There have been a number of DLCs for TW Warhammer and this time we look at the Total Warhammer Realm of the Wood Elves, which adds the pointy eared tree lovers to the map. They sit just over the mountain range to the south-west of the Empire's starting location. That region has a small bit of everything going on in terms of competing factions. So there's plenty to test your elves against should you choose to begin with them.
Let us begin by summarising this Wood Elf faction. From a combat perspective they are the equivalent to speedy, weak, Beastmen with bows. They can rapidly release wave after wave of long range magic or poisoned tipped arrows. Often this is from the backs of magical creatures while on the move and in some cases from the backs of flying eagles.
Amber. This is a new currency that only the Wood Elves have, for the moment, and it accompanies the usual gold currency. You will use amber to fuel the more powerful aspects of your faction. Special units each cost a single unit of amber, while unlocking special tech and winning the Wood Elf endgame (by upgrading the Tree of Life) all require you to have this precious resource.
The Amber resource is finite and you can only get it from a couple of places. Establishing strong alliances grants you a point of amber, or taking over an enemy settlement will give you a point of amber. And here lies your main problem. Outside of wooded territory your units are pretty crap. In the woods they're incredible. However with only your main territory capable of really providing much in the way of regular wealth, you are limited to few armies, as you would expect from elves. Trying to siege an enemy settlement is tough going, especially if they have an army and a well garrisoned settlement with walls, away from the safety of your forest.
Let's take a little trip back to what Total War games used to look like. When I play one of the non-Warhammer Total War predecessors, I know that regardless of the starting faction I choose, I can expand my empire, building up my resources one settlement at a time. The settlements fuel the army, the number of settlements represent the army size potential and the location of the settlements identify a region that needs to be protected.
I love that simple premise, and I long for it with a new race in Total War Warhammer. But again and again the DLC adds completely new ways of playing. New mechanics that restrict this level of empire building freedom. The core TW Warhammer game began with restrictions on the four primary factions. If you chose the Human faction you could only take over and settle the Undead faction settlements or other Human settlements. The Dwarves were paired against the Orcs in a similar fashion. While this was a new pill to swallow for Total War gamers, it was bearable because there is still a fair number of conquerable settlements available.
So far we have seen Chaos, Beastmen, Dwarven and even a new Goblin focused faction added. Every one of those new factions comes with highly restrictive empire building rule sets. And to a degree that is fine. The new Dwarven and Goblin factions are additional to the existing Greenskin and Dwarven factions and so adding variety and new campaign objectives for those two was a welcome change. The Chaos and Beastmen factions are both added using the horde mechanic. This basically means the faction has no home or settlement to call its own and bulldozes its way through settlements, destroying and looting them to fuel its nomadic army.
Now it wasn't too hard to predict that the Wood Elf Faction would turn up at some point during this constant rollout of TW Warhammer DLC, and I was very much looking forward to it. I even got a little over excited when I understood that they would be the first faction that could take over any settlement from any faction. But again the empire building mechanic has been neutered.
As Wood Elves you have your original settlement, which is naturally a heavily forested chunk of land, next to a small province with a massive tree. You can only upgrade that original settlement, and so when you do manage to conquer another faction’s settlement and turn it into your own, you cannot upgrade it beyond a very basic, single purpose that you give it. So you could set the former settlement so it provides you with some small amount of income, plus the region’s trade goods if they have any, or perhaps you choose to increase reinforcements in the region a little more swiftly. One of the main things you get from taking a settlement is you get one piece of Amber.
If someone comes along and retakes that weak little elven outpost then you lose the amber you originally took. And if you've spent that amber, which you probably will have done because you need it for everything, then you're in trouble. Now the settlement can't defend itself, your regular armies are pretty weak, can't go toe to toe against other faction base units, and you cant afford to make spare armies to cover a single key settlement, let alone the borders or multiple settlements. And so expansionism is a very tough option. And therein is the weakness in this DLC.
The Wood Elves fall fast in battle if you don't keep them moving. This, like the recently added Crooked Moon Goblin focused faction, means you need to be ready to micro-manage in every battle or your troops will be carved up. A number of times the auto resolve informs you that you will get ripped to pieces, but if you control your army and use the terrain very carefully (always get your guys in among the map’s trees) then you will often be able to out class the imbalance and create an exciting win.
You'll be playing most of your battles in slow motion or paused while keeping a close eye on your archer ammunition levels. Because once that is gone your units don't fare so well when they encounter anything that has some armour.
However, Orion, your legendary Lord, is a beast in battle. A huge, horned elf god with hooves. He is incredibly fast, pretty solid in melee, (although don't let him get caught up with a bunch of beastmen minotaurs like I did) he can launch a spear great distances to damage the strongest enemy units and commands magic that works a little bit like a weak siege weapon. On top of that he terrifies his enemy, which can be used to huge strategic advantage, as long as you remember this benefit and use it against the appropriate enemy units. Undead don't care if you're scary.
But, it can be done. You can expand your realm and you can fuel it gradually. You can bring together the couple of other elven factions through diplomacy and get some much needed amber. You basically get amber from buddying up with other factions, which is the only other way to accrue it. But again they can break alliances and you lose the amber again.
And so this Wood Elf DLC leaves me in two minds. On the one side it's not what I was after. But on the other side it still gives a new interesting way of enjoying the game, if you can step up to the challenge of micro managing a bunch of weak elves into a forest to get them the advantage.
There is a lot of content and I think the battle maps have even been spruced up to help add more variety to these magical lands.
Despite everything I have said above, how you have trouble with this weak faction when they are out of the woods and you can't afford multiple units...when the Wood Elves are played as an AI faction, you soon find three or four fully stacked units complete with forest dragons rampaging across your lands. They even put the Chaos horde to shame, giving you a lot more to think about than the Chaos units ever did. If this causes a problem for you then rest easy, there is a mod that nerfs the powerful AI Wood Elves.
Total War Warhammer gamers, if you're on the fence and haven't already got the DLC yet, wait until you really get the Total Warhammer itch before picking this up. That way you can give it the attention it deserves as it's another expensive DLC. Its certainly worth the cost if you are going to play it properly, as it's fun and probably the biggest upgrade so far.