Total War: Warhammer 2 – The Twisted & The Twilight DLC review – Horrible Disgusting Filth Vs A Rat Man
Developed by Creative Assembly
Published by Sega
Available on PC through Steam
Ah, what a long and glorious journey it has been. A little over three years ago, Total War: Warhammer 2 dropped to a fanbase almost as hungry as the ravenous Skaven. The Total War franchise has been going strong for 20 years now, but it was the Warhammer titles that launched the company into the three-team multi-title supporting juggernaut it is today. This has resulted in the Total War fanbase becoming a blend of hardcore strategy fans, Warhammer nerds, and casual gamers that just want to see dragons fight a T-Rex. Rarely do these groups see eye-to-eye. The task of creating new DLC to appease all three groups has become ever more daunting as power creep and limited map space make new designs difficult. The newest Total War: Warhammer 2 DLC The Twisted and The Twilight is (tentatively) the last DLC, and bears the full weight of three years of advancements and expectations. And while far from a wash, it shows.
*Disclaimer: This review is intended for players already familiar with Total War: Warhammer 2. If you have not played it yet… why are you reading a DLC review?*
For a while now, the big question hanging over the franchise is just how the hell CA would go about balancing the comparatively lackluster old-world factions. The trend has been to add new mechanics to one of the base factions periodically to coincide with other DLC releases. But the fate of the first Warhammer DLC factions was more uncertain. CA was reticent to release “DLC for DLC,” especially when that DLC is from an entirely different game. This left four factions—Chaos, Beastmen, Wood Elves, and NORSCAAAAAA—with nebulous fates. As the inevitable Total War: Warhammer 3 looms on the horizon, many fans are becoming increasingly concerned that their favorite faction will be left like their tabletop counterparts: unsupported vestiges from editions printed a decade ago. With The Twisted & The Twilight, CA is taking their first crack at addressing this by updating the woefully awkward Wood Elves.
As with all the faction overhauls, the Wood Elf update is available whether or not you buy the new DLC. If you didn’t play the Wood Elves before, the biggest issue was that their campaign required you to conquer the world while having no real capacity to hold the territory. Wood Elves can only build settlements in a handful of spots. In all other territory they are limited to vestigial outposts. It works fine for the isolationist feel of the Wood Elf lore. It does not work fine when you’re required to hold territory to collect amber to win. Like, a LOT of amber. It can also be gained through alliances, but this is Total War, not Let’s Talk It Out.
The overhauled Wood Elf mechanics are a godsend. There are five new enchanted forests, bringing the grand total of non-Athel Loren Wood Elf cities to seven. The goal is to capture all seven and restore them to their former glory through the Ritual of Rebirth. This ritual requires you to first “cleanse” the forest (more on that in a second) and then fight off some bad guys. Finishing each ritual grants you a powerful permanent global buff and one amber. You’re no longer required to collect amber to restore the Oak of Ages or recruit units. Amber is now exclusively spent to unlock powerful new technologies.
You have a few options to cleanse the area around each enchanted forest. Forest Health goes up when you either raze, control, or are allied with the settlements bordering the forest. Choosing whether to be a “peace and love” kind of tree person or a “grind everyone into mulch” kind of tree person is a serious question. Since the Wood Elves aren’t really expansionists, enemies you make can last a lifetime. And with the forests spread across the map, each alliance or war could have wildly unintended consequences. While this might sound like a headache, it’s significantly aided by the fact that Wood Elves are such a bitch to kill that even the computer doesn’t want to put in the effort. The worst part of every campaign since Dec 8, 2016, has been deciding what the fuck to do about Athel Loren. And nothing in the DLC makes them any less of a bitch to deal with.
More seriously, the Wood Elves are aided by a new system called The Deeproots, which allows one army to teleport itself from any Enchanted Forest to any Enchanted Forest every few turns. This even works with the forests you don’t control. It’s honestly the biggest change that makes Wood Elves playable. Getting from The Witchwood in Naggarond to Oreon’s Camp in Nehekhara would be enough of a hassle that I frankly would have never completed a campaign. The campaign feels focused, and I didn’t have to go through the bog-standard task of recruiting another doomstack just to sit in the forest and protect it. While the cleansing system leads to conflict more often than not, it also accidentally gave CA a way to implement forts in TWW2. CA has struggled for a while with a good way to implement minor settlements. Most of their experiments have been total failures. Let’s not forget just how hard Thrones of Britannia flopped with their, “one general can take all your farms lol,” approach. But the Wood Elf outposts are a good mix. They don’t significantly contribute to the overall Wood Elf economy, so losing them isn’t a big deal. They are just strong enough to be able to fend off a hero and a handful of troops. It’s a good balance. It’s honestly the first time I actually felt I could use my settlements to strategically slow the enemy rather than just throwing up my hands and bemoaning the loss of yet another economic center/commandment.
The new FLC lord (note the FLC is for owners of Rise of the Wood Elves DLC from the first Total War: Warhammer) is an ancient Branchwraith (the wiki calls her a Briarmaven?) named Drycha. Drycha is probably the best FLC lord. Even better than Rapanse. There’s always been a conflict between the treeple and elves, but it wasn’t adequately explored mechanically. Drycha actually breaks this mold with her own altered roster. Drycha cannot recruit most of the mid-high tier elf units. Those that she can recruit are “enthralled” with lowered stats and the expendable trait. To compensate, all of Drycha’s treeple come with Frenzy and a Greenskin Scrap style upgrade. These upgrades let you customize your treeple to move faster, hit harder, or be sturdier. It allows these otherwise static units to be tailored to fit niche roles. It’s a nice addition that I honestly didn’t use that much. None of the upgrades are wild enough to add ranged weapons or wings. Still, it’s a welcome addition.
The far more brilliant mechanic is Drycha’s Forest Spirits. Similar to how the Vampire factions can raise the dead, Drycha can summon the beasts of the forest to her aid. Save for Dryads, these new units are not a typical part of the Wood Elf roster. They fill a variety of roles from flanker to flying to frontline. Drycha also gets a special lord (the only she can recruit) that allows you to unlock buffs for these forest spirits, allowing them to still stay (somewhat) relevant as new technologies and red-skills are unlocked. The real beauty of this mechanic is twofold. First, it gives Drycha a reach uncommon for a faction so closely tied to their main settlements. Drycha armies can go on far crusades to make mulch out of even the most distant foe. More practically, the mechanic allows Drycha to reasonably battle the Vampire Counts directly to the south. The matchup would otherwise be a colossal bitch, given the Wood Elves inherently lower recruitment potential and weakened VC ranged counters. The forest spirits not only allow Drycha to match the Von Carsteins, but even outpace them if she keeps the battles moving.
Right, so that’s it! All the new features in the update. See you next time! …oh, right. The paid part of the DLC. That. I am significantly less enthusiastic about the two new paid legendary lords: Literal Two-Face and Casino Rat.
First up are The Sisters of Twilight Naestra and Arahan. Their big schtick is eagles. They start the game mounted on an eagle, buff all their eagles, buff their elf friends that ride eagles, and even give those eagle riding friends 2 charges of one of the best direct damage spells in the game. Three if you put a skill point into it! The sisters (always one unit btw) are even more busted than you might expect for a hero that starts on an eagle. Their base attack is similar to an Eagle Claw Bolt Thrower and can change between one big shot and an AOE shot. Except the AOE shot is homing, doesn’t have to arch, and is coming from a god damned giant eagle. This makes the sisters almost the first artillery hero in the game. Their last big mechanic is the Forge of Daith. Every few turns you get the option to make a new base item, and then every few turns on a different timer you can choose to either upgrade one item or give it a big temporary buff. The temporary buff is quite strong, but will also make the item go back to its lowest level after. It’s certainly not a bad mechanic as legendary gear is always satisfying to play around with, but I completely honestly forgot it existed until I checked the DLC page to see if I spelled Athel Loren right.
The main problem with The Sisters’ campaign is that it’s pretty bland. Balance is a big factor here, but I’ll bring that up after Throt. It’s basically just a smaller version of the Mortal Empires campaign. The story behind it is that Ariel (oh yeah, she’s a legendary hero now that is Lord Kroak level busted) is doing some magic ritual in Naggarond to stop chaos. Pretty big deal. Her main antagonist is the second DLC hero Throt, because Throt is very… hungry? It’s a pretty stupid story and flimsy pretext for conflict. Even if this is in the lore somewhere, the Moulder vs Wood Elves conflict didn’t feel remotely natural. I was actually surprised to see Skaven in the final battle as I had forgotten there was an antagonist.
Throt is the second new Legendary Lord of the DLC. The Master Mutator of Clan Moulder, Throt relies on a mostly monster army to turn all his foes into delicious genetic goop. His main combat specialty is buffs, making him one of the few LLs I felt comfortable focusing on Red/Blue tree. He’s actually a pretty good balance, sturdy enough in combat to not get pushed over, weak enough to get crunched by Grimgor, and enough army buffs to make unexpected units real threats.
The Throt Vortex campaign is actually pretty unique. Throt has decided the only cure for his hunger is dead fairies, so sets off on a quest to kill Ariel. Unfortunately, she’s currently conducting a ritual to cleanse chaos and is guarded by some pesky waystones. Best go knock those down. Given that he’s a heckin hungry chonker, Throt is on a hard time limit of 50 turns. That can be upped to 100 max by completing objectives. If that timer expires, you lose. As all of the waystones are in Naggarond and your enemies are many and strong, this begins a mad dash to knock down all the pillars and kill the elf-things as quickly as possible. You’ll never have time to establish an empire or build the delicate balance of food production that keeps Skaven running. You may as well just take the first province and spend the rest of your time looting and razing. It’s a very fast and frantic campaign reminiscent of the more focused story campaigns of Napoleon. It wasn’t exactly to my personal liking, but I do appreciate the variety.
However, Throt wouldn’t be a Skaven DLC LL without something nuts busted. Throt’s gimmick is The Flesh Laboratory. This allows Throt to modify his units by injecting them with mutagens. Each injection gives the unit a buff, but also increases the chance of them becoming unstable. Unstable units take damage at the start of every battle down to a certain percent based on level of instability. In simpler terms, you roll the dice and hope you can stack on buffs until you roll bad. If you crap out, you can choose to recycle your unstable units for Growth Juice. Growth Juice can be cashed in at certain milestones for free monsters from Wolf Rats all the way up to Hell Pit Abominations. You can reliably fill your Growth Vat to max on turn 10 if you’re trying. And yes, free Hell Pit Abominations on turn 10 are as strong as they sound.
However, that might just be what new factions need to keep up. If shit isn’t nuts busted, then people aren’t buying. CA kinda shot themselves in the foot when they gave a flamethrower-wielding, doomcycle riding, lightning summoning rat a nuclear bomb. And given how crowded the New World now is, you’re basically doomed if you can’t rely on something broken. The Sisters of Twilight eagle riders are pure insanity. No two ways about it. But so are well-fed goblins. And Dragon Boi. And the Snap. And giving zombies guns. So when Throt rolls into the map sandwiched between Morathi, Malekith, Tretch, Alith Anar, Hellebron, and Khatep (Khatep is cool though, he can stay), you almost need Hell Pit Abominations on turn 10 just to survive. I never thought I’d think free top-tier units would be balanced before I met Mr. 1v1000 Then Do It Again elf.
I don’t want to sound too hard on The Twisted & The Twilight‘s paid content. It is cool to pit Wood Elves against new early foes. I really liked the item upgrade system, even if it didn’t wow me. It would be a fantastic addition to the core mechanics of Total War: Warhammer 3. And I do really enjoy them exploring new lord/hero archetypes. Hell, I’d probably be whining about a Dragon Ogre Shaggoth LL if it came out as DLC. But we are reaching the point where the map is too crowded and power creep too severe. I understand that the franchise gets a lot of updates, and I personally know how much it costs to make those updates (please buy the Dread X Collections, I am so hungry and cold). The Total War series are now essentially “games as a service” for many players. I personally spend most of my free time switching between mods, ranging from faction additions like Cataph’s Norse Dwarves to absurdly robust overhauls like SFO. And while service-style games get a bad rap, I’d say that between the FLC and updates CA has done as admirable a job of it as any company. I’d rather pay $19 for Arrogant Skeletor than $15 for a few maps in Big Shooter 14.
I do think that The Twisted & the Twilight should be the endcap for Total War: Warhammer 2 DLC. Like Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid: it was a good run, but there’s nowhere left to go. It’s time for Warhammer 3, and the juicy new map it brings with it. We are at the point where cramming in any new teams would be harmful. Hell, we might already be there. I haven’t tried to play as Hellebron in almost a year. I have no idea if she can stack up to Clan Moulder in the vortex campaign. And assuming Creative Assembly still counts on people buying older DLC, making their own content wildly obsolete is a big issue. And as fun as it is to watch a wave of arrows turn an army into soup, I don’t think that Total War is at its best when it boils down to battle of the busted. The heart of the series has always been reasonable battlefield control and proper counterplay. Even though these mechanics aren’t going to be used against you (outside of a coop campaign I guess?) as the computer can’t properly min/max, I don’t feel the campaigns are satisfying when I just have unstoppable quantities of cheese.
So to conclude, the Wood Elf update is great. There are some other changes (public order change, unit mass change, other nerd shit) that I really liked that came with it. But The Twisted & The Twilight DLC itself is not their best. Not the worst, for sure. But it’s not as exciting as I thought a battle between Casino Rat and Literal Two-Face would be.