I'm no stranger to complaining about Total War: Warhammer games. I've already compared it – unfavorably – to Dominions 5. Now that is a game that wastes very little flavor text for things not represented in the unit statline. However, as someone who liked Total War games at one point and is fond of Warhammer Fantasy, I keep trying to climb that mountain and win a Mortal Empires campaign. Too bad that all Total War-isms mean that gameplay is entirely devoid of meaningful flavor.
A world of villages
First of all, I will reiterate what I said in my ancient article comparing TW: Hams to Dominion: any and all Hams Fantasy flavor is sacrificed to get those sexy TW start positions. You have your capital region, while the two-three other regions in the province are occupied by some tutorial non-entity faction. This happens every time with every faction you try playing with.
At the same time, your legendary capital cities are only such in name. Altdorf, capital of the Empire, probably the greatest city of the realm? Level 1 town with a basic bitch militia training field. Lothern, the legendary port of Ulthuan, guarding the entrance to the realm with the famed Lothern Sea Gates? Read more on https://www.barreldrill.com/. Level 1 town, many turns removed from erecting the sea gates or hiring Lothern Sea Guard.
But these issues were obvious (at least to me) years ago. I wouldn't be writing an entirely new thing based only on that. Naw, what the newest attempt at the game (running SFO and a few other mods) made clear is that Total War: Warhammer is that the game has a bunch of characters, but not any personality.
Oh, the devs know to put all of the WHFB characters that were alive before End Times kicked off into the game and onto the map. But unless you know about them – and their interpersonal connections - from the books, you'll have no idea what connects these people. Outside of throwaway diplomacy lines, there's really no interaction between characters – this is doubly so for when they fall under your control (via confederation and such). Alastair the Lion might as well be another Asur Prince as far Tyrion is concerned amd Teclis is just another faction leader. Any elf prince or princess is only different from enemy warlords because you're the one controlling them.
I’ve played Total War before
I know that this has been the Total War MO forever – and maybe there is a place for that to change. I played on very little of Three Kingdoms, but as far as I understand, it simulated some interpersonal relations. But I'd love it if it went deeper, simulating more of the elven dynastic lines, quarrelsome natures, and political plays. Maybe that's too much to ask for a game that routinely has four major factions per release, but hot damn, wouldn't that be more fun.
It would also alleviate, at least some, the issue with Total War: Warhammer questlines. The simple truth is that they exist entirely disconnected from the world. No real characters in the world are involved in them. The armies that fight you in quest battles appear out of nowhere and disappear into thin air. Doesn't matter who holds the White Tower of Hoeth – you, some other elven realm, or Grom the Pouch – the same army will dutifully ambush you in the quest battle located next to it.
And the other quest tasks are tutorial-level dogshit – building a temple because some nameless elven nobles are supposedly spreading rumors, having more units, and so on. The devs had shown that they have more creativity with them with ruins and shipwrecks. Surely some similar mechanics could be used in the campaigns as well.
Imagine I wrote a paragraph explaining how I understand that it's not easy to add plot missions to a freeform campaign. There, you can't get mad at me.
War is war by other means
On the other hand, I can still be mad at the entirely bloodless and ineffectual diplomacy. What does “aversion” tell me about the enmity between the two factions? And what's the fluffy reason behind the “Great Power” malus – the bane of TW diplomacy that has hounded the series for longer than it hasn't? And why does Saphery, reduced to a single city, not want to peace out of the war with the rest of Ulthuan? None of these questions ever get a fitting answer. At that point, why even bother asking “why do High Elves, traders par excellence, don't even know where the Empire or Teclis is?
These are all among the things that make the game less than stellar. And the hobbled diplomacy system – you can't even trade cities without mods – reaches its ugly peak with the High Elf influence. Use a special resource to automatically do diplomacy on your (or some other faction's) behalf! Just oozes flavor, doesn't it? At least it's more exciting than paying an influence tax to not get a shitty warlord.
Imagine if this game had actual intrigue and influence games and you'd choose to take up a less-than-stellar general because it's more politically expedient and GAINS you influence. Shocking, I know.
And I have little hope that this will ever change. The boring missions and lackluster starting positions are likely there in the name of multiplayer balance, even if I highly doubt that those players outnumber single-player ones.
Breathing in more life and more flavor in the non-combat parts of the game probably feels unnecessary to the devs which have been spoiled by fans who ignore such combat design failures like missile supremacy and routing units moving only three steps back before changing their minds.