Review: Total War: Warhammer II - Rise of the Tomb Kings

By Marcello Perricone 19 Jan 2018 0

Review: Total War: Warhammer II - Rise of the Tomb Kings

Released 23 Jan 2018

Developer: Creative Assembly
Genre: Turn-Based Strategy
Available from:
Steam
Reviewed on: PC

The glory of Khemri, forgotten. Lost. After centuries of slumber, the sands quake with the passage of my legions -- my chariots ride over shielded foes with nary a moment of hesitation, breaking the ranks of enemies and allowing my skeleton warriors to quickly close in and slaughter them all. Behind them, archers and screaming skulls catapults tirelessly fire, their blue ethereal projectiles bloating the sun and slaying foes by the dozens. As Elf, Orc, Lizardman, and Skaven blood litter the sand, all shall learn. We are the Tomb Kings. We do not serve. We rule!

The first Campaign Pack for Total War: Warhammer II, Rise of the Tomb Kings focuses on the eponymous Egyptian-inspired undead faction based to the south of the Great Ocean of Ulthuan. An once great and majestic culture, the kingdom of Nehekhara was an ancient human empire and the pinnacle of civilisation. Millennia ago, the treacherous and reviled necromancer Nagash ravaged the lands with his sorcery, and with a single humongous spell caused the living to perish and the dead to rise from their graves.

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This gave the Tomb Lords immortal life and full control of death, which means that those who served them in flesh still serve them in bone, and never truly fall on the battlefield. Rise of the Tomb Kings upheaves one of Total War’s most enduring gameplay mechanics by removing armies‘ recruitment and upkeep cost, replacing them with buildings that limit the number of units that can be fielded. While Skeleton Warriors and Spearmen can be freely recruited in large quantities, all other units are limited by their respective buildings -- if you want more archers, you better build more of that tier II military building.

In terms of variance, the Priest Kings have their own unit roster, filled with skeletal warriors, mythical animals, and colossal constructs. All of the signature units of the Tomb Kings are here, from skeleton infantry, cavalry, and chariots to Carrion Flying War Beasts and the terrifying Screaming Skull Catapults. And as if magical undead skeletons with a personality was not supernatural enough, the second half of the Tomb Kings roster is made up of War Constructs -- animated beings and statues given life by the Mortuary Priests. Ranging from Necropolis Knights riding atop giant vipers to colossal Hierotitans that tower above any unit on the battlefield, those powerful beasts of marble and stone are immune to fear, yet spread it like the plague among opposing foes.

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On a smaller scale than the upkeep change, morale during battles is replaced by the strength of the spellbinding that keeps the soldiers corporeal. Those work in practice just as morale does, making an unit lose effectiveness as it loses coherence. Unlike normal factions, however, the Tomb Kings do not rout and, elementary, thrive on death. As their units fall, a “Realm of Souls” bar fills at the top of the screen -- once one of its several thresholds are achieved, a mass wave of resurrections cascade through the army, bringing dead troops back to undeath and providing massive buffs to active units. Once the bar is filled, you are able to summon powerful Ushabti guardians anywhere on the battlefield -- even deep within (or behind) enemy lines.

Some of the Tomb Kings most powerful aspects can only be summoned from the new Mortuary Cult, a crafting system that unlocks items, units, and abilities. The Tomb Kings’ obsession could make for a restrictive gameplay, but Creative Assembly wisely expanded the resource pool available to the rulers of Nehekhara with Canopic Jars. Those containers full of viscera and organs from living beings are used on rituals and harvested in mass after a bloody battle, and can also be generated every turn by specific buildings. Aside from that, natural resources like metals and precious stones must also be gathered, giving the Tomb Kings reason to venture away from the scorching deserts and out of the Land of the Dead.

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Based on player feedback after the releases of Wood Elves and Brettonia for Warhammer I, Creative Assembly decided not to release a separate self contained mini-campaign for Rise of the Tomb Kings. Instead, the rulers of Nehekhara are seamlessly integrated into the main campaign and have four Legendary Lords instead of the usual two. King of Kings Settra the Imperishable and the venomous High Queen Khalida are the two melee legendary lords, while Grand Hierophant Khatep and the evil Arkhan the Black are casters. As usual in Total Warhammer, each legendary lord represents a facet of the faction with completely different bonuses and playstyles.

Instead of focusing on the Great Vortex like every other campaign faction, the Tomb Kings are concerned about reuniting five of the nine cursed Books of Nagash and using their power to conquer the Black Pyramid. While that quest takes place in the Eye of the Vortex campaign, the skeletal faction has no interest in controlling the magical maelstrom due to their already immense power and singular drive, so they exist in parallel to the base game’s storyline and are seamlessly integrated into the main map.

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The lack of Vortex rituals do not put the Tomb Kings at a disadvantage, however, as they have access to their very own incantation rites. There are four great incantations available that act as powerful situational boosts, from invoking a sandstorm that sweeps across your lands and damages enemy armies to raising a Pta’s Necrotect capable of immediately colonising any ruin to a Level III settlement. Those rites often align with the skill sets of Tomb Prince, Liche Priest, and Necrotect heroes, and used wisely can create powerful effects on the direction of the campaign.

Furthermore, Creative Assembly really went all out on theme immersion with Rise of the Tomb Kings. The technology tree is instead replaced by dynasties, representing the recovery of forgotten knowledge from millennia ago. Each of the six dynasties can be researched at any time, and each one awakened grants access to even more tech options but slows down further research. Furthermore, the second step of each dynasty also gives access to new lords in the shape of the Tomb Kings of old, which come with their own set of unique bonuses and abilities; and a specific area of the research tree allows you to recruit Tomb Heralds -- powerful champion units that act as royal bodyguards and representative of the gods.

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Creative Assembly has had a spotty history with DLCs; some of them are dubious affairs that feel like little more than a cash grab -- like Rome II’s Greek States Culture Pack or the infamous microtransactions that add blood to the games -- while others are wonderful additions to the game which completely change the experience for the better. Luckily, Rise of the Tomb Kings is the latter -- the expansion adds a completely new campaign with its own objectives, mechanics, and end-goals, and treats the rulers of Nehekhara as a fully fledged faction capable of warfare, magic, and diplomacy. Better still, it is clearly done by people that understand and respect the faction, and it goes the extra mile to both provide interesting features and enhance the thematization and immersion of their culture.

 

I’ve said on my hands-on preview that Rise of the Tomb Kings was the most fun I’ve ever had with the Total War: Warhammer franchise, and that is still true. In fact, Rise of the Tomb Kings may just be the best Total War DLC ever released. If you have any interest at all in the rulers of Nehekhara, do not hesitate to get this DLC. Just like in the lore of Warhammer, the Tomb Kings do not serve. They rule.

With its own objectives, mechanics, and campaign end-goals, Rise of the Tomb Kings is the best DLC in the whole Total War: Warhammer franchise.

Review: Total War: Warhammer II - Rise of the Tomb Kings

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