Total War Warhammer II Skaven campaign

Sega recently revealed the Skaven, vile rat-men, as the fourth playable race in upcoming PC strategy game Total War: Warhammer II.

We got to play the first hour of the Skaven campaign and speak to the developers to learn what these vicious rodents bring to Total War!

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Scourge of the Skaven

Total War Warhammer II Skaven campaign

Total War: Warhammer II is the latest entry in the popular Total War franchise, a series of real-time strategy games featuring large-scale battles. Taking place within the Warhammer fantasy universe, the new game's story centers around a Great Vortex that holds unlimited magical power. All of the game's playable races want control of that vortex, including the Skaven.

As a Skaven warlord, your goal is not only to capture the Great Vortex but also to advance your status and surpass your rival rat-men. The Skaven campaign begins just as the high elves have launched a full-scale invasion of the Southlands region near your territory. They will be your primary opponents early in the campaign, though lizardmen and other factions enter the fray before too long.

One of Total War: Warhammer II's big improvements is the optional campaign tutorial. When enabled, an NPC narrator who is loyal to your cause will walk you through the opening moments and new features of the campaign. This is invaluable for learning to play, as Total War games can be huge and daunting for newcomers. With the narrator's help, I was able to win battles, siege cities, and upgrade my settlements like a pro (only with lots more fumbling).

Sending the rats into battle

Total War Warhammer II Skaven campaign

Your Skaven warlord starts out owning a single settlement on the sequel's new continent and the pesky high elves close at hand. Moving your lord across the map towards the enemy commander, you'll soon get your first taste of battle. The starting clash involves four regiments of units on each side, but your army will grow exponentially as you requisition new units between turns. After a cinematic in which your rat lord can barely wait to crush his opponents, the melee begins.

The Skaven army consists of multiple varieties of deadly ratmen. The lower cost types fight with shields and swords or spears. You'll also begin with ranged units who use slings to toss projectiles. Later in the fight, a group of rat ogres (who are a major threat in Warhammer: The End Times – Vermintide) arrive and join your army as well. These hulking brutes pack a serious punch at close range, throwing foes around like rag dolls.

The game also uses the rat ogres as an opportunity to teach cover mechanics. You'll be instructed to send your rat ogres into a nearby forest, sneaking them up on an unsuspecting ranged unit of high elves. Ranged units don't stand a chance against the rat ogres, as long as you can get them there safely.

Another unique option the Skaven have in battle is summoning groups of units from their subterranean lairs. These units can be summoned anywhere, even right in front of or behind enemy troops. The actual rat-men you summon from underground are weak units, little more than cannon fodder. But they provide a valuable distraction as the enemy is forced to deal with a new threat on the fly. Skaven players have a limited number of summons per battle, with a cooldown timer between each one. Using them correctly can make a big difference in your quest to dominate the Great Vortex.

Rat-men victorious

Total War Warhammer II Skaven campaign

After winning battles, Skaven players have the choice of what to do with the captives they take. You can sell them off for gold, which is needed to recruit new units and upgrade buildings in your cities. Enslaving the captives is also an option, sending them back to your cities and boosting your leadership stat.

But there is another option perfectly fitting the vile race of rat-men. You can just eat captives for food, which helps replenish your own units. Food is the Skaven's unique resource. They're fast-moving creatures with a high metabolism, so you'll often need to consider food costs when recruiting, sieging, and making other large-scale endeavors.

Other races and features

Total War Warhammer II Skaven campaign

While I spent my recent playtime exclusively in the Skaven campaign, Sega did share some cool new tidbits about the other races and gameplay features we'll experience in Total War: Warhammer II.

Dark Elves: One of the coolest features of this faction is the floating city they can build. This huge structure has all the features of a regular occupiable city, but it can travel anywhere in the ocean. If the city is within bombardment range when you go into battle, it can fire three types of bombardment attacks during the fight (each with a cooldown). These start out weak but increase in strength as you enhance structures within the city.

High elves: In contrast to their darker brothers, the high elves are a highly political race. Influence is their unique faction resource. Throughout the high elves campaign, players will have opportunities to make political decisions that cause them to earn different amounts of influence. One way to spend this influence is by whispering in the ears of your neighbors and sowing dissent between rival factions. Should you inspire two enemies to go to war, you'll have an easier time taking over their territories.

Geomantic web: ancient ley lines of power that run beneath the world. Over time, players can build structures that improve their faction's connection to these lines. Doing so will enhance your command over the provinces you control.

Blessed units: As you play the campaign, special events can pop up that provide blessed units as a reward. Complete the task and you get a supply of special units to summon during battle. Blessed units function similarly to Regiments of Renown, special units with enhanced stats and additional abilities. Whereas you get Regiments of Renown by achieving a sufficiently high level with a lord under your command, you'll gain blessed units exclusively through event rewards.

The war is almost upon us

Total War Warhammer II Skaven campaign

Although I also played Total War: Warhammer II at E3 in June, my introduction to the Skaven campaign was the first extended play session I've had with a Total War game. With the slick tutorial and loads of compelling features, this looks like a game that even a relative real-time strategy novice like myself can get into. The Warhammer universe and those abominable rat-men add an extra layer of appeal as well.

Total War: Warhammer II is due out on Steam on September 28. Players who preorder the sequel for $59.99 or buy during the first week of release will receive the Norsca DLC completely free, both in the original Total War: Warhammer and the new game.

SEGA will also sell a $149.99 physical Deluxe Serpent God Edition exclusively through its website that contains a puzzle sphere, art book, metal case, and more. The Warhammer 40,000: Dawn of War III Collector's Edition was incredible, so collectors will probably enjoy this Deluxe Serpent God Edition as well.

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Disclosure: Travel to the Total War: Warhammer II preview event was provided by Sega.