First Impressions: Warhammer Total War III

Finally, it has arrived. Warhammer: Total War III has been one of the few game releases I’ve truly been looking forward to. After hundreds of hours put into its previous installments, I was excited to take the fight to new fronts with all-new factions to play as. I’ve beaten the game twice now and I have a lot of thoughts to share on it.

The world of Warhammer

Warhammer III is centered on the Chaos Wastes; a harsh, volatile wasteland populated by endless tides of demons. They fight among each other for supremacy and grudges, but are also always looking to invade the mortal realms and wipe out the races that worship the Gods. Holding them back on opposite ends of the Wastes are the nations of Kislev and Cathay, but recent events have left these bulwarks weakened and unstable.

The game launched with 8 playable factions, that being the aforementioned Kislev and Cathay, demon factions for Khorne, Slaanesh, Nurgle, and Tzeentch, and the Ogre Kingdoms that sit somewhere in-between. Finally there is Daemon Prince faction, which combines units and mechanics of all 4 Demon Gods into 1 customizable character. The demonic hordes have long been overdue for a glow up and I feel that Warhammer III delivers in that regard. Gone are the days of generic evil warrior hordes; now we have distinct demon factions with unique monsters and servants for each!

The map is further populated with some recurring—now non-playable—races. Several Empire states are present, some dwarfs and Skaven, as well as Orcs, Undead, Beastmen, and Norsca factions. It’s a nice mix that utilizes content from across the series, making Warhammer III feel diverse even without DLC or the soon-to-be-released combined mega-map.

Visually, the game leaves me with little to complain about. The map is full of decoration and detail, which often features icons you can hover over to get lore tidbits about the places you’re fighting over. Battle maps and units also look fantastic, though I do have some complaints about variety there. The units look great, but some designs are reused across different units (armoured kossars to tzar guards or exalted variants of demons) making it difficult to estimate what an enemy is capable of at a glance. Some demon units are also recolored across all 4 factions, which doesn’t look particularly good either.

As for the maps, they are good-looking and offer tactical variety. Particularly the reworked siege maps and the new minor settlement battlemaps. However, I noticed the same maps coming up time and time again during the campaign, which made battles feel repetitive. Particularly in the realm of Khorne, where the entire concept is that you’re battling all the time. The addition of minor settlement battles has also caused a shift where normal field battles have become rare, which is regrettable because those are typically my favorites.

Realms of Chaos and mechanics

The game kicks off on a tutorial campaign which leads directly into the new “Realms of Chaos” story campaign. Ursun, God of the Slavic-inspired nation of Kislev, has been captured by the forces of evil and is now dying. His roars of pain send out tremors across the world, opening portals between the normal world and the realms of the Demon Gods. Each faction has its own reason for wanting to reach Ursun, so it’s a race for who gets to the dying God first.

Like the Vortex campaign from Warhammer II, milestones across the campaign are marked with cutscenes that provide exposition about the quest. This time around there are also unique intro and finale cutscenes for each faction, though this comes at the cost of the scenes in-between being more generic.

The concept for the campaign is that, every few turns, rifts to the chaos world open up all across the game’s world. These corrupt the land around them and will eventually begin spawning marauding demon armies. You can close these rifts by preemptively attacking them with your own military or by paying a fortune to have your agents shut it for you. However, your legendary lord can also use these to teleport around the world or to enter one of the realms of the Chaos Gods.

Each presents a different trial for you to overcome. Tzeentch has a teleporter maze, Khorne wants you to prove your worth in combat, you get the gist. You race against every other AI faction to complete these trials as fast as possible, after which you get a special endurance battle against a daemon prince. Make it through that 4 times and you unlock the final battle.

They are interesting challenges that force you to make some difficult decisions which, in turn, change up the way you might normally play Total War games. If you get stuck in the same realm as an ally, you may be incentivized to betray them so they can’t get the soul instead. You might have to start wars with enemies you’ve never met before, which gets awkward when they come knocking on your door many turns later. It’s also a big commitment to hop into these challenges, as it effectively takes your strongest army out of the campaign for several turns just as shit hits the fan all across the world. This encouraged me to invest in lots of smaller defense armies and heroes, instead of just winning the game by throwing doomstacks at my enemies.

However, the Realms of Chaos campaign is kind of rubbish for replay value. The challenges and final battle are the exact same every time, regardless of who you play as or what else happens in the game. The rifts also dominate a lot of the campaign map, partly because the AI can’t effectively deal with them. There are so many of them every time, it becomes hard to focus on expansion, expeditions, and helping out your allies. Instead, it encourages you to turtle up and just wait for the next wave to start so you can progress.

After playing through it 2 times, I didn’t really feel like diving back into it again.

Speaking of the factions; of the two I have played so far, I was feeling mixed about their unique mechanics. They got some really good ideas, but their execution just doesn’t quite feel complete.

Kislev has a civil war going on between the state, run by Tzarina Katarin, and the church led by the mad priest Kostaltyn. You can play as either and race to garner as much support as possible to sway sentiments in the country in your favor. You gain support by fighting chaos and lose it by fighting other Kislevites. You can also call upon Kislev’s Gods for special advantages using the “Devotion” resource, which also gives you special objectives to complete which generate additional supporters. Devotion can also be used to construct some buildings, but it can also cause chaos armies to suddenly appear if you let it get too low.

It’s functionally quite good and the AI is competent at rivaling the player in this dynamic, but it lacks flavor.

Either faction can use the full Kislev roster from the get-go, even though some units are clearly meant for one or the other. This includes Kostaltyn being able to recruit witches from the Ice Court, which he actively opposes, and Katarin having access to Patriarchs that are just mini-Kostaltyns. Milestones across the race also give you relationship boosts with other Kislev factions, including your rival. This causes the conflict to peter out, as you basically just end up being allies that you eventually confederate without much fanfare. Some more events and tensions could have livened this campaign up a bit.

My second faction was Skarbrand, who is so hilariously overpowered that I ended up maxing out my level before the second wave of rifts ever appeared. He gets more powerful the more he fights and every mechanic is tailored to making sure he gets to fight as much as possible. You get near-free teleportation, free support armies, reinforcements in hostile territory, and his followers automatically settle any of the ruins he leaves behind. Once you get a feel for it, the campaign is almost entirely brainless.

His core mechanic is collecting skulls, which can be handed in to the skull throne for buffs. Well… just one buff. You can also use them to settle cities, but you only need to do that once and then your followers will sort out the rest. Uhm… what do I do with all these skulls? I ended up with tens of thousands of skulls in my stockpile and literally nothing to spend them on. Technologies cost skulls, but only a pitiful few 100 at a time. And many of those technologies increase the amount of skulls you get.

Why not have the player pay skulls to get support armies or have some buildings that cost skulls to build instead of money? You have basically no normal income as Skarbrand, so I don’t why they put so much emphasis on gathering a resource that serves so little purpose.

Worries and improvements

The Total War franchise is not exactly one renowned for its steady improvement. Launches are bug-ridden and issues with the games tend to stick around across multiple releases before being resolved. Warhammer III is no different, though the game does come with some changes that I specifically hoped for.

At the time of writing, I wouldn’t recommend rushing out to buy the game yet. Pathfinding is so bad as to be borderline unusable, with ranged units not being able to shoot at enemies due to unseen obstructions, artillery rolling up to city walls instead of shelling them, and troops taking massive detours anywhere you tell them to go. Movement is slow and frustrating, particularly due to bugs with mass calculation. Your forces keep getting themselves into unsolvable traffic jams because they can’t move past each other, whereas enemies phase right through your units. This creates bizarre scenarios where enemies coming out siege towers move right through your defenders, climb down the wall, and just run to the objectives.

There are also issues with combat and balancing. large creatures like lords and monsters often can’t start up animations, instead rubbing against each other without doing any damage at all. Meanwhile, cavalry, chariots, and other units depended on charge attacks are severely underpowered. Charges do little to no damage outside of morale shock, and these units will melt away the moment they are locked in combat. Hell, you can counter-charge elite cavalry with basic infantry and win almost every time.

There are also some concerns with the AI. Like in Warhammer II, the AI will usually just do nothing at all. It’s not unusual to see them stand around in hostile territory taking attrition damage with no clear purpose. Or they flat out ignore ruins they could settle with no downsides to them whatsoever, forcing you to grab them instead lest anything nefarious moves in. Allies are also still useless to the point of feeling like deliberate sabotage, as they will just not send troops to you no matter what you tell them to do in war coordination. Even when you are asking them to send troops to help you win wars that they started!

Autoresolve is also exactly as bad as I said it would be. Being told the exact results of any battle before you go into it has the surprise effect of making you not want to bother with battles much. I now auto-resolve 95% of my battles, including many that I would usually have taken command of because the outcome would be too uncertain. Why go through loading screens and setup for a risky battle when the game let’s you press a button to automatically win instead? The only times when I bothered are when I felt I could win a losing battle or keep more units alive than the auto-resolve would permit.

But it’s not all doom and gloom. Diplomacy has been successfully overhauled and is now much more painless to engage with. It uses a point system that indicates how likely an AI is to accept the terms of a proposal, which you can then leverage by giving them money, joining their wars, or giving away nearby regions. Because region-trading is finally a thing now! If an ally somehow ends up with a settlement you need, you can just trade with them instead of stabbing them in the back.

Allies might be useless on the map, but that too you can change now. Alliances build up points over time that you can cash in for all kinds of favors. You can recruit units from your allies, even if they are another race/faction, at an incredibly low price. With enough points you can even take direct command of their armies and solve the war coordination problem that way! I am also a fan of the outpost system, whereby you and your ally construct a building in each other’s cities, which provide a bonus to the garrison. It’s nice getting a bunch of Empire troops to help you out when your city is under attack.

Other improvements include:

  • Telling flying troops to land on the ground for stealth or tactical reasons.
  • Icons to indicate when units are idle.
  • Different kinds of corruption with different effects for each.
  • Fusing or selling unneeded items and ancillaries.
  • Increased level cap.
  • Faster load times
  • The entire encyclopedia is now an in-game menu rather than an external webpage.

Finally, there is the much-needed siege rework. Siege maps now come with multiple zones to capture, which are either the actual victory points or provide resources. Defenders use these resources to build defensive towers and barricades to stall the attackers. This, combined with increased size and complexity of the maps, adds incentive to take fights deeper into the city instead of settling it all on the wall. The AI will also utilize these features well, though it’s still not perfect. I was able to win a lot of doomed battles by concentrating all my defense on one front and then picking off the enemy’s splintered forces afterwards.

Conclusion

There’s no denying that Warhammer III, in its current state, is not exactly ideal. I had fun with the game and enjoyed my runs through the Realms of Chaos well enough, but there exist many frustrations. Bugs, pathfinding, AI issues; problems that are annoying and often constant. However, this is not my first rodeo with Creative Assembly and I very much bought this game as an investment further down the line.

It might be a buggy mess now with little replay value, but Warhammer II proved that CA has the capacity to recover from this. With ongoing support and patches, I am confident that the game will be a lot more impressive in due time. Certainly when the presumably-free update for Immortal Empires is rolled out. 50 hours of fun isn’t bad as a first taste of what’s still to come, but cautious players may want to wait for a while to see where the game is at in a few months. You won’t miss anything you can’t catch up to later.


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