TOTAL WAR: WARHAMMER 2 – THE HUNTER & THE BEAST DLC Review – A Hunting We Will Go…
I always love when I get to review a new Total War DLC. As a Nerd Thetan Level 7, I get a deep sentimental glee every time a new trailer drops and I start marking off the days on my calendar. Deep in my dank gamer cave, I whittle aways the days as the world around passes by. Days later I emerge, unable to form full sentences and deeply content with my conquests. It’s a wonderful feeling that only the most devoted fans will be able to understand.
In turn, reviewing these DLCs is a treat. Normally, I have to worry about appealing to a general audience. If I review Dark Souls 3, I have to keep in mind you might have never played Dark Souls 2. With DLC, I can be damn sure you’re already well aware of the game. With Total War DLC, it’s a fair bet you have complex opinions on optimal strats, preferred matchups, and most despised school of magic. So to be clear, this review is only for those already inundated in the world of Total War: Warhammer 2. Casual passersby are free to continue on your merry way, though I’m not sure why you clicked on the review for a DLC pack for a game you haven’t played.
Okay, now that the filthy casuals are gone, on with the best stuff-stuff for my friend-friends. If you haven’t picked up The Hunter & The Beast yet (or are using this as some kind of future purchasing guide), here’s a quick rundown. The Hunter & The Beast is a Lord Pack, similar to The Queen & The Crone and The Grim & The Grave. That means you’ll see new factions for existing races, and not entirely new teams like in Rise of the Tomb Kings. This time around we get Nakai the Wanderer for the Lizardmen and Markus Wulfhart for the Empire. As is tradition, we also get a new FLC lord with Gor-Rok, and a massive update for the Empire in the Mortal Empires campaign.
If your eyes have glazed over, you should have stopped reading when I first said “fans only.” For those of you still with me, let’s get to the real nerd shit. First and foremost, owners of just Warhammer 2 should extra-pumped for The Hunter & The Beast. This is the Empire’s first showing in the New World, and will be their only chance to experience the team many consider to be the most rewarding to play. Even as someone that owns both, I was ecstatic for a chance to play Wulfhart’s Eye of the Vortex campaign. New challenges, new adventures, new mechanics, and most importantly no infuriating 5 minutes Mortal Empires AI turn cycles. Seriously, part of the reason I love these new teams is just for the chance to only have to spend 20 hours on a campaign, not 200.
Putting my saltshaker back in the cabinet for a moment, Wulfhart’s campaign is easily the most interesting in the game. Far from the Reikland, Wulfhart is surrounded by enemies on all sides. Forging alliances is an “enemy of my enemy” proposition, making strange bedfellows like Greenskins or Skaven against the Lizardmen threat. Nevermind that the Lizardmen and Empire are both good guys. You’re a conquistador, not a diplomat. Accompanying this new playstyle is the Hostility system, which increases your opponent’s strength and aggressiveness as you make territorial gains. Capture five settlements and an army of unbreakable Lizardmen will spawn somewhere to try and take it back.
To counteract this threat, Markus receives intermittent military supply shipments from the Elector Counts of the Old World. Similar to Regiments of Renown, these forces can be recruited instantly to any of your armies in your territory. These units are slightly modified versions of the base units and come with the massive upside of free recruitment. Free units anywhere might sound like a huge advantage. Given the overwhelming opposition Markus constantly faces, it never feels like enough to hold back the tide. Allocating your limited reinforcements becomes a calculated game of placing just enough me to hold out until relief can come.
Alongside these reinforcements, Wulfhart also has access to four unique heroes. Known as Wulfhart’s Hunters, these heroes join your faction when a special condition is met. They each bring their own quest, each step granting a massive buff or legendary item. Once their quest chain is completed, they will provide a major bonus in the final battle. Most excitingly, these heroes are not regularly available to the Empire roster. There’s a Witch Hunter, Waystalker, Master Engineer, and Paladin, of which only the Witch Hunter is normally available to the Empire. These heroes have been modified to make them far more interesting than their generic counterparts, such as the Witch Hunter having the ability to heal or the Paladin increasing your factionwide loot from sacking and razing.
The overall effect is that Wulfhart’s campaign feels like a grand adventure in a hostile and foreign world. It’s constantly tense, and your merry band of heroes will have to work together if they want to survive. Battles with this main force were always the most entertaining, in no small part due to the massive buffs that Markus confers on the new Huntsman unit. Huntsman are ranged bowman units with anti-large, but lack the Handgunner’s armor-piercing. They’re oddly matched against the Lizardmen’s high-armor roster, but get a lot of work done due to their ability to fire on the move. Less impressive were the new War Wagon units, which I found to be too lackluster to invest in.
Most Total War campaigns devolve to the point of steamrolling, but the Wulfhart campaign was packed full of uphill battles and stacked odds that had to be overcome with clever tactics and ambushes. I only auto resolved maybe 1/10 battles. Moreover, the chance to fight factions not normally encountered by the Empire was uniquely fun and challenging. I don’t think I actually knew how Swordsmen stacked up against Saurus Warriors until this campaign.
On the other side of the race-war is Nakai the Wanderer. Nakai is an Ancient Kroxigor, and leader of the new Spirit of the Jungle faction. Being a giant crocodile with no interest in governing, Nakai’s Spirit of the Jungle team is a horde faction. This sets him apart not only from the rest of the Lizardmen (who had a strong focus on building their cities through the Geomantic Web), but makes them the first non-chaos/savage faction to utilize the horde mechanic.
Nakai’s hordes work a bit differently from their Chaos/Beastmen/Savage Ork/Stupid Neutral Army counterparts. Since Nakai is still working towards the completion of The Great Plan, he doesn’t go around razing cities like other hordes. Instead, he creates temples on these sites and gifts them to his vassal, the Defenders of the Great Plan. This faction will forever be your vassal, and will only serve to defend the settlements you take. You’ll also have to pick red, blue, or green temples, which unlock special bonuses the more you have. Overall, you should have enough to unlock all of the bonuses when you own 2/3 of Lustria. Recruitment across hordes also isn’t tied to buildings within that horde. All unit unlocks are done through Nakai’s horde, with all other hordes using the global recruitment pool to expand. These lesser hordes can build buildings to decrease this recruitment time, but what is available is always linked back to Nakai.
Most interestingly, Nakai’s campaign is the first to also significantly alter the starting teams. When playing as Nakai, Wulfhart starts with a large and expansive empire. You’re tasked with killing his Hunters, which are scattered across his territory. Killing them grants you some stuff and a buff for the final battle. I didn’t find this campaign objective to be terribly interesting, but this is the first time the map has significantly changed depending on the faction you play. Hopefully, this opens the door for more tailored campaign experiences in the future.
Similar to the Empire, the Lizardmen get some new units. Most impressively are the Dread Saurians. These giant units serve as the new endgame monster for the Lizardmen, dwarfing the Stegadons that previously topped out their roster. These gigantic lizards are the biggest in the game, and are the closest the franchise has to a “super” unit. Recruitment is even restricted Tomb Kings style to a special building that increases their population cap. There’s also a new flavor of Kroxigor with the Sacred Kroxigors, which punch stuff. There’s also a new Razordon Hunting Pack, which you will never use.
Despite the interesting implications of seeing a “good guy” horde team, I found Nakai’s campaign to be disappointing. There’s not a lot of complexity to just raiding around. As soon as you have your doomstack going, combat becomes a chore. The Defenders of the Great Plan vassal doesn’t add any flavor, instead just being Nakai’s version of painting the map. Moreover, it’s really annoying when you lose land because your vassal’s auto-resolve AI is… well it’s the auto-resolve AI in a Total War game. Why couldn’t I control these garrisons like a Wood Elves outpost? Why did this have to be a separate team? Who knows.
This could all be balanced out with interesting quests, but the “hunt down the hunters” theme just didn’t really play out. It’s always fun when you get an ambush off deep in enemy lands, but this rarely happens. It more felt like Nakai was the “baby’s first Lizardmen” faction, removing the complexity of building an economy without actually adding any campaign challenges to compensate.
I want to briefly mention Gor-Rok and the Empire update, despite them not technically being part of the DLC. As a unit, Gor-Rok is OP. He also starts with Lord Kroak, which is ridiculously broken. His faction is otherwise vanilla. Play him if you want to do the Kroq-Gar campaign on casual difficulty. The Empire update, on the other hand, is a blessing. The new elector count system adds far more weight to diplomacy, and the various Empire factions can now hold their own. Gaining their trust over time and slowly incorporating them into your reforged Empire now feels like a genuine accomplishment. The new State Troops also add almost an entire race’s worth of unit variety. I’ve put about 60 hours into my new Karl Franz campaign, and have no intention of stopping.
It’s hard to score these kinds of DLCs. At $9, you’ll be getting about 20 hours of content minimum. If you go ahead and do Legendary Mortal Empire campaigns, that can easily balloon into 200 hours. If I were to include the Empire update in this review, it’s perfect. But for just what you are purchasing, it’s a lopsided package that doesn’t stack up well against the previous lord packs. The Prophet & The Warlock was wildly imbalanced, but Tehenhauin’s race war mechanic and Ikit’s workshop both significantly changed their faction’s playstyle. Similarly, The Queen & The Crone offered campaign dynamics that changed how their base teams played. More importantly, each of these faction’s altered playstyle felt robust and developed. While Nakai’s horde is certainly a change, it isn’t one that really feels fleshed out. Not when compared to Warpfire nukes.
On the other hand, Wulfhart’s campaign makes The Hunter & The Beast well worth it. Combining new mechanics, challenges, setting, and even possible hero combinations, this is peak Total War: Warhammer 2 DLC. Empire campaigns always boiled down to the same slog of uniting the Elector Counts, repelling Norsca, saving Averland and Stirland from the Vampires, etc. Now, you can just drop Wulfhart in the middle of Lustria and hunt dinosaurs. That’s the kind of diversity I want from a DLC. Overall, it’s a must-have for hardcore fans that have been dying to play more Empire.
With Nakai’s lackluster horde mechanics, Markus is the clear winner here. Still, it’s hard to find more value for $9.
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