Total War: Warhammer 2 artwork of Karl Franz on his gryphon

With a myriad of unique races, factions, units and playstyles, the Total War: Warhammer series represents some of the finest strategy games released in the past decade. However, everything that makes these games so incredibly fun to play is also something that makes them incredibly tricky to get into for beginners.

So if you would like your first experience with either of the three games to be a smooth and enjoyable one, allow me to give you some simple tips and advice to help set you on the right path. I'll be using screenshots from Total War: Warhammer 2 here since that's the game I'd recommend you begin your journey with, but all of this is generally useful information that applies to all three games. Without wasting any more time, let us begin!

Video version of this guide (~14 minutes)

1) Important keybinds

The Total War: Warhammer series has a massive amount of keybinds you can utilize in battle. However, while the games do teach you the very basics, they unfortunately don't spend much time explaining how you can manipulate large groups of units without any sort of hassle.

So here's a brief rundown of some of the most powerful and useful commands, as well as what keybinds allow you to use them on the fly:

Control groups - ctrl + 1, ctrl + 2, etc.
Lock formation - ctrl + g or click the lock icon above the control group
Move as formation - alt + left click drag
Rotate as formation - alt + right click drag
Make units stay put instead of chase enemies - toggle guard mode on the unit tab at the bottom of your screen
Disengage from a fight, especially useful for cavalry - j
Manually aim artillery, which is really fun - insert 

Total War: Warhammer 2 screenshot of a flying goblin

It's not every day you can pilot a goblin 'missile'!

2) Positioning and formations

In order for the battles to not devolve into a complete and utter mess, you need carefully think about your positioning and formations. Most of the time this means you'll want to find a piece of land where the terrain works in your favor, either because there's a hill you can position your ranged units on or because you can funnel enemies into a tight space.

A good example of why this is important would be any unit with a gun. These units are incredibly powerful and can mince even the most heavily armored enemies, yet their big problem is that they cannot shoot through or over friendly units. So if you want to make the best use of your gunners, either position them on hills overlooking the battle or create small gaps in your formations so they can fire regardless of what's happening.

This sort of stuff might not sound like a big deal, but trust me, a well positioned army can very easily punch above its weight and defeat significantly stronger enemies.

Total War: Warhammer 2 screenshot of Skaven formations

A steep hill and a solid formation will get you pretty far

3) Ranged firepower

It doesn't matter if we're talking about guns, arrows, explosives or even small rocks, all ranged units in the Total War: Warhammer series are capable of dealing immense amounts of damage. So when you're constructing an army, don't feel afraid to dedicate even 7 or 8 slots to ranged units as they will easily pull their own weight, provided you have enough frontline to keep them nice and secure.

I'd also highly recommend having at least one artillery piece in every single army. This will not only force the AI to attack you in battles if they can't match your firepower, but it will also let you attack a walled settlement without the need to wait an extra turn for the battering ram to be constructed.

Total War: Warhammer 2 screenshot of Skaven firepower

When in doubt, get more firepower!

4) Hammer and anvil

Cavalry in the Total War: Warhammer series is a fair bit weaker than in something like Total War: Three Kingdoms, though it's still quite powerful in the right circumstances. For the vast majority of cases, this means you're going to want to attack enemies from behind while they're already engaged in combat, or just run down weak and poorly armored archers.

Just whatever you do, don't rush things! If you try to charge at enemy archers before the frontline is engaged you're just going to make the AI redirect a spear unit or two to defend them and your cavalry will get either poked or shot to death before doing anything of value. So as much as it sucks to watch your infantry become Skyrim guards thanks to all of the ranged fire, waiting for the perfect moment to strike will help you deal the most damage and win the battle with the least amount of casualties.

Total War: Warhammer 2 screenshot of Bretonnia charging in

Also, watching enemies fly away into the sunset is really fun!

5) Synergy over brute strength

In every army you will have up to 19 basic units or heroes and only a single lord. So when deciding where to put your skill points, the best course of action would be to pour them into buffing the most units possible.

Giving your lord a couple of extra melee attack will make them more effective in combat, but giving hundreds of archers additional damage, accuracy and reload speed will easily eclipse all of that. Same thing with making your frontline more durable in combat. A few points of melee defense on a lord is handy, but that same buff spread across a thousand spearmen will let them hold the enemy back for what feels like an eternity.

So while you are able to make a legendary lord so powerful they can smash through half of the enemy army, you're going to have much more success if you focus on keeping your army in tip-top shape, especially on the higher difficulty settings.

Total War: Warhammer 2 screenshot of the unit stats and upgrades

+8/+8 for every melee unit in your army is quite a lot!

6) Don't trust auto-resolve

No matter how carefully you play, sooner or later you will end up in a situation where the auto-resolve says a battle is going to result in heavy losses on your side. Unless your army is particularly weak, I would highly recommend ignoring that and fighting the battle for yourself.

With careful positioning, and by baiting the enemy into bad attacks, it's entirely possible to win even heavily lopsided battles. Most importantly, even if you do lose and your entire army gets wiped out, chances are you will inflict such horrific losses on the enemy that they won't be able to push further into your lands.

So unlike the auto-resolve that would just wipe all of your units out and barely any of the enemy's, actually fighting your battles will give you a lot more time to recover and rebuild should anything go wrong.

Total War: Warhammer 2 auto-resolve problems screenshot

Don't let auto-resolve kill off your units for no reason!

7) War is a business

It doesn't matter if you're playing as the noble High Elves or the savage Orks, you will need money...or teeth, or whatever other nonsense your faction uses as a currency. Without it you can't field multiple armies, you can't upgrade your cities, and you can't really do much of anything.

So as soon as you have secured yourself a province, make sure to start building as many money and resource production buildings as possible. This will be a hefty investment that will likely leave you near bankruptcy, especially in the early game, but it's most definitely worth it as a stable economy will make your life significantly easier throughout the whole campaign.

Similarly, resist the temptation to rush towards the next big and shiny unit since you probably won't be able to afford it. Just build up your economy first and then you'll be able to play around with whatever army composition you want without having to seriously consider disbanding half of your front line to fit another cannon!

Total War: Warhammer 2 screenshot of Dark Elf gold production

Just try not to think about where your gold actually comes from

8) One good army is more than enough

When it comes to the Warhammer series, a single strong army is significantly better than a couple of mediocre ones. The biggest reason is that every lord you hire past the first one increases the total upkeep you pay for all units, which makes even the cheapest armies become a considerable burden on your early-game economy.

The second issue is that two mediocre armies will be less active than a single strong one due to army losses. After all, a crushing victory will leave you in the perfect position to continue your onslaught while a phyrric victory will force you to wait a couple of turns to fully replenish. So throughout the early game when you might need to fight multiple battles in a row, it really doesn't pay off to have multiple armies.

Later on once your economy is strong and your territory is far too large to cover in a single turn or two, then you should absolutely get a second or even third army. But for the first third of the campaign, a single strong army with the best units you can afford will do you a great deal of good.

Total War: Warhammer screenshot of Karl Franz

After all, Karl and the crew are a lot better than two random nobodies

9) Offense is the best defense

Unless you're playing on the easiest difficulty setting, your AI opponents will be able to produce more armies than you, and at a faster pace. What this means is that if you end up in a war with a neighboring faction, trying to play defense is only going to result in you being under siege over and over again.

The best way to sort this problem out is to first defeat any attacking armies, and then go on the offensive yourself. If you use the lull between enemy attacks as an opportunity to seize their major cities, you will not only bolster your own economy, but you will also reduce their ability to field strong units. And once you have the AI on the back foot, it's going to be very easy to keep pushing forward until they're completely out of the game.

Total War: Warhammer 2 Dark Elves attacking the Empire screenshot

It's better to squabble over their land than yours!

10) Grow fast, grow strong

Whether we're talking about your home province or a city you've literally just captured, you're definitely going to want to have some growth-based buildings in there. Growth dictates how quickly you can upgrade your cities to the next tier, and consequently how quickly you can access new units and optimize your money production.

In other words, growth is incredibly important and should not be underestimated in any circumstance. Even a single upgraded growth building can noticeably speed up a province, while a full set can have you flying through the ranks in no time. And best of all, if you eventually reach the rank you need and have no further use for growth, you can always just demolish the building and construct something more useful in its place!

Total War: Warhammer 2 screenshot of Lizardmen vs High Elves

 The more growth you have, the sooner you'll get access to giant dinos!

11) When in doubt, ambush

If you find yourself in a situation where you can't beat an enemy army fairly, or if they're just playing keep-away, give the ambush stance a try. Mouse over the map in order to find the spot with the best ambush chance, and then simply set up an ambush there, even if it's in full view of the enemy. The AI cheats in many ways, but when your army is ambushing they are completely invisible to them until spotted... or stumbled upon!

Every trap is better with a little bit of bait, however, so if you want to take your ambushes to the next level make sure to bring a secondary lord with you, the weaker their army the better. Position them behind your ambushing army and the AI will run straight into your loving embrace as they attempt to destroy the exposed lord!

Total War: Warhammer 2 using ambush screenshot

A good ambush is all about using the juiciest bait!

12) Heroes are more than just fighters

While you'll mostly want them as a part of your armies since they can be absolute powerhouses in battle, especially the mages, heroes are also quite handy on the campaign map. Whether it's poking holes in the enemy's walls, weakening garrisons or simply preventing enemy lords from running away, hero actions can be devastatingly effective.

Even if you don't want to spend any extra money on their actions, having a couple of heroes running around as scouts will help you intercept any attack before it reaches your most vulnerable cities. And as an added little bonus, you can also send heroes to far-off lands in order to establish alliances and trade agreements with factions you might never have met otherwise. Just... you know, make sure you're sailing towards someone friendly!

Total War: Warhammer 2 using hero actions to destroy walls

854 is a small price to pay for broken walls in a capital city!

Closing thoughts

There you have it, twelve simple tips that will hopefully make your first experience with the Total War: Warhammer series a nice and pleasant one. That said, these are still complex games with a myriad of different systems working in tandem, so don't be too disappointed if your first campaign ends up devolving into a mess.

At the end of the day, all of that is just part of the learning process. So dust off the ashes, jump back in, and soon enough you'll be able to pick up any faction and have an absolute blast rampaging across the world with them!

[Note]: If you're wondering which of the three games to start with, I would highly recommend you give Total War: Warhammer 2 a try first. While it's not the newest game in the series, it's by far the most polished and content-rich one at this moment, so it'll serve as an excellent jumping off point for the entire series.