Total War: Warhammer 3 preview — Unleashing creativity and Chaos with role-playing strategy

Total War Warhammer 3 Miao Ying
Total War Warhammer 3 Miao Ying (Image credit: Windows Central)

In building Total War: Warhammer 3, development studio Creative Assembly has the complete trust of Warhammer parent company Games Workshop. That's clear without being said, but it's something the developers are eager to emphasize anyway.

"Let's kill a god. That's probably not something that the average licensee is allowed to do," principal writer Andy Hall notes with a laugh.

The past four years have seen the launch of two massive games and innumerable DLC packs in the Total War series, with quite a bit of older lore and expanded ideas. This is all culminating in Total War: Warhammer 3. In hand with Games Workshop, this game sees the debut of an expanded Kislevite roster and the first true appearance of Grand Cathay. It's only fitting that the game's story similarly pushes boundaries.

Going into RPG territory

Source: Sega (Image credit: Source: Sega)

Ursun is dying. The God-Bear of the Kislevite pantheon has been dealt a fatal blow and is held prisoner by Be'lakor, the first Daemon Prince, with Ursun's death throes preventing travel to and from the Realm of Chaos outside of particular rifts. This galvanizes the various factions and kicks off the campaign, as Kislev seeks to restore their god, Cathay needs him alive for information he has, the forces of Chaos want to take his power. And the Ogre Kingdoms? Well, they're always hungry and a god sounds like the best meal of all.

No matter their goals, each faction will have to gather the power to defeat Be'lakor. To do so, they'll first need to beat a champion of each of the Chaos gods, rushing in to exploit the rifts into the Realms of Chaos that are being created by Ursun's pained roars.

In building this campaign, the developers took notes from what did and didn't work in the Eye of the Vortex campaign from Total War: Warhammer 2. By having rifts open up for travel, with fair warning that the forces of Chaos will start pouring out if you don't take action, the team is hoping to avoid the pains of the Eye of the Vortex, which required players to take specific locations on the map.

"It's in player control, rather than something we're just throwing at you and you have to deal with," game director Ian Roxburgh explains.

During a recent preview event, I got the chance to try out two of the factions in Total War: Warhammer 3 for almost eight hours. The first was The Northern Provinces, which is a portion of Cathay under the control of Miao Ying, the Storm Dragon. The second was the Daemons of Chaos — or Chaos Undivided — under the command of a mysterious Daemon Prince. Both factions were quite fun to play, but it's with the latter that Creative Assembly is making one of its biggest leaps yet, a leap that could help make this one of the best PC games available.

Total War Warhammer 3 Daemonic Glory (Image credit: Windows Central)

Total War Warhammer 3 Daemons Of Chaos Campaign Map (Image credit: Windows Central)

Source: Windows Central

When playing as the Daemons of Chaos, Total War: Warhammer 3 transforms into a full RPG. Leading the forces of Chaos united, this Daemon Prince earns favor from all four dark gods and can be completely customized by the player. Maybe you want a tail snapping with extra mouths, granted by Tzeentch? Throw in a fiery sword given by Khorne, pustule-laden wings of Nurgle and a slender, clawed arm of Slaanesh and you've got just one of the hundreds of millions of combinations possible.

When playing as the Daemons of Chaos, Total War: Warhammer 3 transforms into a full RPG.

This Daemon Prince earns Daemonic Glory for completing missions and dedicating settlements, with a separate track for all four gods. The more you earn the favor of a particular god, the more body parts and weapons from that god you unlock for your Daemon Prince, while also unlocking higher-tier units from that god's roster. You're left without the weaknesses of a monogod faction, though you'll need to do a careful balancing act to unlock things equally.

You can even rename your prince before beginning (I opted for the oh-so-creative Sa-mu-el) allowing you to further customize the Daemon. This makes it apparent that this is your Legendary Lord, on a scale that hasn't previously been possible in these games.

"In the army book descriptions, it says [the Daemons of Chaos] look as uncountable as the dreams of men," Hall helpfully explains. "So there was obviously an opportunity there to take Total War into almost a role-playing aspect, allowing the players to not just aesthetically create a brand new character every time they play this campaign but also try different loadouts."

Diplomacy, at last!

Source: Windows Central (Image credit: Source: Windows Central)

Heading back to Cathay, things are similarly positive, if more traditional. There's a whole bevy of changes for Cathay and other factions in the game, including sorely-needed reworks for diplomacy. At long last, you can tell intruders who haven't declared war to get out of your land without a diplomatic penalty. If you're tired of haggling, you can also click a button that'll simply have the AI tell you how much money will be needed to secure a deal. Perhaps, most importantly, region trading is now available, meaning it's no longer a huge problem when your ally has a settlement that keeps you from controlling a province.

More important repercussions are found in the ability to build outposts in your allies' cities. Not only does an outpost provide additional reinforcements for your ally, but it allows you to recruit limited quantities of units from your ally's roster. This means expanded army customization, so you can grab a couple of units from a faction you've allied with, adding another strategic layer to which factions you prioritize your diplomatic efforts on.

In theory, the possibilities this provides are endless, especially when you consider the upcoming post-launch combined map of all three Total War: Warhammer games.

Source: Windows Central (Image credit: Source: Windows Central)

Diplomacy functions as a major overhaul for the campaign map, but it's the siege battle reworks that stand out when you're actually fighting. Maps no longer consist of the basic single wall with the city behind it reduced to set dressing. Instead, there are region-appropriate differences, even if walls haven't been constructed in a settlement. A Norsca encampment might have multiple levels carved into the ice shelf, while a village in Cathay has several ways in, complete with bridges and chokepoints.

"It's something we know that fans have wanted to see in the Total War: Warhammer games from the start," Roxburgh notes. "We're glad that the success of Warhammer 1 and 2 is what enabled us to go bigger and better with Warhammer 3. We had more time and more budget to go and do these kinds of things."

Not content to stop there, Creative Assembly is also pushing into new territory with multiplayer support. While two-player co-op was available in the prior games, it was somewhat slow. Total War: Warhammer 3 introduce eight-player co-op, meaning you and up to seven friends can all play the campaign at the same time. Best of all, this comes with simultaneous turn support, so there's no waiting on someone to finish before you get to play.

Final thoughts

Source: Windows Central (Image credit: Source: Windows Central)

There are still things to tighten up. Creative Assembly noted some issues still being ironed out, including performance problems and a black square issue when in battles, both of which I noted in my time playing the preview build. Hopefully these problems won't be present in the final release.

Eight hours divided between these two factions is only scratching the surface.

Looking beyond launch, all three games are going to be combined into a massive, Mortal Empires-esque mega-campaign. Details are still vague — "It's coming," Hall states with a chuckle — but the developers note it'll be the culmination of everything that the studio has wanted to accomplish since the very beginning. The DLC team that worked on Total War: Warhammer 2 is already getting started, with Roxburgh teasing that there's a big plan in place for post-launch content in Total War: Warhammer 3 as well.

I previously wrote about how Total War: Warhammer 3 could realize the vision of the tabletop games, and I only feel stronger about that after having had this taste of Cathay and Chaos. Eight hours divided between these two factions is only scratching the surface but I'm already happy with the changes being introduced in this grand finale.

*Total War: Warhammer 3 is currently slated to launch on Feb. 18, 2022 for PC. It's available for preorder right on Steam, the Epic Games Store and the Microsoft Store. It's also going to be available day one on PC Game Pass. *

Samuel Tolbert
Freelance Writer

Samuel Tolbert is a freelance writer covering gaming news, previews, reviews, interviews and different aspects of the gaming industry, specifically focusing on Xbox and PC gaming on Windows Central. You can find him on Twitter @SamuelTolbert.