Creative Assembly has always been fantastic at keeping their games relevant, fresh and adding in new content as well as improving the playing experience with changes, tweaks and updates, but this time, they have took it to a whole new level, while at the same time introducing two new paid lords with unique game mechanics, and no less than two massive faction and playstyle overhauls.
There are actually a lot of smaller updates to other factions such as tech tree tweaks, how rechargeable passive buffs and magic cooldowns are displayed and even a new vampire hero, but most notably, there is a massive Hammers & Herdstones update. This essentially re-works the entire way Dwarf Runes work, and Beastmen finally have received a massive overhaul, and the auto-result has been greatly improved, and actually tells you what happens. Alongside this are upgraded unit cards for the two last DLC's.
Dwarf runes are now spells, with no resource, but just cooldowns, that can be reduced with upgrades by your Runesmiths. But more importantly, your characters and troops alike can now equip runes as well, runes forged by Oathgold. This enables extremely specialised setups and armies, and also lets you choose and make exactly the items you want. Looking to make a stalking hero with vanguard deployment? Sure. What about explosive missiles from your bolt thrower, or a canon with the snipe ability - no problem. This sends your troops, if you have enough Oathgold, in to a very overpowered state - however, you can't forge unlimited numbers of runes for regiments, artillery or characters, so be careful who benefits.
It has given the rune system new life, and makes for a much more diverse Dwarf playstyle, that is surprisingly adaptable. Also the grudge system has been re-worked and is a lot more in balance, enabling you to actually have a chance of just surviving, instead of having to spend all of your time righting all the wrongs of the world instead of playing the campaign. However, a high Grudge rating may be bad for everything else, as your chance of getting Slayers in your regiment of renown pool increases - a lot. On the bright side, each Lord has their own legendary grudge, which when righted, decreases your grudge level significantly. Oh, and you can now choose to drink your brains out after a victory in a truly Dwarven manner. And the heroes have had an overhaul as well. Someone at CA clearly missed playing as a Dwarf.
The Beastmen have had their entire Horde system reworked as well, with dread being the new currency used to upgrade units and a new system to encourage an all-rampant style of gameplay, with Herdstones playing a central role for their expansion as they are literally the hunting grounds for the Beastmen. It's very complicated when you first look at it, but transfers the fast-paced battle mechanic to the campaign-map, and allows you to recruit legendary lords as well. As there is no upkeep on the units, your main point will be to accumulate dread in order to increase the number of each type of unit you can have in your army, as well as unlock new and stronger units in the first place. The state of the moon in the game now has new effects, and Lord effects have also been reworked, along with a pair of wings for the caster Malagor. Yes. A flying beastman wizard.
There's even a new caster-lord, the Grat Bray shaman, who is available as well, with two chariot options.
For most, the Ogres are the more fun approach. Most readers are most likely not used to Ogre mercenaries, but many moons ago, "Dogs of War" came to the table-top game, giving you the option of adding mercenaries to your army. This has converted into a game mechanic, where you sometimes after many battles get the option to recruit Ogres. They come in pre-set pairings, and are either cavalry (no, I'm not drunk, but they look fantastic), infantry, or infantry with guns, so, yes, pirate-ogres. This enables Dwarves to field heavy cavalry, or Skaven to have some frontline infantry that can actually fight.
But the greatest joy of it all, is Thorek Ironbrow. Long have the nights been where no dwarf was to have a Vortex campaign, but now the greatest runesmith of all times is ready. He boosts runic magic and his troops, enabling multiple upgrades to runes, range, armour, and Oathgold production. He is angry, and even by Dwarf standards considered very conservative. That is like saying that the Atlantic Ocean is somewhat wet. In game, this means that your old trusty crossbow men, bolt-throwers and catapult units gets a lot of boosts, while new things with gunpowder and other futuristic gimmicks don't. His unique items make for a slow, but hard-hitting and neigh impenetrable character. He is great fun to play, but his campaign isn't the most challenging nor complex, but allows you to build and behave like the progression hating rune-lover that you are. And nothing says "I hate you" as 500+ range grudge-throwers with homing missiles and tons of ammunition, protected by infantry that is all but capped in armour and shielding.
Let's start with the fury men. As always, two Lords face off against each other, and in one corner is the fury-fuelled Bull-man-giant, Taurox the Doombull, favoured by the Dark Gods, with a brass body, because, why not. He is a killing machine, and brings with him the Doombull Lord, a massive minotaur, and the generic version of Taurox, and something that doesn't stop for anything short of anything weaker than Taurox himself. A new hero, the Wargor, that can also be mounted on the new Tuskgor Chariot, but no matter what has an anti-infantry role. And then the Ghorgon, a... mutated and massive minotaur with anti-large and healing, and last the Jabgerslythe, a venom-spitting half-toad, half-fat pig that will chew threw your infantry like there is no tomorrow. If you feel less creative, just recruit a manticore instead. Taurox is, to no surprise, made for the new Beastmen game mechanics, and is able to move huge distances on the campaign map. And since you need to slaughter other armies to gather Herdstone shards to make Herdstones, and Dread to improve your army, and even buy magic items and banners, you want to move as fast and as violently as possible. Good thing Taurox comes with a movement reset ability as part of the new Beastmen systems, and also includes unique challenges for each legendary lord. Oh, and guess what, Taurox is all about killing as much as you can in a single turn.
His opponent is very much the opposite, the silent hunter Oxyotl, a skink that spent seven thousand years in the realm of Chaos, and became the hunter instead of the prey.
The whole point of this character is not only to buff your skinks so much that they actually can be used late-game, but also to allow you to field an army of snipe/stalk/vanguard/ambush Stalkers, giving a real commando feel to your entire army. To help with this, he has access to Silent sanctums, he gets missions around the map, and if successful, he can build hidden sanctums that can give different bonuses, and more importantly, Oxyotl can travel there in an instant, making him extremely mobile. I just wish there was some more depth and complexity to this mechanic, as it gets repetitive really quickly.
In the less subtle scaly corridors hide the real gems, the Skink Oracle, a very useful Skink wizard with great spells, and more importantly, a Troglodon monster mount that has a strong long range poison missile attack, while still being a big ass dinosaur. There are also Skink Stalkers, ambush units with explosive ranged attacks, and the Coatl, a flying snake that for some reason doesn't land at all.
While I love the new Beastmen mechanics, Taurox is a tank with fur, and playing Skinks all the way is viable, I still feel both campaigns could have received some more depth, but the general overhaul and the addition of Thorek and his new Rune system shows a fantastic commitment from CA to a game that is old enough to ride its own bike. But I still can't wait for Total War: Warhammer 3, and hopefully the 40K version that comes after that.