Sneak Peak: Creative Assembly Go Crazy with The Laboratory DLC12 Dec 2017 1
There’s one thing I constantly think about when I play Total War. As a fan of the franchise since Rome I and a doctored archaeologist, I truly love historical titles, but I can’t help to deeply desire a Total War: Lord of the Rings game. Everytime I see those thousands of troops clashing against each other, my mind’s eye invariably goes to Peter Jackson’s gorgeous adaptation of JRR Tolkien’s masterpiece and I get a little bit sad at the humanity for not making it happen.
Last week, I attended a SEGA Total War: Warhammer II event in North London, where they unveiled The Laboratory, Warhammer II’s latest free DLC. Made in conjunction with Intel, the newest DLC is an additional mode similar to skirmish battles, but that allows you to modify and experiment with the parameters, hence the name.
Accessed off the main menu, The Laboratory works exactly like Skirmish mode down to the map and unit selection panels, but it adds a new shiny green button full of modifiers. Those sliders allow players to change virtually every parameter from a battle, from unit size and quantity to impact force and gravity, giving players a bonafide experimental playground that is bound to crash their hardware as it gives them a good time.
During my hands-on, I naturally pitted an army of High Elves against Malekith’s dishonourable Dark Elves in a battle where every single slider was set to maximum. Dragons were several times bigger than usual, each unit had 10 times more soldiers, and gravity was reduced to 10%. Fielding nearly 40 units, the battlefield looked straight out of LotR’s prologue, like a grassy and washed-out version of the War of the Last Alliance. It was beautiful.
The horns sounded and deployment was finished, pitting gigantic army against gigantic army. Over 30,000 troops were in the field at the same time, rushing towards each other. Further back, the Sea Guard peltered the corrupted elven combatants with projectiles, the force of their missiles throwing individual soldiers to the ground before bouncing them off into the air. The melee troops converged and crashed into each other with a bang, several soldiers in the frontlines floating off into the air like ice particles in space.
At this point, my huge dragon finally flew over the enemy army and descended upon them with a decidedly non-impressive attack. Turns out increasing stats makes everyone deal more damage but also take longer to die, meaning my gigantic flying lizard was stuck and definitely not flying.
In order to free my majestic creature, I decided to send a Lord over and started scouring the battlefield to find it. In the distance, I caught a glimpse of black specks falling from the sky ceaselessly, like single grains inside an hourglass continuously dripping on one corner of the map. Zooming in, those specks quickly coalesced into dark armoured humanoid shapes steadily falling from the sky at the rate of one per second. They were the enemy soldiers described previously, engaged into battle on the other side of the map and flying off into distance with each death. As they spiralled up into the air, the combatants continuously hit map boundaries like airplanes on an approach pattern, until they all, somehow, landed up on this exact same spot with the exact same angle.
To be honest, at this point I completely forgot about the dragon. I started to track the battle overhead, Creative Assembly’s supercomputer struggling under the pressure of rendering tens of thousands of individuals at the same time. That’s when I identified the enemy had commited his forces into a full frontal assault, engaging my Phoenix Guards head on and being speared right in the noggin. This was the opportunity I was waiting for: A perfect flank.
Out of the east horizon of the map, my cavalry entered a lope. Five thousand horses and their riders galloped downwards, straight towards the flanks of the unaware Dark Elves. Their spears lowered, the horses picked up speed, till the weapons connected to the back ranks of the attacking infantry -- and continued right through them. With a thunderous crash, 5000 horsemen rode into the Dark Elven flank, impact force amplified by the Laboratory settings. As hundreds of enemy units died and floated into the air, more still lay stuck on the ground, trampled beneath the furious hooves of my galloping horses. Theoden rides forth.
That’s the whole purpose of The Laboratory: provide players with a creative outlet with which to push both their ideas and hardware to the limit. The Laboratory showcases what Total War might be capable of in a few years, and that gets me very excited -- in my book, the more troops and impact the better. Now if only they made a Lord of the Rings game...
ED: No sliders were harmed in the making of this article, although they were all turned up to 11.