On February 17, 2022, the third game in the Total War: Warhammer (hereafter referred to as Total Warhammer) released. While it was met with positive reviews and good sales numbers, the playerbase at large quickly grew frustrated with the flaws baked into its campaign. From AI that could easily maneuver into unbeatable positions to an annoying rhythm that worked against most of the factions, player numbers dropped precipitously.
But Total Warhammer was always billed as an interconnected trilogy. Owning all the games would grant players a combined campaign containing all of the content from all the titles. This was an ambitious promise to make, and the one on which the reputation of the sub-franchise would rest. On August 23, 2022, six months after launch, the combined campaign for Total Warhammer 3, titled “Immortal Empires,” was finally ready. Dropping alongside the first DLC for the game and benefiting from months of patching, it was effectively a second launch for the game. With a complete reworking of the Warriors of Chaos faction from all the way back in Total Warhammer 1 and a massive new campaign, it was a chance for developer Creative Assembly to right the ship. And they did. Given this dramatic turnabout, it’s worth reconsidering the game. This is, at its core, the real game, and the one that deserves to be reviewed and scrutinized, leaving the flawed original release something of an unfortunate stint in Early Access.
Bigger Is Better
The most striking thing about Immortal Empires is the staggering size of it. There are now 23 factions, divided into 86 sub-factions, each with their own unique starting locations and campaign objectives, and nearly 300 provinces to conquer. I’ve never played a strategy game with so much to choose from. Nearly the entirety of the Warhammer Fantasy world is mapped out and ready to be fought over.
And since each sub-faction is led by a unique Legendary Lord who brings their own special advantages and even gameplay mechanics to the table, there’s a huge variety of experiences to be had despite the static map. It would take dozens of turns to travel from one end of the map to the other if you could do so without danger, but with potential enemies and allies around every corner, it becomes a vast and unpredictable sandbox where you may never see more than your little corner or may venture out into chaotic new fronts in your war for victory.
Given all of this, it’s unsurprising that Immortal Empires has been released as a beta feature. The amount of content, pulled as it is from three discrete games, is so huge that Creative Assembly has admitted that it can’t catch every bug without essentially having the community help them identify fringe issues and share their experiences. But turn times are remarkably swift (as long as you are using an SSD; I cannot emphasize enough how much you should play this game on an SSD) and I’ve found it to be quite stable across four campaigns, with few crashes or bugs. Reading online about others’ experiences, it certainly seems like there are plenty of things to be ironed out, but the campaign is quite playable and fully featured already.
Tried and True Gameplay
With the scope of Immortal Empires out of the way, we can turn our eye to the actual gameplay of Total Warhammer 3. It is the long-established Total War formula, with the game divided neatly into two halves: the campaign map, a turn-based affair where the player manages settlements, conducts diplomacy, and manages armies, and battles, a real-time experience where two or more armies clash on the field.
Compared to other Total War titles, Total Warhammer is a punchier, faster experience. There are fewer complexities to deal with when managing towns and vastly more variety on the field of battle. On the campaign side of things, this is largely an improvement, dispensing with fiddly and often tedious settlement micromanagement in favor of clearer upgrades that funnel the player up to their maximum power without a lot of tradeoffs or build orders to worry about.
In battle, spells fly and armies clash in fights that tend to be much faster than the average Total War encounter. The sweeping variety of units is made more manageable by being divided into categories that apply across all factions; while the stats and utility of any given unit may vary wildly from another, the player can be sure that infantry, monsters, cavalry, and other categories will function similarly across factions.
Changer of Ways
If you played Total Warhammer 3 at release, you may be wondering what all has changed in the intervening months. Besides bug fixes and retooling to make the Realms of Chaos campaign more bearable, bound spells have been reverted to the way they worked in Total Warhammer 2 (units with bound spells can cast them for free, but have limited uses), the Realms of Chaos map has been somewhat expanded, and the blood DLC and Champions of Chaos DLC have been made available.
The blood DLC is just a cosmetic that allows Creative Assembly to get around rating agencies that would slap the game with a Mature-or-equivalent-or-even-higher rating if it included blood and gore, and owning the blood DLC for any Total Warhammer title applies it to all of them. But the Champions of Chaos DLC add a new faction to the game, the Warriors of Chaos. Owners of Total Warhammer 1 will remember them as that game’s first DLC faction, an underbaked horde faction that could mindlessly rampage across the map if it could overcome its extreme early game disadvantages. The faction has been completely reworked and plays very little as it once did. It can now conquer settlements, but can also easily vassalize certain other factions, can make sacrifices to the Chaos Gods for powerful demonic units and special buffs, and can upgrade lowly Marauders all the way up to powerful Aspiring Champions. It’s a substantial improvement, and free to anyone who owns the Warriors, whether through the first game’s DLC or the newest DLC (though you’ll need to own both to have access to all of their content in Immortal Empires). The Champions of Chaos DLC is a great one, and even if you only own Total Warhammer 3 and don’t want to purchase the first two games, the DLC is a significantly better campaign and a worthy addition to the game.
High Cost of Living
Which brings us to the sticky matter of how much all of this costs. In order to experience Total Warhammer 3 at its best, you have to at least own the base game and the newest DLC. But for the Immortal Empires campaign, the campaign that is the promise of the entire trilogy, you have to own all three games. And in order to play with any factions and units that were added as DLC in those earlier games, you must buy them, as well. Just estimating, the full price of the full Total Warhammer experience–without anything purchased on sale–is north of $200. It’s a steal compared to the eye-watering prices of Warhammer tabletop games, but for a video game it’s a huge ask. And on top of that, you’ll need to sign up for Creative Assembly’s annoying corporate account in order to get a variety of free DLC (FLC), and hunt around Steam product pages to find even more FLC that is scattered around. It’s an expensive pain in the ass if you’re starting from scratch, and while I’m a huge fan of the trilogy, it would be absolutely unfair to omit how big the commitment is. The one saving grace is that you don’t need all three games installed at once, so at least your hard drive space is spared that.
The End Times
This is not an exhaustive review. I haven’t touched the competitive multiplayer modes or cooperative campaigns, so I can’t speak to what those features may offer. And there are so many different elements of the game that I couldn’t possibly cover everything worth mentioning. Total Warhammer is a vast, ambitious, and fun game. Across three games it has received over six years of support and improvements, and Creative Assembly are promising that there will be at least 100 sub-factions to play as before all is said and done. It’s a huge time sink and expensive to boot, but it’s also some of the best strategy gaming I’ve ever experienced. If you’re a strategy fan or a Warhammer Fantasy fan or even just a fan of big watching orcs beat the shit out of elves, there’s probably something for you here.