So I have played a fair bit of Total War. I do love it. The mechanics is good, the races are well done I think (you can always moan about something that is missing but it is clear it was done by gamers who care and understand... the bulk of it is there).
People do say Empire is a good starting place... well.. maybe I am a bit thick but I struggled every time I played them. Granted the first time I was unaware of a lot of things and how to go about things. But I gave them several goes and each time it ground to a halt and I got hemmed in and bashed up.
I actually preferred the Dwarves. They were much easier for a newbie to play through. They have a decent starting position with their flanks pretty much sorted and their infantry is tough and forgiving, if a little lacking in get up and go.
I loved playing Bretonnians. These were my fantasy army. Playing them in Total War I did enjoy, although I am still so frustrated by how poor their cavalry come across (I never really understood, agreed or liked the fact that Empire got much better cavalry than Bretonnians in the tabletop game, and it is almost true here as well).
I played a little with the vampires but to be honest I have never really enjoyed the "bad guys", be that Orcs, Chaos or Vampires.
I did enjoy playing as the Wood Elves. I think their units give a nice little twist and make you play in a different way and keep things interesting.
All in all the game is excellent. Getting it on a Humble Bundle just made it such good value it is unreal. I rarely pay for any DLC but the Wood Elves were worth it (the Bretonnians were free DLC).