As someone who played a whole lot of 5th (and a bit of 6th) Edition Warhammer Fantasy Battle with Dark Elves, I’m pretty keen to see how they translate to Total War: Warhammer 2. For those wondering what the army is about, and the sorts of units likely to appear in the next Creative Assembly game, this article should give you a decent idea. To be absolutely clear, I don’t have direct insider knowledge here – this is all based on educated guesses from the tabletop.
The factions in the game tend to be based on 8th Edition line-ups (although some, like Bretonnia, didn’t have an army book for that version), so I’m going to be slightly out of date on newer unit specifics. But the broad themes of Dark Elf society haven’t changed a vast amount across Editions.
Update 14 July: The full, official unit roster has now been released by Creative Assembly.
The Dark Elves are the exiled product of a vicious High Elf civil war. They now live in Naggaroth, a chilly land next door to the Northern Chaos Wastes. Naggaroth is basically where Canada would be, since Games Workshop pretty much lifted the Americas for their New World. Dark Elves hate High Elves, everybody else, and each other, in that order. Their society is based on cruelty, deception, and bloodthirsty murder. It’s implied that everybody in a position of authority (except their Witch King ruler) is being betrayed, poisoned, or stabbed around about every ten minutes.
In a more realistic setting every Dark Elf would be stressed out of their minds at all times. In Warhammer they’re more like ultra-murderous goths. They roam around in their Black Arks (mini citadels on the backs of huge sea creatures) taking slaves to run their economy (because they’re evil, and because their population is low), and taming the cold-blooded beasts that hang around the caves in their lands.
Malekith, the Witch King: A dead cert for the ‘main’ Dark Elf Legendary Lord. He’s name-checked in the Steam description for the game, and that’s him leading the Dark Elves in the announcement trailer. He’s the big boss in Naggaroth, so it makes sense. Originally, he was in line to be Phoenix King of the High Elves, but their weird hazing ritual of stepping into a fire just burned him up (possibly because in some versions his mum was a Priestess of Slaanesh – we’ll get to her). That pissed Malekith right off, so he took his followers to Naggaroth and spent the rest of his life raiding or invading the High Elf land of Ulthuan.
He’s both a sorcerer (Creative Assembly will presumably introduce the Lore of Dark for Warhammer 2) and great at hitting things in close combat. Since he’s an elf he’s still quite squishy, so I’d expect him to be hitting accurately and fairly hard, but unable to slog it out endlessly with tougher Lords. He does own some magic armour though, so that’ll help. Back in 5th Edition he would ride around on a chariot pulled by Cold Ones (large lizards we’ll also get to later). These days he seems to prefer a Black Dragon called Seraphon. The dragon will likely be a mount option Warhammer 2; maybe the chariot too.
Morathi, the Hag Sorceress: Malekith’s mum. Whom he still lives with. And probably sleeps with too (although the lore had tip-toed away from that particular aspect by 8th Edition). They have a complicated relationship. Since they’re so closely associated, Morathi is a solid bet for the second Legendary Lord spot. As her sub-title states, she’s a high level sorceress. Again, assuming the Lore of Dark is introduced, she’ll be using that. There might be some overlap with existing Lores there, since stuff like summoning a Manticore (Transformation of Kadon) used to be a pretty Dark Elf thing to do. In the tabletop, she’s always ridden into battle on a Dark Pegasus named Suluphet. For Warhammer 2, that’d probably be a mount option somewhere down the line.
As noted, in some Editions she was a worshipper of Slaanesh. These days I think Dark Elves worship the specific Elf pleasure god of Atharti instead (when they’re not worshipping Khaine, God of Murder), and Malekith has banned Slaanesh cults as they might undermine his authority. There aren’t any concrete details about Naggaroth lobbies for religious freedom protesting this injustice, but they’d probably just get murdered anyway. Update 13 July: Pretty much confirmed as the second LL by the Dark Elf faction trailer.
Crone Hellebron: Probably first off the bench as a third Legendary Lord option (in DLC, free or otherwise). She’s the defacto religious leader of the Witch Elves (we’ll get to them) and performs all the murderous rites of Khaine. Needs to bathe in ever larger amounts of blood every year, on a special and particularly violent religious holiday called Death Night, in order to retain her youthful appearance. Hates Morathi with a passion, but most Dark Elf authority figures hate each other so that’s not exactly unusual.
She would be a pure melee Legendary Lord, and is only behind Malekith and Morathi in Dark Elf society, so that’s why I’d think she might appear. In the Edition I played she would turn up to battle on a Manticore, but now I think she can be paired with the excellent Cauldron of Blood (which, again, is coming up). Either (or both) would work as mounts; the latter would be similar to Volkmar and his war altar.
Malus Darkblade: Another possibility for the addition of a pure melee Legendary Lord. He’s been in a lot of Warhammer fiction (in fact he started there before he was included in the tabletop game), and has a lot of associated questing for magical items (which means his Lord quests, if those are back in Warhammer 2, would write themselves). I think he’s behind the other three in the pecking order, but he’s popular, and I could see him being added as a one-off freebie at some future point.
Heroes / Agents
Sorceress: Your basic wizard-type hero. As mentioned, will probably have a Lore of Dark or equivalent. The contents of Dark magic have changed a bit across the Editions, but some spell inclusions have remained consistent. It’s a magic type focused on hexing (debuffing) enemy units or characters (Power of Darkness, Word of Pain, Shroud of Despair), dealing direct damage (Doombolt, Bladewind), and AoE vortex types (Arnzipal’s Black Horror). Fun stuff, and it should all translate straightforwardly well to Total War: Warhammer 2. Update: Confirmed as a hero by official unit roster.
Assassin: I think an assassin hero for the Dark Elves is inevitable. They’re a major part of Dark Elf society, and they fit very well into the ‘agent’ role in Creative Assembly’s game. When not assigned to an army, they’ll be extremely proficient at murdering enemy characters. In battle, I’d hope they have some specific abilities for targeting and damaging fellow heroes and individuals. Update: Confirmed as a hero by roster.
Shade / Scout: They may just include Shades as a full unit, but if not then I think there’ll be a scouting-based hero under that title. Would take care of scouting and espionage duties (possibly even helping to keep your own factional territory in line if Warhammer 2’s Dark Elves get any kind of treachery or disloyalty mechanic). Update: In the roster, but as a unit not a hero.
Beastmaster: Also an option for a hero. Dark Elf armies use plenty of beasts, so this guy could provide buffs to said creatures in battle, or reduce upkeep/purchase costs and so on. Update: No sign of Beastmasters. The third hero is a Death Hag.
Spearmen / Swordsmen: The standard Dark Elf infantry units are armed with spears or swords (and usually shields, at least in the tabletop). Nothing too fancy. They’ll take the same role as basically any spearman/swordsman unit in the game; except with elf stats, so they’ll probably hit more regularly but get worn down more quickly by attrition. Update: Confirmed in screenshots.
Crossbowmen: These will be your mainstay missile troops. Dark Elves use repeater crossbows, which (in the version I played) meant twice as many shots at the cost of accuracy. So expect fairly rapid, slightly inaccurate fire in Warhammer 2. There used to be an amazing hybrid unit called Dark Elf City Guard which had crossbowmen on the front line backed up by spearmen behind, but sadly they got canned at some point. Update: Confirmed in screenshots.
Witch Elves: Present in the trailer and kind of iconic to the Dark Elves, so they’ll definitely be in. They’re frenzied murderladies with poisonous blades and an incredible resistance to the cold winds of their homeland. I anticipate a unit that can do a whole lot of damage very quickly and will never run away – but vulnerable to any missile fire and liable to melt away if left in a difficult fight too long. Update: Confirmed in screenshots.
Black Guard: Basically the best-of-the-best bodyguard troops and Malekith’s personal force. Armed with halberds (potential for Great Weapon status in the game, there), they’ll be able to take more punishment than the other Dark Elf infantry units. Update: Confirmed by unit roster.
Black Ark Corsairs: Hello sailors. This lot are the pirates and slavers who crew the Black Arks. They usually have a pair of weapons (no shields) and rely on their sea dragon cloaks to keep them out of harm’s way. They’re kind of a more hardy, less frenzied version of Witch Elves when it comes to combat. Update: Confirmed in screenshots.
Executioners: The profession of executioner is apparently so abundant in Dark Elf society that they can form whole units of them. They used to be armed with massive double-handed axes, but that seems to have been switched to massive double-handed swords in newer Editions. If the Black Guard don’t get Great Weapon status for their arms, then these guys will (assuming they get included). Or maybe both. Update: Confirmed in screenshots (they’re the sword version).
Shades / Scouts: I used to love these guys. They could deploy deep into enemy lines (so they’d get Vanguard deployment in the game) and hassle opposing units all day long with repeater crossbow fire or the threat of a flank charge. Great for taking down war machines or isolated wizards. I hope they make it to Warhammer 2 as a full unit choice. Update: Confirmed by unit roster.
Cold One Knights: Cold Ones have gone through several iterations over the years. The original Marauder Miniatures line depicted these lizard mounts as kind of scaly sloths. Later they ended up looking more like Velociraptors. Either way, they’re great, and provide Dark Elves with their heavy cavalry. Cold Ones suffer from Stupidity in the tabletop game (or they used to), but it was rarely a problem since Dark Elves have high leadership. Creative Assembly don’t seem to really use Stupidity as a ‘thing’ (Trolls don’t have it) so it probably won’t be a direct factor. Update: Confirmed in screenshots.
Dark Riders: The Dark Elf light cavalry option. Might get Vanguard deployment. These are guys on rapid (and probably evil, somehow) horses. Good for very swift flank or rear attacks on softer targets. The usual light cavalry deal. Update: Pretty sure they’re in the screenshot showing the Lizardmen battle. Confirmed by roster.
Doomfire Warlocks: This lot came after my time, so I don’t know a whole lot about them. They seem to be another light cavalry option with weapons which inflict poison or curse type effects. Could be a decent option for inclusion as a light cavalry variant. Update: No sign of these guys.
Cold One Chariot / Scourgerunner Chariot: If Creative Assembly give the Dark Elves a chariot, then it’ll either be one pulled by Cold Ones, or a lighter version pulled by horses. Maybe both, but they’ll probably just pick one. Update: Looks like a Cold One chariot in the back-right corner of the screenshot with DE’s fighting Lizardmen.
Repeater Bolt Thrower: The Elvish equivalent of a gatling cannon. It’s a bolt thrower that can fire off four bolts at once in rapid succession. Powerful and, thanks to the Elvish skill with bows, quite accurate for a war machine. Will probably have an ‘anti large’ tag in Warhammer 2. For a glorious period in 5th Edition these cost 50 points due to a typo in the Dark Elf army book. They upped it to 100 eventually, but that was still an absolute steal. Update: Confirmed by unit roster.
War Hydra: It’s a hydra, like from actual mythology. Poked and prodded into battle by Beastmasters, and then pointed at the enemy. Very tough, very cool looking, and I hope this makes it into Warhammer 2 (with or without Beastmaster handlers). Update 13 July: Is confirmed by the faction trailer.
Kharibdyss: If we can’t have the War Hydra, then hopefully we can get this Lovecraftian tentacle monster from the sea instead. Basically serves the same role as the hydra (massive intimidating monster with lots of heads … or in this case, mouths). Also very tough. Also cool looking. Update: No sign of this chap, but could be added with relative ease by converting the Hydra model. Maybe a later addition.
Cauldron of Blood: Already mentioned in relation to Hellebron. This is, as the name implies, a large cauldron of blood carted around on an altar and attended by a Hag Queen. It protects and buffs any nearby Witch Elves and, again, is a strong contender for inclusion just on the strength of it looking intimidating and cool. Update: Confirmed by screenshots.
Harpies: The Beastmen in Total War: Warhammer already have these winged women, so there won’t be any problem adding them to the Dark Elf roster too. A useful flying squad to send after enemy war machines and the like. Update: Confirmed by unit roster.
Possible Faction Mechanics
This is a much more speculative area, but here are the aspects of Dark Elfyness that Total War: Warhammer 2 could dig into for faction mechanics.
Really, really hate High Elves (like, omg, so much): It can’t really be overstated how much enmity the Dark Elves hold towards their poncier former brothers. Older Editions of the tabletop game tried to reflect this by doing things like giving Dark Elves much higher leadership when battling High Elves (because they never want to run away from an opportunity to kill them), slightly offset by a desire to charge at them whenever possible. That wasn’t much of a penalty though, since with the buffs you’d tend to come off best in any ensuing combat.
The point being, Warhammer 2 will hopefully employ some kind of balanced set of bonuses and penalties when Dark Elves meet High Elves on the field, reflecting the utter burning hatred one has for the other.
Slave Economy: Creative Assembly have already tested the waters for a unique economic system with Bretonnia’s Peasant Economy. I can see the Dark Elves getting something similar. Slaves don’t fight in Dark Elf armies, so the Bretonnian recruitment-vs-farming trade off wouldn’t work here. You’ll maybe have to make sure your cities are well garrisoned (or have enough protective buildings) to prevent slave revolts. Or make sure you have enough Black Ark port/harbours bringing in fresh blood, or something. The option to enslave captives after battles could play directly into this as well. Rome 2 already had a bit of a slave economy system, so that could potentially be adapted and expanded for Warhammer 2.
Constant Treachery: While they never seem to plot much against Malekith himself, the Dark Elf Lords are depicted as stabbing one another in the back (figuratively and literally) at all times. They’re like Crusader Kings 2 vassals in overdrive. There might be some kind of strategic mechanic to reflect this, like needing to maintain a certain level of fear among your lieutenants to keep them in line. Warhammer 2 won’t be as driven by character narrative as something like CK2 though, so this could be difficult to add in a way that’s actually fun.
Death Night: A wonderful annual religious holiday when the Witch Elves go (even more) mental and drag random Dark Elf citizens out of their homes and off the streets to be ritually sacrificed. Except for a few male children, whom they train to become assassins. I expect to see this appear in some form, though it may just be a pop-up campaign event which grants you an assassin Hero or something to that effect.
Total War: Warhammer 2 is due later in 2017.