Since the launch of Total War: Warhammer 3, I've dedicated a substantial portion of my brain to endlessly thinking about Immortal Empires. Despite its diminishing returns, I really dug the weird, experimental Realm of Chaos campaign, but it felt like a starter designed to whet the appetite before the mega campaign's appearance. This is what I was waiting for. And, thank Sigmar, Creative Assembly has delivered.
278 factions and 86 playable legendary lords. That's how many groups are vying for control of Warhammer's battle-scarred world. And what a world. Tiny, one-settlement islands beset by enemies, archipelagos surrounded by shipwrecks, massive continents full of killer deserts, magical forests and mountains shaped like skulls—it's a big, diverse place.
This collision of three games is, naturally, quite a bit larger than the already mind-bogglingly massive Mortal Empires, but adding all these extra races, factions and landmasses into the brawl does more than just fatten up the campaign. It's also been remixed, with familiar factions moved around to make use of all this extra space and create interesting match-ups. You'll now find undead and dark elf pirates hanging around Cathay, for instance, who make excellent use of the rivers that cut through the empire. It breathes new life into old factions, making it just as fun to start a game with a familiar legendary lord as it is to dive into something brand new.
Of the new additions, the Chaos armies leave the largest impact. Thanks to Warhammer 3's focus on daemons, Chaos quickly spreads in Immortal Empires, which will be good news for anyone who's grown sick of the Ordertide. The elves, dwarves and humans were much more likely to work together and overtake the forces of Chaos in Mortal Empires, but now they have Nurgle's plagues, Slaanesh's seductive abilities, Khorne's unrelenting armies and the magical powerhouse of Tzeentch to contend with.
In my first campaign, I picked one of the new Champions of Chaos factions, the Ecstatic Legions, led by the horny Azazel. The Champions of Chaos are a lot like the armies of the Chaos gods, and in Azazel's case he gets a lot of Slaanesh's tricks, but they also have plenty of their own, like the ability to elevate units. Troops can be transformed from mortal humans into Chaos-infused nightmares, while lords and heroes can eventually become daemon princes. This is the most attached I've become to Total War armies, as I get to watch them grow from a bunch of rowdy Norscans into an army of mutated monstrosities. My big, ugly babies.
Despite the fact that Azazel wants to turn the world into his personal sex dungeon, he's not above diplomacy. In fact, it's his superpower. Just like in the Realm of Chaos campaign, Slaanesh's minions can seduce not just armies but entire factions, building up their seductive influence until they can consume their target. This influence spreads by contact, both diplomatic and violent, so enemies and friends can be turned into vassals against their will.
By the time I turned my gaze south, to the Empire and Co, I'd already turned most of the Norscans into loyal vassals, and half of the surviving Dark Elf factions. I was planning to turn the Empire, too, but I ended up being too effective, and wiped them out before my seductive influence had reached the maximum level. I still ended up with the largest collection of vassals I'd ever gathered in a Total War game. And those I didn't consume or conquer, I befriended using more conventional means.
The advantage it gives you feels a lot more pronounced in Immortal Empires, thanks in part to the sheer number of targets you get. Great! I want to feel overpowered when I'm a daemonic monster on a conquest binge. And when I'm fighting said daemonic monster, I want to be terrified that my allies are going to fall to his influence. Immortal Empires is full of stuff that will inevitably be labelled unbalanced, and tweaks are just as inevitable, but hopefully not at the cost of that wonderful, wild asymmetry. Unlike the real world, inequality makes Immortal Empires so much more compelling, whether you're crushing the opposition with massively powerful tricks or struggling against an all-consuming empire that seems impossible to halt.
One of the biggest surprises in Immortal Empires is that it runs quite smoothly. Performance is comparable to the Realm of Chaos campaign, though obviously the turn times are longer. But even they are pretty good given the scale of the campaign, certainly compared to what they were like when Mortal Empires launched. It's the same with load times—they aren't brief, but with an SSD you won't be waiting long. And while I encountered several bugs, only one of them—a broken quest—had any tangible impact.
A big part of Immortal Empire's appeal is the absurdly different abilities of each faction. Not just their comparative strength, though that's certainly welcome, but the way they traverse the world differently, teleporting, travelling underground, dominating land from the ocean; or how they fight, some bombarding enemies with spells, while others refuse to use magic at all. And when the factions clash, it's hard to predict what will happen. A powerhouse in one campaign might be wiped out by turn 50 in another, even the ones with a significant edge.
Naturally, players are going to find ways to exploit every advantage and probably break the game in various fascinating and fun ways, but Creative Assembly has clearly considered this, and the solution is a much more interesting way to stop players steamrolling the opposition.
Randomised mid and endgame scenarios will appear and freeze your relentless march to victory. A bit like Stellaris's crises, these events shake things up by throwing a huge challenge the player's way, like all the vampire factions rising up in an attempt to occupy their places of power and take over the world. When this one happened to me, I was leisurely mopping up the map and kicking the shit out of some elves. 10 turns later I was fighting for my very survival.
It's a great concept, but I confess I wasn't entirely convinced by it when the vampires first started to kick off. I'd had barely any contact with any vampire faction, and I had no beef with them, so they made for a weird endgame adversary. But as the war progressed, I got to know them very, very well, and developed plenty of grudges, so that by the end I was fully invested in not just stopping their ascension, but wiping them out entirely. And the world changed dramatically as a result. As I focused on the vamps, a combined elven assault gobbled up most of my settlements around what was once the Empire, Bretonnia had become emboldened and started to rapidly expand, while the orcs I'd been palling around with had been completely exterminated. It was disastrous, and I was overjoyed.
Empires can collapse in a few turns, and just as quickly old ones can come back from the dead. This constant cycle of death and rebirth sees borders perpetually undulate. Look away for a few turns and you might come back to find a new world. And then there's the stuff you can't see. A massive invasion with world-shaking ramifications could be happening on the other side of the map involving factions you've not even met. It should be too big, too unwieldy, and it's certainly very messy and hard to wrap your head around—there must be a limit to the number of unique faction mechanics the human brain can juggle—but it's all just brilliant.