Wot I Think- Total War: Warhammer 2 – Rise of the Tomb Kings DLC

why the long, skinless face?

I can sympathise, at least a little, with the ancient Egyptian-themed undead known as the Tomb Kings, and who are Total War: Warhammer 2’s newest faction. A decade ago, I was trapped underneath the Great Pyramid of Giza for a mere 20 minutes while another tourist had a claustrophobia-induced panic attack. Waking up inside a pyramid and discovering that your innards are full of embalming fluid and you have only rags to hide your desiccated shame would, I imagine, be a little bit more unpleasant. No wonder they want to murder all the living.

With a chip on their bony shoulders and an appetite for power and conquest, the Tomb Kings are comfortable fit for Total War, even more so than their multitude of warlike adversaries. They’re an unceasing military machine that has yet to discover a problem that it can’t fling an infinite number of disposable animated corpses at, over and over again. This new faction is, however, something of an acquired taste, with some uneven integration into the campaign – but nonetheless the Tomb Kings are a surprisingly forgiving starting point for newcomers.

Leading the Tomb Kings, you get to be ultra-aggressive right from the get-go, and to take a lot more risks than the Total Warhammer norm. With their ranks filled by devoted undead and magical constructs, there’s no cost to recruiting troops. They’re literally raised from the dead. Sometimes even in the middle of a battle. And since corpses don’t, so far as we know, eat or drink, there’s no upkeep cost, either.

There’s no reason, then, to not field as many full armies as there are Lords. Not tying armies to the economy means that low funds don’t suddenly halt the game, and it frees up cash for expansion.

The result is a rapid early game, with plentiful opportunities to swallow up settlements. Pyrrhic victories are common, but as armies can be replenished quickly and for free, they’re not nearly as bitter as they are with living factions. That ability to recover from defeats or costly victories also makes learning to play the new faction a simpler task. You can make a lot of mistakes and still muddle your way through.

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There are still some limits to recruitment, of course. Armies need Lords; there are only a few ways to raise the Lord cap, and the majority of units are limited by the number of recruitment buildings. If you want to field more than two units of top tier infantry, for instance, you’ll need to construct the recruitment building in another settlement. The money saved from unit upkeep, however, more than pays for the extra construction costs. This also ties army size and diversity directly to conquest, giving you another reason to push your borders out and start up some more lovely, lovely wars.

All of the Total War faction fundamentals are present, but few haven’t been altered to fit the Tomb Kings’ style and personality. As a once great empire, this legion of mummies are obsessed with reclaiming their lost glory.

So as well as a pool of random Lords, there are special noteworthy kings with history and fancy traits who can be dug up and put to work. And the research tree isn’t about making new discoveries – instead it’s focused on uncovering old knowledge, raising Lords and unlocking more hero slots by spending gold and canopic jars, the faction’s primary resource.

The TWW research tree is so often filled with stat changes – and there are still plenty of those in the Tomb Kings tree – that don’t feel like tangible, meaningful improvements, but here it’s a way to get your hands on powerful, unique units and pester your foes with a multitude of agents.

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The faction’s lore even informs how magical items are discovered. While other factions typically grow their inventory of powerful artefacts by fighting, questing and exploration, the Tomb Kings are far too snooty to rely on random weapons pilfered from a dank cave (or enemy corpse).

Their boffins in the Mortuary Cult can craft everything from mystical spears and armour to enchanted items and talismans. They’re crafted from canopic jars and trade resources, finally giving things like iron and marble a purpose outside of the threadbare trade system. Through the cult, tough Legions of Legend (essentially Regiments of Renown) can also be unlocked, and the Lord cap can be increased, enabling you to field more armies. It’s a welcome twist to a system that’s normally random.

See, gaining items the normal way – which the Tomb Kings can still do, but to a lesser degree – means that you’re at the mercy of RNG. You might end up with a guff amulet that nobody needs, or a sword you’ve already collected four times already. The sheer number of items means that you’ll inevitably find plenty of cool pieces of gear, but there’s no way to plan for them. Playing as the Tomb Kings, you’ll be actively working towards specific weapons listed in the Mortuary Cult, already knowing which Lords they’ll compliment best. As a system, it’s no less involved than the original – but it gives players more agency.

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In terms of the bigger picture, the Tomb Kings have been flung into Warhammer 2’s Vortex Campaign, but instead of joining the High Elves, Dark Elves, Lizardmen and Skaven in their race to control the Vortex, this race of shambling corpses has its own unique objective. They need to find five of the nine Books of Nagash, sacred texts written by their progenitor, and which can be used to activate the Black Pyramid – thus solidifying their power. On paper, giving DLC factions their own objectives to work towards should be a plus, as it spares repetition and encourages different playstyles. Unfortunately, in practice the result is a faction that doesn’t quite fit in.

The Vortex forces the main factions to engage each other, forging alliances to halt the progress of others or starting up wars to ensure that nobody gets to enact a ritual. Essentially, it inspires total war. There’s little of that in the hunt for the Books of Nagash. The nine tomes are spread out all across the globe, held either in cities that need to be occupied or by (usually neutral) Lords you’ll need to defeated.

But by reducing the number of books that need to be collected to five, it’s possible to snatch the majority of them from just one continent, while only going to war with minor factions. As such, the Tomb Kings can feel like they’re playing an entirely different campaign to everyone else, somewhat removed from the real action.

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Of course, this being Total War, you can declare war on anyone, regardless of the objective. So while I didn’t really need to embark on an evil crusade across the sea to beat the snot out of some dinosaurs, it certainly spiced my game up. I just wish the main quest inspired this sort of thing more – it’s one of the major draws of the Vortex campaign after all.

The silver lining is that the Tomb King’s four Legendary Lords are spread out across multiple continents. The default Legendary Lord is Settra the Imperishable, ruling from Khemri, the heart of the Tomb Kings’ old empire. He gets a chariot with flaming wheels, a pet Warsphinx right from the get-go, and probably the easiest starting position.

Across the ocean are the exiled Grand Hierophant Khatep, embroiled in battling the Dark Elves with his massive Hierotitan, and High Queen Khalida, the snake and archer-obsessed vampire hunter. Each has vastly different obstacles and enemies with big grudges, but ultimately the main quest remains the same.

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For the fourth Legendary Lord, Creative Assembly indulge in a little cross-pollination. Arkhan the Black, Nagash fanboy, is best buds with TWW’s other undead faction, enabling him to recruit some of the Vampire Count units and not take a public order hit from vampiric corruption.

He’s the unpopular kid, with the other Tomb Kings not liking the cut of his jib, but his different roster gives him an edge when he eventually butts heads with them. He’s the first Legendary Lord able to recruit from two different factions, and the two undead races are remarkably complementary.

The addition of Fell bats means you don’t need to rely on the only other flying units, for instance, while the Hexwraiths are quick assassins adept at picking off stragglers and attacking from cover. They’re joined by Direwolves, who are great at harassing enemies and chasing down pesky archers, and poisonous Crypt Ghouls, for when you want to make sure your enemies feel like crap before they die.

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The other Tomb Kings have a broad roster of units – including archers, unlike the Vampire Counts and their few ranged options. Infantry and cavalry dominate the list, however, with skull-headed monsters, all manner of skeletons and an absurd variety of chariots making up the numbers. The lower-tier infantry can struggle in one-on-one fights, but since they’re undead, they never rout, giving them exceptional staying power. They’re great at locking down enemies until some chariots can smash into their rear.

The largest units, as is so often the case in Warhammer, are the real treats. Huge, deceptively fast Warsphinxes can charge into enemy units and instantly send them packing, while the colossal Hierotitan is equally handy at stomping on things and spell-casting. They’re both connected to specific heroes, too. Animated constructs can be restored mid-battle by Necrotects, and Liche Priests get a buff when they’re hanging out with a Hierototan.

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There’s an undead version of the Warsphinx, of course, and a giant scorpion replete with an armour-piercing stinger. They’re an exotic bunch who specialise in inflicting fear and terror, while never succumbing themselves.

The undead are an acquired taste, though, and not only because of all that rotting flesh. If you’ve played the Vampire Counts, you’ll know how you feel about the lack of a morale system already. Playing as either vamps or mummies, I appreciate not having to worry about them getting the jitters and legging it, but they can be a bit of a pain in the arse as opponents, with battles sometimes devolving into a game of chasing the enemy Lord around. Though the Kings won’t rout, they’re still affected by low leadership, so take out the enemy Lord and it’s easier to make their units crumble and break.

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It’s the Wood Elves rather than the Vampire Counts who feel like the Tomb Kings’ closest relative, however. Their playstyles are very different, but they both foster Warhammer’s growing asymmetry. Their approach to everything from research to gear shakes things up in ways that pay off more often than not.

The Tomb Kings are ultimately a great addition to Warhammer’s perpetually pissed-off factions, but their poor integration into the Vortex campaign suggests that Creative Assembly haven’t quite figured out how to add factions who don’t share the core participants’ objectives. Consider this, then, a slightly more emphatic recommendation if you’ve got access to the Mortal Empires sandbox, where everyone is competing in the same race to conquer the world.

Rise of the Tomb Kings is due out on January 23 on Steam and the Humble Store for £12.59/$17.09/€15.74.

26 Comments

  1. pookie101 says:

    For me Mortal Empires feels like the proper campaign and the Vortex just feels like a little story campaign you play once and never touch again. Plus it doesn’t help it makes me feel rushed and i like to take my time with total war

    • Vacuity729 says:

      Personally, I rather enjoy the Vortex campaign; it’s expansive enough that it doesn’t suffer the replayability issue that most Total War mini-campaigns suffer from, but still provides a different focus for the player. It’s worth remembering that the Vortex campaign can be played as a regular conquest sandbox (you just have to make sure no one else wins), though I’ll admit that if you have access to Mortal Empires, there’s not a lot of reason to play it that way.

      • pentraksil says:

        I also love the Vortex campaign. You can also play it like a sandbox if you want. Really liked it, was surprised by it.

    • Harmless Sponge says:

      I’d started it with the Lizard Lads and was doing nicely, and then around the fourth ritual it spawned 9 full stacks randomly across my lands and I ragequit there and then without dealing with it. Feels a touch heavy handed as opposed to fair, having to have one or two full stacks lounging around at your captial / letting some of your provinces burn as they get there.

  2. Premium User Badge

    Drib says:

    At this point I can’t help wondering what the plan is for the third game of the series. I know Warhammer Fantasy Battle had plenty of factions, but they’re going to end up pretty bottom of the barrel by the time the third game releases, at this rate.

    What, Araby? The Border Princes? Ogre Kingdoms I guess?

    • Vacuity729 says:

      For the 3rd game, the most likely factions seem to be Chaos Dwarves, Ogre Kingdoms, and Chaos Daemons. The fourth initial faction (assuming there are four like in games I and II) ends up being much more speculative; with Cathay and Kislev probably being the most likely options. I’m not honestly sure whether the Three Kingdoms announcement makes Cathay more likely or less likely. Perhaps more likely as an initial race and less likely as a DLC race?
      Additional factions for the second game are also pretty speculative; there’s endless suggestions of Dogs of War anywhere you look, though I’m not hugely convinced of that likelihood. Considering the expansive creative work they did to turn Norsca into a (really awesome) playable faction, they’ve demonstrated an ability to create viable factions out of very sparse original lore, which basically means that Amazons, Araby, Albion and the Southern Realms are all practical options, with every fan having lots of reasons why their favourite faction must be the one that gets made rather than another one.
      That was a very long sentence.

    • LexW1 says:

      There are competing theories on this. Vacuity has outlined one set of possibilities (Chaos Dwarves, Ogre Kingdoms, Chaos Daemons), but I think another likely theory is that for the third game, they’ll go with an “End Times” campaign for the main campaign.

      That would mean combined armies for several factions – or armies that became combined as the campaign went on. Creative Assembly might be able to extend it so the combinations went outside of the ones that happened in the tabletop end-times, too.

      Examples would be combined Elf armies – potentially all three Elf groups combined, combined Tomb Kings and Vampire Counts (I see the Tomb Kings pre-figures this a bit with the fourth legendary lord), and combined Chaos armies which could be just Chaos + Daemons of Chaos, but could also involve Beastmen, Skaven, and presumably Norsca and Chaos Dwarves. Presumably with a TW:W game you’d let human nations combine, perhaps also with Dwarves or Ogre Kingdoms.

      • SaintAn says:

        No, they’re not going End Times. Everyone hates End Times and they’ve already said they’re not going to do End Times. They ever pull that crap they’ll have some enraged fans on their ass. Now never mention that disgusting crap again.

    • Rituro says:

      For that fourth faction, Kislev seems the most likely, though I’m holding out hope for a Dogs of War revival. An army of nothing but famous mercenary companies? Yes, please.

      Side bet: Nippon.

      • Silent_Thunder says:

        Dogs of War makes more sense for one of the DLC races for WH2, which are already going to be slim pickings comapred to WH1’s possibilities. Them and Araby are really the only tabletop factions left on both the Vortex and ME map that can be added before getting into really weird territory like Amazons and Vampire Coast and other factions that never really had any presence in anything but lore.

      • Rhetorikolas says:

        It would make more sense for Kislev to be a DLC for Wh1 when Wh3 comes out, if not sooner, similar to how Norsca was released.

    • SaintAn says:

      In the past they have talked about doing Chaos factions dedicated to each Chaos god, so most likely they will be some of the main factions of Warhammer 3. Daemons of Chaos, Ogres, and Chaos Dwarfs could be part of the main game or could be DLC later, but they will likely be added in 3.

      They have a 10 year plan with the series so after 3 I expect they will continue adding race packs, LL packs, and do mini campaigns based on events in Warhammer lore like Rise of Nagash, Black Plague, War of the Beard, The Sundering, etc. Warhammer Fantasy is a gold mine with DLC, especially with the Mortal Empires system.

  3. Vacuity729 says:

    Thanks for the review Fraser. It’s a little sad that the alternate campaign objectives on the Vortex map for the Tomb Kings provide less reason to engage in Total War. I wonder whether future game II races will also have alternate campaign objectives or participate in the Vortex race.
    Overall, the faction sounds like a lot of fun though. Greatly looking forward to playing as them (and also playing against them) next week.

  4. pookie101 says:

    I’m rather looking forward to the 3rd game and the grand campaign that actually lives up to the term “grand” :D

  5. Malkara says:

    But by reducing the number of books that need to be collected to five, it’s possible to snatch the majority of them from just one continent, while only going to war with minor factions. As such, the Tomb Kings can feel like they’re playing an entirely different campaign to everyone else, somewhat removed from the real action.

    Was your experience with the normal vortex campaign significantly different than this? Playing as the High Elves (Teclis, specifically) I literally never left my primary continent, which meant I only had to fight the people who started around me. Of which, admittedly, one was Clan Pestilens and then eventually, when I spread far enough, Hexoatl. But, I definitely didn’t ever have to venture beyond my continent- and in fact, barely had enough time to claim my entire existing continent before the game ended.

    • Fraser Brown says:

      In the normal Vortex campaign it definitely encourages you to engage the other factions more. By the end-game, I had armies in multiple continents and I was fighting every one of the main factions. It’s true however that you can just stay on your own continent, but then you’ve still go to deal with the armies that keep getting sent to halt your rituals.

      • Malkara says:

        Yeah, to be fair, I tend towards defensive in these games because I rapidly feel like I’m losing control if I have armies to split out. And with the costs of each army in Total Warhammer being so insane, I never felt like I had enough to keep grip of the homeland & also go rampaging elsewhere. Plus the fact that at some point I always knew I’d have to pull the armies back to defend specific ‘ritual sites’.

        That might have been made a bigger problem by the fact that High Elves are pretty slow to move around. It seems like the issue is more one around starting positions than anything else, though. Perhaps down the line CA should consider allowing interventions against whatever the Tomb Kings’ objectives are? It wasn’t until like the last 50 turns of the game that I even saw Dark Elf units in battle, aside from the quest battles. The rest of my game was spent almost entirely against lizardmen and skaven.

        Does the game end if Tomb Kings get their last tome, as AI? Do you get a chance to ‘stop them’ like you do with the final vortex battles?

  6. biggergun says:

    For me Vortex (as Malekith and Mazdamundi) was more like “wait, fight Chaos autospawns, repeat”. I was at war with the other majors, but rarely even saw them. The map is too big and disjointed, in my opinion. The “farm X macguffins” victory condition doesn’t help too.

  7. Vickers says:

    do the tomb kings have their own cartoon in the Vortex campaign like the other races? That was what really tied it together and made you want to replay.

  8. SaintAn says:

    This could be a spoiler so you probably can’t answer yes, but did Nagash show up at all? During an interview last week when some of the devs were asked they acted strange to that question, so I’m curious.

    I kinda hope he does, but at the same time hope he doesn’t because that would mean he would be a final boss so he couldn’t get added as a playable LL later.

    • Blacksilver65 says:

      Why not make him unlockable? I heard that big winged chaos boss is usable in multiplayer once you beat him in the campaign. Not sure if that’s true though.

      • Cactuscat says:

        He is, yeah, in both MP and in custom battles. He’s also a bit naff, but I like the idea of these little extra Lords unlocking as you go. I have a big thing for achievements giving me free stuff

  9. audiopathik says:

    One victory condition for the Tomb Kings is controlling the Black Pyramid of Nagash, which is always in the Southlands, how do Grand Hierophant Khatep and High Queen Khalida not have to cross the ocean when they start off in different continents?
    I assume controlling 5 of the 9 Books of Nagash will grant them control through some campaign-mechanic or the Black Pyramid of Nagash is not a settlement that you can conquer without obtaining 5 Books of Nagash.

    How does the Vortex story end when any of the Tomb Kings factions wins the final battle after upgrading the Black Pyramid of Nagash to Tier V?
    I assume Nagash is revived when 5 Books of Nagash are assembled, though all of the Tomb Kings but Arkhan the Black are his woes, no? Maybe there is a similar mechanic to the Vortex…

  10. ForeverMorbid says:

    I quite like the Vortex campaign in comparison.

    -Quests aren’t on a timer, allowing you do finish them when convienient rather then giving you a quest absurdly far away that you’ll never reach in time.

    -Has better immersion into the game due to the ongoing story and video clips. Has starting videos for all races (for some reason Mortal Empires didnt port WH1’s starting videos)

    -Better map design. You can’t cross from one continent to another in 1 turn like in Mortal Empires. They didn’t add 100,000 years of continental shift pushing everything together. Theres more map in the south. All water is accessable unlike Mortal Empires that has a section in the south east that you cannot go in.

    -More reasonable end game time. I can’t say myself I ever want to play a 500 turn campaign. The length of the Vortex campaign seems much more reasonable. Id rather play fewer shorter camapigns and be able to swap up races.
    -Some sense of accomplishment. At least completing rituals makes you feel like your doing something. Mortal Empires your main quest is “Raze, Sack, Look or Occupy x Settlements”. Really your main quest is just to play the damn game, I mean what else are you going to do?

    I do agree they just kinda threw the TK in with the Vortex campaign. They kinda backed themselves in a corner with the way they designed the Vortex campaign. I’m personally just glad they decided to integrate it to the Vortex and not just Mortal Empires due to them not being interested in the vortex.

  11. Hyena Grin says:

    I’m just going to throw this out there, but I’m actually kind of glad the Tomb Kings don’t integrate heavily with the Vortex campaign, because I like the Vortex map but I wish there was a way to play it without the Vortex victory goal (call me old-fashioned), and Tomb Kings gives you a way to do this.

    Though a better solution would be to just create a traditional campaign using that map.

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