By ArbitraryWater 2 Comments
GOTY 2020 BONUS: Ranking of Warhammers revised
Hello and welcome to the start of ArbitraryWater’s 2020 Game of the Year Championship Awards. No anime blog this year, because I’ve barely watched any anime in the last handful of months, but just assume that it would be me constantly yelling “Watch Legend of the Galactic Heroes (the original, not the remake) you coward” over and over again while I continue to contemplate ending my VRV subscription.
So instead, before I throw down my very important, very professional, and doubtless very long write ups on my favorite games of 2020, both those that came out this year and those that did not, I thought it was time to continue talking about the game I played the most of this year. Sure, Dead by Daylight is up there, that new Calladuty is alright, and I definitely put some time into Age of Wonders Planetfall, but it turns out I’ve ended 2020 the same way I started 2020: with a bunch of Total War Warhammer II. Since my three-part, Dickens-length (no seriously, it’s like twice as long as the undergrad thesis I wrote to graduate college) rankings in January, things have changed; both the game and my opinions. So, without much adieu, I present my revised rankings of the fifteen factions in Total War Warhammer II… because I’ve had a lot of time on my hands this year.
If you need a refresher on the factions individual mechanics, or just need to hide from family during holiday festivities, consider giving my original ranking blog series a read as a companion piece to this.
15. Warriors of Chaos and 14. Beastmen
These two factions remain at the bottom, probably because hordes are boring and also bad. I haven’t really messed with either since my last blog, but that’s the stance I’m gonna stick with. Hey, at least there’s hope for game 3, right? Seems like people were into the way hordes were treated in Total War Troy, so that’s a good sign for the future.
Best Legendary Lord(s): Archaeon the Everchosen and Malagor the Dark Omen are both scary casters who are capable of going in melee alright.
Worst Legendary Lord(s): Sigvald the Magnificent (give Slaanesh’s stupendous, serf-slaying sire some significant support, posthaste!) Kazrak One-Eye (Just super vanilla)
Over time, I’ve come to realize that the Dwarfs, while an effective, straightforward faction, are also not actually all that fun to play as in campaign. Part of that has to do with their fairly limited playstyle, being almost entirely defensive to a fault, but it really doesn’t help that post-Greenskin and Wood Elf rework, they feel increasingly left behind when compared to the other old world factions. The runeforge is nice and all, but it’s just another faction’s mechanic with a slightly different skin. Meanwhile, they sure are a pain in the ass to fight *against* what with the endless lines of hard-to-break infantry. Easy to flank, sure, but even then the stunties take forever to rout.
Here’s hoping the potential introduction of Chaos Dwarfs (which are like Dwarfs but eeeevil) in game 3 gives them some room for differentiation. Heaven knows they need some.
Best Legendary Lord: I mean, still have to go with my man Ungrim Ironfist, the Slayer King. Sure, slayers are a situational-as-hell unit who are very good at doing and taking damage, but also who else am I gonna pick? Grombrindal? PFFFT. (Give Grombrindal an unique start position plz)
Worst Legendary Lord: Bellegar Ironhammer’s 50% upkeep penalty until he captures Karak Eight Peaks more or less means his campaign is a dead sprint to build up a big enough stack to retake it. Just look forward to Skarsnik dropping on you with like three 20 stacks of goblins, which no amount of ghost uncle can really deal with. Like, he’s meant to be a challenge, but he’s not fun.
Despite dropping a place since January’s rankings I’ve definitely grown to appreciate Brettonia a more in the time since. They’re the most focused faction in the game, but between the chivalry mechanic, knightly vows and the split between peasant/industrial economy, they have more going on than I originally gave credit for. That doesn’t really change the fact that their roster is painfully limited in a way that gives them legitimate problems when dealing with some other factions. Yeah, they’ve got some *very good horses* but yo they sure do struggle against anything with remotely competent anti-large capability. Also I’m bad at cavalry micro.
Best Legendary Lord: Repanse has an interesting start position in both Vortex and Mortal Empires + actually makes Brettonia’s bottom-tier garbage infantry usable. Definitely the closest the game has managed to shore up the faction’s shortcomings.
Worst Legendary Lord: Alberic de Bordealux is probably the worst Legendary Lord in the game right now? While his faction bonuses toward trade are actually very nice, as a combat lord he’s barely better than his generic counterparts and doesn’t have much else to differentiate himself.
Once you get to this point I’d call all of the following factions at least (moderately) fun to play, and Norsca is no exception. Really, aside from the fact that the chaos wastes are not particularly thrilling as a start location, I’m a big fan of burning the entire world down in the name of the four dark gods and the heavy emphasis on constantly raiding the weak southlands. What holds them back is a lack of variety in start positions or gameplan beyond "razing the entirety of the southlands." Still, the way they're handled with the late-game chaos invasion is a lot of fun. Essentially, you can either come along with Archaeon and burn the world down, or declare yourself the true everchosen and get into a tussle with the regular Warriors of Chaos. Should you emerge triumphant, you'll do so with a frankly ridiculous 75% upkeep reduction, which allows for all the mammoth doomstacks you can possibly imagine. They're fun. All they really need are more lords, start positions
Best Legendary Lord: Given that there are only two of them, I still have to go with Wulfrik over Throgg, both because of the more useful bonuses and more interesting start position, but also because the way Norsca handles confederation means you’re probably going to have both of them regardless. Now, post Wood Elf rework, they have the awkward distinction of having the smallest number of LLs in the game.
10: Wood Elves
The recent Wood Elf rework is an absolute boon to a faction that was fun to play in battle and equally unfun to play in campaign. Their army is still fun; a mobile, skirmish-heavy, but squishy force backed up with durable treemen and just infinite arrows forever. Now their campaign actually emphasizes the isolationist “Build Tall” style of the Wood Elves, where the focus on protecting and healing forests across the map allows for a wide variety of options. It’s very un-Total War in that way, far less about painting the map and far more about picking and choosing when to get into fights and when to play defensively. If I have a gripe, it’s now that every Wood Elf campaign seems like it’ll be mostly the same because of this, with the big differences being the faction-unique mechanics and which forests you decide to focus on. It's a gripe that's kept me from playing more than one game with them post-rework, but I imagine I'll come back whenever I'm in the mood to murder people for the trees.
Best Legendary Lord: Drycha is the world’s angriest tree, and her unique roster focused around forest spirits (with weaker, magically brainwashed elves) gives her a much different feel than the other WE Lords. She also starts on the eastern edge of the Empire and has to retake the Oak of Ages from the other Wood Elf factions while also freeing her mentor Coeddil. It’s a fun time.
Worst Legendary Lord: Honestly they’re all fine and all kinda overlap. That said, I do have to call out The Sisters’ of Twilight unique Forge of Daith mechanic as being kinda bad. However, given that Creative Assembly has already released a beta patch making it less bad, and they're a duo lord who makes the Eagle Rider Doomstack entirely possible, I can't give them any shit on that front. I guess Orion is kinda whatever now? eh. Hey, they're worth buying as DLC now. That's more than I could say 11 months ago.
The lizards are fun, don’t get me wrong, but for a faction with a full six legendary lords they’re probably the Game 2 faction I want to play the least? Dinosaurs backed up by tough but slow (or fast but fragile) infantry? Sure. But their specific mechanics are a tad… lame? The Geomantic web mostly just rewards you for controlling provinces which are adjacent to one another, and they’ve definitely received the shorter end of the DLC stick. Dinosaurs? Very good, as previously mentioned. Slaan Mage Priests are some of the best generic mage lords in the game, and for the most part they’re spread out across the map in a nice way, even if their home continent of Lustria has become a meme.
Best Legendary Lord: Kroq-Gar has a whole -60% upkeep on all basic Saurus infantry in his army, and one of the more secure starting locations in both Eye of the Vortex and Mortal Empires. Basically if you want to ask who a good first playthrough character is but don’t want to play as Tyrion, it’s this guy. Also he can ride a T-Rex.
Worst Legendary Lord: For as much as I love the big dumb alligator, I have to say Nakai the Wanderer because *horde factions are boring.* His twist of being able to gift territory to an allied 3rd party faction is an interesting attempt at making hordes more relevant, but they don’t solve the problem of… you just don’t do that much. Tenhenahuin’s sacrifice mechanic might feel pretty weak and he might have a rough start with only skinks, but at least he can do things.
8: Vampire Counts
Really the only reason the Vampires aren’t higher is because, despite having five legendary lords, they also somehow only have two real start positions. If there were more places to play them instead of spending 90% of the game fighting against the Empire (or Brettonia) and Dwarfs they'd probably be my single favorite old world faction rn, buit alas it is not yet so. Hordes of garbage, chaff-tier infantry to bog down the enemy while solid cavalry, spooky monsters, and the best magic in the game do most of the damage? It’s a GOOD TIME. Who needs range when you can just summon a bunch of expendable zombies onto enemy archers? Who needs, uh, good melee when you can just heal your stupid skeletons forever with invocation of nehek and corpse carts?
Best Legendary Lord: Vlad von Carstein is still my go-to answer, but I also need to give recognition to Heinrich Kemmler for being the weird, creepy necromancer who goes after Brettonia instead of The Empire and summons an undead chaos champion named Krell. I fully admit I’ve tried to imitate his voice for D&D and hurt my throat in the process. Just say no to raspy old man voices.
Worst Legendary Lord: Helman Ghorst is infamously one of the worst lords in the game, giving some decent faction-wide bonuses (20% replenishment, 20% research, and poison attacks for his army isn’t nothing) in exchange for being worse than pretty much all of the other Vampire Count lord choices as an actual combat lord. It’s made even worse for him with the presence of the bloodline vampire lords, all of whom are just as good at magic but way better at fighting and improving armies. Like, I dunno. Give him an unique starting position, maybe some different objectives? Throw him into LustriaBowl, that'd be funny. What do you mean it "wouldn't make sense in the lore?"
7: The Empire
With some recent changes to both Vampire Count AI and the general buffing of Greenskins post-rework, playing as the Empire has definitely made for a more difficult campaign than it was in January (well, outside of Markus Wulfhart, whose campaign was already among the harder ones for both Vortex and ME.) Their army, flexible and varied as it is (even if their infantry is middling at best tbh) gives a lot of different approaches, and it’s never not fun to just spend the late-game corner camping and blowing the hell out of anything that gets in your way with heavy artillery. They’re the closest to a “standard” Total War faction as you’re going to get, but somehow that doesn’t mean boring.
Best Legendary Lord: No real losers here, but I have to still go with Volkmar the Grim for the flagellants and the goofs. Sure, he should probably get his own unique starting position, like Balthasar Gelt does down south but have you seen that mustache? Or, perhaps more importantly, those battle prayer buffs? No seriously the man rides around on a giant war altar and has Banishment as a bound spell. He’s the most expensive empire lord in multiplayer for a reason.
Worst Legendary Lord: Probably Volkmar, if we’re being entirely serious. Like, yeah, being able to field Flagellants as a viable frontliner unit is very funny, but you’re probably better off just recruiting him as part of a Karl Franz campaign. Much like his counterpart Ghorst, dude needs his own unique start position. The difference is, he’s actually useful in combat. Yeah sure Karl Franz is a little vanilla and Balthasar Gelt has a much rougher start, but one of Volkmar’s legendary items requires you to sack a settlement owned by… Kislev? You know, your ostensible allies in the war against chaos? Great. Genius.
The recent Greenskin rework honestly makes them the single most fun old world faction. Between changes to the Waaaagh mechanic that make it scary, rather than pathetic, to scrap upgrades giving them a lot more flexibility, they’re scary now. Azhag now has his own starting position, up north, pitting him more against the Empire and Chaos than other green boys, and all of the other LLs have received their own slate of buffs. Still has one of the more varied, aggressive rosters in the game, even if it's a tad bloated. Glad the Boyz have finally gotten justice.
Best Legendary Lord: Grom the Paunch is da biggest gobbo and follows the trend of WH2’s DLC lords getting ridiculous and silly unique mechanics. In his search for an increasing variety of dishes, Grom can acquire legendary ingredients and cook them to give powerful buffs to his armies. Give regular-ass Goblin Archers exploding arrows? Sure. In his Vortex campaign, you actually need to find most of the recipes before you can burn Athel Loren to the ground, in a special siege battle that might hopefully reflect an improvement of sieges down the line. (In general, siege battles are still the one dull spot in the game)
Worst Legendary Lord: Okay so my actual only real gripe with Grimgor Ironhide is that he’s the vanilla Greenskin lord, but even with buffs to Black Orcs (easily one of the scariest melee infantry in toe-to-toe combat) and his own (greatly improved) lord-killing prowess, he’s just the least interesting one you could pick. Why not pick Wurrzag? C’mon, you know you’re good for it. He dances! He casts from the Big Waaagh spellbook! He rides a piggy! He gives ridiculous buffs to already ridiculous Savage Orcs!
I will also accept Skarsnik of Crooked Moon, whose campaign is still among one of the hardest in the game, even with his vast abundance of buffs. He’s in a somewhat better spot than Bellegar, with lots of tricky options and abilities alongside the buffs from the Greenskin rework, but the dark secret is that you can easily confederate him with Grom in Mortal Empires, get him and all his fun Night Goblin buffs with none of the downsides. I think the three-way “Race for Eight Peaks” is a fun idea, don’t get me wrong, but the rewards for actually capturing the legendary settlement never quite feel worth the toil to get there. That said, I did recently do a Skarsnik campaign... on Normal, and it was a pretty fun time remembering how much easier the game is on Normal.
5: High Elves
The High Elves can do everything, as long as you’re willing to pay for it. They’re a great starter faction in campaign for that reason, especially given how good that economy is for *most* of their lords, alongside access to almost every lore of magic and a shitload of air support. Since the last blog, they’ve gotten access to Eltharion the Grim, who is basically Elf Batman, and Imrik, who is all about them *Dragons.* They both have interesting start positions in Mortal Empires and help round out the Knife Ears roster to a full 6 lords. You can't go wrong with them.
Best Legendary Lord: Alith Anar starts in a far more precarious position surrounded by Druchii, but compensates by focusing on the sneakier aspects of the Asur roster. He’s got automatic ambush chance, like a Skaven or Beastmen lord, on top of special assassination contracts and enough sniping power to more-or-less erase enemy lords before they show up. He’s probably one of the better Free-LC lords for that reason. You really can’t go wrong with any of them though; all 6 are fun in their own way, except...
Worst Legendary Lord: Tyrion is the lord you pick when you’re still learning the game and is great for that reason. He’s absurdly powerful on his own, gives upkeep reductions to all of the basic-tier High Elf infantry, and starts in a fairly secure part of the map. That’s why he’s boring. Pick Allarielle or Eltharion if you want an interesting Ulthuan campaign and pick Teclis or Imrik if you want to have a (good) bad time.
4: Tomb Kings
In retrospect I think the Tomb Kings are Very Good, actually, with their unique army and economic mechanics, alongside the scavenger hunt for the Books of Nagash. If multiplayer balance tiers are any indication, it’s very hip to be Undead, and the Tomb Kings’ heavy emphasis on constructs gives them a different flavor than the slightly more haphazard Vampire Counts. Sure, their unique lore of magic is extremely “eh” and they only have one generic lord type, but what they do offer is novelty in a game that is already abundant with novel approaches to the tried-and-true formula of the Total War series. Tomb Kings are, to some extent, playing a different game from the other factions. Thankfully, it’s a fun one.
Best Legendary Lord: Arkhan the Black gets access to Vampire Count units and also the Lore of Death (which is up there for me in terms of “I’m not great at this game but direct damage spell go brrr") but I've also recently found some affection for Grand Hierophant Khatep, who starts up in Naggarond with very little desert but a lot of annoyed Dark Elves and the occasional Beastman. He has a similar uphill climb, but with a very different set of opponents and abilities. Also his voice acting might be the most *extra* in the game where everyone is already hamming it up to eleven. FOOOOOR THE MORTUARRYYYY CULLLLTTTT
Worst Legendary Lord: If you were to assemble a top 10 list of the hardest campaign starts currently in Mortal Empires, Arkhan would be near the top. His Vortex start tends to be a little more manageable, but he starts surrounded by things that hate him in a more-or-less immediate arms race to the death with Settra, given how vital “painting the map” is for the mummies. Don’t get me wrong, it’s good and fun but also it’s hard and difficult.
3: Dark Elves
The Druchii retain their bronze medal as “The Asshole Elves who are Even more Assholes” mostly because of their offensive yang to the High Elves’ Yin. Their roster is almost as flexible and varied as their kin, but more heavily focused on aggression and big monsters, unsurprisingly. Hydras are cool, horrific sea beasts are cool, elves with scimitars are cool, enslavement economy is cool (wait no.) They’re also the last remaining base-game WH 2 faction with five lords instead of six, which makes it seem like they’ll be the recipient of the final lord pack for the game (you know, assuming that Total War Warhammer III is, as speculated, the Total War game for 2021)
Best Legendary Lord: As far as basic vanilla lords go, Malekith is still the one I’d point to as being both incredibly powerful and also fun. You can’t really go wrong with any of them though. Hellebron requires a constant level of momentum that the others don't, while Lokhir Fellhart has to slug it out in Lustria with only cheap corsairs and Black Ark support in his corner.
Worst Legendary Lord: With some recent buffs, Malus Darkblade’s campaign is less of an uphill nightmare than it used to be, whether you choose to give up Hag Graef or not. So at this point I’ma go with Morathi, who has a far less secure start than some of the other Dark Elf lords and mostly just compensates by spreading Chaos Corruption everywhere. Eh. not a fan. She's honestly fine though.
2: Vampire Coast
The Vampire Coast is your gunpowder faction if you like gunpowder and gun lines and pretending you’re still playing Total War Napoleon while everyone else is playing Rome 2. (at least, I assume that metaphor makes sense given how little of either game I've played. At some point some Three Kingdoms and Atilla will be played, I'll say that much.) They’re an interesting contrast to the other two undead factions in that way, but their real strength (aside from their aforementioned “blow them up before they get to you” prowess) is the flexibility of playstyle. Depending on who you pick, they’re either a horde faction who can settle, or a regular faction who can horde, with pirate coves for extra income. Lotta options, lot of play flexibility, and lot of zombies with guns. Who can say no to that?
Best Legendary Lord: Luthor Harkon is one of the more secure LustriaBowl contenders, having that built-in defense that comes with vampiric corruption. Scary hybrid caster/fighter lord who can ride a terrorgheist? Yes. He’s also an insane vampirate, so that’s pretty good too. Count Noctilus is a close second, with his extremely secure start position in the middle of the ocean and bonuses to big monsters, but he’s almost too easy because of it.
Worst Legendary Lord: Cylostra Direfin has the unique distinction of being created whole cloth for Total War Warhammer, and she’s uh. Fine. She starts in the Isthmus of Lustria, stuck between a lizard and elf place, without many natural allies. She’s a decent caster, and can summon ghostly versions of Brettonian cavalry to give her army some mobility, but otherwise she’s just sorta middling.
No real change on the top 3, but I just wanna say it’s patently absurd how much love the Skaven get with DLC. With the recent release of The Twisted and the Twilight, it seems more apparent than ever that there’s definitely a little bit of favoritism going on with the way Creative Assembly approaches the ratbois. They’re 3/3 on paid DLC lords, and have a roster that is varied enough to the point where you can actually construct viable clan-themed armies out of them, which is just plain silly. They’re still my #1 pick, though here’s hoping that Game 3 will somehow manage to top even this
Best Legendary Lord: Stealing the trophy from Ikit Claw is Throt the Unclean, master mutator of Clan Moulder, who offers a similar unit upgrade mechanic, but for infantry and monsters instead of weapon teams. However, the Clan Moulder Flesh Laboratory is more interesting than the Clan Skryre Forbidden Workshop by virtue of having actual downsides instead of just making everything buh-roken. Put too many mutations on a unit and it might become unstable. Too many instabilities and it might be kinda useless. The good news is you can then recycle it for “growth juice” to spawn more Clan Moulder monster units. Truly the circle of life.
Worst Legendary Lord: Despite some much-needed recent buffs, Tretch Craventail sticks out as the weak link among the six lords of the vermintide. Queek has the race for Eight Peaks, Skrolk has improved plagues, Ikit has ridiculous weapon teams and warpstone nukes, Sknitch has to manage Eshin contracts, and Throt (as mentioned above) has ridiculous mutations. The most Tretch has to offer is an improved version of the Skaven’s “scurry away” ability, and starting with an undercity on the complete opposite side of the map. He’s still better than some of the *worst* lords in the game, and at least has the unique start in Naggarond, but let’s be real here he’s the worst Skaven lord by a mile.
Wrapping things up
Alright, with this accidental novel out of the way I am willing to announce that my Game of the Year blogs proper will probably drop sometime next week. I’ll also be streaming Shadow Hearts for the near future, so if you’re interested in weird horror alt-JRPGs that are old enough to vote, why not swing by, give me a follow
or subscription? Merry Christmas, and Happy Holidays.