Why not? All the cool kids (where “kid” means “middle aged man”) on YouTube are doing it, why shouldn’t an old-schooler who writes words that you have to read get in on the fun?
I am using Legend of Total War’s Tiermaker list, which only covers the paid DLC (the FLC zone has some of my favourite stuff in it, like Isabella von Carstein and the entire Bretonnian faction, but since it’s free you might as well get it anyway and see if you like it or not). I am also using this as a kind of retrospective, through which you can squint at my thoughts on the two games (which have taken up a shocking amount of my spare time in the last four years).
If I’m going to do this, I might as well do it thoroughly, so I’m going to address the TWW1 DLC as if you’re just playing that game (where some of the packs are distinctly more valuable), the TWW2 DLC the same way (mostly thinking about the Vortex campaign) and then an all-in Mortal Empires list (because the five continent map and the sheer density of stuff on it rearranges the importance and effectiveness of some packs).
Let us, as the old saying goes, get ready to rumble.
Total War: Warhammer
Every so often I find myself going back to the first game and booting it up. I like the Old World map a lot, and sometimes I want to play a smaller and more controlled campaign on that, without worrying about four other continents full of stuff, the inevitable vermintide as the Skaven start burrowing in, Rakarth showing up and teabagging half the Empire and the sheer bloat and creep that’s set in as the second game gets bigger. Sometimes I just want to finish a game in a weekend, you know?
Anyway. GARBAGE is reserved for Blood For The Blood God and it’ll be there in every list. I have no problem with blood and gore being sold separately to keep the age rating down, that’s only marketing, but the extra CPU/GPU load on my decidedly mid-range machine is a killer. Paying money to make a game run worse? No. Piss off.
C TIER houses the two Chaos DLCs. Leaving aside any hard feelings about “day one DLC” and other things that make the gamers rise up, I just don’t like them much. Hordes always feel like they’re playing half the game, with none of the empire management stuff that I actually enjoy (more than the battles after a while). Neither of them really suit my playstyle either: Beastmen are too fragile and rushy, Warriors too clumsy and one-dimensional.
B TIER. Realm of the Wood Elves. It took a few years and a second title in the series to get the Wood Elves right, but their first appearance was a spirited effort and I have had fun with their mini-campaign on the more detailed Athel Loren and immediate borders map. Stamping on Bretonnians is always a giggle as well.
The Grim & The Grave has been rendered obsolete in the context of game two, but in strict TWW1 terms it’s still decent, adding solid alternative choices to the Vampire and Empire lineups. In particular, the Empire’s mid-tier lineup is pretty bland without Flagellants and Free Company to spice it up and I find myself making heavy use of them into the mid-game.
A TIER! The King & The Warlord changes up the Dwarf and Greenskin campaigns by adding the migration/race element of Skarsnik and Belegar’s chase across the Border Princes, and that makes those races interesting enough that I actually wanted to play them.
Norsca are what Warriors of Chaos should have been; an elite of armoured hardcases, a swarm of heavy metal barbarians, and big grobbly monstrous infantry in their wake, but with an actual realm to play with and limited presence on the mainland to keep them playing the same kind of game as everyone else, and actual mechanics for interacting with the mad desires of the Chaos Gods.
There’s no Pay To Win here because Creative Assembly hadn’t gone off the chain yet. That comes later.
Total War: Warhammer 2
Up front, I’ll say that I skipped The Silence & The Fury – I don’t like either Beastmen or Lizardmen enough to take a punt on it. I wish I’d been that firm, that clear on my own tastes, much earlier: I didn’t get my money’s worth out of Hunter & Beast or Prophet & Warlock either.
GARBAGE contains, as before, the “spend money to make game actively worse” option, and also The Hunter & The Beast. I wanted to put this in C but I had to be honest with myself: both of the campaigns are experimental designs which, a year or two down the track, I consider failures. Nakai’s “I’m a horde, my vassal runs the empire” setup is too dependent on the AI’s batshit approach to diplomacy to actually function; Wulfhart’s hostility function means you’re forever slapping away randomly spawned enemies instead of exerting your agency on the map.
I’m more let down by Wulfhart as I really wanted to engage with the “you have four special heroes and each has a story quest” mechanic here – I’d love to see that done in a campaign that wasn’t blighted by systemic failures. This one cries out for its own special mini-map like the Beastmen and Wood Elves had in game one – I know those weren’t hugely popular but sometimes the way gamers say they want things done isn’t the best way to do them.
B TIER‘s solitary entry is the Curse of the Vampire Coast. Now. I am proud of Creative Assembly for taking a one-and-done novelty army list from White Dwarf that only existed because Pirates of the Caribbean was big that summer and making a rounded, playable faction out of it. I am impressed that they managed to rehabilitate Dreadfleet. But this, for me, is the point where TWW2 jumped the proverbial shark. In an attempt to make the new faction stick, CA threw everything at it – loyalty! corruption! pseudo-horde gameplay! non-legendary special lords! undercities! not one but three alternative objectives that aren’t the Vortex! alternative unlocks for regiments of renown! mission system that throws you all over the world! – and the result is an incoherent, internally unbalanced mess. It’s a cool mess, because it’s vampire and zombie pirates and big crab monsters and all that other shit I like, but it’s just too much for me.
A TIER has my favourite faction in the game – Tomb Kings, whose alternative economy and elongated midgame mean I’m more likely to stick with their campaigns and almost never finish them. I do run them modded so their building tree is a little more player friendly and I do wish they had a Liche High Priest as a Lord option, but nothing’s perfect.
The Shadow & The Blade breathed new life into the Vortex campaign by introducing ways to play Dark Elves and Skaven that didn’t engage with what was, by then, a played-out experience, a solved game. Malus in particular is great fun, touring around the Southlands as more or less a one-man army, sending his bundles of scrolls home in return for the potions that allow him to function as an empire builder at all. Snikch has one absolutely broken feature but one is easy to ignore, and otherwise he’s running a micro heavy skirmishy type battleline that’s quite a challenge to wrangle on the field.
Finally, there’s The Twisted & The Twilight, the DLC that taught me it was OK to love Wood Elves. I nearly put this in Pay To Win. In my second run at the Sisters’ campaign finale, I took in a stack with something like twelve units of Warhawk Riders and three Dragons, plus the one the Sisters themselves were on. I had to go AFK for a few minutes to answer the phone and forgot to pause the game. When I came back, my army was winning the final battle by itself, keeping Throt’s forces at bay without me touching a single button. They were starting to fall apart when I stepped in, and it was my second attempt (my first army wasn’t up to the job at all), but they’re still just this side of broken. It’s basic Wood Elf fragility and their lack of allies in Vortex mode that keep them under control.
PAY TO WIN. I’ve already mentioned the feature creep in TWW2 a few times, and I think around and after the launch of the Vampire Coast, the urge to make new factions distinctive has introduced a lot of broken units and game-distorting campaign mechanics that cross the line into “not fun any more.”
The Queen & The Crone nearly made A tier instead, because I mostly played Dark Elves early on and they didn’t make out like bandits from this one. But now, you see, I’ve played Alarielle a little bit, and I get it now. Adding Treemen and Sisters of Avelorn to the High Elf roster took an already powerful faction into overdrive by giving them the best elements of the Wood Elf playstyle and none of the drawbacks. It’s not as if they didn’t already have amazing builds – Lothern Sea Guard and Dragon spam and so on – so this ends up pure bullshit. (I do have to admit that Alarielle is the only High Elf lord I enjoy playing, though.)
The Warden & The Paunch is in because of Grom’s cauldron effects and the new tech tree for Greenskins. By itself, Goblins benefitting more from tech upgrades would be, you know. Fine. There needs to be something to keep the little shits relevant, I suppose. But when you layer on some of the insane buffs from Grom’s (pretty fun) recipe minigame on top of the unit rebalancing and the tech bonuses, you have crap like Goblin Spearmen and Archers seeing off units tiers above them. Fun, but going back to regular Greenskins after that shows you the DLC faction’s bells and whistles are a bit much.
The chief offender, of course, is The Prophet & The Warlock. The Lizardmen can sit out for this one, their most bent shit is FLC, but you, Ikit Klaw – you want working on. Skaven weapon teams would have been acceptable as unit upgrades for Clanrats – just lurking in the ranks turning them into slightly volatile light artillery who could also hold a line. Introducing Ratling Guns and Jezzails as units turns the game into a shooting gallery, layering atop the Skaven’s existing very good destructive magic. And then those units get bullshit upgrades from the Workshop system, like infinite ammo – this sort of thing is normally a cheat in games, for the very good reason that it’s cheating, especially in RTS play where conserving ammunition feels, well, more strategic. Oh, and Ikit also rolls up with a goddamn tactical nuke in this pseudo-Renaissance fantasy setting. And he’s Skaven, so he gets all their usual nonsense like spamming food to insta-build high tier cities, and stalk stance so you have to creep through their turf at a snail’s pace setting ambush every fucking turn. Feature bloat and power creep at their most egregious and offensive. And you still have to put up with this shit in your campaigns even if you didn’t buy the DLC – there’s an evolving meta for a single player game? Rage! I am Rising Up! Bah, rah, grobble and froth!
This is why I often go back to Warhammer 1 – because a lot of what’s added to Warhammer 2, whether I bought it or not, makes the game less fun to play. I know there’s no accounting for taste, and I am probably more of a bare bones player than the average. I’m fine with a few features that work well and a stable internal experience, and I don’t need New Content every two months to stop me running off to the next new shiny thing; it takes me about two years to become bored with a game once I’m into it. But I don’t think I’m getting into Warhammer 3, if it’s going to start with this level of shenanigans, as it surely must to maintain the curve.
Mortal Empires: All The Total Warhammer DLC In One List
Context is everything, and some DLC ends up looking better or worse when considered in the context of the Mortal Empires campaign. Mostly, this means Warhammer 1 DLC ends up worse off, with some races having never had more than a token stat tweak since they first arrived in the game. Sometimes, it’s DLC from Warhammer 2 handling very differently in the big five continent sandbox with different starting locations and more threats to corral and control them.
For completeness’ sake I’ve added The Silence & The Fury in the place where the Let’s Plays make me think it belongs. I still don’t interact with Beastmen except to shoot them off the map – it’s slightly harder now that they have pseudosettlements with garrisons and areas around them that I can’t build in. They look like anti-Wood-Elves, which is what they should be.
GARBAGE – no change, Wulfhart and Nakai are if anything even sadder when there’s more stuff that’s more fun than them around. Wulfhart might be fun if auto-confederated with Karl Franz to give a second front, for Empire players who like a challenge. I suppose.
C TIER – all of the Chaos, by themselves, and most of the Lord packs. Norsca collapse into a solid C too, due to having been utterly neglected since the game launched and looking really inadequate next to the much bigger Tomb Kings and Vampire Coast packs that came after them.
Grim & Grave is reduced to near-irrelevance, although the new units are nice to have for two factions that need the variety. King & Warlord is still fun but both Skarsnik and Belegar will often end up banging their heads into a Skaven megaconfederation under Queek and Skaven ruin everything.
Warden & Paunch comes down here, because when Grom isn’t the only Greenskin option available one can simply not play him and enjoy the race in its more grounded vanilla state. Shadow & Blade also comes down, because Malus is no fun at all in Mortal Empires. Fighting Lizardmen at the start is a taller order and he has much stronger enemies on his doorstep, including having to fight Snickh almost straight away.
B TIER – Vampire Coast gonna Vampire Coast, no change here. One day I’ll actually be bothered to see through a Noctilus campaign and retake Drakenhof.
A TIER – Tomb Kings are still good, but here I’m going to jump the Wood Elves up to join the Sisters in A tier. Most of the Old World factions didn’t change that much with their Mortal Empires rework – a new start for so and so, unit rebalancing to put them more on par with the successors, a new mechanic. Wood Elves transformed. Suddenly they were teleporting all over the world, creating their own realms centred around heathlands rather than provinces, confederating each other by careful selection of enemies and defeating of spawns that aligns really well with their backstory. And they got Drycha, whose campaign came along at just the right time to revive my slightly flagging interest in Total War but convince me to start a whole new tabletop army. An army I had hated, back in the day.
That’s why I’m still playing Warhammer 2: because sometimes it manages to really surprise me.