Mortal Empires is a complicated product to review. It marks a first in Total War’s history, and potentially even the steam platform; it’s content for a game that unlocks when you purchase a separate game. Further to that, the amount of content it unlocks increases if you bought DLC for that other game.
So for the uninitiated, of which there seem to have actually been quite a few of you out there, Mortal Empires is a piece of DLC content for Total War: WARHAMMER 2, that is only downloadable if you also happened to own Total War: WARHAMMER 1.
What it adds to the game, is essentially a brand new map that combines the assets from both games in a familiar, all be it a little stretched landscape. Though the consensus in the community when Creative Assembly called it a combined map was that the maps of both games would fit together, this isn’t quite what happened. Instead, portions of the Warhammer 2 map have been clipped off and landmasses have been reshaped and pushed together. In fact its just a whole brand new map. This was revealed 3 weeks after the launch of Warhammer 2.
Now while ultimately the map is huge and the promise of the biggest map ever, pretty much has been delivered upon it is something worth mentioning, and honestly if this was Total War: WORLD, there’s no way they could’ve got away with squishing continents closer and reshaping Africa… like it just doesn’t hold up and I’m surprised they were able to with Games Workshop keeping them in check.
The bulk of the playable content in Mortal Empires, is actually from Total War: WARHAMMER 1. That is to say, the geographical area it includes is fixated primarily on the old world, and the playable races and factions from Warhammer 1 make up the majority of the content.
So, this makes it a very tricky beast to review. If for instance, your fresh to the franchise, and pickup both games, you’ll have 9 playable races to try out and around 23 legendary lords spread around the map.
The more DLC you own, the more races and lords you have to play with, up to a current maximum of 12 playable races and 35 legendary lords. This means that essentially Mortal Empires is a great reward for loyal customers. Those that have bought DLC, now get another campaign to mess around with them in it.
However the mortal empires campaign, if you’re playing as one of the old races is basically a mirror copy to the old game. I mean that’s kind of the point. Your lord or race will start in the same place, their mechanics will be the same, their quests, buildings, units, skills and objectives will largely be the same, there are some slight variations to one or two technologies or events here and there, certainly not something that changes the playthrough that much. The faction you play will behave 95% identical to how they did before. However, the most notable change is now you have the chance of coming across 4 new races in some expanded territories to the south and to the west.
I want to make a comparison to one of the previous games in the franchise, Medieval 2 Total War. After a certain number of turns you may discover America, and there’s new and interesting factions over there to fight, that play and look different and have different architecture and landscapes. This situation is kind of similar. Whether you discover it or not, you’ll play your campaign the exact same, but if you do go there, you’ll have something new to fight.
Now obviously these races you’ll encounter have a lot more to them than the ones in Medieval 2, but I wanted to drive home the idea that your faction is untouched by this new world. If you sit around and play as the vampire counts, you might never see the new world, just as Egypt may never have saw the new world in Medieval 2. Now of course, you as the player can make it a priority to do that, so the option is there, but that’s more of a self driven design.
So depending on who you choose to start as, you’ll have an increased chance to encounter these races, obviously factions near the south and the west, will reach them faster. And encountering them is the largest new element to this campaign, it’s a race that you should be unfamiliar with fighting, and it could also be a potential new ally. Of course there’s also the chance that these races will come for you eventually which can happen, and skaven in particular have been dotted around the old world so you might run into them faster.
So on the whole, if you played a lot of Warhammer 1, you’re not getting too much new here in terms of your raw campaign experience. If you choose to play as one of the Warhammer 2 races, again, you’re probably already familiar with fighting the old world races, as they were present in the Vortex Campaign.
It’s not to say the amount of familiarity is an overly bad thing, it’s just that… it is familiar. Playing as Belegar, I couldn’t help but think I’ve done this all already, and was forcing myself to try and encounter new races to shake up the gameplay I was used to.
Other conditions outside of that change how the campaign develops. For one, the new climate system, that the community clammered for in Warhammer 1, allows any faction to conquer anywhere and because of it, you’re seeing a much more random and dynamic campaign, where minor factions conquer well out of their usual areas and it makes it a lot more fun to experience and form allies and make enemies. The emergent narrative of Total War is creeping back in. Now the Dwarfs don’t just sit in the mountains all the time, they branch out a bit and it might be a bit weird for the lore but it makes for a much more interesting campaign, encountering races all over the world.
Another great aspect is that with Mortal Empires you can now play co-op or head to head with a myriad of different factions and races, and as I always advocate, co-op or head to head, is the best way to play. On-top of that, with Mortal Empires’ release, WH2 now allows multiplayer between WH2 and WH1 races and sub factions, so there’s just more diversity overall in the multiplayer scene.
And I think this is what the draw of Mortal Empires is for a lot of people, the fact that the world is much bigger and now that is has 12 races in it, it’s a lot more random creating a lot more interesting gameplay. Now remember, this is a Total War: WARHAMMER 2 DLC, so you also have the new additions that Total War: WARHAMMER II introduced, as I mentioned, we have the climate system, an improved UI, increased skill cap for lords, increased city sizes, improved trait system, encounters at sea and that’s pretty much it. If you want to hear my thoughts on those mechanics, check my Warhammer 2 review. To be honest the new feature set for this campaign, is basically just slight balance improvements which mods had delivered a lot of before and some quality of life stuff to the UI.
It can sometimes feel as if this was the type of campaign many expected when Total War: WARHAMMER was first announced, one filled with variety and all the races you’d expect from the geography of the area. Athel Loren exists now. Beastmen raids and ambushes occur. Skaven are more than just a rumour. It’s a campaign with a better working trade and resource system. A campaign that let’s you conquer anywhere. And no doubt over time this campaign will fill up even more as DLC is created for Total War: WARHAMMER 2 and DLC from the old game gets patched in.
This is the best way to play Total War: WARHAMMER by far, the only issue is, to get the full experience of this campaign the bill is $195.
It honestly feels like less and less is offered when the initial games come out, and you’ll rely on DLC and updates to make the product worthwhile over time. Some of these updates, the community really wanted, like small increases to lords levels, conquering anywhere, increasing build slots, these have now been placed behind a new full priced game paywall, while the original game is seemingly done and dusted now.
Of course there are sales on steam to help mitigate that cost over time, but there’s just something about a Total War game featuring 4 factions on release that will always seem bare bones to me. People can say the factions are far deeper and diverse than they ever have been, but I feel that any diversity or depth that was added, was removed from other parts of the game, such as campaign mechanics, unit mechanics, sieges, minor settlement battles and a bunch of other things.
I guess the problem is, if you’ve never played Total War Warhammer, getting that awesome experience is super expensive. If you’re a loyal customer and have purchased this DLC already, then this campaign is largely something you’ve played already. Its bigger and better, but only slightly.
So in that regard, I feel like scoring this content is super difficult, so I won’t score it in this review. For me, it’s a bit underwhelming, it’s a lot of what I’ve experienced already, it’s a little anti-climactic because its not as big as they said it was gonna be, it’s end game is currently messed up and some of the updates to the old game haven’t come over yet. For someone new, it’s probably one of the best experiences you can have with Total War, because it’s finally at the stage and perhaps even passed it now of what you’d expect from a strategy fantasy sandbox. I highly recommend trying it out if you haven’t, and wait for a sale for the DLC, it’s been 75% off before, and no doubt Christmas sales will see it drop again.
That’ll be it for my review of Mortal Empires, as I mentioned, the gameplay and mechanics carry over from Total War: WARHAMMER 2, so if you want a further in depth review of those mechanics, check out my review for Warhammer 2 here: https://www.therepublicofplay.com/news/2017/10/total-war-warhammer-2-review