This is how the Warhammer world ends. Neither with bang nor whimper, but innumerable hordes of bellicose, bipedal cattle, crushing civilization into a cowpat. The Silence and the Fury brings with it a smart beastmen rework, and some incredible new units, but it also solidifies how desperately needed the upcoming sequel is to reset the playing field. The joys it offers are less a hard-won game of chess, more like punching the board to splinters with a knuckle duster. A good time, regardless, but weren’t we playing a strategy game at one point?
In many ways, the rampant, unstoppable carnage Taurox the Brass Bull’s campaign offers is no less than the beastmen deserve. The red-horned step goats entered the ring limping, and mooed sadly for five years while every other faction grew progressively stronger. If the Fury half of this double act is anything, it is well-deserved catharsis.
Catharsis invites power fantasy, though, and while strategy and power fantasies aren’t necessarily incompatible, this new campaign erases the beastmen’s underdog status so thoroughly that victories started to feel hollow by the time I hit mid-game. Fear and terror buffs, stacked with abilities that reduce enemy leadership, meant that most fights were over before Taurox even had a chance to get his horns bloody.
It’s a shame because Taurox himself is truly something to behold. A whirling, braying, freight truck of destruction, and one seriously impressive case of modelling, sound, and animation work. These stunning production values continue throughout. It’s common for Total Warhammer expansions to feature a centrepiece unit. The Silence and The Fury has three of them, and while the disgustingly odd Jabberslythe and furious Ghorgon are standouts, the graceful Coatl is no slouch, either.
The beastmen rework itself makes some huge improvements across the board. In terms of how the faction plays, it’s clear that an incredible amount of thought and attention has gone into making the chaos cows as enjoyable as possible. Stop reading, go have a look at how it works, and come back. There’s far too much to list.
The new herdstone system brings with it new issues, however. For Taurox, without any penalty for having herdstones destroyed once you’ve already performed the rituals of ruin, there’s barely any incentive to defend them, despite the huge garrisons they provide.
Actively reducing your ruination score could well lead to frustrations of its own, and it does lend itself to the campaigns’ forward momentum, but it would at least make sense to reduce the number of armies the beastmen are able to field if they lose too many herdstones. Currently, short of getting your main army foolishly wiped before you’ve raised a second – an army that can replenish while it stays invisible, anywhere on the map, and recruit itself up to full strength within a turn or two – there’s no real way to lose as Taurox, or even really lose progress. It feels like a straight shot to an inevitable victory. Suitably Khornate in its mindless, mooing murder-march, but often unsatisfying.
Oxyotl, refreshingly, acts as Taurox antithesis, stranded in an icy wasteland, surrounded by Druchii, Norsca, and Skaven. Hit and run tactics and ambushes are the order of the day, aided by some welcome buffs to skink missile units. Both the chameleon’s campaign abilities and unit bonuses all play into the sense of an agile, elite assassin surrounded by an equally elite cohort, and the result is one of the more interesting roleplaying campaigns the game offers. Cleverly, Oxyotl’s victory conditions are tied to fighting battles in lands that only he can usually venture to, meaning there’s always a challenging fight to be had, somewhere.
After trying the campaign on both hard campaign/normal battles and very hard/hard, I’d definitely recommend the latter, as stacking buffs can once again make things a bit too simple. I’d have loved to see a few more narrative events in Oxyotl’s missions ala the Wood Elf forest invasions, too. They were one of that campaign’s strongest elements, and Oxoytl’s offers up similar defence missions, just without the story fluff or decision making that seems like it would have fit nicely. The sense of power creep is still here, but Oxyotl’s campaign offers something Taurox doesn’t. Namely, tactics and tough decisions.
Could it have all ended any differently, though? There’s something thematically fitting about the final campaigns being this way. A desperate attempt to halt the tides of chaos, and a nigh-unstoppable stampede through civilization to herald the coming of the dark gods.
The two lords, and their respective campaigns, represent everything Total War Warhammer has become. Tactical skirmishes and cinematic bull rushes. A chaotic, gloriously cinematic but woefully unbalanced, braying power fantasy, and a thoughtful strategy game. This may not be Total Warhammer at its best, but as the sun sets on the middle chapter of this monumental strategy project, it might well be Total Warhammer at its most.