The most difficult part of adding a new faction to Total War: Warhammer is probably choosing which one comes next. The fantasy world is chock full of races from the table top game, each with their own fully fleshed out lore, characters, motivations and unique twists. It’s no surprise, then, that Rise of the Tomb Kings brings something a bit musty, rotting and mouldy to the table… in a good way!
There’s no prizes for guessing what helped to inspire the creation of the Tomb Kings faction, as there’s the distinct flavour of Ancient Egypt and popular myths that surround it. Woken from centuries of slumber by foolhardy explorers, the dynasties that once ruled the world have risen once more, summoning their legions back from their graves to march forth and reclaim what was once theirs. While those foolhardy mortals seek to control the Vortex, what’s fascinating is how that is a mere sideshow for the Tomb Kings, whose sole aim is to collect five of the nine Books of Nagash and gain control of the Black Pyramid of Nagash.
The Tomb Kings have the capacity to go marauding much quicker than many other races thanks to the simple fact that your regiments cost absolutely nothing to recruit. Admittedly these are your most basic sword and spear units to start with, and you can only recruit three per turn within a given region, but it’s a simple waiting game to be able to smother your nearest foes under a mass of dumb, fearless skeletons. However, you won’t get far with just these basic piles of bones.
Your more powerful units are free to raise from the dead as well, all the way up to the huge Hierotitan or Necrosphinx constructs, but anything more advanced is given an empire-wide cap by the particular buildings you have constructed in your cities. You certainly won’t be worried about your cash flow to buy units, and rebuilding your armies after a crushing defeat is a simple matter of twiddling your thumbs for five or six turns, but you need to save up, plan and grow your regions in order to be able to field an army that can compete with your nearby rivals.
On the field of battle, the Realm of Souls gives you a small boost during long and gruelling fights. As your troops fall, their souls are counted in a meter at the top of the screen, boosting those that remain with a slight regenerative boost when passing three thresholds. The final stage also lets you summon powerful Ushabati into battle, to temporarily bolster your forces. This can help to nudge the tide of battle in your favour, but it’s far from overpowering and it’s a sign you’re on the receiving end of a whooping if the Realm of Souls fills up too quickly.
Another thing holding you back from your great conquest is that unlocking further armies requires you to research one of the six former Nehekharan Dynasties. It’s thematically something of a reversed tech tree, as you uncover secrets of the past, with each Dynasty unlocked letting you recruit a new Lord to lead an army, as well as research certain unit buffs and pay to unlock new agents that can roam separately or attach themselves to your army.
By and large, the other factions are quite happy to let you do your own thing in the campaign on Normal difficulty. Despite the clear ideological differences, my High Queen Khalida had a happy alliance with High Elves to one side of her fledgling empire in the south-westernmost reaches of the map, and I only really came into conflict when I actually wanted to push forward and expand. This in turn allowed me to build more and more advanced structures, opening up the possibilities of more elite armies.
One possible reason to expand further comes in the form of the Mortuary Cult, which is how you unlock Legions of Legend and craft magic items for your characters to wield. As well as needing gold and Canopic Jars, a resource unique to the Tomb Kings, you also need certain resources found across the world, whether it’s marble, iron, or something else entirely. Depending on the Legendary Lord you choose and where you start in the world, these could be more or less difficult to acquire, but both conquest and trading are possible.
The same is true of the nine Books of Nagash. You only need five of them in order to be able to trigger the climactic campaign battle at the Black Pyramid, but they’ll need you to spread out and hunt them down. They’re clearly marked for you on the map, and they’re either locked away in cities or in the hands of powerful Rogue Armies. Defeating these Rogue Armies can be tough without enough elite units of your own, but they don’t heal, meaning that even weakening them through successive battles is just as valid a tactic. Once you have all the necessary books, it leads to a climactic battle at the Black Pyramid, but it doesn’t feel like you really need to have an empire that stretches that far if you don’t want one. For Legendary Lords like Khalida that start on other land masses, it can mean a simple charge through to the Black Pyramid once you feel you’re ready.
What adds a degree of worth and replay value to this DLC is that you have four Legendary Lords to choose from on the full campaign map. It’s a shift from the first game which had mini-campaigns to play through, and means that, as you start in different parts of the map, as each character has different styles of play and narrative links to their surroundings – Arkhan, for example, gets on well with Vampire Counts, but has been exiled by the other Tomb Kings.
Rise of the Tomb Kings is a great first expansion for Total War: Warhammer II. Stepping away from the Eye of the Vortex campaign to embark on a book hunt is more than just a thematic shift, especially with the way in which the Tomb Kings can play on the campaign map, thanks to their free recruitment and only needing a modest empire to fill their armies with elite units.