I wasn’t really happy with my original review of Warhammer II due to how much I left out, but also didn’t want the post to be years long due to just how in-depth the experience can be and how different each faction plays from the next. So I decided to write a couple of more focussed reviews on the game’s factions to give you an idea of what it’s like to play as them, and hopefully tell some fun stories from the game as I go along. I probably won’t do all the factions, but definetly my favourites.
Today we start with the Empire. Often dubbed the ‘normal’ or (by naysayers) the ‘boring’ faction because, in this world of crusading orcs, robotic ancient Egyptians and rats with nukes, the Empire is a faction of humans with a renaissance era feel to them. This means the majority of their roster dresses in puffy clothes, with fancy hats and holds pointy sticks. But, as we are aware, renaissance warfare had a little more to it than jus pointy sticks… Mainly gunpowder. And boy, does the Empire have a lot of gunpowder.
While your pointy boys hold the line, you can enjoy shooting enemies with flintlocks, muskets, grenade launchers, mortars, cannon balls, steam powered tanks, light magic funnelled through glass lenses to create laser beams and (most importantly) missile batteries. On top of this, the Empire gets access a wide variety of wizards including some of the best in the game who have the lore of life and fire. In short, your support units are the best units. In fact, they’re all so powerful that they’ll almost always out perform max level lords and hardened, reliable infantry.
Well, all except for one lord…
Balthasar Gelt is the most notable of the Empire’s legendary lords you can play as. He is a wizard who gets access to the lore of metal which, normally, isn’t that great. However, through his ludicrously good skill tree, Balthasar can level to a point where he can cast massive area of effect bombardment and vortex spells for only one winds of magic (winds of magic is this game’s equivalent of a mana pool). So while early game Balthasar isn’t really distinguishable from regular wizards, mid to late game Balthasar will routinely out perform all of the aforementioned ranged artillery and support units that the Empire relies on so much. It isn’t uncommon to get up to and over 1000 kills in siege battles with him, or in those involving reinforcement armies
Karl Franz is the next most notable legendary lord. He begins as some guy with a lot of hit points and a hammer, but ends up as a guy riding a Gryphon who will fly straight into enemy lords and heroes, kill them and then fly away again. These high damage hit and run tactics make him a good assassin, despite most of his skills implying he should be used as a tank for damage. This makes Karl on his Gryphon, lovingly named Deathclaw, particularly good against undead factions, whose armies crumble and die if their leaders and heroes are killed. And given that one of the Empire’s main existential threats are three very angry vampires, this gives Karl’s otherwise bland skill tree a lot of potential to make him shine.
There are two other lords, Marcus and Volkmar, but I do not own their DLC’s. I only have so much money, and that money does not pay for every DLC Creative Assembly has released for this game because it’s seriously a lot.
The Empire campaign revolves around uniting your fedual vassals, called elector counts, that make up the Empire. You do this by earning imperial authority and prestige to save the elector counts from invasions presented by occasional events and confederating them under your banner once you have earned enough fealty. To earn fealty you must use other events to prove you have that elector count’s best interests at heart, but it can sometimes cost you the fealty of other elector counts which may lead to civil wars if you can’t keep the peace. War with them can tank your imperial authority which, if left unchecked, will spread massive faction-wide debuffs.
Generally it’s always a good idea to confederate the other legendary lords you’re not playing as first to ensure they don’t die and you can access their skill tree, and faction-wide bonuses. So, if you’re Karl Franz, confederate Balthasar Gelt first and vice versa. I normally go for Wissenland second because having access to their capital allows you to recruit missile batteries and cannons much earlier in the campaign than you normally would be able to. But it’s really up to you who to prioritise since confederating different elector counts gives you access to various powerful variations of units. Just as an example, one elector count unit is a set of mortars that don’t deal friendly fire damage, and another is a steam tank that can set off explosions around itself when surrounded… So, pretty cool.
Generally the start of your typical Empire campaign goes like this:
Step 1: Kill some orcs because, if you don’t, they will raid you and force you to fight on two fronts when an actual threat arrives.
Step 2: Kill some vampires beacause, if you don’t, you will be swimming in so much vampiric corruption that anyone who takes a walk down to the market will drop dead from attrition.
Step 3: Kill some angry vikings who won’t even be interested in occupying your cities, because they’ll be too busy burning it down and forcing you to rebuild it again from scratch once you reclaim the ruins.
Step 4: Kill some Chaos men from the northpole because they will also burn your stuff down if you don’t.
It’s a very defensive campaign, where you’ll often be biding your time defending against multiple threats as you confederate each elector count. Other ways of expanding your territory are to wait until elector count cities are taken by foreign threats and recapturing the cities for yourself… Or, y’know, going to war with Brettonia – a faction full of French people who ride flying horses and don’t seem to understand that sending peasants with pitchforks up against gatling guns pulled upon wagons is a bad idea.
It’s hard to snowball as the Empire because you’ll often be fighting on multiple fronts for most of the mid-game, but once the elector counts are confederated and the Vampires (at least) have been dealt with, you can expand with relative ease into the mountains, where dwarves and orcs await, or (again) into Brettonia, or even to the new world where a bunch of dark elves are gagging to be introduced the concept of high velocity explosive devices.
For Karl, Balthasar and Volkmar, this is the general jist of things. But Marcus has it all very different. He sailed to the other side of the world to do to some lizards what Europe did to the native Americans. Again, I do not own his DLC so can’t say much more than that, and that he doesn’t make use of the elector count and imperial authority systems.
Overall, I’d say the Empire are one of the most fun campaigns in the game because they have access to so many units that go boom, and frequently have to fight enemy factions whose mechanics revolve around swarming. Their unit roster benefits from diversified armies, rather than doom-stacks of one or two of the best units, which leads to more tactically interesting fights. Unmentioned until now is their variety of diplomacy options which, in one campaign allowed me to make over 9000 gold a turn from trading with friendly neighbours alone, which necessitated me keeping Brettonia alive for once. It’s just the perfect balance of challenge and fun where there may be a bit of give and take with land until you stabilise your influence over the elector counts and deal with the early game vampire threat. There’s never a down moment where you have to wonder what your next priority should be because, by the time you’ve ended one threat, two more have shown up. And whether you can manage them depends on nothing more than on how prepared and willing you are to deal with them in their earliest stages.
So what if they’re the normal human faction in a ludicrous fantasy setting? They’re constantly at war with a vast variety of different races, leading to diverse battles throughout the campaign, and their grand idea of protecting themselves from the existential reality they live in is to invent more things that make the baddies go boom. By Sigmar, I love the Empire and you should too.