We're now less than a month from the release of Creative Assembly's next Warhammer effort, and we've tried the campaign.
With the release of Total War: Warhammer III less than a month away, it was rather exciting to have a go at the game, having watched Creative Assembly's gameplay videos for a while. It was a huge disappointment for fans when the game was postponed last year, but as most logical beings do, I personally prefer to wait a little extra for a game that is fully polished, as five years of Total War: Warhammer has shown us that a lot of last minute changes and tweaks are needed to bring this fantastic desktop game to the digital world.
CA started the rather short preview with a pleasant surprise: a new unannounced race to play, along with the partially better-known Grand Cathay. This phrasing comes from the fact that while most playable races in the game have existed for 30+ years, Grand Cathay is... well, not a main race of the Warhammer world, and therefore has very little in the way of lore and complete unit rosters unlike most of the other factions. However, CA has managed to create and merge them into the game in a way where those that do not play or know the desktop game wouldn't even notice. Grand Cathay is built around a Chinese theme, their rulers being dragons in human form (yes, I strongly suspect Blizzard took inspiration from this when creating Onyxia, Nefarion etc. just as they "borrowed" very heavily from the Warhammer universe in general) and they rule a great nation with a great wall that keeps out hordes of enemies. Not Mongols, but Chaos Daemons - a rather more problematic enemy. They have a harmony system with yin and yang synergies, jade warriors, living terracotta constructs, alchemy, vast use of gunpowder-based weapons, and peasant infantry, and a visual style that in all but name is Chinese, hell, they even got a silk road trading caravan system - which is surprisingly tactical in nature. Just as the new harmony system forces the player to not only have their regional buildings maintain balance between being aggressive and defensive, so is the case when building an army, as having forces that are very saturated with one troop type will result in lost bonuses, which are needed for winning battles.
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The new race sparked a hope inside this writer. Finally, Chaos Dwarfs, the Dawi-Zharr will be in the game and ready to play. CA has taken the last route on the road to eternal damnation and seen Daemon Princes of Chaos Undivided making their way into the game. This race is rather unique in that it combines all four Chaos gods into one faction, with daemons of each god becoming unlocked after spending god-specific points, gained from settlements and battle. This will, in theory, allow you to field vast and extremely complex armies, almost as complex as the new advanced corruption system, which ensures that anyone treading upon your lands will feel the power of your favourite Chaos god. The skill tree system for this faction is rather strange, and honestly only geared towards collection of god-specific points, but this is made up for by having your general, always a Daemon Prince, being able to swap out body parts, including horns and a tail, which you have unlocked, and this can be done on the fly, meaning that you can suit you general to the battle type, changing him from a fiery tank in one battle, to a pure wizard for the next.
While other races don't have this feature, it is re-used with other races in the new magic items equipment menu that like everything else has been given a visual overhaul. There are many new systems and upgrades in the game, some, like the new and more advanced diplomacy system partially taken from Total War Saga: Troy works great, while I personally find the usage of large areas in the menus with brownish colours a bit too much. While the colour palette and colour temperature in TWW: II was near perfect, I personally find the new game to be based way too much on the bright and glossy colour scheme of Total War Saga: Troy and Total War: Three Kingdoms. It makes the game look too much like, well, a computer game, and less like a 3D art piece, which the second game managed to hit to near perfection. The UI generally has been re-fitted with many elements from the last two games, and while I don't agree with all the changes, I must admit that the game feels fresh, new and alive, despite it being the third in the series.
While I still look forward to the new campaign map being integrated into the Mortal Empires system, thus combining all three games, I must admit that both the factions we got to play work very differently. As they should. This becomes especially clear when trying the new, and much much improved siege system, and while I don't agree on some design choices, such as cities not being walled and gated all around, the new supply and multiple attack system works very well. I almost miss having my troops blown to kingdom come before docking the walls with siege towers and battering rams, as the new inter-city check-point and choke-point structure gives for way more complex battles that are actually winnable when playing as the defender, and adding total chaos when attacking.
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The tactical advantage of flying units has also increased a lot, which brings me hope that before I die, I might get to try a Warhammer 40,000 version of Total War, as many of the gameplay mechanics in the table-top game seems to have been implemented into the game-system with some of the more peculiar mechanics, such as energy shield barriers for daemons, and spells, reflections of incoming missiles, and flying units that can toggle flying mode on and off.
The game world has also been changed, it is much more tightly packed, has shorter travel distances, more lush vegetation, and a butt-load of non-playable factions that can make your life miserable, but act fully independently, and adding all of these new factions and constant encounters really adds to make the world feel more alive, well, unless it's the forces of Chaos which technically are physically manifested magic energy, but you get the point.
What actually impressed me was that the different Daemon types play very differently, making the overall strategy a lot more difficult, and maintaining the tactical overview more important. Grand Cathay I expected to be, at least in my version, weaker but faster Dwarfs, sitting back, blasting away, and then attack with heavy infantry. Don't get me wrong, its my preferred tactic in most games, but I was rather surprised when a combination of well-considered magic use and utilisation of the yin-yang harmony system enabled me to defeat a much stronger Chaos Marauder force that attacked my convoy. But then, I have heeded the words of the great general Kenobi - always have the high ground. Which brings me to the last point, terrain, this has also been improved and plays a much more tactical role now than before. Even Ogres met defeat with a few quick considerations. With less than a month until launch, Total War: Warhammer III looks well polished and with a great number of expansion opportunities, I can't wait for February 17th.