Review: Total War: Warhammer 2 - Curse of the Vampire Coast08 Nov 2018 2
Review: Total War: Warhammer 2 - Curse of the Vampire Coast
Released 08 Nov 2018
Curse of the Vampire Coast is another surprisingly good DLC for Total War: WARHAMMER II, bringing the undead pirate lords of the eponymous coast to (un)life(?) via new units, buildings, objectives, and oh-so-many mechanics. The Total Warhammer team is knocking the franchise out of the park, with each DLC offering an experience unlike any other that has come before.
The expansion adds four legendary lords, ranging from the schizophrenic Luthor Harkon in Lustria to the mutant Aranessa Saltspite in Sartosa. As is the standard, each shares common faction traits while enjoying unique bonuses and starting units — Captain Noctilius of the Dreadfleet is really good at raising sailor zombies, while Harkon has one hell of a grudge with Lizardmen, for example — which combined with their different starting locations create unique experiences on each playthrough.
The game does take a few more liberties with lore than usual, including non-character Saltspite that barely appeared on the lore outside of a failed boardgame and undoing Noctilius’ demise at the heart of the Galleon’s Graveyard. Saltspite also gets to recruit vampires — something that never happened in her one appearance to date — but is also the only one of the four pirate lords able to recruit living crew, in the shape of the Sartosa Free Company.
The campaign itself follows the same moulds as the rest of Warhammer II, with the Vortex at its centre and a mad dash for McGuffins. The plot is set in motion by the awakening of the great and ancient sea leviathan Amanar, who lays under the High Elven island of Ulthuan. With the great beast roaming the seas, all four legendary pirates see an opportunity: kill the beast and reanimate it under their necromantic thrall.
Thus is set the map for the campaign, which takes place in the Eye of the Vortex scenario. Asurians, Druchii, Lizardmen, and Skaven continue to pursue their rituals to take control of the Great Vortex at the Isle of the Dead while the Tomb Kings remain single-minded in their search of the Nine Books of Nagash, with the one difference being the third agenda now in play, as the four new pirate factions look for the mythical weapon capable of killing Amanar and the sea shanty incantations to make that possible.
On a basic gameplay level, the Vampire pirates play just like all other base factions, with none of the game changing upheaval brought by the Nehekaran units’ lack of recruitment cost or upkeep. However, several new mechanics were added to create a unique experience, elevating this campaign DLC from a simple faction pack to a proper expansion.
The first of which are Pirate Coves — secret underground caves that continuously syphon money and resources from nearby settlements. Pirate Lords get the choice of establishing a Cove when winning a settlement battle, in addition to the customary Conquer, Sack, and Raze options. Establishing a cove forgoes all other choices, meaning players get to take advantage of a coastal town’s production without having to defend it, but with the downside that anyone other pirate who takes the city may take control of the Cove for themselves.
Coves also generate Infamy, which is the second biggest addition of Vampire Coast. Acting like a huge list of the world’s most infamous pirates, Infamy gives players bonuses to keep the faction in check as they increase in rank, which is especially important given players can appoint commanders to offices and must maintain their loyalty throughout the campaign.
On a logistical level, pirates play different from the rest of factions in Total Warhammer so far. Possessing a single legendary ship that can be upgraded like a horde building but also able to colonise settlements, the Pirate Lords enjoy all the benefits of a horde faction — such as the ability to churn out units on the spot and have an unconquerable revenue generator — with none of the drawbacks. Each legendary ship is the personal vessel of a faction’s legendary lord and serves as both their HQ and army.
Thanks to that, the Pirate lords are rightly geared towards a life on the sea. Landlocked cities are of little interest to the undead scoundrels, who get a lot more out of sacking port settlements or establishing coves around the world. However, the game does cop out when it comes to ship-to-ship battles — instead of actually experiencing fleets dishing out at each other with their canons, the game conveniently generates an island map that just happen to be around for the battle. This excuse ultimately detracts a lot of the main experience of being a pirate, and it is especially hurtful given how good naval engagements were in Empire and especially Napoleon.
Unit-wise, the pirate roster is surprisingly varied, and demonstrates the same level of originality and variety as the Tomb Kings’. Zombie pirates, vampire commanders, giant cannons, and towering leviathan crabs are all part of the army, with the occasional walking ship Necrofex Colossus and flying units rounding up the selection. The faction is obviously lacking in cavalry, but the fact that most units are armed with ranged firearms and can hold themselves in close quarters creates a different experience where enemy armies are met by a wall of gunfire while closing in, and then viciously engaged once the melee starts.
Regiments of Renown are unlocked by finding cursed Pieces of Eight throughout the game world, carried by rogue armies that must be defeated. Those armies all show up on a special map, and together with the puzzle-like treasure maps that requires you to find a location and dig up its treasure with a Hero or Army, serve to add yet another minor mechanic to the Vampire Coast campaign.
All in all, Curse of the Vampire Coast is yet another great DLC, worth the admission price to any fans of the factions. It is not as good as Rise of the Tomb Kings, as the lack of ship to ship battles and the boring, constant loop of field and siege battles that Warhammer II constantly devolves to doesn’t really lend itself to a pirate experience, but given what Creative Assembly was working with, Vampire Coast is surprisingly thorough.