Creative Assembly’s Total War series returns to the fantasy world of Warhammer in Total War: Warhammer III. As with previous games in the series, it’s exclusive to PCs and Macs, so we fired up one of our gaming rigs to give you this review.
It doesn’t seem that long ago that we had a Total War: Warhammer game, but Warhammer II launched back in 2017. I suppose it’s because at that point I was still playing the first game that came out a year earlier and received plenty of DLC addons as well. By the time I was ready for Warhammer II, DLC was already coming out for that one as well – and the stream of new content kept going until last year’s launch of The Silence & The Fury. It’s no wonder that Warhammer III feels like it arrived much sooner than it did.
The latest sequel features a brand new main campaign story, as well as several new armies and mechanics that weren’t in the previous two games. There are eight factions in the base game, the bulk of which (six) are steeped in Games Workshop’s fantasy lore while the remaining two are human. There’s also a divide between faction that reside in the mortal realm (the Kislevites, Ogres and Cathay) and those that normally dwell in the demon world. And then there are the ancients Chaos Gods, as well as a prince who sets out to save the bear-god Ursun but ends up starting a major conflict – yes, there’s plenty of lore here for existing fans of the table top franchise, but the story’s laid out in an accessible enough manner for videogamers who’ve never touched a miniature orc.
The story ties into the gameplay at many points, and very prominently when the tormented Ursun roars and opens up rifts to the Chaos Realm. The story campaign will last for up to 150 turns but can be completed sooner by reaching the main objective or subjecting the other factions to your rule before then – a goal that can be reached either through conflict or diplomacy.
What’s interesting is the replay value in the campaign, because even though each faction will be chasing the same end goal, they all play very differently thanks to the unique mechanics and units they all have – which in turn results in battle tactics that differ greatly between the eight factions. Obviously some will feel more closely aligned to other factions, but never to a point where they actually feel similar in how they play. One of our favorite and most unique abilities was the option to lure enemy units over to your side with the Slaanesh, which felt a nice and sneaky way to be evil – while other evil factions tend to be a far more barbaric in nature, and the units and abilities you have reflect these stark contrasts. This is part of why Total War: Warhammer is such a strong concept – other entries in the Total War series are more grounded in reality and have more nuanced differences between factions.
A large portion of the campaign plays out through the overworld map, though diplomatic options are far more important than you’d expect, and the map isn’t just a tool to select your next battle. Sure, you can keep invading enemy strongholds, build your armies and leave a trail of destruction in your wake, but very often it’s more effective to enter into an alliance with another faction, even if it’s only temporary. There’s a lovely sense of balance between what happens behind the negotiation table and what happens on the battlefield, which is of course something the developer has finely crafted and tweaked over the past two decades of Total War.
It definitely helps if you’re played any of the recent Total War games, even if it wasn’t a Warhammer one. The real time battles where you use things like use positional advantage and Heroes is something you can learn through a tutorial, but without prior experience there’s a pretty steep learning curve here. That may scare newcomers off, but for veterans that just means that there’s a ton of strategic and tactical depth – even within a single faction. By the time you start out with your third faction, you’ll have a decent grasp of most of the mechanics as well as the strengths and weaknesses of other factions, but by then you’ll have invested dozen of hours already. And that’s just the single player, because Warhammer III also includes a wealth of options for online multiplayer enthusiasts, which returning modes like Survival and Domination as well as support for campaigns that can be played by up to 8 players at once.
Total War: Warhammer III is a masterfully crafted sequel that will certainly keep fans entertained for years to come – especially when you realize the inevitable stream of DLC that is coming. The new armies and their mechanics are great, and the campaign is well done. Technically the game isn’t as impressive as the first game was though – in 2022 we’re still playing on the same game engine, and it’s starting to show its age while also presenting players with lengthy load times. Still – merely issues that are easy to forgive when you fall in love with the stellar gameplay all over again.