Total War: Warhammer 2 - The Warden & The Paunch DLC Review21 May 2020 0
Total War: Warhammer 2 - The Warden & The Paunch DLC Review
Released 21 May 2020
Long ago, the spires of Tor Yvresse fell. The Greenskin hordes of Grom the Paunch stumbled onto the mystical island of Ulthuan and sieged the millenia-old metropolis, taking down magical waystones and nearly sinking the whole archipelago before Elven Captain Eltharion flew to the rescue on his griffon Stormwing. Killing Grom’s wizard advisor and pushing back the goblin tide, the High Elf Lord took the offensive and invaded the Old World in an attempt to eradicate the Greenskins, before realising their numbers and physiology made such an endeavour futile. Eltharion -- now Warden of Tor Yvresse -- returned to Ulthuan to fortify its East Coast cities and train its armies, while in the Badlands the beaten and weakened Paunch began to plan his revenge.
This is the setting for Total War: Warhammer II - The Warden & The Paunch, the latest (and possibly last) character pack DLC for the 2017 strategy game. Like all Total War content, the value of this pack is dictated by your interest in it -- in this case, High Elves and Goblin Greenskins -- and how much use you’re planning to get out of it in the Eye of the Vortex and/or Mortal Empires campaigns.
On the Asur side, we get Eltharion -- Prince of Yvresse and Warden of Tor Yvresse. After successfully repealing Grom’s Waaagh! invasion and returning to Ulthuan after a long spell abroad hunting Greenskins, the High Elf is set upon rebuilding the majesty of Yvresse and restoring power to its hidden fortress of Athel Tamarha. To do that, the player must fight battles and use a Yvresse-unique spell that captures post-battle any enemy Hero or Lord wounded while affected by it.
The captured character can be interrogated, indoctrinated, or executed, and those actions generate a new resource called Warden’s Supplies, which can be used to upgrade Athel Tamarha and grant boons to units, the faction and the fortress itself. The upgraded Athel Tamarha -- alongside upgrades to Tor Yvresse itself -- raise the region’s Defense rating, which grants further strategic bonuses like replenishment and movement range to the faction as a whole.
As the might of Ulthuan’s east coast grows, so does its magic; at Defense Tier 1, the mages are able to summon forth the Mists of Yvresse, cloaking the region in a defensive shroud. At Tier 2, the Mist spreads beyond Tor Yvresse to all player-owner provinces, and at Tier 3, it shrouds all regions of Outer Ulthuan under control of military or defensive allies. This powerful passive Mist synergises mighty with the campaign’s defensive angle, making it easier to keep the Elven homeland free of invaders.
The defensive angle is important, as the campaign starts with an ominous 150-turn timer ticking down until Grom’s second attempt to destroy Ulthuan. Interestingly, Eltharion is able to challenge Grom to a battle from turn 1, but doing so before Yvresse is fully upgraded and the army is fully ready is a bad proposition -- the final siege consists of four full armies and you can only bring one, meaning you need Tor Yvresse’s defenses repaired, magic traps laid, and standing army at arms to have a good chance to win. In a very interesting design decision, Tor Yvresse progress from a “ruined” city to “rebuilt” and “fortified” states actually reflects both visually and mechanically into the tactical map for any sieges fought over it.
Unit-wise, Eltharion is remarkably good at being both a spellcaster and a warrior. Wielding his family’s Fangsword, riding the unique griffon Stormwing, and possessing what is undoubtedly my favorite voice among all High Elf Lords (and I’m a Tyrion main!), he is a joy to deploy on the battlefield (though I do wonder how he fights with that ludicrous helm). To help him out, the DLC also adds a new Lord type in the form of powerful High Elven Archmages, which wield the Lore of High Magic and finally give the High Elves access to all 8 Winds of Magic.
In the army, Yvresse gets access to the dual-wielding Rangers, the heavy spear Silverin Guard, and the awesome War Lions of Chrace, which are very reminiscent of Rome’s war dogs but with the added bonus they knock whole battalions back on impact like they were a unit of heavy cavalry. You also get a Lion Chariot of Chrace variant and the unique Arcane Phoenix, the latter which creates an unbelievably good looking vortex of energy on the battlefield. There are also 5 Eltharion-unique units in the shape of the Mistwalkers, and new Regiments of Renown versions of the Archers Light Armour, War Lions, and Arcane Phoenix units, which is always a good thing.
On the other hand, (or trolley, because he’s fat) we got the Goblin King Grom the Paunch. The biggest, strongest, and fattest Goblin ever, Grom’s size and reputation made him so respected he was able to recruit Orcs and Trolls and go on one of the longest Waaghs! ever recorded, raiding all the way through the Empire before being kicked out near Marienburg. Despite losing most of his hastily-built escape fleet on Bretonian shores he then somehow stumbles onto Ulthuan through the Shifting Isles. Now, after a long time gone from the face of the world, Grom is back in the Southern Badlands hungry for war (and food, because he’s fat).
Unlike Eltharion’s Ulthuan encompassing Mist and secret fortress, Grom gets a cauldron as a special mechanic. Throughout the campaign, you will acquire unique ingredients via battles, missions, and special Food Merchant events that will allow you to cook new recipes in the cauldron. That cooking will not only directly affect Grom’s stats temporarily, but also provide a faction-wide benefit for a few turns depending on the recipe prepared. The aforementioned Food Merchant itself can be found on the map and triggered like a choice event, including options like cooking a recipe as a challenge in exchange for ingredient slots, buying new food, or letting the merchant itself cook a random recipe.
All of that is done among the urgings of Blacktoof, Grom’s old wizard advisor which had its head chopped off by Eltharion but is still somehow alive thanks to the magic he was able to absorb from Ulthuan’s waystones. Blacktoof serves as both a quest giver and an item capable of summoning a Rogue Idol (a very powerful golem-like creature), and the bodyless wizard keeps guiding Grom towards the ultimate goal of razing Tor Yvresse to the ground.
As a unit, Grom is very tough. He starts at level 1 already equipped with a chariot and regeneration abilities, making him a strong presence in the battlefield able to push through units with ease (partially because chariots in Total War have a lot of mass, and partially because he’s fat (Marcello do we need to talk about this?-ED)). As a proper Greenskin, his buff to nearby units increases if he actually gets into the thick of the fighting.
His army composition is bolstered by several new units, including a new Giant River Hag Troll magic hero that wields the Lore of Death, River and Stone Troll variants (the later of which is not a new model unit like it should be, but reused normal Trolls), and the Rogue Idol magical construct which is bigger than the giant spiders and truly imposing in the battlefield. There are also 3 Pump Wagon units which are basically crude cars giving Grom’s army a very distinct Mad Max: Fury Road feel, alongside Regiment of Renown variants of the River Trolls, Rogue Idol, and Pump Wagon additions.
While most of those features carry over and also apply on Mortal Empires, it remains plain that CA arn’t really sure how to handle this mode. Grom starts the mega-campaign below Bretonia, while Eltharion -- the Warden of Yvresse who vowed to defend Ulthuan’s east coast -- for some reason starts in the Badlands and not in Yvresse or anywhere in the Elven island, for that matter. This puts the defender of the region further away than the guy who's supposed to be invading it. Mortal Empires has long had issues -- from Ulthuan being extremely close to the Old World to Caledor ALWAYS being wiped out by Count Nautilus due to stupid spawn positions -- but I hope they get those mistakes get fixed when Warhammer 3 inevitably comes out.
One problem I had with the game which may or may not be related to the review copy regards Eltharion’s prisoner system -- namely, the lack of it. The whole capturing thing was extremely unreliable for me, with units that were marked with the Cage spell not being captured regardless if they left the battlefield or were downed in combat. As a result, I didn’t get to properly experience it as much as I wanted, so be warned the system may either be bugged, or simply badly designed. Similarly, I wish the Mists of Yvresse were available to other High Elves if they confederated Eltharion, but during my tests, that feature was unfortunately missing.
As a whole, The Warden & The Paunch is another sizable DLC that should please if you are interested in the general theme, even if the execution is a bit lopsided. While I loved the High Elves part, honestly, I don’t get why people like Greenskins -- they are base creatures governed only by impulse, whose sole interest rests in anarchy and food. Compared to Yvresse’s military and cultural upgrades, done by the development of the region and the increase of its magical power, Grom’s faction is boosted by a simple food crafting menu, which is vastly less interesting than the already basic Athel Tamarha interface. Still, if you like at least one of the factions in the Lord Pack and want to give the (awesomely voiced) Warden of Tor Yvresse or the Paunch of Badlads a go, you surely won’t be disappointed.
Editor’s Note: The reviewer is a sweaty High Elf Main, in case it wasn’t obvious. This article was kindly donated to Strategy Gamer by the author.