Mortal Empires is, without a doubt, one of the most ambitious updates Creative Assembly has made to a Total War game. For fans who already own Warhammer 1, its DLC, and Warhammer 2, Mortal Empires a free update that smashes both games together in a 35 faction free-for-all across a stitched together version of both campaign maps. It’s impressive and a ton of fun, but aggravating bugs and some head-scratching design decisions hold it back.
The first main caveat to Mortal Empires is that you’re going to need Warhammer 1 in order to play. If you already own the game, great. If you don’t, you’re looking at an additional $60 just to enjoy Mortal Empires. Then there’s the first game’s DLC on top of that if you want to play anything but the main races. My recommendation is that, if you’re new to the series with Warhammer 2, wait. Mortal Empires puts the grand back in grand strategy, but it’s clearly an update meant to reward dedicated fans who have already played both games.
Old meets new
Every faction from both games is available to play and they’re scattered across a new map that combines both game’s campaigns into one sandbox meatgrinder. The scope of the Mortal Empires campaign is daunting. While the 35 main factions are present, all the smaller subfactions bring that total closer to a hundred. Watching a campaign play out on that kind of scale in a Total War game brings me back to the glory days of Rome—but, y’know, with orcs.
I do find myself missing the more frantic pacing of Warhammer 2’s Eye of the Vortex campaign, where the four new factions race to complete rituals and secure dominance over the New World. Each of the 35 factions has unique victory conditions in Mortal Empires, but we’re back to the old days of only having to conquer certain settlements and beat back the Chaos hordes in order to win.
The Chaos hordes are, right now, the biggest reason to skip Mortal Empires. At first, my issues with the update felt forgiveable, but when the armies of Chaos began marching south I immediately realized that Mortal Empires has some glaring flaws. Right now the Chaos faction behaves much like it does in the Eye of the Vortex. In that campaign, initiating a ritual causes several Chaos armies to march on your cities to curbstomp you—and only you. For some bizarre reason, they have that same behavior in Mortal Empires, ignoring every other faction just to grind your nose into the blood-soaked earth. My first Mortal Empires campaign ended in humiliating defeat because I was expecting, much like in Warhammer 1, that the Chaos armies would fight against every other faction on their crusade south. Nope.
Creative Assembly is aware of the issue, but right now I’ve found the best option is to mod the Chaos armies out of the game entirely. It’s a lackluster solution that takes away some of the challenge, but I prefer it to getting stomped by 12 hellishly strong armies rushing me head on like I’m a quarterback without an offensive line. My second Chaos-less campaign as the Undead Mannfred Von Carstein is going much more smoothly.
Other changes to the AI are similarly confusing, but not nearly as frustrating. The new diplomacy logic in Mortal Empires feels like a step back, making it even harder to secure pacts with factions that should be your allies. The AI factions are also aggressive colonialists, I’ve found, which can make razing settlements feel futile when they’ll quickly resettle them turns later.
That said, Mortal Empires does some wonderful things. Perhaps my favorite is how it brings nearly all of the improvements made in Warhammer 2 to Warhammer 1’s factions. For one, the new climate feature is in effect, meaning certain cities are only habitable for some factions without huge penalties. This helps organically limit growth while creating more strategic depth once empires begin expanding their borders. Instead of kicking the Dark Elves out of their northern kingdoms as the Lizardmen and settling in their cities, I love burning everything they own to the ground.
Before Mortal Empires launched, my main concern was that stitching the campaign maps together wouldn’t feel natural, as Warhammer 2’s races are on the western continents with all of the old races battling out in the east. Fortunately, the campaign victory conditions do require factions to spread out across the sea, and new starting positions for several Legendary Lords really mix things up. The best of these new start positions is the Skaven lord Queek who now starts in the southwestern badlands surrounded by undead, dwarfs, and greenskins. It’s the first time a Legendary Lord is rated as “very hard” in terms of starting difficulty, but veterans and lore-freaks alike will love how Queek turns the South into a bloodbath.
The Old World continent isn’t the same version as found in Warhammer 1, either. New and updated settlements provide a lot more variety, including some that have specialized landmark buildings that are unique to lore-rich cities. This comes at a cost, in that the map has been squeezed down to keep the action tight instead of keeping both full-sized continents intact. The New World from Warhammer 2 has lost almost half of its southern landmass, which changes things significantly for players who prefer the new Warhammer 2 races.
All of Warhammer 1’s Legendary Lords have been updated to stay competitive with the new races, and so far the balance between the 12 races feels great. That said, one of the biggest ways that Mortal Empires feels unfinished is the fact that it doesn’t implement changes made in Warhammer 1’s Foundation update, including the playable Norsca faction. Old World Legendary Lords retain their skilltrees from before the Foundation update, which are not nearly as diverse and interesting as their post-Foundation counterparts.
The good news is that Creative Assembly is already working on porting all of those changes over to Mortal Empires. But it’s just one more area where Mortal Empires would have benefited from being delayed. After all, Warhammer 2 has only been out for a month and I feel like I’ve only just scratched the surface of its Eye of the Vortex campaign. While I appreciate the massive strategy pancake that’s been dropped on my plate, it’s still disappointing to cut in and find it undercooked. Once Creative Assembly fixes these issues, there’s no doubt that Mortal Empires will be incredible. Total War: Warhammer 2 is already one of my favorite games of this year and Mortal Empires is damn close to making an incredible strategy game even better.