We have had the pleasure of playing a very short part of the new Total War: Warhammer III game, and it's new type of battle, Survival Battle. But let's call it what it is, Invasion. It depicts two of the new factions, Kislev and Daemons of Khorne, and in our case, we were pitched against the forces of Khorne, after we had just invaded their home turf.
In this fiery hell hole there are daemons left, right and centre, and they come in waves. Luckily for you, you earn resources to spend on buildings, be it fortifications or towers that shoot or slow the enemy, and you get reinforcements from a portal. As you progress and conquer new areas, new portals open up, and new fortification areas show up, until you are faced with the local ruler, a Great Demon.
You stand against the forces of fire and blood from the Chaos god of Khorne, playing as Kislev. If you are unfamiliar with them, they are the opposite, hailing from the ice realms of Not-Russia, led by Not-Khatarina the Great. Instead, you command Tzarina Katarin Bokha, the Ice Queen of Kislev. While Ice may sound like something that is useless in a realm mainly consisting of fire and blood, it is very effective in a magic environment with almost unlimited access to use your slowing magic that so happens to work great against daemons.
The invasion scenario is meant to be a sort of boss battle in the campaign, just like the "final battle" of most legendary lords. The idea is to capture new strategic points and gain supplies you can spend on troops, upgrades and fortifications, but the waves of daemons and constant attacks from all directions means that this is both challenging and more realistic of the total chaos (pun intended) that is present in a battle. This also poses a challenge for players that would normally cheese their way to victory, as debuffs are placed on you until a certain number of locations are captured. While you do get supplies for killing the enemy, your defensive towers that constantly shoot won't yield any points, and capturing new strategic points on the battlefield look to provide a huge bonus of supplies.
Despite the chaos, there is a clear need for more overall strategic thinking, ensuring ranged units are maximised, and that structures are used to channel the enemy into kill zones. My only negative comment from a tactical viewpoint is that it seems the access to cheaper units are cut each time a new strategic point is captured on the map, forcing you to recruit newer and better, but also more expensive units, meaning that you do not have the option of using cheap units as vanguards.
General thoughts on UI and battle pacing
With this being said, the pacing of the battle was great. As Kislev has a number of hybrid and very mobile units, you will fear flank attacks less, and have increased options for kiting tactics. This can all be very complex very quickly, especially as long range artillery isn't available until you face off against a Greater Demon and his minions.
The AI has been improved to a degree where flanking is an actual problem, and I have to admit that I had to use the pause function several times, as I simply lost perspective and the overall overview of my army and the battlefield.
The introduction of Ice Magic with a lot of slowing effects and direct damage is really needed, and this is a great way to have more fun with the format instead of just the usual army-facing-army style adopted directly from the tabletop game.
The UI is also updated, using elements and colours from other Total War games, and I honestly don't agree that it is needed, The UI in Total War: Warhammer II gave you all the needed information in a clear and direct way with as little clutter and colour confusion as possible, but I guess that I will have to adapt to it. Placement and function has changed very little, so all feel different but familiar.
As the new game mode is way more fast-paced than usual, players who are used to slow-moving armies, relying on long range units alone are in for a brutal awakening. But honestly, it was also a lot of fun.
New units and gameplay
As a seasoned Warhammer player, I personally look forward to the other three Chaos Gods a bit more than Khorne, despite having been a Khornite player myself. But, with Kislev I had a lot of doubt about their diversity and if they would be too generic, just as I have feared for the other human faction, Greand Cathay, to be a reskinned Total War: Three Kingdoms model. However, despite this being a relatively brief preview with hands on, Kislev really got me excited. There is great variation, and some very interesting takes on hybrid units. To my surprise, we got to see most of, if not all of the Kislev roster, and I personally look forward to playing with these grim hybrid warriors born from ice and hardship.
The upgrade options are done pretty well, and while buffing your units was a good idea, it's not something you want for all of them, healing the units and replenishing ammunition seemed to swallow most of my budget.
The meta of getting new units, replenishing and upgrading existing ones along with buildings adds another layer, which is why the magic power reserve management being reduced significantly is a smart decision, and also makes great sense lore-wise, as you have invaded an astral plane made of pure magic in a parallel dimension.
I can't wait for the next instalment in the series to be released, and I will charge into the battlefield with a great two-handed axe screaming "Blood for the Blood God - Skulls for the throne of Khorne" like any normal Warhammer fan.