Supposedly created when a Chaos-tinted rain fell upon an especially decadent human city, the Skaven are a numberless race of demented ratmen that pull off the difficult job of being funny, and even slightly cute, at the same time as being utterly hateful and almost frighteningly evil.
No wonder they’re the most-demanded addition to Total War: Warhammer.
But who will they be killing? Learn about Total War: Warhammer II's new world map and its inhabitants.
This is a race that wishes nothing but death on everything else on the planet. They are endless and they are everywhere – that scratching that keeps you up at night? That’s the Skaven burrowing under your feet, preparing to unleash a horrific disease that’ll kill you slowly, painfully, and with the liberation of a great deal of bodily fluids. The only reason they haven’t taken over the world already is they hate each other almost as much as they hate you.
And yet, they’re rats. They squeak. The way their dialogue is written – “kill man-things, yes-yes” – is adorable. One of their weapons is a giant wheel, driven by rats running around inside it. Another is called a ‘ratling’ gun. How is that not cute? Answer: when it creams half a unit of Knights of the Realm and, oh yeah, now I hate them again.
They’re unique, and they starred in Vermintide
There’s no doubt we can expect a hell of a unit roster, and a distinctive playstyle. The Skaven are the ultimate horde army, overcoming their natural cowardice and frailty through sheer numbers. Their core infantry is crap but there’s a lot of it, and it’s reinforced by those aforementioned crazy inventions. Expect the Hell Pit Abomination – essentially, a gross lump of flesh with fists attached and acid for blood – to be their tier five monster unit.
Like the Skaven themselves, there’s an endless number of fantasy universes featuring orcs, dwarves, and elves, but Games Workshop have basically cornered the market on murderous rats. The abundance of generic competition is probably why Warhammer Fantasy struggled for popularity next to 40k, but to the extent that it's penetrated the wider consciousness of nerd-dom, the Skaven are one of its main spear tips.
I think Games Workshop must have recognised that and decided to push their ratmen a few years ago, granting Fatshark the licence to make Vermintide, and giving the Skaven a central role in the End Times event that destroyed the tabletop universe.
They’ll be really strange to see in Total War
I have to admit I don’t get it, personally. I’ve been playing Warhammer since 1998 and Skaven have never been my thing – too much hassle to paint, apart from anything else. Yet even I am really excited to see how they’ll work in Total War.
The Skaven are such prolific burrowers that their dominion is called the Under-Empire; it’s a maze of tunnels that literally spans the world, its cities only rarely popping above the surface like zits on a teenager’s face. Creative Assembly seem more willing to experiment with Total War’s mechanics with every new faction they reveal, but the Skaven will be their biggest challenge yet. Sharing Dwarfen/Greenskin access to the Underway is a given in the ‘mega-campaign’ that’ll tie the first two games together, but will Creative Assembly take Skaven tunnelling any further?
If not, it would explain why we’re heading to the Southlands. It’s the only continent in the Warhammer world where the Skaven have any contiguous above-ground presence after Clan Pestilens basically took it over, kicking out many Skaven rivals in the process. Smart money says at least one of the Skaven Legendary Lords is a Pestilens representative – Lord Skrolk, perhaps.
That brings us neatly to the political side of things. The Skaven are one of the most internally divided races in Warhammer, and no matter who their lords turn out to be, unifying their clans ought to be the game’s toughest diplomatic challenge. Your rivals will include Clan Moulder, the bioengineers responsible for the Hell Pit Abomination; Clan Skryre, the no-less lunatic weaponsmiths who make those ratling guns; and Clan Eshin, the sneaks whose assassination and intelligence-gathering services may yet find their way into the Skaven strategic mechanics.
Not being a Skaven fan myself, understanding the community’s excitement for their inclusion – which has been feverish since Creative Assembly’s subtle-as-a-brick tease at the end of the Warhammer II reveal trailer – has been an experiment in empathy.
This is where I think their appeal lies, but why not help me out with a few comments? Let me know if I've missed some aspect of their... let’s call it ‘charm'.