Total War Warhammer III released in February of this year and I’ve been wanting to review it for a long time, but no time ever seems right. The game is so frequently updated, broken, fixed again and being built upon that I feel as though most of what I say will be outdated in a few months. But then again, such is the nature of modern gaming for better or worse (mostly worse, if you ask me). So I’m going to be reviewing the game in the state it was in on October 1st 2022, with some edits to account for patch 2.2 which came out on October 18th. As with Warhammer II, I will do fun follow up posts on the game diving into stories and specifics about factions and their mechanics. I find this to be fun, and a good way of streamlining the main review so you don’t have to read a three day essay about each faction in one go. But for now, this is the main review. Strap in.
Realms of Chaos
The game launched with the Realms of Chaos campaign (much of which I spoke about in my Fun Games post) which was, to be frank, a bit of a disaster. It was buggy, broken and a little lacking in content and launch. Now most of that is fixed and the issue is much more complex. Warhammer III is a sandbox strategy game, but Realms of Chaos is a controlling parent who refuses to let you move out or be independent.
For the game’s primary factions (Kislev, Daemons of Chaos, Khorne, Slanesh, Nurgle, Tzeench, Grand Cathay and the Ogre Kingdoms) the goal is to fend off daemon invasions, venture into another realm and find souls that will allow you to free a trapped God to the benefit of your chosen faction. The problem is that the linearity of the goals run in contrast to the open-world domination that is encouraged in order to enhance your military and economic needs. And while playing tall is certainly viable (holding a small amount of efficient territory), it’s certainly not as fun in Realms of Chaos. The campaign adds many super aggressive factions with super aggressive unit rosters, so sitting still to wait for a Chaos gate to spawn so you can race the other factions to the soul within is a lot less fun than using those units to, y’know, slay the petty mortals.
Right now it’s in a strange state; You go into Chaos gates because you have to win, but get punished for doing so by only being able to send your faction leader, and strongest general, inside who will almost certainly get a negative trait from doing so. But upon leaving the trait is removed. So negative traits are just a redundant mechanic, I guess. Expansion, in this game series where expansion is the norm, has been shelved unintentionally as failure will follow if you refuse to engage in the race for souls. Speaking of which, you can turn off the Chaos gates in certain regions by constructing a certain building. So the threat of a Chaos invasion from those realms is also a redundant mechanic I guess? Hardly a threat if you can choose where they spawn. And all this does is take your attention away from the brilliant and fun sandbox that DOES exist between all these factions.
It is because the game is so insistent you play it a certain way that I cannot praise the race for souls.
Speaking of souls, the Warriors of Chaos are the only faction in the game that don’t do the whole soul race. They do their own mini-soul race where by winning fights they acquire souls from fallen foes to paint a map to the ultimate battle-ground, where they’ll compete to be the ultimate Warrior of Chaos. This… This is very fun. Souls aren’t a side-quest in their campaign that draw your attention away from the best part of the game, instead they are a passively earned benefit you get from playing the game however you want. As long as you’re engaging in fights you will be heading towards the win objective, and in a game called Total War, you’re pretty much always doing that.
Because of how their faction works in regards to infrastructure and recruitment there are some settlements you’ll need to prioritise taking before others, but unlike the other factions it’s not a must. You can play these guys however you like and have a lot of fun with it. If you want to play the Realms of Chaos campaign, I’d highly recommend you do so with this faction. They have four lords available for it, all of whom are distinct and fun to play as. So have a blast.
Immortal Empires is the combination of work starting in 2016 with the original Total War Warhammer, encompassing the maps from all three games and putting them all together. It’s in beta. It feels like a beta too. But not that modern gaming “we’re calling our unfinished game in alpha state a beta to hide from criticism” kind of way, like this is actually a beta. It’s actively updated. The developers openly take criticism, routinely blog about updates prior to their implementation and all sorts. It’s a true to the name beta. So bare that in mind going forward.
Also worth baring in mind, before we even touch the condition of this campaign, is how to play it. It’s INCREDIBLY expensive if you’re a new player; you’ll need to own both Warhammer 1 and 2 before you can play it. Both these games are still being sold at full price and so, if you’re on the fence at all about Warhammer 3, I’d actually urge you not to buy Immortal Empires. As you’ll soon read, I think Immortal Empires is great… But if you’re not 100% into this game it’s not going to be a good monetary investment.
First off… This is truly brilliant. Insane, lunacy too. But brilliant. The size of the map, number of factions and playable starts will set a high bar for many similar strategy games to come, and indeed for many Total War games to come. It’s all the fun of Warhammer II’s Mortal Empires and more. But, as is the nature of beta’s, it’s not without issues.
The main issue I have with it is settlement battles. In the old games minor settlement battles took place in the open field which, while not making much sense, did allow for more tactical engagements than in tight city streets. Now all settlements are siege fights, with minor settlements and larger ones being distinct from one and other. Albiet, as of patch 2.2, only tier 3 defended minor settlements are now sieges. Tier 1 and 2 play out as land battles. The siege battles themselves are fine, actually. The problem is their frequency. In the late game you’ll be fighting infinitely more settlement battles than those on the open field, which can lead to a repetitive game. This used to be the case throughout the whole campaign before patch 2.2. But now many settlement garrisons designed to compliment the siege defences are functionally less useful when these battles play out as land battles, making factions who relied on that mechanic harder to play. There are also only a small number of settlement maps per faction so you’ll often be repeating the same tactics to break the same defences over and over again. In fact it was even addressed in a patch, but still doesn’t feel diverse enough.
Of course Immortal Empires can also be very buggy. Sometimes the game crashes because a random AI faction decides not to finish their turn. This had to be patched. Sometimes Chaos factions didn’t benefit from their ludicrous defences the player invested in. This had to be patched. And while some of these bugs are pretty damn awful, the high quality of what does work in Immortal Empires, alongside the developers open communication regarding what will be fixed and when (because this is a real beta), I’m willing to forgive them. Should the game be in a similar state when it is officially fully released, or should the campaign remain in beta for an unreaosnably long time, then I’ll be quicker to criticise.
But on the other hand, this might be the most fun I’ve ever had in a Total War game and is up there with some of my favourite games of the strategy genre. Mainly because of how different each campaign is; what Immortal Empires does right is realise the sandbox is what makes it a success and capitalises on it.
For example in my first campaign I played as Oxyotl, a lizardman starting in the southern chaos wastes on a quest to rid the world of daemons and chaos worshipers. I did this by being a sneaky, sneaky assassin and amassing an army of chameleon units who, on paper, have incredibly low stats… But in practice are almost always 100% invisible to the enemy and are relatively fast moving for foot units. This meant a bunch of naked sneaky boys with blow pipes ended up taring apart legions of the most heavily armoured and disciplined armies the dark forces could muster. Utilising Oxyotl’s campaign mechanics, I was able to secretly establish anti-chaos outposts across the world that I could visit to attack and defend against the chaos tides.
While Oxyotl remained focussed on purging the world of daemons, my other generals gathered units of dinosaurs carrying laser beams on their backs and crocodiles with knuckle dusters to go and secure the lizardmen’s home continent of Lustria. I allied with all the remaining lizardmen factions on the continent and helped them push off the colonialists from the Empire and Brettonia. Let me tell you, sending a t-rex charging through mortar fire so it can eat a bunch of swordsmen is immensely cool. Alas, the man folk weren’t our biggest problem. That would be Rakarth; a dark elf beast tamer who was amassing a dinosaur army, mixed with some dark elf soldiers and unique creatures he’d shipped in from other continents. His lands were small but highly effective at keeping us at bay. It was hard to get the guy, who rode atop a dragon during battle, but a short lived alliance with some local undead Tomb Kings helped us push him off the continent too. Then we killed the Tomb Kings.
That was my first campaign…
In my second I played the exact opposite faction; Be’lakor, lord of chaos. Starting in the north of the map I performed conquest in name of the dark gods who gifted me daemons and other rewards for performing slaughter in their name. Lowly viking warbands I recruited on turn 1 were upgraded to chaotic warriors after what must have been decades of in-game war securing sacred dark fortresses to frontier my campaign from in safe lands. Meanwhile I was also engaging in subterfuge. I had an agent deep in Brettonian territory to the south whose actions turned their generals into corrupted daemon princes who would serve as my generals. So basically, I was like the devil offering Jesus a bunch of stuff in the desert for 40 days and nights, only I turned Jesus into a daemon slave the one day he decided to take something.
Once I had enough dark fortresses to fund multiple armies… I did D-Day. From the island of Albion (fantasy UK), I headed south over the ocean to fantasy Normandy beach, where I actually did fight a beach battle against a gathering of Brettonian armies with superior ranged weapons to myself. It was hard fought, but we won. And from there the conquest of Brettonia began. There was no rhyme or reason to how I went about it since Be’lakor can open gateways between provinces, allowing me to teleport from one side of Brettonia to the other to ensure that, wherever the Brettonian armies were, I could strike them and exploit any weaknesses in their positioning.
That was my second campaign…
I could go on forever trying to explain just how diverse and varied playing Immortal Empires can be, but I think you get the point; It’s absolutely nuts. Ludicrous-on-toast! And incredibly fun and addictive, in spite of it’s beta state. Providing Creative Assembly live up to the promise of what this campaign could be when completed, it could become one of my favourite games. Time will tell.
If you’re more of a multiplayer person, then good things are also going on here. Most notably, I think, in campaign. Previously only two people could play a multiplayer campaign together, either head-to-head or as a team. But now eight people can do that on the same or separate teams, which is just insane. To streamline this whole process, turns can now be taken simultaniously so you don’t have to wait for extremely long times for it to be your go again in the late game. Fighting battles slows this down, and diplomacy can be a bit tedious in that regard, but with some ironing out it could be the best multiplayer has yet been in a Total War campaign.
As for battles there are new survival battles and a domination mode. Survival has you capturing points of interest from enemies and then defending them against incoming waves of increasing difficulty. You get supplies to call in reinforcements to supplement your starting army as it gets damaged, which can also be used to build defensive towers and barriers. It’s a little underdeveloped, and sometimes way too easy, but it’s a neat gimmick. Part of the problem is you can only fight against daemon factions who lack range, so picking factions like Dwarves, Skaven or High Eleves often leads to a steamroll if you can position yourself right. Simply adding survival battles against other factions would go a long way.
Domination is the more notable mode where you and your opponent fight over control of three zones on the battlefield to gather victory points. You can win by smashing your enemy up or by getting the required number of points before they can. Like in survival, you and your enemy can spend supplies to summon reinforcements, but defensive structures are absent. It’s not something I expected to like, but I actually do. I still prefer regular land battles, but Domination definetly succeeds in forcing engagements, driving the player to create multi-purpose armies and relying less on cheese to get the victory.
I do have a complaint for Domination though, and for the returning free for all mode for that matter, which is that they can ONLY be played in multiplayer. It isn’t possible to play these fun modes in single player apparently because the AI won’t function correctly for it. I mean, if that’s true, then it’s sad and very telling of the state this game is technically in; that bots in these game modes would be hard to implement is crazy. Creative Assembly have utilised bots in domination game types in other strategy games, most notably Halo Wars 2, and had the option for bots to engage in huge free-for-alls as far back as the original Rome Total War in 2003. It doesn’t feel like bots in these modes are impossible, so much as it feels like they’re intentionally neglected and lost. In Rome Total War I could play a battle with eight players spread accross four teams of two, but in Warhammer 3 I can’t even have more than two sides in a land battle. There’s been a lot of talk of this game’s jumbled code, where making one small change could affect the whole rest of the game, and this might be why CA haven’t upgraded the AI to work on these types of battles. But, again, it’s still sad to see content from 2003 and their other games unable to be recreated in Warhammer 3.
These complaints might not be as large as some of the more prelevant ones in the campaign, but it would go a long way in so far as generating good-faith with the players to include the AI in these single and multiplayer battles. Hell, a modder made it so bots can partake in Domination, albeit they are not coded to be able to summon reinforcements using supplies. So no, I don’t think it’s impossible for this to be done officially.
Warhammer 3 has more diversity than Warhammer 2, something I didn’t think was possible, and is so much funner for it. And yet it still feels unfinished. This is good and bad. Good, because I am constantly wondering how much more fun it could possibly get. Worse, because this game came out in February and I’m honestly exhausted with AAA games releasing unfinished and doing the rest later. As much as I enjoy anticipation, I wish what I was anticipating were improvements and upgrades to a complete product and not the rest of a complete product. But, as I’ve said before, such is the nature of modern AAA gaming.
What little does speak strongly against the game is that many of the features criticised here are ones addressed in mods… Not just any mods, but some of the most popular mods on the Steam workshop. Not a fan of the souls race and invasion in the Realms of Chaos campaign? No matter, one highly popular mod removes the realms entirely leaving nothing but the same gameplay loop one would find in Immortal Empires, only on a smaller scale. Don’t like constant settlement battles? Another highly popular mod reinstates them as they were in Warhammer 2; all minor settlements will be land battles, while major ones remain as sieges.
These mods are all brilliant in letting the player experience the game how they want. And I do praise any game that allows such mods to exist. However, I count them against the game because it feels like fans fixing things that have been complained about for months totally unaddressed. So no, I’m not criticising the mods themselves, more so the fact they have to exist to get around to things the already busy devs may not have time for in completing their unfinished game.
So, would I recommend Total War Warhammer III? Well, for all that, I still would without a doubt. It’s very rough around the edges, but finding the gem within isn’t hard. And if this game’s development cycle is anything like Warhammer 2, I have no doubt it will turn out as one of Creative Assembly’s best. As long as they don’t do what they did with Total War Three Kingdoms, which was completely abandon a pretty good game for reasons no one quite understands, it will be fine…
But for this game to become one of the best, CA need to learn to be less reactionary. The changes to the Realms of Chaos campaign amd settlement system were asked for and needed, so while we can’t fault CA for addressing community concerns, we must ask them to consider the consequences of those changes before implimenting them. Because right now, Realms of Chaos has multiple useless mechanics, and the settlement battle change has left some factions ill equipped to fight on the open field with their garrisons.
Quick fixes won’t cut it. If it means we have to put up with less than ideal mechanics for a month or two longer so that more thought-out reworks can be made, I’d happily wait.
But I understand the pressure they must be under. We live in the era of fan entitlement – an era where fans will demand reshoots of movies and shows, reworking and rewriting of game code just so it is a percentage more representative of their needs. And while I do advocate for consumers expecting better products wherever they can, the fan entitlement culture has gone far beyond that. And the negative nature of these discussions only drives their promotion over social media, so we don’t see the positive talk as often, and it gets harder to tell if the negtivity is from a vocal minority, or if it’s the reality of sad fanbases who say they hate modern media and fandom culture, while engaging in every aspect of it almost religiously. For developers of any form of media on the other side of that, be they cynical cash-grabbers or genuinely passionate about their craft, it must be dauntjng to be in the other side of that type of discourse.
So whether or not Warhammer 3 can overcome these pressures and do it’s own thing is… Well, we’ll have to wait and see.