battle continue.

The orcs chased him through a wood…

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…providing this lovely screenshot.

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Sadly, he made it to the edge of the map and escaped by the skin of his teeth, with a -sliver- of hp left.

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It was such a satisfying battle summary screen though. Especially since -they- were the aggressor.

452 men enter.

26 walk out alive. (Ok, -ran- out.)

They did kill some orcs. Took ’em two men to take down one orc though.

And meh, there’s always plenty more orcs where they came from.

(Assuming the gold doesn’t run out. Gah, the gold. I think I spend half the game staring at the income bar on the top of the screen as a Greenskin, worrying about the lack of funds to pay the upkeep of the horde.)