Total War: Warhammer III Review – The Glory of the Bear God
Total War: Warhammer IIIFebruary 17th, 2022
The more I play Total War: Warhammer III, the more I like and the renewed focus on having a story. There is a bit of dislike there, but not in equal measures. A story-focused approach to Total War has never failed; either it's been solid and successful, or it's ever-so-slightly veered off the mark but managed to land in the vicinity. The strong story-focused titles include Total War: Three Kingdoms (Romance mode), Total War Saga: Troy, and Total War: Warhammer II. The weaker one, singular, is Total War Saga: Thrones of Britannia.
Where does Total War: Warhammer III stand in this ranking of the more focused Total War's? That's an excellent question, me, and one that I'll endeavour to answer in this review.
I would argue that Total War: Warhammer III has the most directed campaign of any Total War game to date. Or, I should say, it feels it. I would argue that the only one more focused is the Alexander campaign from Rome. The race you had in the previous Warhammer title feels almost amplified here, as you race against all other factions to capture souls from the four Chaos gods. As you progress through the regular campaign, Ursun - the bear god - will roar out in agony. The roar creates rifts; you pop in and fight for a soul or a chaos god. Collect all four, fight Be'lakor for control of Ursun and do what you want with him, should you succeed.
Simple, right? Not completely. You still have your usual Total War grand strategy in between these roarings, but maybe due to the map's layout, which is vast, you can feel a little hemmed in depending on your faction. My main game was with the Grand Cathay, much like my preview. The giant wall, the turtling, spice road, and more all suit my slower pace style. That other factions were gathering souls like they were ready for a trip to Lordran didn't suit my style so much.
While it doesn't suit my style, I can't deny that it does reflect the changing nature of war. From what are essentially lulls to moments of increasingly fervent action as sides compete for a specific goal. There is a level of impetus put on these moments. You feel like you should be acting; you definitely should be. Of course, you can also use one or two of these to build up the home front, hoping that you can catch up later on, but that isn't always guaranteed. Total War games have always had choices. More have recently brought a story-elements, but choices rarely felt as critical as here.
Total War: Warhammer III could feel rushed for those who enjoy the slower pace and the grander strategy of a traditional Total War. Is it necessarily a bad thing? I'm not entirely sure. It genuinely adds a new layer to the series. I imagine that there will be three players invigorated by this impetus for every player that may feel rushed. We know Creative Assembly will release the Total War: Warhammer III equivalent of Mortal Empires for those who want the traditional style. Bringing together all three Total War: Warhammer titles will likely make the grandest of grand strategy maps ever, particularly so when you include the new features with the old.
Still, I can't say much about that until it comes., so let's talk about the map in front of us. It's huge; there's no denying that. Not only that, it brings in the fantastic developments from earlier in the Total War series. The climate system from Total War: Warhammer II makes a return, which does add to the hemmed-in feeling, but it does make sense narratively. From what Wikipedia tells me, the Chaos Wastes are barely a step up from London in habitability.
The paths around the map, adding tactical decisions in army placement, and how you develop your cities is also enjoyable. Naturally, this is dependent on the faction you select - of which there are eight factions, with twelve different starting locations/leaders. One of these, belonging to the Kislev, can't be used unless you have met specific conditions as another Kislev leader. It's not a huge number of factions, but the variety truly comes from the units at your disposal.
As stated, I've primarily played as The Grand Cathay. I've had a dabble with other factions, but these were the ones for me. It has highlighted a few issues with the map and how the story progresses. When Ursun roars and the rifts open, corruption starts spewing out, infesting your lands. It's quicker than the bloody Omicron variant of COVID, and suddenly you're cities are all unhappy, you're suffering from attrition in your lands, and all this while your faction leader is off trying to steal a soul.
It's irritating and all just a little quick, much like the issue of unrest in the original Rome: Total War. Only here, your empire may not even be that big. The problem you've got is that your armies will generally be near your borders, but a rift opens up in the back of your lands and boom, the issues begin. Corruption only takes a handful of turns to completely infest a region, though I love how it visually changes the land to match the particular type of corruption. Still, every time that bloody bear roars, I start to feel like The Desert Rose Band.
Each faction deals with this differently and can suffer the impacts of corruption differently. Still, it leads back to an early worry about the Legion of Chaos being overpowered. I suppose this leans into all five of the chaos factions. It's an interesting balance, but I think the affinity towards corruption gives them an advantage during these events. Maybe they're not overpowered because when the corruption isn't spreading, other factions have distinctive features and benefits at their disposal.
The Grand Cathay have their colossal wall, the spice road, and the compass. Ogres can make forward camps to attack enemies easier, fuel themselves with meat, and can essentially act as mercenaries. Kislev factions will compete to amass devotion, as well as being able to assign province governors and even train particular units/heroes before recruiting them. The four specific chaos factions also have unique features, but I'd honestly need a month to go through them all and get a complete feel.
That's the thing, even though the campaign can go quicker than others, it's still a long campaign. I should also mention that it's also not as simple as entering a rift. Each of the four chaos realms has its unique challenges before you can fight the demonic prince to claim its soul. Of course, you can repeat these challenges since it's entirely possible to fail one of the quest battles.
Not only that, there are benefits to be gained from entering a realm and leaving without a soul, only to come back later. For example, one realm has you passing through gates to the centre, with each gate offering you a new, heightened reward. Not a bad way to boost an early campaign, which I will be doing for my next one.
When you finally get to the end of one of the realms, you participate in a multi-stage battle. It feels pretty fresh and new to the series. These fights genuinely feel huge, with you moving from objective to objective, hoping and praying that your reinforcements will be arriving anytime soon. Interestingly, it's not only these battles that have that new feel. Every single battle in Total War: Warhammer III feels different. Terrian has more obstacles, making it more tactical. Even the smaller towns and villages are layered, with multiple build points to use resources that tick up over time.
Creative Assembly has learned these lessons over the years, and it adds a new level to what is already arguably the best strategy series around. It's also lovely to see the one-off battles have a strong show here in Total War: Warhammer III. I don't know if these are real battles from Warhammer lore, but there are eight in total, and they each offer something of interest. Is the Cauldron of the Great Maw the Ogre equivalent to the Battle of Teutoberg Forest? I certainly don't know, but what I do know is that I like these quest battles.
Much like with Warhammer II, part of what makes this stand out from other games in the series is the sheer variety of units on offer. Hulking monsters, lords that turn into dragons, blimps, magical chariots, warhounds, and an army full of giant ogres, this is before you even look at the horrors available to the legions of chaos. While units' strengths and weaknesses run with the rock-paper-scissors-lizard-Spock system that has featured a long time now, the unique nature of these units - and the inclusion of magic - can throw a metaphorical spanner in the works.
There's only one other thing that springs to mind, and that's the AI. It's improving and learning as the series progresses; it's not that easy to game in campaign diplomacy now. However, in battle, it's still showing a few cracks. It goes for flanking moves, I'll give it that, but it doesn't seem to recognise more than my 'front line', so the angled spurs of units I always use to protect my flanks take the brunt. The AI only needed to run a few more meters and they could hit my artillery.
So yes, there are only a few things I can fault Total War: Warhammer III on. Corruption feels somewhat imbalanced in the campaign, mainly due to the rifts. The campaign can feel a little too much like a race (it is one), which goes against the general grain of Total War, even if the previous Warhammer title did start us off. Also, the AI in battle isn't the sharpest tool in the shed, though I was playing on normal.
Even with these complaints, the positives more than outweigh them. It looks fantastic, particularly with the aesthetic changes due to corruption. The factions feel unique and have unique features and units that help the Warhammer series stand out. Total War: Warhammer III has carried on from where the previous left off, and it works thanks to that.
Now, this is where I realise there's so much else I could talk about, even the smallest of details. Such as how character equipment has been improved, with the Legion of Chaos being the ultimate representation. Skill trees are excellent, with very few feeling like throwaways. So many elements combine to make Total War: Warhammer III the game it is.
In my Total War: Warhammer II review, I stated, "It's bloody good". It got even better when Mortal Empires was released, as you could pick and choose the style of Total War you wanted. What will likely be the most extensive map of Total War history, without the driven story, is something I honestly think Total War: Warhammer III needs to propel itself forward. While this is still a great game, and it is, I don't know if it's as great as some others. It's not Total War: Three Kingdoms. However, it's excellent and one I recommend, and it's hard to imagine it not improving from here.
Review code provided by the publisher.
As the culmination of the Total War: Warhammer trilogy, the story-focused approach combined with massive multiple-part battles feels like the right thing to do. While aspects can make you feel rushed, this is undeniably intentional as you're in a race against all other factions on the map, and the more I play it, the more I like it. The battles feel genuinely epic, with even regular ones seeing significant improvement thanks to excellent design. AI improvements on the campaign map, combined with the unique features of factions, also add another layer to the game. There are a few niggles here and there; the AI has issues during battles. Corruption on the campaign map also feels imbalanced, but while these can be irritating (corruption mainly), they are minor issues in the grand scheme. All in all, Total War: Warhammer III is an excellent game.
- Factions are incredibly varied, with unique features and units adding to their differences.
- Battles have been drastically improved through an overhaul of maps, particularly with minor settlements all feeling unique.
- Resource and building features add a layer of tactics and unpredictability to both offensive and defensive battles.
- Multi-stage quest battles feel genuinely huge and epic and add a new layer to Total War battles.
- Aesthetic improvements, such as corruption changing the land, helps to immerse you into the wastes.
- Features the most directed and story-focused campaign in the series history...
- ... However, this can feel like it's rushing you, particularly when AI factions are getting souls and stopping you, just as you're on the doorstep.
- Corruption spreads far too rapidly, almost feeling like the old Rome: Total War public order and squalor issue (though not quite as bad).
- AI in battles, while improved, is still prone to simple mistakes.