Sieges and Siege AI

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Sieges and Siege AI in Total War: WARHAMMER

Soon we’ll be showing off siege battle gameplay for Total War: WARHAMMER, and they are one of the elements we’re mixing up and doing differently this time around. Before we get to what they look like, we asked the team about the thinking that goes on under the hood and how that’s going to be throwing up a new set of tactical challenges for you.

Read on, as you await the Ides of March!

Siege battles have been a mainstay of Total War for many years now, and as with some of those mainstays in TW: Warhammer, we made the decision to do them a little differently this time around. In shaking up the formula a bit – not enough so you won't recognise it – we've focused the gameplay in a way that makes sieges tenser and more thrilling from start to finish.

In our previous couple of games, sieges often began with a lengthy bombardment phase, where the attacker would spend time smashing down the walls with catapults and suchlike to create more entrances to the city for his infantry and cavalry to enter. This was followed by intricate street battles within the walls before a victor was decided. The cities were often sprawling, with multiple capture points, leading to some milling around and over-lengthy redeployments of forces as you decided which walls to besiege and which capture points to target.

We've changed this in several ways for Warhammer. Our overriding aim was to make sieges more epic, rarer and special, creating higher-intensity conflicts for you to enjoy, and we've done a number of things in service of this.

Firstly, big siege battles are now very much about the fight for the walls. Sieges are fought along one or two walls of a city, which directs the majority of the attacking and defending forces into a more coherent clash. That may sound like we're reducing your options - you can't attack a city from any direction now after all – but the result is genuinely more cohesive as a battle experience and they are every bit as epic as anything we’ve made before. Lay siege to a huge Dwarfen Karak in the vast spaces below the mountains and you'll see what I mean!

TWWH Dwarf Siege Watermarked.jpg

When the fight reaches the walls, you'll find wall sections have a much broader footprint than before. This means more room to manoeuvre, flank and generally create similar offensive and defensive opportunities to those you on the ground, with multiple units engaged at once. You'll have to figure out how you're going to get up there in the first place, however, and swiftly – each race has its own flavour of powerful, outward-facing ranged towers firing on the attacker from afar, incentivising you to get your skates on.

Siege towers and battering rams can still be built over turns of sieging on the campaign map, and siege towers really are the optimal way to crest the walls for foot-soldiers. You also have the option of commanding your troops to use ladders to assault the walls. Such a dangerous tactic should only be considered if you need to engage quickly, you spot a strategic opportunity, or perhaps are fielding armies of greater numbers (or perhaps comprised of troops who care little for personal safety!). However ladders simply do not offer the protection that a siege tower can provide, leaving climbers vulnerable to fire. With certain army compositions, you could even forego battering rams... Certain varieties of monster, such as club-wielding Giants, are perfectly capable of smashing their way through city gates!

To reflect the epic cities of the Warhammer Fantasy Battles world, we've also been working on much tighter, more readable map designs, involving broader streets and town squares to plan and execute your manoeuvers in. This clearer readability works in the AI’s favour too, and you’ll find it putting heavy pressure on your city’s victory point. It's a lot easier to have several units marching abreast within cities now, which again broadens your tactical options, after you’ve cracked the thorny problem of the walls and you’re fighting your way to the central victory point. Races have their own unique styles of architecture too, so you’ll fight through a range of vastly different-looking cities.

TWWH Emp Siege Watermarked.jpg

Of course all of this wouldn’t mean much unless the AI is equipped to deal with it all, and we’ve been working very hard to make it sensibly challenging in this regard. While attacking, the AI will now execute multi-pronged attack strategies. It will use all of the tools at its disposal simultaneously to challenge your defenses – sending its siege towers to various points on the wall, attacking the gates at the same time, and deploying ladders when and where appropriate. In short, it’s designed to give you a number of flashpoints to contend with, and having a strong presence on the walls is important to avoid being overwhelmed. If you allow the AI to slip past your front-line defences, the resulting street battle will be more ferocious and focused on the central victory point as the AI tries to force the battle to a close.

We’ve also increased the AI’s range of tactical capabilities with some new features. The first is a greater level of granularity in its use of reserves. The AI makes its calculations as to the best approach in a given situation, and if it feels it doesn’t need to throw everything in to achieve its aims, it will deliberately hold units back in reserve until they’re needed. If it sees that one of its attacks is struggling and it has appropriate resources available to assist, it will bolster the forces involved by sending in the reserves.

Additionally, if you’re charging into a siege and an AI-controlled ally is reinforcing you, it won’t simply stride into the fray with its own battle plan. It’ll take into consideration the differences you’re making to the battlefield. If you open breaches, it will aim to exploit those, rather than doubling up on work and making its own. It’ll take a look at its reserves pool and send troops in to exploit the breach. This leads to a greater sense of support and collaboration from your AI ally.

When an AI is defending a city, again - it’s all about the walls! All ranged towers in a city are now situated on the walls and only fire outwards; they’re an important factor for dealing damage to an advancing attacker. These towers are activated by manning the appropriate wall sections with troops. The defending AI will try to anticipate where your attack is coming from, and have troops on the walls ready to greet you, thereby activating the nearby towers and raining fire at you on your way in.

TWWH Emp Siege 02 Watermarked.png

If you overwhelm its forces on the walls and break past its defenses, the AI will try to fall back into the city order to protect the sole, central victory point (usually situated in a large town-square). As towers only face outwards, attackers who capture them won’t be able to fire into the city. Instead, capturing the towers simply stops them from firing at any other advancing attackers. Provided the AI has the troops to do so, it will withdraw into the city, mount a stout defense, and fight to the bitter end.

We’re hoping you enjoy this new approach to sieges for Total War: Warhammer. Our community team will no doubt show one off soon enough, so you can see it all in action for yourself.