The recent release of the Grim and the Grave DLC (and attendant freebies) throws up some interesting tactical conundrums for Total War: Warhammer players. For Vampire Count fans, one of the main questions is probably just ‘Can I bring myself to play as anybody other than Bad Dad Vlad now?’ But there are other battlefield concerns for players to muse over as well.
This is a run-down of the various perks, drawbacks and logistics of the new Legendary Lords, additional units, and (briefly) the Regiments of Renown added last week. It’s more Grand Campaign focused than anything else, but some of these thoughts will transfer just fine to a multiplayer setting.
Volkmar the Grim
The ‘Grim’ half of the Grim and the Grave release, Volkmar can replace Franz or Gelt as your Legendary Lord, or be recruited as a special army commander at a later date. If you want to do the latter, you need to construct the Temple of Sigmar to unlock him. Chances are you’ll be doing that at some point in an Empire campaign anyway, so that’s not too arduous a task.
If you pick him as Legendary Lord, Volkmar starts with a pair of Flagellant units (one regular, plus the Tattersouls) and a unit of Knights of the Blazing Sun. That makes sense from a flavour point of view since Volkmar is a fervent religious fellow, and also from a mechanical angle because Volkmar’s presence as Legendary Lord reduces the upkeep on Flagellents and boosts their weapon strength by 30%. He gets the same starting location as Franz, with the same initial task to put down the secessionists.
Popping Volkmar on his
Battle Pope Chariot War Altar of Sigmar isn’t necessarily a no-brainer decision. It makes him cause Fear, Terror, and leaves him Unbreakable (so he’ll never run away), but it also significantly reduces his weapon damage and melee stats. This possibly explains why the War Altar’s only attack animations appear to be its horses headbutting people. Anyway, this trade-off means Volkmar has slightly differing roles depending on whether you invest in the War Altar.
On foot (or on horseback), he’s more of a traditional getting-stuck-in Lord. When mounted on the War Altar, he’s much more mobile but also more reliant on slamming into people with a charge to wrack up any kills. While he’s going to be less melee focused, the extra mobility means you can easily position him where his large-area buffs like Grand Hammer of Sigmar (+34 melee attack) and Grand Shield of Faith (+22% damage resistance) can be most effective. Even on foot though, the size of those auras means Volkmar can still cover four or five units (depending how closely you’re in formation) while also pounding skulls with his hammer. Grand Soulfire also seems like a pretty solid bombardment spell, raining down magical damage over (again) a wide area.
Volkmar’s leadership section of the skill tree contains further boosts for Flagellants, starting with even more of a percentage increase in weapon damage. Down the line, you can get a 30% charge boost and 50% resistance to ranged damage. That’s undoubtedly useful for the non-armoured Flagellents, but it’s also a major skill point investment for a unit type you may not be using too much at that point in the campaign.
A new army commander for the Empire with a whole bunch of health and much higher defensive than melee or attack stats. These guys can provide the same buffs as Volkmar (Hammer of Sigmar, Shield of Faith), and soak up a fair amount of damage. They won’t be grinding all foes before them, but they’re perfectly capable of sticking around in a melee tar-pit and (once they have a few spells unlocked) improving the stats of all those around them.
Like Volkmar, they can also beef up Flagellants via their skill tree. This is possibly more worthwhile for an Arch Lector as they’ll be a secondary commander in your heirachy, but it’s still tricky to justify over reliable staples like Honest Steel or beefing up the character stats.
Knights of the Blazing Sun
These guys are great. Slightly less armour and melee defence than standard Empire Knights or Reiksguard, but quicker across the ground, with a higher attack stat and a harder-hitting charge. Plus they set stuff on fire, which is bonus against Trolls, Crypt Horrors and anything else with Regenerate. They’re pretty resistant to magic (40%) too.
The loss of some armour and defence isn’t such a major problem for shock cavalry, because they should be following the standard procedure of charging into things, withdrawing, and then charging into more things.
To be able to recruit them in the campaign, you need to build a Chapterhouse of the Blazing Sun. That’s only possible in Talabheim, so keep an eye out when you conquer (or confederate) that city. The only minor disappointment here is that the unit doesn’t get any unique vocal lines ranting on about how much they adore Myrmidia.
Mentioned a few times already, thanks to buffs provided by Volkmar and the Arch Lectors. They can be awkward to use effectively, due to a lack of armour and tendency to melt away against quality melee opponents. Since they cost more than a basic swordsman or spearman unit, that could leave you a bit disappointed.
Their greatest boon is that Unbreakable trait. You can put them against quite literally any unit and they’ll tie it up as long as any of them are left alive (or until the enemy tries to disengage). Think of them a bit like a human Net of Amyntok or a more dangerous version of zombies, holding unpleasant things in place while you get around the sides and rear with your other troops. Boosted by additional traits (Volkmar etc) they can put out more damage and become the unit that’s doing the charging into the rear rather than the holding in place (the hammer rather than the anvil, if you like).
Protect them from missile fire though, or they’ll turn into decorative arrow holders before they can do anything useful. A tough unit to get the best from (and debatable how much it’s worth the effort when others in the roster can perform similar duties), but fun from a flavour point of view.
Free Company Militia
An interesting utility unit. You can characterise the Free Company Militia as slightly worse swordsmen with pistols and Vanguard deployment, or unmounted pistoliers with longer ranged (but weaker) weapons. That under-sells their potential a little bit though. A unit of Free Company Militia stationed near your artillery can provide reasonable protection against the usual bat, direwolf, goblin wolf riders and other light cavalry who show up to harass your machines of war.
Deployed with Vanguard, they can potentially cause some awkwardness with harrying shots from the flanks or launch late rear of flank attacks once the battle is joined. As long as they stay out of trouble with rival skirmishers or enemy cavalry, that is. They could possibly disrupt enemy war machines too, but faster cavalry are generally better at that role.
Cheaper than pistoliers, slightly more expensive than basic swordsmen, but with more flexibility than either of those units. Plus they all look like roguish swashbucklers, and you’ve got to love that. The weird lack of animation as the rear line try to slide into combat is a lot less lovable, mind you.
Regiments of Renown
Available through a separate recruitment menu on the grand campaign. They don’t level up through XP by design, but there’s currently a bug where the regiments don’t benefit from relevant Lord skills (such as Honest Steel). Once that’s sorted out they shouldn’t be outclassed by regular units quite so swiftly.
Sons of Sigmar (unlock at lvl 3, cost 750, upkeep 110): Swordsmen with slightly improved melee abilities and the Unbreakable trait.
Stirland’s Revenge (unlock at lvl 5, cost 825, upkeep 121): Free Company Militia with armour-piercing weapons, immunity to Fear and Terror, the Stalk trait, and improved melee/defence/leadership stats.
The Tattersouls (unlock at lvl 8, cost 775, upkeep 140): Larger unit of Flagellants (120 vs 90) with better melee attack and charge bonus.
The Silver Bullets (unlock at lvl 8, cost 850, upkeep 166): Handgunners who do magical damage, have slightly longer range, higher leadership and the Stalk trait.
Zintler’s Reiksguard (unlock at lvl 10, cost 1400, upkeep 331): Reiksguard Knights with Vanguard deployment, immunity to Fear/Terror and slightly improved stats (melee attack/defence and leadership).
Hammer of the Witches (unlock at lvl 13, cost 1200, upkeep 221): Great Cannon with significantly increased (and magical) missile damage of +50, with a bonus against large creatures.
The Sunmaker (unlock at lvl 13, cost 1950, upkeep 373): Helstorm Rocket Battery with a massively increased damage stat (+283). Also does fire damage.
The Royal Altdorf Gryphites (unlock at lvl 17, cost 1800, upkeep 414): Demigryph Knights (Halberd variety) who cause Terror, and have improved leadership, melee attack and melee defence stats.
Templehof Luminark (unlock at lvl 20, cost 2325, upkeep 607): A Luminark that can also cast Net of Amyntok and has the leadership-boosting Encourage aura.
The ‘Grave’ portion of The Grim and the Grave. He’s a bit of a miserable figure who only got into this undead lark to resurrect his dead brothers. Turns out he’s pretty good at it though, because he gets a Faction-wide +20% casualty replenishment rate when he’s your Legendary Lord. In addition, every unit in his army deals poison attacks. This is slightly different from the poison attacks you’ll be used to in Total War: Warhammer though; it has a slowing effect (-36% speed, -18% vigour) but apparently no damage reduction.
Ghorst is also a scholarly type, giving a 10% increase to research rates. Unlike the other Faction boosts this one applies if you hire him as a secondary Lord, so that’s worth doing if you have somebody else in charge. To unlock Ghorst for hire in those circumstances, you have to use the ‘Dominate’ option for post-battle captives ten times. Not too difficult.
Spell-wise, he has the usual Necromancer set (Lore of Vampires) with one key difference. Rather than raising boring old zombies, Ghorst’s ‘Awaken from the Grave’ spawns Graveguard by default and (at higher level), a Wight King. His skill tree, meanwhile, contains multiple ways to project a healing/resurrection aura, either on-foot or as part of his optional Corpse Cart mount. Sticking him on a Corpse Cart slows down his movement (they’re super slow), but also gives him a higher vantage point for spellcasting. Unfortunately, there currently seems to be a bug present that prevents the casting of Gaze of Nagash while riding a Corpse Cart (that goes for regular Necromancers too).
He starts with a unit of Graveguard, a Corpse Cart, and the Renown version of Dire Wolves.
The Vampire Counts have a couple of top-tier Legendary Lords in Vlad and Mannfred von Carstein, so while Ghorst is a more appealing option than the still rather rubbish Kemmler people might want to stick to taking him as a secondary (research-buffing) Lord. You miss out on his Faction-wide bonuses, but still get the rest of his benefits.
Vlad von Carstein
Not strictly part of Grim and the Grave since he was made available for everybody, but he’s only been out a few days too so it’s worth spending a few words of praise on Mannfred’s daddy. In terms of the Warhammer lore, Vlad should be obscenely powerful; and that’s pretty much how he’s presented in the Total War universe.
He has the best melee stats of any Vampire Count leadership choice, can deploy any unit in his army in Vanguard formation, comes with the Siege Attacker trait so he can launch himself straight at walled cities, and gets a unit of Blood Knights as one of his starter three (along with some Bats and Vargheists). Once you’ve completed his quests, you’ll also have a pair of regeneration-focused items that (even with the new cap on healing) make him extremely durable. Oh, and he constantly trains every single unit in your Faction giving them loads of bonus XP.
The down-sides, if there really are any, are that his magic is just basic Necromancer stuff and he doesn’t get any mount options. Really though, the latter just makes it very obvious that you’re supposed to throw him into melee mauls as often as inhumanly possible.
If you’re wanting to pick Vlad up as a secondary Lord in the grand campaign, you need to raze Altdorf first. That pretty much means you’ll be approaching a victory lap when you get a chance to hire him.
Strigoi Ghoul King
The Ghoul King presents an interesting mix of strengths and weaknesses. He’s a strong combatant, and deals armour-piercing damage along with poison attacks. But he’s also very poorly armoured (15, since he wears no armour). That can be mitigated, however, by giving him his own pet Terrorgheist to ride around on.
Magically, he has a mixture of Lore of Death and Lore of Vampire spells (which means no Vanhel’s Danse Macabre). His unique raising spell gives you a unique of Crypt Ghouls or (overcast) Crypt Horrors, which is pretty potent as summons go.
Using him purely as a spellcaster feels like a waste of those potential damage-dealing abilities, but if you do send the Ghoul King into combat you’ll need to keep an eye on him. When on foot, that lack of armour can make him vulnerable (even with regenerative abilities).
The two new Vampire Count units added by The Grim and the Grave are effectively buff machines with slightly differing roles. Using the Corpse Cart is pretty straightforward; it should be behind your lines, providing restorative and invigorating auras to your melee troops (be they zombies, skeletons, or whatever). Don’t mistake them for chariots, they’re slow and not really intended for combat.
Corpse Carts are produced by the Defiled Cairn line of buildings, and while the lowest level type just gives melee and defensive buffs (+8 in both cases), the top-tier Lodestone Cart also puts out a regenerative aura. There’s a Balefire one too which has a constant magical damage aura for enemies, but the Corpse Cart seems much better suited to its support role than as a damage-dealer. Incidentally, to actually see how far the auras extend, bring up the unit card in-game and hover over the relevant ability. It should paint a circle on the battlefield.
A couple of these behind your lines, particularly in the earlier parts of the campaign, will keep your melee line troops in the fight much longer. It might even make zombies vaguely dangerous against certain weaker opponents. If you have a Necromancer riding one, they should perform a similar role; just with some added spell support.
The cackling Mortis Engine sounds like a sneering, nasal villain from 1980s Saturday morning TV, and I love it. I’m even quite keen on the ghost horse animations showing them running perpetually in place.
Anyway, that’s beside the point. The Mortis Engine is like a super Corpse Cart which (by default) causes both a regenerative and melee boost to your troops, while inflicting magical damage on foes. It also causes Terror and is about twice as fast as the Carts, so it has flanking prowess. Pair it up with something like Hexwraiths and watch them go to town.
If one of your Mortis Engines is about to die (or re-die, or whatever), try to maneuver it among as many enemies as possible. They go up with a magical bang. In the grand campaign you need a Necromancer’s Tower building before you can start recruiting them.
Regiments of Renown
Like the Empire, the Vampire Counts now have a few Regiments of Renown to dabble with.
The Tithe (unlock at lvl 3, cost 250, upkeep 86): A larger (150 vs 120) unit of zombies with 15% physical resistance and slightly higher stats.
The Konigstein Stalkers (unlock at lvl 3, cost 600, upkeep 81): Skeleton swordsmen with much improved armour (+40 over regular skeletons), slightly better combat prowess, and poison attacks.
The Direpack (unlock at lvl 5, cost 650, upkeep 135): Dire wolf pack with an anti-large buff, +9 leadership over regular doggies, and better melee attack/defence.
The Feasters in the Dark (unlock at lvl 8, cost 700, upkeep 158): Crypt Ghoul unit with Vanguard deployment (and Stalk), as well as more health and better stats across the board (most notably +10 melee attack).
The Devils of Shwartzhafen (unlock at lvl 10, cost 1475, upkeep 270): Vargheists with Vanguard deployment who also cause Terror. Better leadership and melee attack/defence than their counterparts.
Verek’s Reavers (unlock at lvl 13, cost 1400, upkeep 324): Special Black Knights (lances and barding variety) with the ability to Regenerate. Plus boosted leadership, melee attack/defence.
The Sternsmen (unlock at lvl 13, cost 1000, upkeep 203): Graveguard swordsmen who negate the charge bonus of any attacker, and can also regenerate. Like most of these units, they also have improved leadership, melee attack and defence over their regular equivalents.
The Chillgheists (unlock at lvl 17, cost 1650, upkeep 405): They’re called The Chillgheists. If that isn’t enough to make you use them, nothing is. Their ‘Chilling Aura’ inflicts a -36% speed penalty on enemies, and they have 25% magical resistance (but slightly lower physical resistance than regular Hexwraiths, 75% vs 80%). Slightly increased melee attack too, but the Chillgheist’s weapons don’t inflict fire damage (they’re entirely too chill).
The Claw of Nagash (unlock at lvl 20, cost 1600, upkeep 540): Statistically the same as a regular Mortis Engine, but has the same ‘Chilling Aura’ described above and 25% magic resistance.