by Sean Martin
reviewed on PC
THE QUEEN AND THE CRONE
What can you do in five months: paint a portrait? Learn a language? Write a book? (a small book), or as it turns out, re-integrate Norsca into Total War: Warhammer 2. Since Tomb Kings dropped back in January, Iíve been eagerly awaiting the next DLC release, and to reflect this long drought in content, CA has given us a tonne of stuff. Weíve got a free lord for the high elves, new units, new regiments or renown, Norsca reintroduced, plus a revamp for Ungrim Ironfist, moving him to a unique start position and giving the Dwarves an item forge mechanic. But, most importantly, weíve got The Queen and the Crone, the gameís first Lord pack, pitting the High Elves and the Dark Elves against each other as two new characters enter the fray.
Alarielle the Everqueen is the mother of all High Elves. Not literally, but a kind of a spiritual mother. In the Forest of Avelorn, she tends to life and just generally embodies the purity of the High Elves. But she also likes to kick ass and takes names, so when Ulthuan is threatened, sheíll lead a host of angry elves and forest spirits to cleanse the realm. But far in the north of Naggaroth, is Har Ganeth, the city of executioners, where the Bride of Khaine resides. The two things to know about Crone Helebron are that she is mentally old and really loves murder. The only way she can retain her beauty is by calling ĎDeath Nightí a festival in which slaves are released onto the streets of Har Ganeth and butchered in a panoply of gore. Helebron then bathes in the blood of these slaves. The focal point of this lord match-up is the Shrine of the Widowmaker, where Khaineís turbo-charged sword (the Widowmaker) rests. Alarielle wishes to claim the shrine to stop the sword from falling into evil hands, whereas Helebron wants the sword to find new and interesting ways to commit her favourite past-time. The board is set.
Let me tell you a secret: I never really liked the Dark Elves. For a race that loves murder so much I always found that their actual killing potential, in comparison to the High Elves (where every battle is an arrow-strewn/dragon-filled attrition fest), is lacking. But the introduction of Har Ganethís new units goes a long way to fixing this in my eyes. You have the Doomfire Warlocks, super-fast cavalry who can cast spells, but, best of all, the Sisters of Slaughter, who pretty much do what they say on the tin. I had one battle with 12 Dark Elf units vs. 30 Norscan infantry units. By the end only Hellebron (and five severely traumatized crossbowmen) were left. But before they expired, each of my two Sisters of Slaughter units racked up well over 300 kills each. These whip-carrying gladiatrices have some real killing potential, and will regularly rack up a couple of hundred kills per battle if used right.
The mechanic at the centre of Har Ganethís campaign is Death Night. Helebron has a bar (representing how decrepit she is) which gradually decreases the longer you go without calling one. This bar will confer a range of campaign buffs and debuffs depending on its level. Each time you call Death Night, she will be rejuvenated, but it will take more slaves each successive time. It will also spawn the Blood Voyage, an army which will beeline straight for the shores of Ulthuan to cause some mayhem. The endgame of Helebronís campaign is to capture Gaean Vale (Alarielleís capital) and the Ancient City of Quintex (Morathiís capital) and to steal their secrets of eternal beauty. Doing this increases the barís size, meaning Helebron will stay rejuvenated and youíll never have to call another Death Night.
HOST OF THE EVERQUEEN
Making her home in the Forest of Avelorn, Alarielle is able to use forest spirits units: such as Dryads, Treekin and Treemen. There are also new units, including Shadow-Warriors (sneaky archers) and the Sisters of Averlorn, archers with fire and magic arrows who will absolutely blend everything. There is also a new ranged hero, the Handmaiden, who basically functions like a Waystalker for the High Elves. Along with the entire High Elf roster, this perhaps makes Avelorn the strongest race in the game currently (except maybe the Dwarves). Alarielle is an interesting caster lord to play, with spells from the lore of high magic, the lore of life and A TONNE of winds of magic, she is pretty much exclusively about healing and buffing troops. This makes sense from a lore perspective, as she is more about tending life than taking it.
If Helebronís campaign is about offence, then Alarielleís is about defence, conferring buffs for making sure that Ulthuan is under High Elf control, or isnít suffering Chaotic or Vampiric corruption. Alarielleís strength and diplomatic relations to other High Elf factions, will wax or wane depending on that state of affairs. I really like this as a lore based campaign mechanic, but I found that after you secure Ulthuanís northern shore, there isnít much motivation to go after Helebron (who is way to the north). Unlike in Helebronís campaign, where taking the fight to Alarielle is an actual objective.
I really enjoyed this lord pack; itís always fun to have added flavour and differentiation in a campaign. Also the mechanics around claiming and using the Widowmaker are really interesting. But Iím afraid itís going to further unbalance Lothern and the High Elves on the Mortal Empires stage. The problem with the High Elves and Ulthuan in general is that they have a bastion on which they can sit, confederate and grow ultra strong while other factions have to deal with internal strife and insurrection. It basically means that - end-game wise - you will be fighting Lothern almost constantly. I feel like adding two High Elf legendary lords and probably the gameís most powerful ranged unit, is only going to make this worse, allowing them to confederate vast areas twice as fast. The only thing to compromise Ulthuan is the Blood Voyage, which, if Iím honest, suffers from the same problem as the intervention armies in the Vortex campaign. Itís not under your command, and goes straight for the point of highest resistance, where it is killed immediately.
I hope that this is only a case of CA buffing races one at a time, explaining why the High Elves got such a content dump. In future I really hope that they will devise a way to stifle the growth of Lothern, whether through Chaos invasions or possibly with the Daemons of Chaos. I believe they could even change Lothernís ability to confederate into vassalization, so while Ulthuan would be a High Elf stronghold, it would at least be surmountable, battling one faction at a time. I do think Helebronís campaign is far stronger than Alarielleís, but, on the whole, the lord pack is great: with new units and interesting lore specific mechanics.
Hellebronís campaign is great, good Widowmaker mechanics, cool new units.
Not as many new units as previous lord-packs, Alarielleís campaign lacks real end-game, Blood Voyage AI.