What Causes Total War: Warhammer 2

Total Warhammer 2’s different factions expose the central flaw of our human nature.

Written by Daniel Motley / Published on December 4, 2017

The state of men without civil society. . . is nothing else but a mere war of all against all. – Thomas Hobbes, Leviathan

The vortex at the center of my High Elven paradise is on the brink of collapse.

In the north, the armies of Chaos led by Prince Sigvald the Magnificent are on the march, swallowing whole factions as he carves a path west. The Skaven, a ravenous rat-like race commanded by Queek Headtaker, spread pestilence from their starting position in the jungle. Two of my outer provinces have already suffered hits to public order, causing a number of revolts to spring up. I put them down quickly.

"… not honoring my faction’s rules of engagement or martial ethics would have a drastic impact on my game."
Although the other factions pose a serious threat, I have another problem. The High Elves bicker and fight among themselves which keeps me from throwing myself into the problem of the vortex. My ally, eager to finish the war I’ve started, assists me in my campaign against the High Elves of Caledor but occupies the providence as its own once the war has come to an end. Enraged, I begin plotting against my former partner. This is war without end, without mercy.

Warhammer 2 is a grand mix of real-time strategy and turn based conquest. While other games in this genre expect me to “explore, expand, exploit, and exterminate”, WH2 allowed me to peer deep into the desires of each faction and understand their raison d’être, what propels them forward in a world of war. In other strategy games, this motivation is not thrust upon the player quite so heavily. WH2 didn’t just expect me to command the High Elves’ armies—it wanted me to assume their desires for and approach to war. Even if my first instinct is to start blobbing my army across the map, I realized that not honoring my faction’s rules of engagement or martial ethics would have a drastic impact on my game.

WH2’s approach to warfare mirrors very real desires in our world for violence. Why do some nations pursue war while others choose more diplomatic solutions? Why, for instance, is Finland content with their corner of the world but Russia, already a territorial behemoth, desires to subsume more countries under their umbrella? The earliest philosophers and historians of war saw it as a praiseworthy activity that all peoples undergo. Plato, however, recognized the need to plunge into warfare springs from our negative passions for more things: farmland, servants, and tutors for our children. In the Middle Ages, Thomas Aquinas recognized the need for ethics in warfare given the tenuous nature of European politics during his lifetime. He suggested that wars were only justified when (1) they are undertaken by the right authority, (2) they are performed to right an unrepentant wrong, and (3) the war is taken with the right intentions (a desire to advance justice and not to serve another’s personal interests).

The Bible, a book filled with accounts of wars both physical and spiritual, may offer the most inciteful criticism of unchecked desires and how they cause us to hate ourselves and one another. James, an early apostle of the Christian faith, wrote to fellow believers in Judea about a number of subjects, including the danger of evil speech and avoiding hypocrisy in saying one thing but doing another. In the fourth chapter, James warns “What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you? You desire and do not have, so you murder. You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel.” This is true for states and nations and individuals: we want what we can’t have, so we take it by force. We don’t want others to get ahead of us, so we knock them down so that we can stay up. It’s Hobbes’ state of nature actualized—the “war of all against all” in a life that is “nasty, brutish, and short.”

Warhammer 2’s different factions and how they are designed expose this central flaw of our human nature. Each of the factions want their piece of the pie, but in different ways and for different reasons. Although set in a fantasy world, WH2 showcases how humanity reckons with not getting what they want (spoiler: we hate and kill each other for it). What happens when your faction stops going after its goal in the campaign? Penalties start to rack up and your side suffers. I would love to explore certain options that would allow my faction to live in peace, build up their economy, and only fight defensive wars as necessary. But the vortex calls—the High Elves of Ulthuan will let no other race thwart them.

About the Author:

Daniel Motley is the Baptist Product Manager at Faithlife, the makers of Logos Bible Software. He and his wife have played through a Legend of Zelda game every summer since they met. You can reach him on Twitter at @motleydaniel.