Total War: Warhammer 2 First Hands-On With Skaven

I’ve made no secret of my long term love affair with the Total War franchise. From the original Shogun: Total War to when they pivotally swapped the title in Total War: Shogun 2, I’ve spent somewhere between 100-400 hours in each of their games. It’s a franchise I’ve only grown to respect more and more over the installments. Hardcore fans are going to call me out on this statement, citing shoddy AI and a DLC practice many see as greedy (Warriors of Chaos a Day One DLC? By Sigmar, No!). Still, with each culture pack, expansion, and update, I have spent at least another dozen hours conquering lands and razing cities. In regards to just Total War: Warhammer, there’s absolutely no debate in my mind that my several hundred hours playtime were worth it.

Hot off the heels of the new Norsca DLC , the good people over at SEGA gave me the chance to fly out to San Francisco for a special reveal/hands-on for Total War: Warhammer 2. Up till then they had kept the secret fourth team close to their furry, compressible chests. Chittering rumors scurried about the nests of various message boards. Lurking fans scavenged for details luke crumbs, chasing the tails of blank spaces on the campaign map. Still, a perfidious notion spread like the plague. Perhaps the final race was that rumored clan that the more educated in the Empire knows doesn’t exist. Fans squinted their beady eyes and wringed their miniature clawed hands, whiskers brimming with excitement.

It’s Skaven. We all knew that though. Ever since the first trailer showed a red eyed rat, we all knew that the pestilent ratmen would be the fourth race. The worst kept secret in gaming history, even the presenters at the preview event delivered the big reveal with little fanfare. So we all knew it was Skaven, but what we didn’t know was how the Skaven would work. That was the badass part.

So this is going to be one of those articles that is really only going to appeal to fans of the Total War: Warhammer games. I’m going to get into some pretty intense nerd minutia here, so let me just get the general information out of the way first. The four races are now Lizardmen, High Elves, Dark Elves, and the Skaven rat clans. If you are new to the series, I’d recommend playing Total War: Warhammer first. They make significant changes in Total War: Warhammer II. It’s a far more complicated game. The simple objectives and more insulated campaign map of the first Total War: Warhammer is far more noob friendly. All of the original races are present in Warhammer 2, so learning the original 9 on top of the new 4 is going to be a chore. That being said, the new game both looks and feels fantastic.

Right, into the hypernerd shit that Total War fans crave. A race of vile rats with both devious genius and unrelenting numbers, the Skaven are the true herald of the End Times. All of the races in Total War: Warhammer 2 are unique, but I’d venture to say that the Skaven are the most complicated. First and foremost, Skaven cities appear as ruins to your opponents. Walking into your territory, foreign armies won’t even know they are trespassing until they are right on top of you. Veterans of the barren and charred late game Old World will immediately recognize how useful this is. Walking onto a fresh, seemingly uninhabited continent, there’s no telling just how many rats wait below to nibble off your bones.

It’s a necessary advantage, as the Skaven towns don’t initially carry a lot of economic and defensive power. Their garrisons are meager and unwalled without their defensive structure. Skaven economic buildings generate very little money by themselves, across the board only providing 40-80 each at every level. The advantage they give is more specific, with decreased troop cost or a province-wide economic boost. Conversely, their basic military structures are incredibly easy to construct. Most max at Tier 3, meaning even your minor towns can easily construct them. Basic Skaven units are weak, but very numerous. It’s a clever balancing act that means Skaven territorial expansions are simultaneously quickly threatening, yet not very valuable.

There are a few other factors that you have to keep your eye on in a Skaven Grand Campaign. A constantly hungry race, Skaven have a unique resource called food. There are five tiers of food (1-20 is starving, 21-40 is hungry, 41-60 is adequately fed, 61-80 is well fed, and 81-100 is abundantly fed), each with it’s own buff/debuff. Starving Skaven will suffer from growth and public order debuffs, while staying well in the green means your hordes are growing and happy. Food has far more application than this however, as it can be spent before combat to increase the charges of your The Menace Below ability. As Skaven inhabit a vast Under-Empire, there are always hordes of eager Clanrats willing to burst forth from the earth to harass your opponents. Clanrats are weak, but even the most basic of melee unit can turn the tide of battle when deployed into a pesky line of archers. A third use for food that cannot be overlooked comes into play when capturing towns. As Skaven inhabit ruins, all of their settlements start out at Tier 1. This can be changed by spending food, allowing you capture and settle at Tier 2 or 3. Veteran players will recognize just how incredibly powerful this ability is. The cost is high, but well worth it in certain situations.

Two other factors Skaven have to deal with are Loyalty and Corruption. Players of the historically sourced Total War games will remember the Loyalty mechanic. As the Skaven are a naturally scheming and self-interested race, their Lords all have the potential of scampering off to start their own clan. Just like you need to maintain Public Order to keep your cities from revolting, you must keep your Lords well stocked, fed, and busy.

Skaven also have their own form of corruption, which is unlike the kind we’ve seen with the Vampire Counts or Warriors of Chaos. Rather than a prerequisite for replenishment/attrition, Skaven corruption is a double edged sword. The higher your level, the more rats you can summon with The Menace Below. The Corruption will also lower your Public Order. It was explained to me that the logic behind this is, “mo’ Skaven, mo’ problems.” It’s up to you to balance Corruption to keep things well defended and peaceful.

Combat wise, the Skaven field a mix of devastating special weapons and disposable meat shields. That isn’t just a random term I use. Their basic units literally have the ability, “Meat Shield.” Life is cheap in Skavenblight. As a Skaven player, use this to your advantage. Unit stacks for the Skaven army are larger than any other, with the basic Skavenslave clocking in at 135 (I believe the build I played had the unit sizes on “large,” so expect these numbers to vary based on your settings). Factor in the numerous Clanrat armies you’ll be summoning over the course of a battle, and the Skaven have a clear advantage in pure numbers. This numbers advantage isn’t just for their basic units, as even their specialized Poison Wind Globadiers and Warpfire Throwers come in rather large stacks. Once again unit size is going to play a large factor in how these numbers balance out, but my 90 Stormvermin were going up against Lizardmen Saurus stacks of 75.

Total War: Warhammer II

This numbers advantage comes with the obvious downside that most Skaven are cowardly creatures. Your armies will frequently break and scurry away when faced with a real challenge. Given the absolutely massive amount of early game Clanrat and Night Runner armies you’ll be fielding, you can get the feeling that you are less of a general and more a broom constantly sweeping your swarm back into the fray. Most Skaven infantry also have an interesting tradeoff of defence for speed at below 50% health. This means not only that your rats will have a better chance to survive once they retreat, but will also be better at repositioning and getting to work nibbling on your enemy’s heels.

Now fans of Warhammer will know the Skaven are known for two things: limitless hordes, and unspeakable death-machines. The juxtaposition between their frail sacrifice units and devastating war machines is what really gives Skaven their spice. Skaven artillery is amongst the best in the game, with even the basic Plagueclaw Catapult putting out a ludicrous amount of consistent AoE damage. Higher up, the Doomwheel can easily churn through hordes of enemies better than any chariot we’ve yet seen. Massive Rat Ogres function much like Crypt Horrors/Trolls, and the Hellpit Abomination is exactly what you want from a massive, single model unit.

Total War: Warhammer II

Overall, Skaven is a team of extreme strengths and weaknesses. On the campaign map, their ability to quickly and nefariously expand is hamstrung but their weak initial economic power and need to constantly feed. Factors like Loyalty, Corruption, and economic synergies will prove overwhelming for new players. Similarly, the incredible power of the Skaven military is one equally matched by its glaring weaknesses. There’s a major lack of armor/armor-piercing damage. Most of their powerful tools are all ranged, meaning you’ll have to be very careful with your positioning. Death Globe Bombardiers are absolutely devastating if left unchecked, but will quickly get cut down by a cavalry charge. Overall, I’m going to predict that the Skaven team is a “noob trap.” You’d think that the army of silly rat people would be the most accessible to people that just want to swarm their way to victory, but I found this to be exactly the opposite. You’ll have to be cunning, and brutal.

Total War: Warhammer II


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Ted Hentschke

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