Review – Total War: Warhammer III
It’s been a journey to reach this moment, and part of me still can’t believe we’ve made it. Seven years ago, Total War was in a rut. Following a string of underwhelming releases, the franchise was sinking, and Creative Assembly seemingly worn out. Then came the announcement that they would be hinging their entire future on a licensed fantasy game, a first for the franchise. While the idea seemed promising, most were skeptical at best of what the CA we knew could do. Then Total War: Warhammer released and both Creative Assembly and Total War were reborn better than ever. Passions were reignited and it’s been a genuine delight to follow the series over the years. Yet all good things must come to an end, and here we are with Total War: Warhammer III. Don’t worry though, the best was saved for last.
Everyone’s Total War: Warhammer III journey begins the same way, with the Prologue. This seven to ten hour experience isn’t just the best tutorial I’ve seen in a strategy game. It’s also a fantastic opening to the most aggressive narrative Creative Assembly has ever pushed. TW: Warhammer II’s Vortex Campaign was already ambitious in its attempt to merge a narrative campaign with classic Total War sandbox gameplay. And it was fairly successful. However, Warhammer III’s Realm of Chaos campaign is on a whole other level. I feel it more than surpasses the king of RPG/Strategy narrative games, WarCraft III.
The Prologue introduces you to Yuri, a Prince of Kislev searching for his nation’s missing god Ursun. This journey takes him and his men deep into the Chaos Wastes. However the journey takes a heavy toll on his mental state. By the time you reach the end, after a series of twists and turns I won’t spoil, Yuri is consumed by Chaos and makes a decision. A decision that shakes the world to its foundation and sets the stage for the main campaign. The campaign, titled Realm of Chaos, begins with the bear god Ursun held captive by the daemon Bel’akor (magnificently voiced by Richard Armitage), and the mysterious Advisor showing his hand at long last. In exchange for a single drop of godblood, the Advisor allies with your chosen faction in leading them to Ursun for whatever that faction’s goals are.
When it comes to factions, Total War: Warhammer III has the most at launch of any game in the trilogy. There’s frosty Kislev of course, with their armored bear cavalry. Cathay which is heavily inspired by Chinese Mythology, and comes with dragons, terracotta warriors, and firework launching balloons. Both have two Legendary Lords, basically sub-factions but with more differences than you’d assume. Then there’s the four Chaos factions. Bloody Khorne, Nurgle and his plagues, Slaanesh and his legion of bondage gear wearing daemons, and Tzeentch who’s the Chaos God for the magically inclined. Each only comes with one Legendary Lord, but I’ll take four different factions over sub-factions any day. That’s not all and it’s the last faction that’s TW:WIII’s claim to fame.
Following the events of the Prologue, the being formerly known as Prince Yuri was left in a twisted state. Abandoned, betrayed, and utterly consumed he called to Chaos for assistance. And Chaos answered, with the four Gods bestowing their blessing upon him. A Prince of Kislev no more, Yuri was reborn as a Daemon Prince of Chaos Undivided. Not just any Daemon Prince either, but one of your own design. CA finally did it and went full RPG with a customizable Legendary Lord, and for Chaos Undivided no less. For those who don’t know, Chaos Undivided (or Daemons of Chaos) is the name of the faction that combines the roster list of all four Chaos Factions. This doesn’t replace the monogod factions though, as each of those comes with exclusives as well as their campaign mechanics. For the basic experience though, Chaos Undivided is where it’s at.
The Daemon Prince’s campaign has two main mechanics, both simple yet brilliant. First, there’s the glory system. As you play the game, completing quests and such, you earn glory. Each of the four Chaos Gods has their own meter, as well as a universal one for Undivided. As you advance each one, you unlock respective units for recruitment and body parts for customization. Because customizing your Daemon Prince doesn’t end at a name, you get to choose their very form. There’s a slot for every appendage, and you can mix and match between all of your unlocked parts. You don’t have to stick with the form of one God, although you can if you want. It’s all up to you, depending on how you want to play. It’s a whole new kind of freedom for Total War, and probably the most replayable campaign yet.
The other factions are more traditional in design, but that definitely doesn’t mean bad. As a matter of fact, they’re some of the most varied factions I’ve ever come across in a strategy game before. There’s Khorne, whose mechanics revolve around fighting and melee only units. Slaanesh, whose all about diplomacy and manipulating everyone’s reputation. Kislev is the closest the game has to a generic faction, but even then you’ve got bear cavalry and so much beautiful ice magic. While I absolutely recommend starting with Chaos Undivided, I suggest getting around to playing as every faction eventually. They all look, feel, and play great with their own stories and lore to discover. That doesn’t even included the Ogre Kingdoms, the early adopter DLC faction that is almost entirely composed of monstrous units. There’s faction variety, and then there’s Total War: Warhammer III.
The campaign’s focus is on the Advisor and your chosen Legendary Lord teaming up to reach the bear god Ursun. Speaking of the Advisor, explanations are finally given for his backstory, abilities, and end goals. The many theories that have popped up since the first game can finally be put to rest, and I feel the payoff was worth the wait. As for you however motivations vary from the Daemon Prince’s direct continuation of the Prologue to Cathay’s only incidental involvement. Still, the process is the same. In order to open the way to the Forge of Souls and a showdown with Ursun’s captor Bel’akor, you need to acquire the souls of four powerful Chaos entities. This requires venturing into the Realm of Chaos itself. Which you do via this game’s biggest new mechanic, Survival Battles.
The thing about the Chaos Realm is that it’s not for mortal traversal. It’s another dimension that’s shaped by the wills and nature of its inhabitants. The most powerful of those inhabitants being the Chaos Gods. Khorne’s realm for example is all fire and brimstone, with the Brass Citadel looming above all. Opposite of that is Nurgle’s poisonous swamp, all foliage and plagues. Point is, it’s an incredibly dangerous place to be, and no one can survive for long. That concept is at the heart of Survival Battles. There’s no true victory in the Chaos Realm, the best that can be hoped for is survival and hopefully accomplishing your objective.
Survival Battles are essentially a tower defense Total War match. As you advance deeper into the Realm you’ve invaded, you construct towers and fortifications to aid you. And you’ll need them, as the armies of the Chaos Gods are unrelenting. You have to fight your way through troops, figure out the realm specific mechanic, and make it to the end to fight the boss and claim your prize. It’s a brand new kind of experience for Total War, and a daunting one. They’re fairly long, and failure can be frustrating. Thankfully, you can auto-resolve with rather favorable odds. Still, once you get the mechanics down I found them to be a lot of fun. Especially learning the differences between each of the four gods’ effects on their world. I won’t spoil them, but trust me, it’s way more than a palette change or a different background.
You’ll have to fight four of these battles at least per campaign, one to collect a soul of each flavor. Thankfully the way you enter the Realm of Chaos is far easier than the battles themselves. Due to events I also don’t want to spoil, reality is unstable and portals to the Chaos Realm open up sporadically across the map. Entering them is as simple as moving an army to one of these portals and heading into hell. It’s important to remember though that you’re not the only faction after Ursun, and other factions are just as much your enemies. Don’t focus on collecting souls and overlook the enemies you have on this dimension. Moreso than ever before, every campaign is a delicate balancing act of advancing while protecting yourself. A mistake could cost you victory, but that just makes victory that much sweeter.
Survival Battles, a new narrative, and brand new factions aren’t the only addictions here. Over the course of the last two games there’s been plenty of criticism and suggestions for feature revamps. Chief among them have always been diplomacy and sieges. Both have finally received some love, and again it was totally worth the wait. When it comes to diplomacy, a lot more options were added. Including trading regions, so no need for a mod anymore! But more intriguing are the new Outposts systems which adds more depth to Military Alliances. The points system from Total War: Three Kingdoms also returns, which makes deal making so much cleaner and easier to understand. There’s still a few oddities to the system of course, but it’s a fantastic foundation that now provides its own viable gameplay experience.
Sieges weren’t so much as revamped as they were restored. Siege maps have long been the worst part of the Total War: Warhammer experience. Which isn’t to say they were perfect before that, but there was definitely some regression. That regression is now gone and the weakest part of the game has now been brought up to par. A wider variety of maps, fortifications that you can build on the map, and small scale settlement sieges return. No longer will you attack the same one walled fortress again and again and again. This alongside some new rules when it comes to attacking and manning walls and gates with monstrous units makes finally makes for fun siege battles. Which considering the number of them you do, has been very much needed.
There’s tons of other smaller things too. There’s the rework to how corruption works. A change to army upkeep that’s far less penalizing for multiple armies. More rebalancing of the auto-resolve. The ability to ground a flying unit or vice versa. Eight player multiplayer, as well as two multiplayer focused mini-campaigns. It’s funny how some of these things could be huge in their own right, but when compared to everything else are relatively smaller. That’s just the kind of game this ended up being, with so much going on even big changes have to fight for attention. And I wouldn’t have it any other way.
The thing about Total War: Warhammer III is that while it’s an end, it’s not THE end. We have the inevitable DLC trail starting, with the Ogre Kingdoms Race Pack already released for early adopters. But most important of all, is the Immortal Empires mega campaign, combining the maps, factions, and DLC of all three games into one huge mega map of carnage and war. It’s been the end goal of this whole trilogy, and we’re almost there. When it does come to an end though, Creative Assembly can rest easy knowing they have created something truly magnificent. This is the number one choice for any fantasy strategy gamers. Nothing comes close, and who knows if something of this scale and grandeur will ever be attempted again. Or for that matter, even needs to be.
A new level of greatness for Total War graphics alongside a whole new level of attention to detail.
Total War: Warhammer gameplay is a sword that’s been continuously sharpened and refined until it reached all new heights for the franchise.
Richard Armitage kills it as big bad Be’lakor, Sean Barrett’s long mysterious Advisor finally gets his due, and the soundtrack is my favorite of the trilogy.
Fun Factor: 10
The quality of life improvements, the story and atmosphere, and the new factions and gameplay mechanics come together to form one of the greatest strategy games I’ve ever played with only more to come.
Final Verdict: 10
Total War: Warhammer III is available now on PC.
Reviewed on PC.
A copy of Total War: Warhammer III was provided by the publisher.