Total War: Warhammer II DLC and its effect on Mortal Empires.

Now that the latest release of Warhammer II DLC has settled in, the new trends resulting from the changes and additions of the combined updates are starting to show their latest effect on the campaign overall.  The trend thus far, while showing love to some badly neglected factions, has grown a little disappointing.   So far four different Old World races have received major updates, increasing their competitive ability against the newer races of Warhammer II.  Of those four, three of them have been from the “good guys” or Forces of Order, and it’s starting to show.

After each Old World update, the respective beneficiary race showed massive improvement, normally dominating its regional affairs and easily crushing its traditional rival.  As potential competition was updated and introduced, like the Skaven or Vampire Coast, these dramatic results were curbed to some degree on a global level.  Yet now that the Empire, one of the original superpower factions when Total War: Warhammer was introduced, has been added to the list of updated factions the global balance of power has finally produced noticeable ramifications across the world map.

Forces of Order factions, in this case a colloquial term identifying all Human, Dwarf, Elf, Lizardman, and yes even Tomb King factions, are typically more likely to ally with their neighbors and consolidate their power with peaceful confederations.  This factor combined with the imbalance of Old World updates has resulted, in a frequent but not total basis, in the Forces of Order achieving overwhelming map dominance before Archaon’s Chaos invasion is even defeated.  Greenskins are usually the first to go out, with Skaven relegated to balkanized provinces and the Dark Elves forced on a perpetual defensive campaign.  The Vampire Counts, if fortunate, will survive just long enough for the dwarves to unify their realm and aid the Empire in crushing the remnants of Sylvanian undead.

This is all well and good for peace-loving players and diplomatic challenges, but for those players looking for a long game of global conquest and multi-racial challenges, this can be a bother on both sides of the alliances.  Order players will rapidly find themselves with no one to fight since their beloved trading partners and military allies now likely control all the surrounding territory.  Of course there is no game limitation on who to fight or when, but attacking a former ally typically causes more problems than it’s worth.

On the flip side, factions opposing the general Forces of Order will almost inevitably find themselves embroiled in what is effectively a world war.  Fighting one or two major factions is usually little more than a hassle, but four or more super powers with their hordes of un-killable agents and unpredictable assault routes cause even a victorious campaign to bog down into quagmires of maneuvers, unfixable notifications, and compoundable domestic problems.  Any single difficulty can usually be managed with a few turns of corrective action, but when faced with conflict on a multi-front scale simple problems like agent actions and harmful events grow out of proportion.

On top of all the above, evil factions generally have difficulty aligning with each other, making any sort of united front among surviving factions problematic if not impossible.  This first manifests as evil factions are slowly eliminated by their main rivals while quarreling with their minor neighbors.  Any survivors must fight alone against an increasingly growing alliance of opponents.

Now, the Old World updates do need to happen, and have clearly improved the playability and enjoyment of these races, but the weight of focus needs to move a little more towards center.  The Forces of Order have received the overwhelming majority of new content, free or paid, and the Greenskins, Norsca, and other Chaos forces would benefit from an improvement to their now partially obsolete mechanics, skill trees, and traits.  This would go a long way to not only making these races more viable and playable factions, but also permit a more contentious Mortal Empires campaign throughout the course of extended play.

The Aversion and confederation mechanics could use somewhat of an overhaul as well.  Aversion, or the generic diplomatic penalty between races and factions that don’t like each other, was originally used to reinforce lore-based prejudices that existed among said powers.  In the beginning this made sense, Skaven and Lizardmen, for example, hate each other bitterly and only the most determined diplomatic efforts should succeed between them.

Lately however Aversion has been turned into a mechanic that represents any disgruntlement or grievance a faction could have with another.  It’s gotten to the point where almost any faction, including ones of the same race, will have an Aversion to almost all of its neighbors to some degree or another.  Aversion has stopped becoming a mechanic that enhances flavor and has turned into a crutch to make early- and mid-game diplomacy more difficult.

Confederation has, in many ways, followed a similar path.  It’s understandable that confederation is a somewhat divisive mechanic.  Some players enjoy sweeping up large amounts of settlements and collecting Legendary Lords.  Others don’t have the time or desire to mess with that diplomacy nonsense and wish confederation didn’t exist, or was harder, if that were possible.  That disagreement is part of the reason that standard confederation is a favorable option; it gives the players complete freedom to choose if they want to try confederating.  Norsca’s alteration to this formula was a welcome change, since it made confederation a very tangible objective while still giving the player freedom of choice.

Changes like this should be welcomed for future race updates.  Confederation is fun when it is thematic and attainable, all the more so when it is unique between the races.  The standard confederation mechanic, while functional, is becoming dated.  The AI has a far easier time confederating, even among rivals, while players struggle to make even the most trusted friends accept that final step.  Introducing unique, but optional, faction mechanics for confederation would go a long way in smoothing over the diplomatic hurdles and the troublesome mid-game relational challenges that so often bedevil “evil” factions.

The Empire’s new confederation mechanic is not this way.  Now confederation is effectively a mandate for the defenders of humanity, and a very costly and time consuming one at that.  The player suffers tangible penalties for not playing the diplomacy game; relational penalties pale in comparison.  Although the mechanics are detailed and easily understood, they interfere with every aspect of the player’s immersion and strategy.  CA should be applauded for trying a change as radical as they did, and in fairness they chose one the best factions, flavorfully speaking, to try it out with.  Yet their first attempt has, overall, been a failure: the Empire is wearisome to play.

Once again, change is good and Warhammer II is vastly improved beyond its original release.  The recently announced update for the long neglected Greenskin factions should go a long way in addressing many of the above issues and will hopefully encourage CA to take a more balanced approach to further updates and content releases.  They have already demonstrated their willingness to attempt a revision of existing mechanics and with some trial and error already accomplished in previous DLCs there is a high possibility that more thematic and entertaining mechanics will be available in the future.