Last December, Wargamer and some very few other select members of press attended a special Total War event in North London. Hosted by SEGA to promote the first updates to Warhammer II, we had a chance to test both the now released crazy Intel sandbox/benchmark The Laboratory, as well as the upcoming Rise of the Tomb Kings. Of the two, Tomb Kings was hands down my favourite.
The first Campaign Pack for Total War: Warhammer II, the DLC focuses on the eponymous Egyptian-inspired undead faction based to the south of the Great Ocean of Ulthuan. An once great and majestic culture, the kingdom of Nehekhara was an ancient human empire and the pinnacle of civilisation. Millennia ago, the treacherous and reviled necromancer Nagash — the Chaos personification of Death — ravaged the lands with his sorcery, and with a single humongous spell caused the living to perish and the dead to rise from their graves.
This gave the Tomb Lords immortal life and full control of death, which means that those who served them in flesh still serve them in bone, and never truly fall on the battlefield. In Rise of the Tomb Kings, this translates as armies that have no recruitment nor upkeep cost, completely upheaving one of Total War’s most enduring gameplay mechanics. In battle, morale is replaced by the strength of the spellbinding that keeps the soldiers corporeal.
In terms of variance, the former Priest Kings have their own unit roster, filled with skeletal warriors, mythical animals, and colossal constructs. During my couple of hours with the campaign, I assembled legions composed of infantry and archers supported by skeleton chariots which would ride over shielded enemies with nary a moment of hesitation, breaking the ranks of enemies and allowing my troops to quickly close in and slaughter them in the confusion. Screaming Skull catapults provided covering fire, throwing volleys of flaming skulls that crushed foe and fortifications alike and spread panic and destruction across the enemy lines.
The Tomb Kings special units come in the shape of War Constructions, powerful beasts of marble and stone that are immune to fear, yet spread it like the plague among opposing foes. The Anubis-like Usthabi and serpenteous Sepulchral Stalkers cleave through enemies with ease, while the Hierotitan towers above everyone in the battlefield and utterly annihilates anyone on its path. Aside from those three, the build had over half a dozen different units available that I had no time to unlock.
Based on player feedback after the releases of Wood Elves and Brettonia for Warhammer I, Creative Assembly decided not to release a separate self contained mini-campaign for Tomb Kings. Instead, the rulers of Nehekhara are seamlessly integrated into the main campaign and have four Legendary Lords instead of the usual two. Those include the big cheese Settra The Imperishable, fan-favourite High Queen Khalida, big-bad Brutus Arkhan the Black, and grim Gandalf Grand Hierophant Khatep.
The DLC itself does not focus on the Great Vortex, as the Tomb Kings are concerned about reuniting the nine cursed Books of Nagash and using their power to conquer the Black Pyramid of Nagash. While that journey takes place in the Eye of the Vortex campaign, the skeletal faction has no interest in controlling the magical maelstrom, so they exist in parallel to the base game’s storyline. The lack of Vortex rituals do not put the Tomb Kings at a disadvantage, as they have access to their very own incantation rites.
Spending a whole morning with Rise of the Tomb Kings was the most fun I’ve ever had with the Total War: Warhammer franchise, and that’s saying something. The unique thematic adjustments to the faction lend it a great deal of immersion, and the new campaign with its own objectives, mechanics, and end-goals makes this a completely different experience. The Rise of the Tomb Kings DLC is out on January 23rd, 2018, and you can expect a full review from yours truly on the day of release on our sister site, Strategy Gamer. See you then.