The surprisingly simple logic of Total War: Warhammer

The tunnels of Thundering Falls are slick with Greenskin blood as High King Thorgim Grudgebearer - a grizzled old bastard leading an army of grizzled old bastards - commands his fellow Dwarves to victory atop the Throne of Power. Thunder and fire spew from ancient war machines as the Dwarven armies prepare to hold the line against the Green Tide.

Total War: Warhammer is developer Creative Assembly's first foray into the realm of high fantasy. The Total War series has long followed the exploits of Roman generals, Japanese warlords, and other historical figures, but Warhammer casts the petty limitations of "historical accuracy" to the wind with its armies of magical beasts and clockwork machinery. Recently, I had the chance to play a few battles with the Dwarven army and see firsthand how Creative Assembly is adapting their historical war sim to a non-historical setting.

The Dwarven army is all about defense. They boast some of the most advanced artillery and ranged units in the game, and their playstyle is centered around holding the line while laying down heavy blanket fire on advancing enemies. Should those enemies reach the front lines, they'll be face to face with some of the heaviest, toughest armored melee units in the game. This is the ideal scenario for the Dwarves, who move slower than other armies and lack any cavalry units. These deficits make it difficult to respond if the Dwarves are being outflanked or otherwise outmaneuvered. A Dwarven battle line is tough, but if broken they'll have a hard time recovering.

This almost happened to me when two packs of Greenskin Trolls rolled up on my army's backside and started wreaking havoc. The battleground - Thundering Falls - is narrow underground tunnel wholly unlike the wide open spaces of past Total War games. Its cramped layout is the perfect complement for the Dwarves play style - the high cave walls protecting my left and right flanks. But the Greenskins still manage to sandwich me between a Troll and a hard place.

Underground passages such as this are meant to be risky business for all who enter because of how they function on the game's campaign map. As lead programmer Scott Pitkethly described it, these passages are essentially underground shortcuts that can be used to bypass mountains and other obstacles quickly. However, only the Dwarves and Greenskin races can utilize these tunnels and there's always a chance they could be ambushed while doing so. Of course, Pitkethly was quick to note all this is still in development, and could easily change before the final game is released.

As I shuffled my units around to intercept this twin-sided assault, one thing that stuck out to me about both armies was how easy they are to read at a glance. Most of my Total War experience comes from playing Shogun and Shogun 2 and, at least in the beginning, it can be difficult in those games to tell a unit's specific strengths and weakness based solely on appearance. Everyone is just a dude with a pointy stick.

Surprisingly, the high fantasy style of Warhammer helps alleviate this problem. Despite this being my first time playing against the Greenskins (and the game in general) I was quickly able to identify the roles of each enemy unit. The thin, angular spiders: fast cavalry. The hulking Trolls tearing up my backside: heavy troops. The tiny, bow-wielding goblins: light artillery. Instead of being 50 shades of man with sword, the extreme visual styles of both armies make them easy to size up during battle.

Instead of being 50 shades of man with sword, the extreme visual styles of both armies make them easy to size up during battle.

"We've managed to inject a lot of personality into the Warhammer world," Pitkethly said. "Having recreated the feel of the tabletop game, we're now focusing on bringing that old world feel described by Games Workshop to life. Whether it's the Greenskin badlands or the Dwarven underways we're able to show more of the world than what you get from just the miniatures alone, and when we talk more about the game's campaign you're going to see that."

More details on the campaign could come out of EGX 2015 later this month in the UK, where Total War: Warhammer will be making an appearance. Of course, you'll be able to experience the whole thing for yourself when the game is released on Mac and PC later next year.