The game begins with the ascension of Karl Franz as the newly elected Emperor of the Empire and the recent turmoil that has occurred with a civil war uprising and the counts of the empire resenting his rule. His task is to unite his fractured kingdom and assert his dominion before challenging the other realms surrounding them and bring peace to the Old World. This peace is challenged by the eternal grudge of the Dwarfs towards the savage Greenskins, and the Vampires ruled by the Von Carsteins in far-flung Sylvania attempting to lead an undead army west and seize the Imperial throne. Yet in the north the Chaos horde rides and seeks to destroy everything in its path corrupting all that stands in its way of domination.
Total War: Warhammer features four playable factions at launch, which are the Empire (humans), the Greenskins (orcs and goblins), the Dwarfs and the Vampire Counts (undead).The Chaos faction, made up of evil humans and monsters, was available for free to those who pre-ordered or purchased in the first week of release and subsequently available as downloadable content (DLC). The Bretonnians, another human faction, are available since February 2017 for the Campaign, Skirmish and Multiplayer. Each faction has access to their own unique units and a campaign element, a new feature for Total War. For instance, the Greenskins faction features units such as Trolls and Giants and has the "Waaagh!" system, which pushes the player to always be on the warpath.
The campaign map is similar to that featured in Total War: Attila, the primary difference being the bigger changes in physical terrain and climate as one moves from a particular point in the map to another. The campaign map spans from the Chaos wastes in the north to the Greenskin-infested badlands in the south and from the Great Ocean in the west to the Dwarven realms in the World's Edge mountains to the east.
While Total War: Warhammer is built around the Total War system of city and unit building, army maneuvering and diplomacy with other factions, it has numerous new elements that differ to previous Total War games. In addition to those already mentioned, they include the ability of agents to participate in battles to give your army an edge; a wider variety of animations, with 30 different types of skeleton and body types compared to only five or six previously; flying units such as dragons, which make use of the new animation capacity;corruption is now caused by the presence of Vampire Counts or Chaos armies, rather than internal factors; the renaming of Generals as Lords - they now fight as individuals rather than embedded within a bodyguard unit, and can be upgraded via skill and equipment trees to boost both their own and their army's power; and the addition of a quest mode which tasks players to complete missions and battles to receive unlockable items and abilities. One of the most significant new elements, however, is magic. Different factions have different amounts of access to the various "lores" (types) of magic, with some, such as the Dwarfs, having no access whatsoever. Units with access to magic can turn the tide of battles - their abilities are far more powerful than any available to battlefield units in previous games.