Wednesday, 16 August 2017 18:09

Total War: WARHAMMER - Norsca Review

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Total War: Warhammer (TWW) has released another new faction, and this time, it's all about dominating both the traditional foes of the lands and also some absolutely badass new monsters.

It's that time again, generals.

Total War: Warhammer (TWW) has released another new faction, and this time, it's all about dominating both the traditional foes of the lands and also some absolutely badass new monsters.

Let's get it straight, right off the mark: If you're reading this, you almost definitely already own the base game here, and you already know that it's a damn fine piece of interactive entertainment. At well over a year after its initial release, and with five major pieces of DLC – and a handful of smaller ones released in that time – plus a whole second game coming out in September, you could say that this is one fairly well-established IP. So, it's likely that those of you who’re coming here aren't wondering if this DLC is any good (spoiler, it is), rather, just how good, and if it's worth dropping another $10 on this game before that big splurge in September comes and slaughters our bank accounts. [EN: Lol OK; try getting a boat].

Horde-Like Raiding, meet City Building

The Norsca faction acts a little differently than nearly any other faction; it's part a raiding-heavy, wander-far-from-home faction that relies heavily on looting and razing, like Chaos and Beastmen, but it's not a horde faction, as you also have settlements and building chains of your own to contend with. It's somewhat similar to Greenskins in that regard, but you'll need to be doing a lot more raiding than the greenies, and your unit types and strategies in combat are drastically different, with (for the most part) much heavier and more expensive units at your disposal, meaning fewer, but more powerful, armies.

This fills a gap in the spectrum of available play styles for the title nicely, allowing for the frantic pace of the frequent battles and raiding of a horde faction, but also giving you a sense of homeland – and with that, of course, comes the need to defend that home.

As a player who inevitably starts resource-loading and working my way through city build trees, and a slow-paced expansion, if given the option, but also as one who's interested in not playing like that but has a hard time doing so unless forced, I found the Norsca campaign's demanded style of play to be very rewarding, if tough. The way the faction is built, you can't get around playing it as a burn-and-churn, take no hostages and leave no city un-looted army, in true Viking style (Vikings being the inspiration for the Norscan aesthetic) [EN: (No)rse kidding]. This is one of the things that TWW does so well; it takes its basic format and repackages it in interesting ways that force you to take a new approach. This not only extends the life of the game, it makes you a better player in general; this DLC is one more good iteration of that model.

Oh, Throgg,  you big, dumb, glorious killer

Speaking of Vikings, these sweet-ass skull-and-furs-clad bastards come in a fun variety of new units, each of which has a lot of sticking power, even at low levels, compared to early units for other groups. The Marauder Hunters (Javelins) are a fun variation on the standard ranged unit, as they can stand up to a melee attack much better than your typical archers of other factions. All of the monstrous units, such as the regenerating Norscan Trolls and the various fast-but-tough wolf-based units, are also a ton of fun for smashing/harrying the enemy's flanks, and the Norscan heroes are big-time forces in their own right, with fun and meaty upgrades.

However, though these units are fun, they're also costly, and that means you're not going to be able to afford more than a single stack for quite a while with Norsca, and not more than two for a while after that, etc. This is more true because the Norscans don't make jack diddly in terms of gold from their cities, so you're basically always in the red for income, using raiding and looting to try and cover your expenses every turn.

These two issues combined – a small number of expensive armies and income almost entirely based on keeping mobile and constantly finding new raiding targets (and ones you can actually defeat in a fight) – directly cause the only real frustration I have with Norsca: It's very easy to get yourself into a bad situation that you can't afford to be in.

Whether it's having nobody near home when The Empire or one of the hordes decides to mosey on across the sea and do some raiding of their own (and God, is it hard to move units back through Norscan lands, as they are quite covered in mountains and large), or whether it's attempting (and usually desperately needing) to raid a city that ends up heavily out-matching your one stack in the area, there are a lot of bad and hard-to-predict situations to get oneself into with these headstrong and hasty Vikings. I've definitely had to save a lot while playing them, and I've also had to revert back to old saves a lot as well [EN: Save states, huh?]. That always carries a bit of frustration and a sense of wasted time with it in any game, and while it's a bit of a drawback, it's also not totally out of the norm for TWW.


The frustration, and really any issues that I have with Norsca, are of minimal note when compared with the faction-exclusive fun stuff that Norsca gets, which is all super-great happy goodness. I’ll list it all here, and then you can decide whether this is all worth $10 and some reloading:

1. MONSTERS. AND MONSTER QUESTS. Norsca has a very cool bit of flavor that comes in the form of a book that's actually a quest tree, called the Monstrous Arcanum. This book is something that unlocks with (very easily researched) tech early in the game, and it unlocks quests that culminate in battling various monsters around Norsca, including ice dragons, giants, and more. These monster battles play out like the quest battles for other factions, except they're FULL OF MONSTERS, plus they usually have some interesting variations on the standard battle, like frequent reinforcements for the monsters or a very constrained initial position. But that's not even the fun part: When you defeat these monsters, YOU GET TO HAVE THEM IN YOUR ARMY. This is a tremendously awesome way to make what is already a very badass little army better still, and it's one of the most fun mechanics in TWW to date.

2. You must unite the Norsca factions early in the game, which is straight out of the TV show Vikings. Or, y'know, history. And to defeat them, you don't have to wipe out their towns as per usual; instead, you simply have to defeat their leader in combat, and then they'll all join you. It's fun, and it lends a very strong sense of narrative to the campaign early on that some of the other campaigns don't have.

3. There is an awesomely realized aesthetic here: from the grim, overly violent designs of the units, to the fact that you literally can build slaving pits in your cities as a top-tier upgrade, you will be a Viking in this campaign or you will not survive. Being forced to be brutal, it turns out, is a lot of fun.

4. Wulfrik, the standard leader, has a series of quests that involve him “calling out” other generals. It's a very fun way to force you to fight various factions, and the flavor for the quests is great. A Viking that magically knows how to talk shit in every language? Awesome.

5. And finally, the rebalancing. With the addition of Norsca to the game, TWW has had a total rebalancing of all factions. The more direct aspect of the new setup – the fact that sitting right above The Empire, Brettonia and the northern kingdoms is now a serious threat that can swoop in and take advantage of the chaos going on in the main continent – feels game-changing by itself. This is brilliant strategizing by Creative Assembly; everything they add to this game refreshes the IP in an extensive way, and that's both a sign that the game itself is a seriously good piece of work and that its creators actually know what makes it that way.


The Verdict

So should you buy it? Well, do ya have $10, and do ya like fun? Because this is yet another in an already long line of excellent pieces of DLC for what has shaped up to be a living classic in the realm of PC games. If you like the game, you'll almost definitely like this, because who doesn't want to wear a bunch of skulls like you shop at some kind of Tiffany in hell and, maybe more importantly, who doesn't want to hang out with a bunch of dragons and war mammoths, slaughtering enemy after enemy with nary a thought of going home? Just me? Didn't think so.

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Trevor Talley

Trevor used to tell people that he writes anything 'they' pay him for and everything else. But, what he really wants to do is sit on his porch all day with a beer, listening to Berliner techno while pounding culture into his brain through a computer screen and then writing about it. Trevor subjects the internet to his musical tastes as editor of The Deli Austin and his credits include PC Gamer, the infamous Busted! Magazine and over a dozen books on Minecraft and sports (not together, though he thinks it could be done).


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