What to make of Total Warhammer II? Is it an expansion or does it standalone? It can certainly be bought on its own and contains a campaign that is self-contained. However one of the big advertisements is Mortal Empires, a massive new map campaign which brings all the sides from the first game into the fold. In this most of all it resembles the game it is based upon. You can't play as an army unless you bought them.
There's been a lot of comments on the arcade style gameplay of Total Warhammer and Total Warhammer II. It's not wrong. Total Warhammer II has some improvements to annoying parts of the first but overall retains the simple management game that the campaign map consists of. You'll spend your time managing taxes, squeezing buildings into cities and keeping a lid on public disorder. It's very much Total Accountant out here. Different races add their own extra resource, food for skaven, slaves for dark elves but most of it boils down to keeping your income above your expenses. The campaign map is there to give context to the battles. Launching a siege of your enemy's capital is made more satisfying by the war of raiding, razing and recruiting that led to it. Painting the map red pleases the completionist.
However it's all about the battles. Lining up skaven against lizardmen and crashing them into each other is the game's major visceral thrill. It doesn't disappoint. Every army feels unique. All units manage to be at least viable. There's no cheesing with endless artillery. Only the press and groan of zombies impaling themselves on elven spears. As with the first game, Warhammer II delivers a tremendous experience which manages to ensnare even me, someone for whom the campaign map usually holds more interest.
The Eye of the Vortex campaign, included with the game does a fine job of being a game in itself. It provides four races, new to the series and throws them into a map mixed with NPC factions of the old armies. It provides complete narratives that chart the fortunes of the player as they struggle for control of the Great Vortex. The game is probably worth the money for it alone. Mortal Empires on the other hand makes every one of the first game's races available, mixing it up on a grand new map. It is here that the game's nature becomes apparent though. Total Warhammer as a series is a toybox. The more filled with toys it becomes the more fun can be had taking them out and smashing them together. Some thought should be given to how much you're willing to spend on these expensive toys but so long as you'll enjoy them, indulge.