Total War: WARHAMMER 3 Review
Total War: Warhammer 3 PC Review - A Glorious Finale
In Total War: Warhammer 3, I can unleash a multicolored tidal wave of destruction upon the world, having rage-filled Bloodthirsters, quick Daemonettes of Slaanesh, slender avian spellcasters, and pustulent beasts of Nurgle fighting side by side in a glorious display of Chaos Undivided’s might. I can also name the Daemon Prince commanding my forces and freely switch between a vast array of limbs, armor, and weapons before each battle.
The Daemons of Chaos were a final and unexpected addition to Total War: Warhammer 3’s list of playable races and, in many ways, symbolizes what this third entry is in the context of the trilogy – the game that sees it go out with a bang and a roar, and a giant ball of pus exploding on top of tens of unlucky individuals before a Soul Grinder turns them into paste.
It is an excellent closer to a trilogy that has brought Creative Assembly’s grand strategy series to new heights, thanks to a pairing that was always a no-brainer. Large-scale battles, several types of magic, detailed unit models with mostly great animations that make combat awesome to look at – it’s all here alongside a number of tweaks that address past missteps and refine some other elements.
Total War: Warhammer 3’s roster of launch races is the trilogy’s biggest. Deliciously daemonic, yet having enough good guy energy for those adamant about playing on the objectively wrong side, its seven picks – eight if you pre-order – give you a great amount of choice in terms of both campaign and battle mechanics.
“Warhammer 3’s main campaign mechanic feels quite involved, since you’re pushing into foreign territory rather than hanging back and waiting for Chaos to siege you a bunch, and the four realms do thematically fit their gods.”
I covered the Daemons of Chaos and Cathay in our preview, the former easily being the title’s highlight for me and the race which I chose during my first playthrough. It trades research and more complex mechanics for five tracks of Daemonic Glory. As you dedicate victories and cities to one of the gods or Chaos Undivided, your Legendary Lord can freely equip a growing number of body parts that help him fulfill different roles in battle. In addition, you have access to all the daemonic units in the game, making it the perfect race to sample all flavors of Chaos.
By comparison, the rosters of the four individual Chaos gods are a bit more limited and specialized. Recruiting exalted variants of daemons can feel a little too samey at times, but they’re backed up by more involved game mechanics that highlight the nature of each god. Tzeentch can shatter alliances, manipulate the winds of magic, or outright take settlements from opposing factions, while his armies focus more on fighting at range and exploiting a rechargeable barrier that blocks initial damage.
Slaanesh spreads his influence through cults and seduces enemy units into switching sides at the start of battles, harnessing the high speed and excellent flanking potential of his forces on the field. If you can properly micromanage his chariots and cavalry, they can be deceivingly devastating.
Skarbrand, on the other hand, is going through a severe case of Khorne flake withdrawal and just wants to bring Slaughter and Carnage to the world. His quest to collect all the skulls encourages him to raze settlements, bringing forth temporary Blood Host armies that favor a more aggressive strategy. This is also reflected in actual battles, where the race is almost devoid of ranged options.
I found Nurgle particularly interesting, thanks to how his buildings cycle through different states rather than requiring you to manually upgrade them. Moving to higher tiers every couple of turns before reverting back to their initial versions, gives you less control over which units you can recruit – to some extent – but also potentially lets you nab high-level stuff like Soul Grinders earlier than other races. His units are recruited instantly but at reduced strength, catering to a slower playstyle overall.
Out of the non-Chaos factions, Kislev stood out thanks to its capable hybrid infantry that can switch between ranged and melee weapons. This is also the faction that puts heroes on bears and covers most bases, making it a good one to start with if you’re undecided. Their more “traditional” campaign mechanics ask you to manage an internal conflict between the Ice Court and Grand Orthodoxy by gathering popular support, while allowing you to pick the traits of your heroes and lords as they go through training.
Regardless of which race you choose, all of them seek to harness the power of Kislev’s dying god, Ursun. Prominent Warhammer baddie Be’lakor has him imprisoned within the Forge of Souls, which you cannot reach at the start. Ursun periodically roars, opening rifts that allow access to the Realms of Chaos and quick traversal across the world. On top of that, they can also bring hostile daemonic armies into mortal lands.
The rifts stay open for a limited amount of time, so you need to take advantage of this and venture into the realms of the four Chaos Gods, defeat their champions, and claim their souls in newly introduced Survival battles. These are three-stage fights that task you with capturing points, then holding each one against waves of opponents. Not only can you call forth reinforcements, but you can also build barricades and towers to bolster your defenses.
They take place across a handful of visually stunning expanses and can see a ludicrous amount of units taking to the field as you switch between the role of attacker and defender. The enemy Daemon Princes themselves are sturdy opponents, but on normal difficulty, I didn’t really have many issues taking them down, thanks to the sheer number of reinforcements I could field.
Each realm has its own challenges, which you inevitably have to deal with before these battles. Venturing into Tzeentch’s twisted plains, you fight weaker armies to uncover sigils for paired teleporters, which connect fractured landmasses. Khorne’s realm is all about fighting armies belonging to a variety of races until you gather enough Bloodshed to be deemed worthy to enter the Brass Citadel.
Slaanesh puts you through the six circles of seduction, tempting you with increasingly powerful gifts in exchange for leaving his champion alone. Lastly, in Nurgle’s pestilent realm you weather heavy attrition and fight his minions on the way to a place that grants immunity, before entering his garden.
Each Realm of Chaos also debuffs you for spending time in it and grants opportunities to quickly replenish the troops you might lose while facing the daemons that inhabit it. They don’t stretch too far but, nonetheless, require you to check the state of your army and consider when to initiate the big battle.
Choosing when to encamp, or dash for a gift can make the difference between you claiming the soul or failing, since other races will also be gunning for them. Fighting my way across Khorne’s realm, I also had to dispatch N’Kari, as he was closer to actually claiming the soul. Needless to say, this triggered a war that spilled outside of the Blood God’s realm, lasting for many turns.
Only your main lord can venture into the Realms of Chaos, so it’s vital to have armies protecting your cities from both mortal enemies and daemons that spew out from the rifts. Quickly closing rifts can avert disaster but, if one opens near your border, you may be able to exploit the rampaging daemonic hordes to weaken opponents. The further along you get in your playthrough, the stronger these invading daemonic armies become.
Warhammer 3’s main campaign mechanic feels quite involved, since you’re pushing into foreign territory rather than hanging back and waiting for Chaos to siege you a bunch, and the four realms do thematically fit their gods. That being said, I’m unsure how much freshness they retain across multiple playthroughs, since the only thing potentially changing is your army composition and the tactics it employs.
Siege battles also receive some attention in Total War: Warhammer 3. Aside from new maps, they’ve been reworked to allow defenders to build barricades and towers at set locations, blocking paths through major and minor settlements, buffing their troops, or debuffing enemies. Like in survival battles, you build them using supplies, a resource that slowly recharges over time. Here, however, it’s also dependent on the defensive buildings in your settlements.
“Total War: Warhammer 3 makes it easy to lose countless hours spilling blood across its lush fields and rugged mountains, even before its Mortal Empires campaign inevitably turns it into a behemoth of a game.”
Attackers can destroy towers and barricades via direct damage or capturing the control points they’re attached to. This does add a new dimension to siege battles, but without fundamentally changing how they ultimately play most of the time. Nonetheless, having a barricade blocking a straight route to the center, as archers rain arrows upon your units from on top of it will make you reconsider where your fliers go next as the rest of your troops either try to break it down or circle around.
Although diplomacy still remains secondary to conquest, Total War: Warhammer 3 has its best iteration in the trilogy, thanks to a number of new features. A quick deal button lets you see at a glance all the deals you can close. Another button lets you balance out certain deals, automatically adding the amount of main currency required to convince the other party to accept.
You can also see who other races treat as a major threat, making them more likely to form alliances against said race. Trespassing armies can now be warned to leave your territory, giving them 2 turns before you can declare war without incurring relationship penalties. You can also threaten races into accepting a deal, but this can turn to war if they’re not impressed by your strength and reject.
Outposts built in allied settlements allow you to recruit units from their rosters in exchange for a currency named Allegiance, which slowly increases over time. You can also gain it by completing allied missions that you can take on whenever you feel like it. It’s a mechanic that lets you add some extra flavor to your roster or fill gaps in your army.
You can also request armies from allies, taking control of them for a number of turns. They’re all small changes but do make interacting with the other forces on the map (non-violently) more satisfying.
During my playthrough as the Daemons of Chaos, I managed to eventually create a common front with Skarbrand and N’kari, who were quite responsive to war coordination targets. This was particularly handy, since every non-Chaos faction automatically hated our guts and the Empire and Kislev remained a constant threat.
Custom battles are also looking good, with a large variety of maps across multiple types – from land to chokepoint, quest, and survival battles – that let you test out different army setups against the AI or friends.
On an i7-8700K, 16 GB RAM, Nvidia RTX 3080@1080p, Total War: Warhammer III had a couple of hitches, particularly towards the later stages of the campaign. In the early game, with everything on ultra, the only issues I noticed were tied to occasional stutters when zooming in and out.
Going into the late game, when alliances revealed more of the map and consolidated enemy forces sent multiple armies and heroes to my provinces, things got really choppy. I could only get a stable 60 FPS by turning the settings down to medium and disabling SSAO.
20v20 battles ran fine the vast majority of the time, with what looked like visual lag in a few isolated instances. The framerate dipped noticeably to around 40-45 in survival battles, but only when the number of units greatly surpassed the usual 20, which put lots of models on the battlefield.
Players can pick from three color profiles – deuteranopia, protanopia, and tritanopia – as well as individually customizable colors for player, enemy, ally, and neutral forces.
Total War: Warhammer 3 launches on PC on February 17. You can grab it from Fanatical, other major storefronts, as well as Xbox Game Pass.
TOTAL WAR: WARHAMMER 3 VERDICT
Total War: Warhammer 3’s only major “downside” comes from it being the final part of an established trilogy that (successfully) iterates on its predecessor’s structure without changing it fundamentally. If you’re not a fan of its streamlined empire management, fantasy setting, and sometimes floaty-feeling combat, there’s not much here that will change your mind.
Otherwise, it’s the best the trilogy has been at launch, with a rich roster of distinct races that compensate for some of their more limited unit choices through fun campaign mechanics or sheer daemonic awesomeness. Its grand campaign objectives require you to be on your toes, always competing with other races as you send expeditions into the domains of the Chaos Gods, while improvements to sieges and diplomacy nicely flesh out the experience.
Total War: Warhammer 3 makes it easy to lose countless hours spilling blood across its lush fields and rugged mountains, even before its Mortal Empires campaign inevitably turns it into a behemoth of a game. If you’re even remotely interested in the series or Warhammer Fantasy, this is one you won’t want to miss.
TOP GAME MOMENT
Ascending as a Daemon Prince of Chaos Undivided and having access to shiny new armor alongside all the high-tier units of the four Chaos Gods.
Good vs Bad
- Deliciously daemonic set of launch races which look and play great
- Main campaign
- New, great lores of magic
- Extra diplomacy and siege features
- Daemons of Chaos and just about everything about them
- Certain charge animations don't quite connect the right way, making them look awkward
- Recruiting exalted variants of units can feel a bit samey as time goes by