Since launching last year, Total War: Warhammer’s [official site] digital facsimile of Games Workshop’s weird fantasy universe has grown considerably. The Old World’s become nice and fat with new factions, campaigns, units and mechanics, and now it’s finished. So this is a pretty good time to jump in, especially if you’ve been holding out for every piece of DLC. But oh no! There’s so much of it! If you get the wrong one, you might never forgive yourself. That’s why you’d best stick with me to find out which ones are crackers and which are stinkers.
The Chaos Warriors race pack was originally a pre-order bonus, which means that it deserves a few eyerolls and maybe a tut-tut, but it’s also quite good. Picking this up means that you get to go marauding around the Old World with a giant horde of blokes wearing spiky armour. They're accompanied by twin-headed dragons, the line-shattering Gorebeast Chariot and the Hellcannon, which is a devastating piece of demonic artillery. There’s no dearth of fun units to play with.
Being a horde faction means that you don’t get fixed cities – everything gets packed up when you break camp - so you don’t need to worry about defending your territory, allowing you to focus entirely on fighting, raiding and spreading the corrupting influence of Chaos. If you care more about battles than you do about your economy, diplomacy or building an empire, then Chaos is for you. And you’re getting to play as the villains, the big threat that everyone else in the world is preparing for. It’s empowering and even more pronounced than it was in Total War: Attila, where the Huns filled a similar role.
However! A lot of what makes this faction great is replicated and built on by the meatier Beastmen DLC, and even if you don’t grab the Chaos Warriors, they will still be in the game as your adversaries.
Blood for the Blood God
No. Bad Creative Assembly. Go to your room with no dinner. This is the sort of rubbish that gives DLC its poor reputation. It’s a pack that adds blood and gore to the game. That’s it. Keeping it out of the base game is probably what allowed Warhammer to get a lower age rating, but players shouldn’t have to pay to put the gore back in again.
Call of the Beastmen
Call of the Beastmen adds both the eponymous animal blokes and a diverting mini-campaign. They share traits with both Greenskins and the Chaos Warriors, with the horde and Chaos corruption mechanics of the former and the Waaagh! mechanics of the latter, but they’re more than just a hybrid. For every similarity there’s another quirk that makes them feel like a meaningful addition to the campaign.
The Beastmen boast some powerful melee units and they love nothing better than to charge into battle, horns primed, but they also get to use some Chaos units as well, making their roster quite broad. And despite their ultra-aggressive nature, they’re surprisingly sneaky. Ambush is their normal stance on the campaign map, they can move through secrets routes in the forests, and when they need to get more units or erect new buildings, they can set up temporary hidden camps.
An Eye for an Eye, the mini-campaign, pits them against the Empire in a bespoke map that’s full of forests perfect for skulking around in. The Beastmen are surrounded by the Empire and vastly outnumbered, but through guerrilla warfare and dark rites they can carve a path through their enemies. It’s battle after battle, from small skirmishes the epic clashes, blessed with an unwavering forward momentum.
The Grim and the Grave
The Grim and the Grave gives the Empire and Vampire Counts some extra love – quite a lot of extra love, in fact. With this DLC, you get two new Legendary Lords, more regular Lords, some very fancy units and even a new tier of elite warriors.
Both of the Legendary Lords can be handy, each providing a decent buff to their respective armies, though the undead Helman Ghorst’s army-wide casualty replenishment bonus feels much more effective than that of his Empire counterpart, Volkmar the Grim, who makes a specific unit, the Flagellant, cheaper and stronger. Volkmar does get to travel around on a mobile religious altar, mind you, which is sort of impressive.
There’s enough new stuff in here to warrant another playthrough as either faction, so this isn’t just for first-timers, but it’s definitely the Legendary Lords, with their new quests and abilities, who are the real draw. This is what Warhammer does really well, making heroic units the linchpin in an army, and it’s the sort of DLC that you’d never really see in another Total War. The new units are a mixed bag, however, some filling in gaps, others just taking up space, while the elites have hardly any impact at all.
The King and the Warlord
Despite costing the same as The Grim and the Grave and being pitched as another “Lords pack”, The King and the Warlord is so much more. Effectively, it adds two new, extremely challenging factions to the campaign, along with more units and Lords for the pre-existing factions.
Clan Angrund is a second Dwarf faction obsessed with reclaiming their ancestral fortress, Karak Eight Peaks. For good reason, too, as they suffer a major penalty when they aren’t holding it, making this objective considerably more desperate than most of Warhammer’s quests. As well as getting the units and buildings that the other Dwarves get, they can also fight alongside the spirits of their ancestors – yes, ghost Dwarves – and a selection of new ranged units.
Crooked Moon is a Greenskin faction full of Goblins, also looking to conquer the fortress of Karak Eight Peaks for similar reasons. While you can still field Orcs and Orgres, this DLC marks the first time you can also create an army full of Goblins that won’t get crushed immediately. They’re a lot more versatile, but the only thing you really need to know is that, finally, you can slaughter your enemies with Squigs, the noblest of all hideous beasties.
Realm of the Wood Elves
Realm of the Wood Elves introduces, not surprisingly, the Wood Elf faction (two of them, actually) and a solid mini-campaign, and the whole package is as odd as is it is great. See, the Elves don’t feel like your typical Total War faction, and getting to grips with them takes a lot of time and perseverance.
Elves melt in the face of a direct confrontation. Small in number and hollow of bone, they are all about hit-and-run tactics, fleeing from danger and striking from the forest. Their strength is their incredible ranged units, most of which can fire and move at the same time, making them terrifying until they run out of ammunition. But they require more micro-management than any other faction in this game and, perhaps, any in the Total War series.
Outside of battle, there’s a whole new economy system to learn, built around the acquisition of amber through diplomacy and conquest. Making alliances gets you more amber, while conquest is arguably easier but also riskier. This kind of friction is what the Elves are all about. In battle, for instance, they must be both sneaky and aggressive, but on the campaign map, they have to be incredibly defensive, protecting the Oak of Ages, which is part of their unique victory condition. They’re a strange and tricky dichotomy, but the most fascinating faction in the game.
Price: Nothing, silly!
Creative Assembly put out quite a lot of free DLC, mostly new Lords, but this culminated in the game’s final piece of DLC: Bretonnia. They’ve been in the game since launch, but in the campaign they were only ever AI opponents until recently. And their low, low price of nothing belies the fact that they’re a very solid faction, equal to the premium ones.
Their hook, beyond the many knights in their armours, lies in the feudal and chivalry systems. The bulk of Bretonnia’s armies is made up of peasants who would mostly be farmers if they weren’t being flung into the meat grinder of war. Once your army reaches a certain size – determined by how large your empire is – your economy starts to suffer because there aren’t enough people working the fields. It’s an interesting wrinkle that forces you to make sacrifices if you want to keep a war going, and it ties empire management to warfare in an organic, logical way.
The chivalry system forces you to be less of a dick that you otherwise might in Warhammer. Be nice to the other Bretonnian kingdoms, don’t sack settlements, choose the noble options during events and win heroic battles – that’s the path of chivalry. And there are benefits, like gaining greater control over your serfs or being able to call on the Green Knight for assistance during battle. It’s all a bit novel in a game where my natural instinct is to watch the world burn.
Verdict: Free stuff is lovely
And that’s your lot! There’s very little here that isn’t worth your consideration and plenty that you really shouldn’t play without. Total War: Warhammer was good at launch, but over the last year it’s grown into one of Creative Assembly’s strongest games. £45 on top of the base game is not an insignificant cost, however, so I recommend starting with something like The King and the Warlord, which nets you the most bang for your buck, before moving on to the more expensive faction DLCs.