by Sean Martin
reviewed on PC
CORPSES AND BOOTY
For the longest time, many of us were adamant that we would be getting the Dogs of War as our next race for Total War: Warhammer II. But alas, we did not recognize the signs staring us right in the face — the addition of Sartoza in Mortal Empires and the inclusion of the Kharibdyss in preparation for Lokhir Fellhart, the sea-themed FLC lord. So we shouldn’t have been surprised when the Curse of the Vampire Coast — jam packed with crabs, walking shipwrecks and more gun-toting zombies than you could shake a fish at — shambled onto the stage. Complete with four new lords, Luthor Harkon, Count Noctillus, Aranesa Saltspite and Cylostra Direfin, they are ready to prowl the seas, snapping up corpses and booty.
AMANAR, THE GREAT MERWYRM
While looting and plunder could be considered important motivations for the Vampire Coast, they are more tertiary objectives when it comes to the Great Vortex campaign. The stirring of the vortex has awakened the great sea-serpent Amanar, and the Vampire Coast, sensing opportunity, decide to hunt down and slay this beastie, to then resurrect and control it. However, they must first claim the Star-Metal harpoon — the only weapon capable of killing it — and recover the magical shanty that gives it power, the verses of which are held by three prominent pirate captains throughout the ocean. To climb the ranks of those most infamous and foul, you must gain infamy, the Vampire Coast specific currency, by winning battles, sacking towns, and establishing coves — ya know, piratey things.
The Vampire Coast have a whole host of new mechanics, though some are more successful than others. The pieces of eight for example, basically special units akin to the Tomb King Legions of Legend, can be claimed by defeating pirate captains, which works well. The new mechanic that allows you to fight sea battles on land — to save you getting screwed over by the often unfair auto-resolve — is a worthwhile addition. But I must say, I wasn’t really blown away by the treasure hunt mechanic. You start off with a treasure map that gives you a clue to its location and you go into ‘dig’ stance to search the area. ‘Dig’ stance is also supposed to give you a small chance of getting another treasure map, but therein lies the problem — I used this stance throughout the game and never once found another treasure map.
The pirate cove mechanic is also somewhat flawed. When you sack a settlement you can establish a secret pirate cove — almost like a hidden mini-settlement that siphons income or creates infamy. An amazing idea. But there is an option to create a pirate cove for money with a 100% success rate, basically allowing you to farm infamy and bypass much of the difficulty of the main campaign. Especially considering Vampire Coast has one of the strongest economies, so money isn’t a problem. I did, however, enjoy the inclusion of sea-treasure island battles — when you try to claim a treasure at sea, you are sometimes faced with a battle — a mechanic I think should have been in Total War: Warhammer II since the outset. Also when searching ruined Lizardmen temples, there are ‘Old One puzzles’ you must solve to claim the treasure.
“ARRRR! BUT HOW DO THEY FIGHT?!”
When a new race comes into the game, they usually are the instant best — it happened with the Tomb Kings and it is definitely the case with Vampire Coast. They are one of the first almost purely ranged factions we’ve had in the game and play somewhat how I imagine the Chaos Dwarfs will when they appear. Their combo of zombies, monsters and super cheap gunpowder units basically mean they can hold up enemy movement with bodies and armoured crabs, while laying into them with volley fire and artillery. Queen Bess, the massive mortar gained through a rite, is a perfect summation of their style, a giant shell which slows enemy movement, making them more susceptible to ranged fire.
The Vampire Counts don’t have ranged units under the guise that they are too complicated for basic re-animated bodies to use, but the Vampire Coast makes a good point — they really aren’t. Marksmanship is hard for sure, but musketry and volley fire really isn’t, the entire invention of those weapons and their simplicity of use, favoring weight of shot over precision shooting, is what the Vampire Coast is all about — literally pouring as much fire into the enemy as possible. On top of this, they have extremely powerful elite infantry, such as the Depth Guard, who are basically on-foot Blood Knights in terms of their capability. They also have a huge range of monsters — whether crabs, exploding corpses or walking shipwrecks with cannon arms. It amounts to a very flavorful roster, with plenty to choose from. But I am slightly concerned by how good the Vampire Coast are — they are inherently better than the Vampire Counts — owed to the fact their zombie units are literally better stat wise.
And their superiority doesn’t end there. They also have more ready access to terror causing units than any other faction. On top of this they have extremely strong lord choices, such as Luthor Harkon, who is a melee blender, a caster with a really good mount and has a powerful ranged weapon. While there’s nothing wrong with playing factions that are really good, I feel more concerned for the ongoing balance of the game and the impossible amount of work CA will have to do to catch up other factions, if they keep making each new one even better.
Curse of the Vampire Coast is a fairly strong DLC — the colourful roster of units will keep most players entertained and this race pack introduces more mechanics than literally any that have come before. But while the faction plays well on the battlefield, those faction mechanics feel a lot less focused — while Norsca had god allegiance and monster hunts which all tied into campaign victory — infamy is quite boring by comparison. It’s a resource that amounts to counting what you would be doing anyway and is far too easy to farm and abuse. The other mechanics feel like bolt-ons — the treasure hunts, the island battles and the Old One puzzles — and even in spite of the fact that lords have ships they can build and recruit from, it’s hard not to feel they are missing their most important faction-based mechanic: naval battles.
Can you really build a DLC around a sea-faring faction, with a sea-faring FLC lord, and not include naval battles? I understand scale-wise, they would be absolutely impossible to implement in these games, but unfortunately it doesn’t prevent that absence from being felt. Curse of the Vampire Coast has an excellent roster of units, lords and monsters who all fight with a wonderful symbiosis we’ve rarely seen before. But, unfortunately, the campaign leaves something to be desired, and feels far less mechanically focused than previous race-packs.
Wonderful unit roster, great design, extremely fun faction to play
Infamy is kind of boring, no naval battles, less mechanically focused