The criticism of siege battles began prior to the release of the first game, assurances were initially given by CA that these changes would show significant improvement from previous sieges. I believe there is some truth to this claim. It is worth keeping in mind that people have diverse opinions on what exactly entails a good siege battle and some will be satisfied with the state of sieges in the series so far. That said, it is also worth keeping in mind that others are not satisfied with the current state of sieges and legitimate criticism ought to be heard out. What I intend to do in this post is subjective, it is my opinion on the good and bad of siege battles, my hope is that enough people will have similar experiences and thoughts on the issue such that we can push for some changes. I believe this is achievable over the course of the series if enough momentum is gained. CA has shown a willingness to change parts of the game that the community has brought to their attention, this is to their credit. I would like to divide this post into four related but different topics: Maps, AI, Immersion, and Potential Improvements. I cannot cover in detail all of these topics and the nuance they require, what I will give is a summary that hopefully lays out core details.
In this section, I am discussing the layout of sieges, the design of the maps and what they play like functionally from a gameplay perspective. Firstly, I want to look at walls. There are 2 kinds of walled siege maps in the first game, we have the arrow map which is shown in the first picture below and we have (roughly) the straight wall map which is shown in the second picture below. There are very slight variations on both maps, the more noticeable variations are with the straight wall maps, two such examples are shown in the third and fourth pictures. In my opinion, these slight variations do little to improve or keep fresh the gameplay. It is worth pointing out that if you choose to attack one side in the arrow maps you are functionally speaking attacking a straight wall. This is usually done so as not to spread your forces out and to rush down and control the walls (and gate) quickly. This same tactic is usually used on straight walls as well, where you focus one side. The point I wish to make here is that there is not enough wall variation. We have arrow walls and we have straight walls. Even if you use both sides of the arrow and straight wall maps for a more spread out battle you are looking at very little variation in actual gameplay with regards to walls.
Let's move past the walls now and look at variation in the city design. The cities have a fair bit of variation in obstacles or structures that are inside the walls and at least in terms of design, there is potential for creating chokepoints between these structures as you fall back to defend the capture point. As I have said, there is variation, however, I feel like the city design is overly simplistic. There are usually direct paths from the walls to the capture point, there are exceptions to this, for example in Karak Hirin and Erengrad the capture point is sort of hidden behind a building. Nonetheless, it is not much of a challenge to get to, you march your army down a main road, take a left or right and you're at the capture point for a fairly open battle.
The AI's focus is on defending the walls. This is where the battle begins and is essentially where it ends as well. The wall battles, in my opinion, are actually pretty well done. The AI does a good job of setting up ranged units and artillery to attack the oncoming army, it keeps infantry units and sometimes heroes up defending the walls against enemy invaders. A problem here though is that ranged units on the walls tend to get caught up in the fighting once the enemy lands. Another shortcoming I have noticed is that the AI tends to allocate a weak force to protecting the gate (1-2 units + hero/lord). The problem with this shortcoming is that if that gate is broken down by a large monster or lord unit and followed by other monsters or cavalry, the defending force of the gate is rarely capable of dealing with the attack. In some instances, this gives the force that broke through easy access to artillery units and a free capture point while the attacking units have tied down the defending units at the wall. Anyway, the main problem with the focus being the fight on the wall is once the wall fight is over, the battle is essentially determined. If you are the attacker all that is left to do is clean up the city, it shouldn't feel like cleaning up a city. This ought to be a phase 2 of the battle, the battle for the city.
Immersion is incredibly important for absorbing you into the Warhammer world and for creating the kinds of battles that you will remember and enjoy through this fantasy narrative. I would like to discuss some of the positives of the game here that I really enjoy. The aesthetics of the game overall are very good, from the architecture of vampire cities, the models, idle animations, and running animations of skeletons (my favorite). The game does a great job of exploring this world, you get to use monstrous units, legendary lords, and little gits. I believe CA did a good job overall with regards to immersion for this first game. The relevant area where immersion for me breaks completely is siege battles. When I launch an attack on Altdorf it doesn't feel like I am attacking Altdorf, it feels like I am attacking "a straight wall map". This is immersion breaking. Akendorf, Altdorf, Averheim, and so on, should not feel like straight wall maps, they should feel like unique imperial cities rather than the same (roughly) imperial cities. This doesn't just apply to empire, it applies to all sieges - they feel the same and it break's immersion.
Thus far I hope to have given a basic summary of sieges. What I aim to do in this section is put forth some suggestions for improvements to this area of the game. Some of these improvements have already been suggested by the community. This is the area that I think requires the most contribution from the community and where those of us who would like to see improvements really need to explain, coherently and constructively, what we would like to see. As a side note to the suggestions that are about to be made, there is no reason why sieges as they currently stand can't remain in the game in some form. This leads to the first suggestion.
1. Introducing AI personalities.
This would, at the start of the battle, randomly select a type of defender or attacker for the AI to act as, their personality. For instance, a defending AI that does not care to fight at the walls and would rather lure you into the city and fight among chokepoints. Another could be a defending AI that will keep ranged units on the walls (securing the towers) and send out units to engage your army. For instance, if you decide to rush one part of the wall, they send cavalry out the opposite gate (if available) to come in behind and take out your artillery or any stragglers. How about an attacking AI that instead of spreading their army out to attack all points, instead rushes one part of the wall like players currently do. Another attacking AI that will rush to engage your units on the wall with minimum force to tie them up while trying to rush to your capture point. You get the idea, set up different types of AI and have it play a random role or perhaps attach AI personalities to legendary lords and have them attack and defend siege battles in unique ways.
2. Variation in wall and city design.
Design more wall types than the straight wall and arrow wall maps. Go back to previous total war game iterations for siege battle designs, have three and four sides for potential walls to attack. Have walls within walls as we had in medieval 2, where you break through the first outer wall and then have to proceed to fight again in an inner siege. Redesigning cities with things like capture points that are themselves hidden away, so that in order to get to them the enemy needs to get through a very defensible chokepoint that the AI knows to defend. Expanding the size of the cities so we get to interact with some of that beautiful background, so we can get the experience of a large city and defend down alleyways and crossroads.
3. Random or planned traps in siege battles.
Imagine during the planning phase before you start the battle that you and the AI could place traps around the city. Oil for the gates, houses that will collapse on enemies as they pass by them, parts of walls that collapse when a unit moves onto it. Take the following as an example of what I mean. Behind the playable area in Altdorf are two inaccessible bridges.
In this hypothetical, the map extends back into that city for further defense. Imagine you are attacking this city and now have the choice of crossing one of these two bridges. The one on the left looks easier because there is no gate and perhaps on the right side bridge there is also archers on the walls and spearmen behind that gate (walls can be added). So, you decide to go to for the easy bridge on the left and will then flank behind them. The bridge then collapses or explodes when you place units on it killing them units, or perhaps oil flows out from the towers and makes it uncrossable and kills units that try to do so. This punishes you for trying to take the easy route and forces you to confront the gate crossing.
These are just examples, I'm sure people will have better suggestions. Maybe the amount of random or planned traps that can occur in a siege battle depends upon the size of the forces in play or upon the perceived advantage of the attacking force. If you as a defender are overwhelmed, maybe you get more traps to play with. Or another way of introducing it might be that for each turn the enemy lays siege to you on the campaign map, the more time you have had to prepare and hence get more traps to use. Additionally, certain hero types like the master engineer or even just race bonuses to Dwarfs or Skaven, for instance, can increase deployable traps.
4. Instancing Sieges.
I believe this has been brought up before, however, it recently was brought up again on Reddit with a discussion here
The idea is straightforward, we divide sieges (perhaps important ones like capitals) up into multiple stages. This way you could have a fight for the walls in one instance, after that is complete you then move into the next location to fight for the city, after this perhaps a fight for the inner sanctum or capital building, maybe a final battle in the University of Altdorf, or the Colleges of Magic if in Altdorf.
I appreciate anyone who takes the time to read this. It turned into a longer post than I initially intended. I hope I have been clear throughout, it is not foolproof, I am sure there will be mistakes and oversights. My desire is to help the community push for siege battle improvements through discussion and by ideally getting the attention of the development team. Any criticisms are welcome.