I wasn't prepared for Immortal Empires. After loading up the game I spent a good 15 minutes paralysed with indecision, scrolling through factions and legendary lords, looking at new start positions and mechanics, unable to decide who I should sample first. In the end I opted for one of my favourite campaigns from Mortal Empires: Lokhir Fellhart. Just like the pirates of the Vampire Coast, Fellhart has a fun playstyle centred around sacking settlements and getting super low upkeep armies from his Black Arks. It occured to me that these floating fortresses might be a great way to see as much of the world as possible.
Since Lokhir has traded the humid jungles of Lustria for a new start position on the coastline of Cathay, I was also eager to see how CA had improved the overly compact region from the Realms of Chaos campaign. Truth be told, I was pretty pleased. Cathay is no longer a box with one route of expansion, but a region almost as expansive as the Empire, filled with winding rivers and ports, wood elves, vampire pirates and other undead pests. It was the perfect playground for Lokhir, and as I blazed a trail of destruction along the coast, I sent my Black Arks inland via the rivers to snatch up even more ports.
Fellhart gets a new Black Ark for every major port settlement he takes, so by the time I'd wiped out Nakai, Zhao Ming, Miao Ying, and taken most of Cathay by turn 100-ish, I had nine fully upgraded super ships waiting off the coast. Black Arks in Mortal Empires used to require growth points to construct any kind of building and that meant it took a long while to get their best recruitment and upkeep reductions. In Immortal Empires, however, you only need growth for the primary building chain, and that let me upgrade them so fast they effectively made settlement-based recruitment obsolete.
I was also delighted to discover that Black Ark AoE effects seem to stack. For example, I constructed an Arena building in an ark that buffs recruit rank by three for all armies in the ark's AoE, but if I put these in all my Black Arks, every unit I recruited was immediately max rank. This got me scheming: the Prison Wing building increases post-battle and settlement sacking income by 60% in the same AoE, but if that stacks for every ark, I could potentially reach some terrifying numbers. I had to experiment, so I sent my fleet through the sea lanes to the Eastern High Elf colonies, south of the Dark Lands.
When I parked my arks around the Tower of the Sun and sacked it for 140,000 gold, I realised all was not well, and immediately decided to ride this train for every coin I could get. I'd only seen a small fraction of the major port settlements in Immortal Empires, but if I could get a Black Ark from a decent number, while also increasing sacking income by 60% for each, I could potentially create the ultimate sack. I set my sights on Altdorf as a final goal and embarked on my port-eating cruise.
It was shortly after this that the dwarf apocalypse occurred; every dawi in the world decided to gang up on me, which is a little unfair considering I hadn't met a single dwarf faction in Cathay. Maybe someone made a typo in the Great Book of Grudges? Either way, as I traversed the seas, dwarf armies started to gather and nibble at the heels of my mega-fleet. First, I went north to the Dragon Isles and wiped out Ku'gath, then beelined along the coast of the Southlands and around the cape, sacking the Fortress of Dawn, Zlatlan, and Sudenberg.
It was here that I slipped up and lost a couple of arks to crafty Settra, but I realised that he'd actually helped me. My fleet had become a hydra: kill one ark and I could immediately replace it with another, while also re-recruiting the lost ark once it was fixed up, effectively doubling my gains. How does that work in regards to Black Ark capacity? I've no clue.
When I hit the sunny shores of Lustria, the income was getting tasty. I sacked Great Turtle Isle and Blood Hall (sorry Rakarth!), Altar of the Horned Rat, and The Awakening, each for amounts between 200-250,000 gold. By the time I hit turn 230, I arrived at Galleon's Graveyard with 23 Black Arks in-tow and proceeded to sack it for 420,000 gold. By this stage my fleet was an unstoppable island of terror, but I was still somewhat perturbed by the number of doomstacks chasing me. The dwarfen throng had been following me for around 90 turns at this point; a true testament to dawi stubbornness. Whenever I stopped I made a giant cluster of Black Arks to discourage attack, not that this fully prevented them from doom-yeeting armies at me.
For my last leg, I pinballed between the coasts of Bretonnia and Ulthuan, snatching up a few final arks in preparation for my run down the river Reik. Should I have considered the logistical nightmare of getting 25 Black Arks down a small river? Perhaps. It was slow progress, and worse, some dwarfs decided to cut across land and meet me on the other side. Not that it helped them of course. I had 5,000,000 gold in my treasury, and enough recruitment capacity in my fleet to create eight max rank armies every single turn, so I just started doing that and leaving them in my wake like sea mines. It bought me plenty of time to gather around Altdorf for the final sack.
In the end Altdorf went for 426,000 gold, plus 44,000 post-battle income, and I felt that was a good stopping point. There's only so much sacking a person can take. Are Black Arks OP now? Maybe. But is that the most fun I've had with a Total War campaign in like a year? You bet. Immortal Empires in its current state is a bit buggy and unbalanced, but I think that also makes it a fun time to mess around when stuff like this is possible. Campaign balance is overrated in a trilogy as over-the-top and experimental as this. You better believe I'm going to keep building my mega-fleet and head to Lothern; when I can be bothered reversing all those arks back up the river, that is.