The newest big piece of DLC for Creative Assembly's successful Total War franchise features quite a bit: four new legendary lords, a new and flashy school of magic (Lore of the Deep), a slew of new units and a new end-game goal for the Vampire Coast faction. Similar to the recent Tomb Kings expansion, the watery vampires care little for the mortal struggle. Their goal is to best an ancient behemoth, Amanar, which is lurking under the seas and therefore take their place as the rightful rulers of the sea.
For this, they field a troop full of musket-wielding zombies, cannons and war crabs (and even stranger beings) in order to fight for infamy against other pirates, collect Pieces of Eight to summon Regiments of Renown and so forth. There are many unique twists to the formula, some reintroduced from existing factions and others completely new. As a result, the Vampire Coast campaign plays out like no other. These are not jolly Pirates of the Caribbean zombie pirates either and they would rather chew your face off than share a tankard of rum.
Without going too much into campaign details, you're tasked with accumulating infamy from your normal everyday tasks like sacking villages, beating opposing armies and the like. There's even a pirate leaderboard for you to track your success! The more infamous you are, the bigger and badder pirate lords seek you out to best you in combat. Some are vampire lords like yourself, but orks, dwarves and dark elves have also taken to the seas with their own elite armies. At the beginning of the game it's best to steer clear of these roaming armies lest you want to spend the majority of your campaign licking your wounds and raising new armies (from the dead). You can also upgrade your own undead ship with production facilities in a similar fashion to the Beastmen's horde.
Another interesting new trick in the nautical necromancers' book is the option to found pirate coves on port settlements you've beaten in battle. So instead of razing or looting the coastal areas, the player can set up a chain of hidden coves which leech resources from their official owners straight into your coffers. Coves can only be destroyed or lost when the city is razed, or another Vampire Coast faction takes control of it. They're an excellent source of income for a faction that prefers roaming the seas to controlling vast pieces of land. The start of the campaign can be on the slow side when you have just one settlement and/or ship to sail with. With the massive number of factions running through their turns, you'll wish there was a bit more to do in yours beyond sailing a bit further in the open waters.
The faction's army is very heavy on ordnance, both close and long range. Mobs of pistol or musket-wielding Zombie Mobs have a devastating first volley but can't take a beating themselves. Cannons, mortars and the absolutely massive bombard Queen Bess - with a barrel big enough that you could launch a necrosphinx from it - will hammer any turtling opponents to tiny bits. What the faction lacks are solid early-game melee infantry and proper cavalry. An armada of various flying units dangling bomb-throwing zombies or shooters can handle some of the disruption duties, but nothing in the roster can take the place of the hammer to your anvil with melee troops tying units up while cavalry strikes full-force from the rear. All units cause fear, so low-morale troops can have a surprisingly tough time fighting against Vampire Coast's seemingly weak frontline.
There's a plethora of suitably themed monstrous units as well from crabs to reanimated hulks all the way to the Necrofex Colossus - a hulking reanimated (but somehow bipedal) ship still imprisoning its writhing undead crew inside it. The Colossus and its fire-while-moving triple cannon is outrageously destructive and thanks to its tall stature, can hit the enemy from almost any angle. But perhaps the most hilariously destructive unit is the new Bloated Corpse - a stable from many a zombie shooter. This hideously bloated kamikaze-unit will happily run into a group of enemies to devastating effect. Say goodbye to those expensive Demigryph Knights, empire. They're now just stains on the seafloor. They're vulnerable to arrows, but can be stealthy with suitable magic, so you better be alert before clumping up your units. Lore of the Deep relies a lot on refreshing or resurrecting your fallen zombies and wreaking havoc on your opponent's neat battle lines with good-looking rolling waves, storms, tentacles and a proper broadside volley from a ghost ship.
The Vampire Coast is a worthy addition to Total War: Warhammer II with a new kind of campaign gameplay, re-engineered or completely novel mechanics, and an army roster that definitely has a couple of curveballs in store. Their over-reliance on firepower is something players can take an advantage of, though. That said, you also have to be aggressive, fast and hold your own lines in check not to get absolutely riddled with musket shot or worse. Some balancing is sure to follow in future patches, as currently some of the faction's weaknesses might be too easy to exploit in multiplayer. A couple of the Legendary Lords' campaigns could start a bit snappier though, as proper fighting and unit selections starts after quite a wait.
This army may have been fished out of the briny deep, but their powder has certainly remained dry. Vampire Coast boasts a rather unique take on the campaign and it's a good addition to the expanding Warhammer roster.