A war of the worlds collides around a great vortex.
It was the worst kept secret in video games, but we’ve now finally got absolute, official confirmation: the Skaven are coming to Total War: Warhammer 2. The race of humanoid rats are one of four playable factions coming to September’s sequel, joining the High Elves, Dark Elves and Lizardmen.
Having now played the opening hour-or-so of the Skaven campaign, we’re happy to report that the murderous, subterranean-dwelling rodents offer some distinctly different gameplay options to what we’ve seen in the first game.
Simply, if inhabiting a secret under-world and indulging in surprise attacks from the dark sounds appealing to you then you’re going to adore the ugliness offered by the Skaven.
A Vast, Hidden Empire
The Skaven are great at spreading uncertainty amongst their enemies thanks to the ‘Skaven Underworld’ trait. Other factions see Skaven settlements as generic-looking ruins on the campaign map and are forced to send scouting parties to the site to ascertain whether or not it’s inhabited.
Do your enemies send a small party to the site and risk it being obliterated if you, as the Skaven, are present? Or do they send a larger force in case you are there and possibly get caught up in a prolonged conflict?
In a game in which strategy and intelligent assignment of funds and troops is as important as it is in Total War it’s impossible to underestimate the value in creating these kinds of headaches for your opponents.
It’s impossible to underestimate the value in creating these kinds of headaches for your opponents.
This kind of confusion is easy to see the value of in the early going of a campaign when factions are trying to grasp which factions are positioned where and who owns what. There are, though, questions regarding the long-term impact of the Skaven Underworld trait.
When factions are more consolidated and fewer in number in the middle and late game periods, will others see a ruin site and simply presume that it is Skaven controlled? Surely, so late in the game it would be next to impossible for a large number of ruins to be positioned close to one another? This alignment can only be Skaven.
It could well be that the Skaven turn out to be a faction in which their strength is most keenly felt in the early chapters of the campaign and there’s emphasis on you to move quickly to gain an early advantage. With that early advantage you can work to manipulate later actions of others and thus retain a semblance of control throughout.
The unpredictable nature of Skaven psychology provides them with another trait that is very much a double-edged sword. Skaven presence increases the level of corruption in the regions they control and this leads to a decrease in public order, which makes your settlements harder to control. Low public order makes it more likely that you’re going to be spending time and resources on stopping rebellions from your own rats.
They might be ugly and ruthless, but there’s something charming about their viciousness and just how forthright and upfront they are about their love for chaos and madness.
The flip side to the presence of corruption is that you always have a ready supply of low-level units at the ready to bolster the ranks of your army when fighting in your own lands. If you’re going to play as the Skaven, then, it seems that you benefit significantly by continually fighting and making the most of the combined impact of your own corruption and the lack of knowledge enemies have as to your presence.
Certainly, they play differently than what is promised from the other three races. The High Elves, for instance, are more concerned with playing politics and affecting diplomacy between factions, whilst the Geomantic Web of the Lizardmen increases their overall power by creating magical connections between their settlements.
The Skaven are thematic differently, too. They might be ugly and ruthless, but there’s something charming about their viciousness and just how forthright and upfront they are about their love for chaos and madness. Where the likes of the High Elves are interested in creating confusion behind the scenes whilst claiming to have no part in it, the Skaven are more than happy to cause a disintegration of society out in the open and even within their own society.
Skaven are crazy and violent, but at least we know where we stand with them and it’s our fault if their actions take us by surprise.
It’s clear that a lot of work has gone into making Warhammer 2’s battles look more dramatic and diverse.
They also look fantastic on the battlefield. It’s clear that a lot of work has gone into making Warhammer 2’s battles look more dramatic and diverse than they did in the first game and the Skaven are a great representation of that.
Individual units twitch unpredictably, either in their eagerness to shed blood or because they’re struggling to fend off the symptoms of some degenerative disease they’ve picked up in the underworld. Perhaps it’s both.
Combine this with their comically designed higher-level units that looks as though they barely operate as intended – such as dilapidated catapults and monstrous, sewer beasts – and you’ve an army that projects all of the same traits of confusion and corruption as seen on the campaign map.
When it comes to creating a positive impact, then, all the Skaven have left to prove is how they handle in the later stages of the campaign. We won’t know that until we sit down with the full release.
The Vortex in the Sky Keeps on Turning
The vortex is designed to have a marked impact on how you engage with the wider campaign.
Warhammer 2’s campaign map has a vortex, The Great Vortex, at its centre. The vortex is designed to have a marked impact on how you engage with the wider campaign in that it can be used as a means to secure victory should you decide to bypass the usual route of dominating the map by destroying or taking your enemies’ settlements.
Each faction has their own way of setting about harnessing the power of the vortex to their own ends, and it’ll be fascinating to see how a race like the Skaven – with their concentration of spreading anarchy throughout the world – can enhance their personality further this way.
Alternatively, it could be that they’re better placed to use their race attributes as a way to efficiently curtail others from making use of the vortex.
It’s this possibility of options that make each Total War release so interesting, and the Skaven as a race have the potential to take that variety a step further given their underhandedness, potential for stealth and questionable morals.
The Skaven were the most sought after race by fans of the original Total War Warhammer, and there’s every reason to see why based on what we’ve played so far. For certain, they’re the ones we’re most interested in after having tasted a little of what they’ve got to offer.
John Robertson is a freelance journalist and writer and the author of Independent By Design: Art & Stories of Indie Game Creation. You can find him on Twitter.