“Right then,” I can imagine the Creative Assembly’s Richard Aldridge saying, as he commenced the brainstorming session for The Silence And The Fury, the latest and last DLC pack for Total War: Warhammer 2. “We’ve got Taurox. Giant metal bull geezer. He needs a special campaign mechanic. Any ideas?” The rest of the team look at each other uncertainly. “Maybe give him some sort of anger meter?” suggests one poor soul, plaintively. “What if he’s got to assemble enough oxo cubes to make a big castle?” offers another, through a trembling cringe of fear.
“Nah!” roars Aldridge, smashing his fist into a platter of raw sausages for emphasis. “I’ll tell you what we’re gonna do. We’re gonna give him the ability to press a button which gives him an extra turn on the campaign map. So he can have a second fight. And if he wins the fight, he gets even stronger. And then he can press the button again”. There is a brief silence. “Sounds quite overpowered,” mumbles the oxo-suggester. “What’s the drawback?” But Aldridge has stopped listening; he is simply roaring the word “BEASTMEN!” over and over again, and proceeds to end the meeting by hoofing a telly through the boardroom window.
I jest, of course. Richard aldridge’s Emphasis Sausages are always perfectly cooked. But otherwise, I’m certain the scene played out exactly like that. Or at least I was, for my first couple of hours playing Total War: Warhammer 2 in its divinely bloated final form.
Because Taurox is ridiculous. After winning a few fights, he does indeed have a button which resets his movement range on campaign. It means he can run headlong into a city, obliterate it, and then carry straight on to another one for another metrocide. What’s more, he usually gets an incredibly powerful bonus every time he does so, on top of the usual levelling up. He can do this five times in a single turn, wiping out entire factions.
And if that somehow wasn’t enough, should Taurox commit all these atrocities within his bloodground - the area around the filth heap which passes for a Beastman city - he charges up a stat called Ruination. Ruination can be exchanged for - wait for it - even more enormous bonuses. Basically, when he wins, Taurox gets winnier. And when he properly gets going on a streak, he’s not so much a bull in a china shop, as he is a white-hot cannonball dropped into a cement mixer full of priceless Wedgworth pottery.
But then, miraculously, things levelled out. I found some level of challenge creeping in around the edges. I found that, actually, Taurox had been quite thoroughly thought through. You see, as ever in Total War, there are a bunch of discreet cooldowns and weird, half-hidden mechanics in the background of each faction, working away quietly to mitigate the really wild excesses. In the end, while I never felt held back, Taurox’s rampages were subtly and organically constrained so they only happened every now and again. They lent a sort of plodding, cacophonous drumbeat to the whole campaign, taking place often enough that I never felt I was waiting for them, but not so often that I began to get sick of the whole business.
"CA’s approach to balancing TWW2 feels like it’s inspired by a long afternoon watching workmen heave anvils into a skip."
I still think Taurox is overpowered. He should probably be patched a little in the long term - especially in the early game. But we’re talking tweaks here, not reworking. The Brass Bull’s mechanics aren’t nearly so ludicrous as they look on paper. But when you’re on a rampage, they feel outrageous. And because they do this without making the game quite as meaninglessly, pitifully easy as logic would seem to suggest they should, they make for a brilliant power fantasy.
It was funny, actually, when I realised Taurox’s “press button to win” mechanic was actually lifted, fairly intact, from Total War: Three Kingdoms’ Lu Bu. Granted, Three Kingdoms saunters into fantasy territory itself, at least more than CA’s pure historical titles do. But while the move-chaining ability had seemed fairly sober and elegant in that game, when applied to the general “hollering and innards” aesthetic of the Beastmen, it felt about as subtle as reaching for a handgun and shooting enemy cities on my monitor screen.
Honestly, I love it. Warhammer is all about massive characters, complex lore, and ridiculously overblown incidents of violence. Taurox fits right in. Let’s remember, it’s not like he’s the first DLC lord to feel comically OP at first. CA’s approach to balancing TWW2, after all, feels like it’s inspired by a long afternoon watching workmen heave anvils into a skip. Everything which goes in always feels wildly more powerful than anything else has been to date. And yet, somehow, the actual experience of playing it never changes that much.
And so, godspeed Total War: Warhammer 2. You have been a spectacular game; a masterpiece, made almost entirely from duct tape and hand grenades. And if we’re being honest, it’s not like your story ends here. Because before long, you will return as the middle section of the digital human centipede that will be the Mega-mortal Empires campaign in Total War: Warhammer 3.
Until then, I can only wonder what TWW3 director Ian Roxburgh and his team of strategy berserkers are putting together, with regard to the lords we’ll meet in part three. A skaven warlock with the power to delete other factions from your hard drive? A bodybuilder with a crocodile skull for a head, who constantly summons a torrent of moons to smash into the map, wherever you move your mouse cursor?
Who knows. All I can say for sure (and it’s rare that I’m this sure about any game which isn’t out yet) is that it will all be a huge amount of fun. Possibly busted fun. Possibly fun that will be patched over and over again before it’s remotely competitive. Possibly fun that languishes for years, half-realised, while the rest of the game surpasses it. But fun nonetheless.
In conclusion: BEASTMEN!!!!