It’s not an overstatement to say that Immortal Empires is the most ambitious release in the entire Total War saga. A free expansion for Total War: Warhammer 3, it glues together the fantasy trilogy into a single world-spanning map, encompassing every faction, Lord and continent of all three Warhammer games. It’s a massive, seamless sandbox that takes the grand-strategy series to a dizzying new scale, and sets the template for things to come.
“It’s gone down very, very well,” says director Ian Roxburgh, who adds that while future games “may not exist in the exact same format […] the concept of having a game world that we can build on over a period of time” was something the developer would draw on for future titles.
Immortal Empires has spent nearly a decade in development; while its seeds were planted with the first game of the Total War: Warhammer trilogy, they only germinated after the launch of its sequels, each one of which added new armies, tweaked mechanics, and introduced bigger campaign maps, before they were combined into the entire Warhammer Fantasy world. Immortal Empires was always the end goal, but splitting it across several releases allowed developer Creative Assembly to build toward it gradually, one skink and squig at a time.
“The gameplay was being fine-tuned, as well as brand-new things being added in each successive game because we had a baseline,” Roxburgh tells us. “I think that's a principle that has worked very well, and what we will continue to do, albeit in maybe a slightly different shape and form.”
Not that the shape of Total War hasn’t already changed. The series has always been known for its open-ended gameplay, and while Roxburgh says its sandbox feel is “sacrosanct and always will be,” Creative Assembly has made a big point of experimenting with linear campaigns in recent Total War releases. Warhammer 2’s Eye of the Vortex campaign was a choreographed scenario played out on a grand map, while Warhammer 3 put greater emphasis on storytelling by spinning an epic narrative that paced and punctuated your global conquest.
“We've taken strides over the Warhammer trilogy to do that, but I think one of the reasons we were quite so happy to go that far with Warhammer 3 is because we knew Immortal Empires was just around the corner and that would be the ultimate sandbox,” Roxburgh says. “Maybe we wouldn't have gone quite so far if that wasn't the case.”
Instead, Roxburgh expects that future Total War releases will lean further into emergent storytelling to “bring out the storyline in turn-by-turn gameplay”. By following the rise and fall of characters and factions across the ever-shifting campaign map, players can discover their own narratives, and find stories that only exist in their version of the game. Linear campaigns may feature, but don’t expect them to replace the organic storytelling the series is known for.
“What we want to keep doing, as well as providing a top-level overarching narrative, is help to bring that natural narrative out, and tell it back to players so that they no longer almost have to take notes on what's happening – it’s just part of the game – and they can do all that story-developing naturally in a sandbox environment,” Roxburgh says.
War never changes
Besides flirting with different forms of storytelling, the Warhammer trilogy also introduced big changes to player factions. Its fantasy armies not only look wildly different from each other, but play very differently across the RTS battles and turn-based campaigns. Hit-and-run tactics are perfect for Slaanesh’s speedy and squishy spawn, but do no favors for Khorne’s slow, armored infantry. Likewise, the cyclical recruitment options of Nurgle are far removed from the static pool of soldiers Kislev can draw from. It all adds up to a strategic asymmetry that past, historical Total War games have struggled to match.
“It's harder in a historical context to do that because although different nations throughout history did have different setups with their armies, there isn't as much obvious differentiation between them all,” Roxburgh explains. “But the principle behind finding a unique slant on each of [Warhammer’s] races is something that has been embraced across the whole Total War team as being a massive part of what we do in creating Total War games.
“You can create diversity and asymmetry in ways that aren't just completely changing the nature of the warfare and not being authentic to it in those periods of time. You might have to be a bit more creative in the way you do that, but the principle has now been established, so I’m pretty sure that’s something that’s going to stay across our history games as well.”
When those new games will appear, though, isn’t certain. More Immortal Empires content is already in the pipeline, including new races and more varied endgame scenarios. Roxburgh reckons the team is coming up to the “80- to 90-meter mark” in the race to completion, and director of DLC Richard Aldridge hints that the final stretch might contain a few surprises.
“I think it's fair to say there are still plenty more stones to turn over, and areas to go and explore,” he says. “We've definitely done more things than, when I first set out on this, I thought we would do, so I daresay that more opportunities may arise in the future, as things that weren’t possible become possible.”
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Callum is TechRadar Gaming’s News Writer. You’ll find him whipping up stories about all the latest happenings in the gaming world, as well as penning the odd feature and review. Before coming to TechRadar, he wrote freelance for various sites, including Clash, The Telegraph, and Gamesindustry.biz, and worked as a Staff Writer at Wargamer. Strategy games and RPGs are his bread and butter, but he’ll eat anything that spins a captivating narrative. He also loves tabletop games, and will happily chew your ear off about TTRPGs and board games.