The Creative Assembly has had a bit of a hit-and-miss track record when it comes to DLC packages for the Total War: Warhammer games, but Rise of the Tomb Kings, an expansion we've been playing a lot of recently, ascends above all of its predecessors. The whole thing offers an invigorating and refreshingly different take on the formula, while retaining that which binds Total War games together. Simply put, we were left stunned with the results.
The Tomb Kings are the undead and Egyptian-like faction of rulers of old. Like, seriously, very old. The ancient civilization has now been reincarnated not into the promised paradise, but into that of Warhammer with its endless battles. Yet while mere mortals squabble amongst themselves, the Tomb Kings have a different goal in mind. The ancient Books of Nagash are strewn across the vast map (and their placement and bonuses differ on separate playthroughs), and your job is to collect five to access the Black Pyramid and its overwhelming power. As well as separating them somewhat from the Vortex campaign, this goal makes the new faction very different and enjoyable to play, as Tomb Kings are more defensive and slow to ramp up, but don't have to wage an endless war against everything around them to conquer new lands.
Aside from the campaign objective, the way Tomb Kings recruit new armies and units is also different from other races. The units have no upkeep or recruitment cost, which sounds overpowered as hell, but to offset this, anything better than the few cannon fodder skeletons have recruit limits, based on the number of certain buildings within your settlements. One building can support a limited number of the units it produces, so to get more you must build more, and to build more you must conquer land - even if that's to a lesser extent than the other races. Armies and heroes are similarly limited, but unlocked with the Tomb Kings' dynasty-themed technology tree instead. After a somewhat slow start, gold begins to flow and trade, along with the "premium currency" called canopic jars, takes priority. The latter two are needed to summon special legendary versions of your normal units and craft magical items for your leaders to wield in battle, so they're pretty vital.
With a fairly balanced roster of undead infantry, chariots, and towering constructs like Necrosphinx, the Tomb Kings are a joy to play. The absence of recruitment and especially upkeep costs allow the player to concentrate more on warfare and trade instead of managing the bottom line on an imperial level. The battles themselves are a mixture of Skaven-like sacrifices of low-tiered units to tie down the opposition, while the heavy-hitters go in fast and hard to deal most of the damage. Everything looks top-notch too, and the big obsidian-hued statues are truly terrifying in their lack of expression (also, the Khemrian Warsphinx is the best and cutest 100-ton death-kitty ever). Most of the magical abilities are already familiar to Total War: Warhammer players, so something a bit different could have been done there, and recruiting those free units after a bloody battle or two will also take a fair bit of time, so be prepared for clicking that "End Turn" button a few times in a row with little else to do.
All in all, Rise of the Tomb Kings with its titular race is an excellent addition to the ever-expanding Total War: Warhammer II roster. It plays very differently from the existing factions and favours slow build-up play and a defensive strategy over reckless land-grabbing. The campaign has a pinpoint focus sometimes lacking in the Vortex-based battles, as there's always the next magical book just around the next corner, mercenary army, or fortress to grab, and we just couldn't get enough of this undead army and its unique brand of action.