Total War Warhammer 3, The final instalment in Creative Assembly’s pc strategy game series based on Games Workshop’s Warhammer Fantasy Battles tabletop game has arrived at last. It is available for pc on Steam, the Epic Games Store and Windows PC Game Pass (which is the platform we reviewed it on).
In this Total War Warhammer 3 review, we go through all the new factions and features added to the game series, as well as take a look at what the game might mean for those tabletop fans looking forward to a new version of the tabletop game.
If you’re a long-time Warhammer nerd, a fan of the Total War series, or a complete newcomer to the world of Total War: Warhammer, this review is for you.
Total War Warhammer 3 Review: The Final Chapter in a Great Series
If you’re not familiar with the Total War pc game franchise, the core design is that you control a faction, complete with armies, cities, agents and tax rates on a big world map full of other factions (think Civilization or the Risk board games), where you take turns with other factions to manage your empire and move your armies around.
When armies clash in land battles or sieges, the game switches to real-time battles (like Age of Empires or Starcraft) where literally thousands of soldiers clash in a way so immersive that no other video game has ever really managed to capture quite the same feel.
Over the last couple of decades, the franchise has portrayed medieval Japan, the Imperial Age in Europe, the rise and fall of the Roman Empire, the European Middle Ages, the Three Kingdoms period in China, the battles of Alexander the Great and a few other minor theatres of war.
In 2016, the Total War series stepped far outside its historical comfort zone and released Total War: Warhammer, which was the first Total War game where Creative Assembly used a fictional IP as the setting of the game.
With this shift in setting came a host of new features: suddenly, there was a magic system, legendary heroes as strong as a small army, artifacts and hero equipment, skill trees and, above all, factions that were much less symmetrical in design than what the franchise had tackled so far.
The change to a fantasy world was definitely controversial at first. Even though previous Total War titles rarely played out their scenarios the way they happened in real world history, many history fans felt that a fantasy Total War was just too far from the soul of the franchise.
While this opinion is still held by some parts of the game’s community, and I personally would love to see Creative Assembly do more historical titles, the many DLC’s for Total War: Warhammer, and its even more distinct sequel, Total War: Warhammer 2, clearly demonstrated that sourcing factions and features from Warhammer lore was slowly turning Creative Assembly into much better and more creative designers of strategy games.
Even in the first game, there was a world of difference between playing the versatile rank and file European Rennaisance army of the Empire, The Vampire Counts who had no ranged weapons at all, and the slow and defensive gunline of the Dwarfs, but then the wandering horde of the Beastmen came along along other DLC faction packs, and finally Total War: Warhammer 2 broadened the palette even more with Skaven hit and run tactics, the monstrous Lizardmen and the noble High Elves – just to name a few!
The greatest feature of the Total War series so far, however, is the Mortal Empires campaign, which combines all the factions of Total War: Warhammer 1 and 2 into a truly massive campaign map where everyone fights for world domination.
Since each faction has 2-5 different subfactions with different starting points on the map, special abilities, legendary lords and so on, this turns the game into the largest and arguably most complex 4x/RTS hybrid pc game out there. Truly a landmark strategy game! If you’re a long time fan of the Warhammer universe and its lore, Mortal Empires can feel truly magical. If you’re not, it can also feel a bit overwhelming.
After adding to, and fine-tuning, the Mortal Empires campaign for years, Creative Assembly finally began revealing details about the last instalment in the series, Total War: Warhammer 3. Releasing another game in the series rather than just another piece of DLC indicated that it was time for some major changes to how the game plays, but whether or not that is actually the case with Warhammer 3 is a question that requires a complicated answer.
So as long-standing fans of games workshop miniature games, here is our take on Total War Warhammer 3.
Is Total War Warhammer The Tabletop Game Come to Life?
Before we go into the specifics of Warhammer 3, I want to make one thing clear. If you’ve played the series a lot, you probably already know this, but for newcomers coming to this game from the tabletop game, it can’t be emphasized enough: Warhammer 3 is still much more Total War than Warhammer.
Yes, trailers and screenshots showcasing the amazing unit design Creative Assembly has aced from the get go might look like what you imagine/imagined as a kid playing games with your Warhammer Fantasy plastic miniatures, and the game series is absolutely packed with cool bits of Warhammer Lore. You’ll find some of your favorite characters, visit cool locations from Black Library Warhammer books, and cast spells your wizards on the tabletop could also cast.
However, what you’re doing most of the time in Warhammer 3 isn’t anything like those amazing battles:
You’re managing an empire, and even if your faction is fundamentally opposed to the concept of order and civilization, such as if you’re the Beastmen or the armies of the Chaos God Khorne, you’re still spending time each turn managing your finances, figuring out tech trees, causing or preventing civil revolts, moving agents around and so on. It’s a strategy rather than a tactics game, most of the time. If that’s not your cup of tea, Total War Warhammer III is going to get annoying very quickly.
The realtime battles that make up the second half of the game are extremely beautiful, cinematic and immersive – when you’re watching a recorded playback of one. Since the dawn of the Warhammer series, Creative Assembly has continued adding amazing model animations to all units so that when you zoom in, you can see two heroes trading blows or an ork knocking an Empire knight off his horse, but: since the battles are in realtime, rather than turnbased like the tabletop game, you don’t really have time to admire all those cool little details.
Instead, you manage most of the battles from a near-top down perspective, carefully maneuvering your units to face in the right direction, use abilities at the right time, escape incoming charges and so on. Even when you get very good at it, at least the second half of a battle ends up as something equivalent of you and your tabletop opponents pushing literal piles of mixed plastic models around on the battlefield in very loose formations, and that really doesn’t look or feel very epic.
This doesn’t mean those battles aren’t fun! It just means that they’re much more about being good at RTS games and the second-to-second micromanagement that’s become the pedigree of that genre since games like Starcraft and and Command & Conquer than about being a fantasy general with an army full of style and personality.
Total War Warhammer 3 is cooler when thinking about it than what it actually feels to play
All of this can boil down to a frustration that I know I share with many other fans of the Total War: Warhammer series: it’s a lot cooler in my imagination when I’m not playing it than what I actually experience every time I cave in and reinstall the latest version of the game.
Often when a new faction DLC comes out, I end up buying it, so excited to see how it would feel to be, say, the undead pirates of the Warhammer universe – only to discover that it’s still about bureaucracy, min-maxing an economy and speeding up game speed while my cavalry chases down those last 5 spearmen of the enemy army hiding behind a tree at the edge of the map.
It’s really annoying, because the existence of a Total War: Warhammer series surely suggests that it should be a bit like playing a video game version of the amazing fictional universe Games Workshop has lovingly crafted over the last 30 years.
The bad news is that this frustration remains in Total War: Warhammer 3, and we’ll get around to that a bit later. The good news is that Warhammer III, more than any other game or DLC in the series, has taken great strides toward bridging the gap between the historical framework of Total War and the dark, magical and immersive world of the Warhammer Universe. This is achieved primarily through its amazing new campaign, which I will get into in the following section.
The Dying God
If you’ve played a game in the series before, you’ll notice the new direction of Warhammer 3 immediately through the mere existence of its prologue campaign. This new type of campaign sets the scene for the game’s storyline through a mini-campaign crafted in so much detail that it sometimes feels like something out of Warcraft 3 or another similarly narrative strategy game.
In the prologue, you follow Yuri Barkov, a prince of the Northern human faction of Kislev, a fantasy-Slavic society of bear-worshippers who are humanity’s bulwark against daemonic incursions from the Chaos Wastes.
Barkov sets out to find the Kislevite’s missing bear god Ursun in said Chaos Wastes, but the closer he gets to figuring out what’s happened to the god of his people, the closer he also gets to the influence of Chaos and… things get interesting.
The prologue campaign is a great little piece of grimdark Warhammer storytelling in its own right, but it’s also an excellent tutorial that helped me understand gameplay basics much better than I ever have, even after having played the previous games quite a lot.
I won’t spoil too much of the story here, but suffice to say that the main campaign for each faction in Warhammer 3 ends up revolving around expeditions into the realms of the various Ruinous Powers of Chaos to gain enough power to deal with the missing bear-god of Kislev, which is a badass setup for a game story if I ever heard one.
Ruinous Powers of Chaos is here
Warhammer 3 has eight factions out of the box, and in many ways, the Ruinous Powers are the stars of the show.
There’s a faction for each of the four main Chaos Gods, and while the Chaos factions of previous Total War titles have focused on mortal Chaos Warriors, this time around, it’s all about the Daemons.
Daemons of Khorne
The Daemons of Khorne, the Chaos God of Rage, are an almost exclusively close combat faction that’s great for beginners because it’s all about just running at the enemy and killing stuff.
Killing things in the campaign helps you gain momentum with increased campaign movement and the generation of free Khorne armies on the campaign map – it’s basically an avalanche of blood-thirsty, flame sword-wielding horned daemons of the pure heavy metal record cover variety.
Daemons of Nurgle
The Daemons of Nurgle, the Chaos God of Decay, on the other hand, are slow and resilient, spreading disease and plague while being hard to put down.
Their campaign mechanics are some of the most interesting in the game, since their buildings follow the cycle of blooming and decaying that Nurgle is known for, so their efficiency will vary from turn to turn. That mechanic is more interesting than fun, though, and in my experience, Nurgle forces generally just felt a bit unwieldy.
Daemons of Tzeentch
The Daemons of Tzeentch, the Chaos God of Change, are all about flying and flinging magic at the enemy, and if you like spells, they’re absolutely the way to go. Their armies are terrifying to play against ( I didn’t play their campaign myself), since they’re hitting you at range while closing in with their flying units all over the place. They’re not as durable as the other Chaos armies, however.
Daemons of Slaanesh
The Daemons of Slaanesh, the Chaos God of Excess, are very unique as well, and excel at turning the desires of their enemies into an advantage by seducing enemy units to join them and creating a vassal state out of defeated enemy faction. They’re also very fearsome in battle with tons of fast units charging into battle on foot and on … some horrible twisted thing they use for cavalry. Slaanesh stuff is weird.
Daemons of Chaos
Finally, Daemons of Chaos is a really cool and unusual hybrid faction where you play as a Daemon Prince trying to gain favour from the different Chaos Gods, meaning that you can mix and match between daemon units from other Chaos factions, depending on who you’re getting along with.
The coolest thing about the Daemons of Chaos is their legendary lord, a Daemon Prince that you can equip with different limbs and appendages depending on which gods bestows their gifts upon him. He’s almost like an RPG character and a very original addition to the Total War franchise.
Unexplored Corners of the Old Word
Apart from the Chaos factions, the game also features 3 other factions, and two of them are very exciting if you’re a Warhammer fan, since they’ve never really had a full army in the tabletop game.
First among those is the aforementioned Kislev, which had a few models in the Warhammer Fantasy Battles tabletop game, but here, they’re a fully developed faction that goes all in on bears, beards, ice magic and religious orthodoxy in a way that pretty perfectly balances historical inspiration and the secret ingredients that make something feel like Warhammer.
Kislev has been front and center in the promotion of the game, and their campaign is recommended for beginners in the game’s campaign menu, but they’re actually pretty complex to play – most units can shoot and fight, and your ice witches require a lot of precision play to have the maximum effect on the outcomes of battles. They’re always fun to play, however, and feel pretty familiar if you’ve played the previous two instalments in the Total War: Warhammer series.
Grand Cathay is a faction that’s mostly just been looming in the distance in Warhammer lore, but Creative Assembly has developed them into a full faction with the help of Games Workshop’s design studio. They’re a heavily Chinese-inspired faction (and that’s a huge understatement) with dragons, kite/balloon hybrid artillery, terra cotta warriors, a Great Wall and even a yin/yang Harmony mechanic.
They’re really well-designed, but I really don’t think they feel distinctly Warhammer enough. If someone had made a faction for a Might & Magic Heroes game, the Warcraft series or the Endless Legend games with this exact unit roster, it wouldn’t have looked out of place at all. It’s simply missing some proper grimdark and a bit more wild imagination in my opinion – it seems like a very Orientalist interpretation of East Asian mythology and culture. The fact that they’re scheduled to show up in the upcoming Warhammer The Old World tabletop game makes me a bit worried for that game.
Ogre Kingdoms made an appearance in Total War: Warhammer 2 as mercenary faction, but in Warhammer 3, they’re there as the only faction outside the Chaos vs. Humans conflict. They’re all about devouring stuff and feeding their god the Great Maw, and function as a semi-nomadic Horde faction that builds camps outside settlements. They’re equal parts hilarious and terrifying, with ellite armies consisting mostly of big hungry brutes and monsters.
Total War Warhammer 3 is Still Frustrating, but getting a lot better
All these new factions are available to play through the new campaign, which is mostly great due to its focus on the narrative of the bear god and the Chaos realms. Every 30 turns, rifts will open up everywhere that spew out Chaos armies, and you can pass through those to challenge the Chaos Gods.
A new, awesome addition to battles is the Survival Battles at the end of every Chaos realm, which mix the classic Total War battles with a kind of tower defence game where you fight through various phases of a battle, building towers and walls as well as buying reinforcements while waves of Chaos Daemons assault you.
I’m sure they’ll annoy some Total War veterans, but I found them very entertaining and a good way of breaking up the chaos that a battle in this type of game usually turns into over time.
Battles are otherwise much the same as they always was – pretty but messy – but a few quality of life updates such as an idle icon on units that aren’t doing anything add up to a more user-friendly experience than I’ve ever seen in a Total War game. I hope these additions will be part of Total War DNA from now on.
Diplomacy in the strategy part of the game also seems much better, and if you don’t want to fiddle too much with it, you can just let the game auto-generate “quick deals” you can pull off with other factions. If you liked fiddling, all the old diplomacy detail is still in there.
In general, Warhammer III feels like a game that is getting comfortable with providing players with a choice between automation and streamlining on one side and complexity and micromanagement on the other, with the option to go for complexity in some aspects and streamlining in others, and that’s wonderful.
The balance isn’t perfect, though: automate too much, and the game quickly becomes dull; micro-manage everything, and your real enemy becomes getting overwhelmed and rage-uninstalling when a minor oversight derails your entire campaign strategy. And remember – this is just the main campaign of the game. When the game becomes part of the Mortal Empires mega-campaign with the two other games, now called Immortal Empires, these problems will just be even more evident. In that sense, the series is starting to crumble under its own weight, and I’m starting to look forward to a change of setting for the franchise, but more on that below.
Technical Issues in Total War Warhammer 3
Just a short note on this – the game’s graphical performance is really great, and I didn’t run into any big lag issues of performance instability, but the game has quite a few other bugs at launch (some of these might be specific to the PC Game Pass version I am playing and might have better luck with the epic games store version or steam).
When I first installed it, there was no text until I changed the language of my OS to English, and the game has also crashed to desktop more than once. The menus also often hang for 10 seconds or more when I try to access custom battles from the main menu, and it seems that I keep discovering little bugs like these. I’m sure most of these bugs will be fixed over time, but if you’re planning on buying the game now, be aware that it’s not in perfect shape, and you might want to wait a month or two.
Only the Beginning
It feels a bit weird to review Total War: Warhammer III when it’s just been released. We know this is just the beginning: There’s the aforementioned Immortal Empires campaign on the way, which most players will probably spend most of their time on, but that might be months away.
In addition to that, if the previous games are anything to go by, the next couple of years will see a steady stream of free and paid content released for the game, and that’s actually what I’m most excited about with this release. Most of the obvious factions have already been added to the series over the course of the previous games, which is why we’re seeing something like the Cathay faction in the starting lineup for this game, and that means that things are about to get weird, obscure and creative.
Rumours are already circulating that the slave-powered forces of the Chaos Dwarfs are next in line to be released, but what comes after that? the Japanese-inspired Nippon faction? Some Imperial subfactions from Warhammer lore turned into full releases?
There will probably also be units added to existing factions, so how about some more mortal followers for the Chaos gods? I must admit I miss having the Blightkings introduced in the End Times of the Warhammer tabletop game in my Nurgle army, and I even think the game could borrow some stuff from the other Warhammer fantasy game, Age of Sigmar, without breaking lore too much.
Finally, could there be some sort of endgame for the series in the works? A final showdown? The Warhammer Fantasy Battles game ended in a big apocalypse in 2015, and maybe the Total War: Warhammer series could see a similar final Ragnarok play out in the Immortal Empires campaign? I think that would be amazing.
The Future of the Old World
Finally, over the last couple of years, Games Workshop has been teasing that the Warhammer Fantasy universe is returning to the tabletop in the form of Warhammer: The Old World, and they’ve revealed that some of the stuff they’ve developed with Creative Assembly for Warhammer III will also make its way to this new Old World.
As mentioned above, I am a bit worried about that since the new additions to the game seem a bit less confidently Warhammer than what fans are used to, and I don’t think anyone wants Warhammer to move towards generic high fantasy. Part of the fascination many of us have with Games Workshop’s fictional universes is how it remixes existing tropes by adding satire and horror, and I think that’s missing a bit, especially in Grand Cathay, but also in the Kislev Faction to some degree.
Let’s hope good old GW takes their time to perfect the design while fans enjoy Warhammer 3. You can follow all news about the upcoming Old World game on this site here.
Final Verdict: Creative Assembly perfects their formula – for better or worse
So, is Total War: Warhammer 3 the best Total War game so far? If you liked the Total War: Warhammer series up until now, the answer is a resounding yes.
As this review makes pretty clear, the series still has plenty of problems, and it has yet to fully realize the dream of bringing the Warhammer Fantasy tabletop game to PC monitors. But by Sigmar, it tries, and in Warhammer 3, it gets closer than ever, offering plenty of fan service to even the craziest lore nerds, while also making the series much more accessible to newcomers, which makes me hopeful for the next decade of Total War games, whatever setting they might be in.
If you like huge battles that remind you of why you love the Warhammer tabletop game, Warhammer III isn’t entirely that, but it’s still the closest to it you’ll get at the moment.
And if you do decide to get Total War 3, be sure to check out this Total War: Warhammer 3 tips article over at JoyFreak.