Total War: Warhammer II - Mortal Empires DLC Overview

By TJ Hafer 26 Oct 2017 0

The sheer ambition behind Total War: Warhammer 2’s Mortal Empires campaign makes it seem like something completely implausible, something that someone on a forum would propose as their pie-in-the-sky, dream Warhammer game. Comprising five continents and 35 playable lords from 12 extremely distinct fantasy races, there’s simply nothing in the series’ history that compares with its scope. Yet while it accomplishes everything it says on the tin, it doesn’t always do so with a flourish.

 

The map itself is a great example of the “Oh man, this is awesome! But…” feeling I often had throughout the campaign. It is truly huge, make no mistake, and adds a lot to the diversity of regions to explore and conquer. Naggaroth is a menacing wasteland that doesn’t just feel like a rehash of Norsca - it’s sterile and oppressive where the home of the marauders is wild and vicious. Lustria’s deep jungles sprawl with creeping wonder, and the sweeping dunes of the Southlands stand as an almost elegant counterpoint to the reeking Badlands they border.

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At the same time, it all feels a bit scrunched together. The placement of Ulthuan, the home of the High Elves, is one of my greatest criticisms. It looks like you could practically see its eastern shore with the naked eye from the coasts of Bretonnia, and it’s almost literally touching Naggaroth on the opposite end, which dilutes the feeling of being the secluded seat of a great, maritime empire. The New and Old Worlds in general simply aren’t remote enough from each other. I can understand not wanting to force players to spend dozens of turns sailing, but I think one more modestly-sized sea zone on each side of Ulthuan could have gone a long way to making the distances feel proper without being prohibitively annoying.

The real highlight of the campaign, of course, is all the new combinations of these varied, crazy armies that can come together on the battlefield. Dwarfs vs Skaven is one of the most thematically and mechanically satisfying match-ups. Every time I sent a gaggle of clanrats flying through the air with a mortar barrage, I was reminded how much the longtime Warhammer fan in me was grateful to this game just for existing. Marching an army of dinosaurs into Altdorf as the Lizardmen doesn’t have as much precedent in the lore, but was just as satisfying.

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The sheer diversity you encounter fighting your way from region to region has really been taken to a new level. Starting as the Empire, you may be contending with orcs, vampires, Chaos marauders, beastmen, wood elves, and skaven all within the first 50 turns. Anyone with a coastline now must be wary of Dark Elf Black Arks appearing on the horizon. The Badlands, the infamous “Boring Corner” of the Old World map is now a major crossroads for many factions pursuing conquests in many directions - a battle royale that I suspect will only be improved with the upcoming addition of the Tomb Kings to its southern border.

The “but…” here comes from the fact that not all factions are created equal. Part of this is due to the fantastic changes to the core Warhammer 1 races from the Foundation Update not being integrated into Mortal Empires yet - though they will be when Norsca is implemented a bit down the line. Another major factor, though, is that the Warhammer II races have access to the rites mechanic from the Vortex campaign, which I really enjoy, while the Old World races don’t. And based on what Creative Assembly has said so far, it doesn’t sound like they ever will. I find this extremely disappointing and borderline maddening. I’d almost rather have seen none of the races get rites in Mortal Empires than have them selectively available to only a handful, and I hope the dev team will reconsider this decision in the future. I can’t imagine the campaign will ever truly feel complete unless all races have access to the same suite of core features.

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The addition of chapter objectives for all races is great - though not all of them seem to take the larger world into account. Beastmen, for instance, have no reason to really venture beyond the Old World to finish their campaign objectives as they’ve remained more or less identical to how they looked in Warhammer 1. Even stranger, the Lizardmen lord Kroq-gar is required to cross the entire width of the map and conquer Lustria for his campaign - a copy-paste of his bud Mazdamundi’s objectives that doesn’t make a lot of sense given where he starts. There are lots of other little head scratch moments here and there that seem to be more a product of oversight and rushed release than design, and I’d like to see them get more love.

On the positive side, the Chaos invasion has been improved to account for the much larger play area and number of factions. Rather than arriving in a single throng under Archaon, the forces of the ruinous powers now comprise a handful of separate factions, each with multiple horde armies to command, which will focus on different parts of the map. I’ve seen them go straight for the heart of Ulthuan or cut across the Sea of Claws to menace Bretonnia right of the bat, so it truly feels like no one is safe when they get on the move.

Mortal Empires is truly an achievement, and has the potential to be an excellent platform for further expansion. Unfortunately, it does feel a bit like an open beta at the moment. It’s a fun beta, but there are enough little things that seem off, missing, or simply lacking polish that it doesn’t really come across as finished. This is offset somewhat by the fact that it’s free to owners of both Warhammer 1 and II, but if you only own one of the above and planned to buy the other just for Mortal Empires, you may want to hold off for a couple of months. Otherwise, by all means, jump in and get your hands (or claws) dirty. There’s a lot to do and see, and I don’t think I’ll have scratched past the surface for a very long time to come.

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