Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Mortal Empires, Part I - Yet Another Legendary Campaign

This is an account of my Total War: Warhammer II Mortal Empires playthrough. It is ongoing – I haven't finished yet, which means I could still lose, and probably will. The game is being played on Legendary difficulty. Manual saves are disabled, and the game automatically saves at the end of turns and at the conclusion of battles to a single save game file. No save scumming here – whatever happens, happens.

This is my seventh Mortal Empires campaign on Legendary since the game was released. I have not won a single one yet. Four games I played until the bitter end, with the end coming after Altdorf was surrounded by enemies. In each case it was the Vampire Counts running rampant, with the Varg piling in at the bitter end to take advantage of the Empire's weakness. I have won on Legendary difficulty on the original Total War: Warhammer, and that was not nearly as difficult as it is here in the sequel. For one, the Skaeling and the Varg capture cities now instead of razing them, making them superpowers. Their homelands in the frozen north can't be touched without a major undertaking, and so they are free to launch raid after raid into the Empire without fear of reprisal. In one campaign I sent an expeditionary force into Norsca in an attempt to establish a foothold there. One change wrought by the sequel is that any faction can build anywhere now, but are  penalized when doing so in climates inimical to their race. Franz was able to torch several settlements, but any attempt to create a permanent base was scuppered by the build penalties imposed by the unforgiving climate, and the Norscan counterattacks that built up faster than I could build my defenses. The razed settlements were also swiftly recolonized by the Norscans, and so when Franz's army returned to the Reik, ragged, frost-burnt and sadly diminished, they had achieved practically nothing.


Karl Franz, the Emperor.

The second reason for the difficulty of the sequel is that the Elector Counts and the Dwarf clans in the east cannot seem to check the spread of the Vampire Counts, who immediately rise to become the strongest power in the world. If they ally with the Von Carsteins, as they did in the first and second campaigns, they are unstoppable. Every campaign I played until the last ended with the Vampire Counts or the Von Carsteins with four, five or six full stack armies running rampant throughout the Reikland. In the first game you could destroy two, three or even four armies easily using lightning strike attacks from fortified cities. Unfortunately in the second game auto-resolve has been re-tuned to favor the computer, which means you have to manually play the battles more often to avoid losses through attrition, or even outright defeats against forces you know your army can usually destroy in the field. The net effect is that your forces are usually getting whittled down by constant battle. It is grinding and wearing. I love it. But so far I've been getting my ass whooped.

Thirdly, Chaos usually comes crashing into the Old World at around turn 125 in the first game. Their arrival makes every Order based faction your friend, giving you time to build and opportunities to re-colonize razed cities, to profit, in effect, from the ruin of others. I haven't seen Chaos yet in Total War: Warhammer II. My longest playthrough ended on about turn 150 or thereabouts, and that ended with me on a ship and a ton of gold, completely bereft of cities, looking for a place to restart in the New World. Alas, I ran into the Dark Elves, who promptly declared war on me and sank my vessel. In fact, except for that brief encounter but fatal encounter, I might as well have been playing the first game. We've never been able to expand past the realms of the Old World.

Four campaigns played to the bitter end led me to trying to optimize my starting position on my most recent two games. Ideally as the Empire you want to unite the Reikland, then take Marienburg or Nuln to give you two or three solid, defensible industrial centers as a starting base. When I couldn't do this I would abandon the campaign and restart. I stopped doing this because I felt I was breaking the spirit of the game. Everyone plays games their own way, but for me I play Legendary / Ironman because I like having no save game to fall back on. You have to live with your own mistakes, and forge ahead as best as you can under the changing circumstances, no matter how adverse. That is fun for me, more so than "winning" the campaign, which in reality becomes a chore once you pass a certain tipping point. The struggle to get to that tipping point is the highlight of the campaign for me, which is something I have not yet been able to do in Legendary on this game. I also love the role-playing element in seeing the growth of the lords, characters and units as the war unfolds. I'm one of those people who rename units once they pass a certain level of experience. It's all part of the fun for me.

The backbone of the Empire has always been its state troops.

So from here on out every Mortal Empires playthrough will be to the bitter end.  I have started this account six times already - I use the voice memo app on my phone to keep a record of the events of the campaign - and this, my seventh playthrough, will be the final one, regardless of whether I win or lose. I laughed a couple of times when listening to myself curse whenever something bad happened. Hopefully the seventh campaign will end on a better note, but if it doesn't, it doesn't matter. 

One thing I did learn in previous campaigns was the value of diplomacy in the game. While at its core it is essentially just throwing money at factions to keep them happy or to stop them preemptively attacking you, using it makes the Empire's job so much easier. In hindsight the original game's Legendary campaign must have been significantly easier, because I never really bothered using diplomacy in any meaningful way. In the sequel it is a must for the Empire, otherwise you will find yourself getting attacked from every direction. There is a quest in Karl Franz's skill line which requires him to forge a defensive alliance with Nordland. It appears in the first and second games, and I have never bothered to complete it until my Legendary playthroughs in the sequel. Getting Middenland and Nordland onside secures your northern borders against the Skaeling and the Varg, and allows you to concentrate on the Vampire threat rising in the east.

One final thing I should add. I love Total War: Warhammer because I played Warhammer Fantasy Battle as a child, and collected and painted the miniatures avidly as a hobby. My first ever Warhammer army was the Empire, and it makes me so happy that I can play as my favorite faction in a setting so familiar and dear to my heart. I even have the Karl Franz and Balthasar Gelt miniatures. Sadly, neither of them are completely painted, but to be able to assume their roles in such a large and epic sandbox-like campaign fulfills many a childhood fantasy I ever had pushing little toy soldiers around a table. It also allows me to write my own history alternate to that presented in Games Workshop's canonical End Times, in which the Warhammer world is obliterated by Chaos. Warhammer Fantasy Battle was discontinued by Games Workshop in 2016, but thanks to Sega and Creative Assembly, it lives on in the digital realm in a title that truly gives it justice.

So, without further ado, and for better or worse, here is Mortal Empires!

3 comments: