Life and Death at the Spear Tip of ‘Total War: Warhammer’

On this field, on this day, I will pay the price for being poor and young and powerless.
July 15, 2017, 4:00pm
Courtesy of Creative Assembly/Sega

100 Deaths is Robert Florence's exploration of 100 deaths across 100 games, and what they might mean in the grander scheme.

I am going to die 100 deaths.

And look at me. Look at this. Here I am, speaking to you from the battlefield, like I matter. Picture me, standing on the field of war, on top of a little crate. I have a megaphone in my hand, and I hold it to my lips. I am shouting at you, trying to be heard above the din and roar of millions— millions—of deaths. I am waving a white flag. Can you even see me?

My eyes open and I am in formation.

The world is silent, but for the snort of horses and the tense stretch of the bowmen's string. A raindrop hits the bridge of my nose, and we all look up into the darkened skies. A wind blows, but it does not shake one tree branch, or unsettle one blade of grass. It is a wind of magic, and it can be felt in my bones, and my heart. I am troubled that I can feel those winds, but have no way of bending them to my will.

I am a spearman. I know this because I hold one long, beautiful spear. My brothers, at either side of me, and in rows behind, hold their spears too. Rain spatters against my armor. Somewhere, a horse splutters and whinnies, and I think it may be in the trees far to my left. The horses must be hidden, with their riders. I know not why, and will not be told, because I am only a spearman. Grand strategy is for the leaders. I'm only here to hold this weapon.

Our leader is there, ahead of us. He glows, all shining armor and colorful plumage, on top of an impossible creature with the head of an eagle and the body of a tiger. I am sure that he has a name, this hero, as surely as I know that I do not. I am just a spearman, as I told you, and I fear that this story is not mine.

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I fear that I am merely a number. A pair of legs. An extra spear. A statistic. My brothers, to the left and right of me, and in rows behind, all look so very much like me. Their eyes are dead, their expressions grave. We are being sent to die, this much is clear. My legs wobble, and I dig my heels a little further into the mud.

This world is a strange one. The trees are twisted and gnarled and somewhat monstrous. Huge skulls are carved into the faces of mountains. Strange mists spiral through the air. It is a fantastical place—both beautiful to behold and terrifying to consider. And it strikes me that only in a world so unreal could it be seen as right and just to send countless men away from their homes and families to face certain death.

"For the Empire!" A cry from my right. But it sounds unconvincing. I find myself repeating it, as if it might somehow suppress my fear. "The Empire." I know that it encompasses places I will never have the chance to visit. Empires serve only to subjugate powerless people who are more like me and my own family than our leaders will ever be. Nobody I know will ever ride a Griffon. I surely have more in common with the peasants whose village we are about to sack than I do with this highborn Lord resplendent in his fanciful armor. I feel angry.

I want to speak to my brothers and tell them—tell them, now—that we are all fools to be here. I want to tell them that we should turn and march home. But then, some will say that there are foreign invaders intent on spreading chaos within our realm. They will say that our families need protected. They will share stories of strange incantations to gods we do not understand. And inevitably—isn't it all so inevitable?—we will stay steady in the mud with our spears raised, until we spill our guts in the name of our glorious empire.

All 'Total War: Warhammer' images courtesy of Creative Assembly/Sega.

This is the game that has always been played. It has never changed. I am just a spearman. I am powerless. And when those who are in control go "click," we do as they command. Our only hope is to choose some benevolent hand to be at our controls. If we fail in that task, we are doomed to follow the beat of a truly dark drum.

And we march. Through the trees, holding formation, out into the clearing. Ahead of us, some way in the distance, an army much like our own is assembled. I want to stop moving. I want to do anything other than this relentless march towards my death. But not only do we continue on, we go faster.

And I don't mean that we run. We are still marching, steadily, at the same pace. But time itself has speeded up. Those who are in power don't just want us to die for their own ends, they want us to do it faster. We are truly nothing to them.

Arrows fill the sky, and the universe now computes my chances of surviving. I am truly a statistic, as I feared. I am slave to a random number generator. I am without a name. I have a backstory that doesn't matter, and a future that isn't necessary. On this field, on this day, I will pay the price for being poor and young and powerless. I will pay the price for not fighting before we ever set foot on a field of war—fighting against them, our own hierarchy. All of our people will pay the price for being afraid. Fear—the greatest tool our masters will ever wield. The oldest trick in the book. Fear of the other, and of change.

I die one death. There will be millions of others, forever.

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