Total War: Warhammer 3, the culmination of a trilogy nearly a decade in the making, is almost here. When it is released later this year, Sega’s Creative Assembly will have digitally recreated every faction in Games Workshop’s Warhammer fantasy tabletop universe, a beloved setting known as the Old World. This installment takes the series out with a bang — four epic Survival Battles fought in the Realms of Chaos.
These battles will be endurance matches unlike anything players have dealt with before, and each one will be capped off with an epic fight against a greater daemon. I was able to try my hand at one of these confrontations, and along the way, I learned a bit about one of the game’s two main hero factions, the Kislev. There are also plenty of new features on the way for multiplayer, and enhancements for other areas of the game.
The Survival Battle demo opened on a scene of utter desolation: a sun-streaked plain dotted with battlements of iron and bone. My objective was to draw out and defeat an Exalted Greater Daemon of Khorne. To do so, first I had to take and hold three different points on the map — no small task when you’re being attacked from all sides.
At my disposal was an all-new army: the forces of Kislev, led by the Ice Queen Tzarina Katarin Bokha. Her forces are a blend of vaguely Eastern European analogs. At the core is a selection of hardy hybrid infantry units, capable of both ranged and melee attacks. They’re supplemented by heavily armed cavalry, many of them wearing wings like Polish hussars.
Katarin herself is armed with powerful ice magic designed to slow the enemy’s advance. Working in concert with our infantry, she was able to stall the demonic hordes to a crawl. Once fixed in place, my cavalry crashed into their flanks and rear. Nothing but a pile of broken corpses was left in our wake.
With the first point secured, our army began to earn supplies — a form of currency only available during Survival Battles. I was then able to spend those supplies to build walls and other fortifications that funneled the enemy along specific avenues of advance. By adding missile towers to the mix, I created a safe zone where I could rearm and reorganize my troops. Cashing in the last of my supplies, I was even able to call in reinforcements through a planar gateway. I sent the most badly damaged troops back through to rest, and pressed on.
That’s when things went terribly wrong.
Once I had secured the second of the three points on the map, I then had to manage two isolated armies at once. I was constantly moving back and forth between these two locations using the mouse and keyboard, lassoing four or five units at once. As in the original tabletop game, the direction in which your units are facing plays a huge role in how they perform in battle. The natural terrain of Khorne’s realm crowded my offensive units together, forcing me to spend precious time wheeling them around to confront the next threat. All the while, I was spending supplies to shore up defenses and refresh my troops.
Eventually, I ran short on supplies to reinforce my rear guard, which quickly crumbled. What followed was a cascading failure, and soon I was cut off from all sources of income. On the offensive front, I suddenly found my cavalry hedged in. Unable to use its speed for maneuver and evasion, starved of resources, and unable to maintain cohesion, my Kislev were eventually driven from the field.
To win a Survival Battle, players will need to dedicate time and treasure to bulk up their armies with the best mix of veteran units. They’ll also need to work hard to develop the input speed and attentiveness required to manage not just two but three simultaneous battles on the same map. It’s a mode of play that is sure to test even the most dedicated fans.
Creative Assembly has been pushing hard to make these Survival Battles the pinnacle of the Total War: Warhammer experience, according to game director Ian Roxburgh. He says their work has been enhanced by the unexpected popularity of the first two games.
“We’ve actually upscaled our intentions and our ambitions since Warhammer 1 and 2,” he said during our interview. “That success enables us to make bigger and better games, and you’ll see — especially as we start talking further down the line, nearer to release — about some of the other features throughout Warhammer 3. The survival battles is just one of many examples of brand-new battle types and brand-new features.”
One of those new features will be an all-new multiplayer mode called Domination Battle. With it, players will be able to make use of some of the same systems that make Survival Battles so interesting — things like capture points, the ability to earn and spend supplies, and the option to call in reinforcements from off the map.
“For the first time now, if you go into a battle against an opponent and your unit matchup isn’t ideal, you’ve got a chance throughout the battle to redress that,” Roxburgh said. “If they’ve got a load of cavalry and you’ve got lots of archers, you can bring spearmen in [to defend against them]. So there’s a lot more to and fro in the battle.”
Roxburgh said that this new mode will also be accompanied by new maps custom built to exploit it.
Overall, Roxburgh said that fans can expect a longer, more involved campaign with more playable factions out of the box than in any previous Total War: Warhammer game. There will also be more and different settings for your battles to play out in.
Each of the four Realms of Chaos will be represented in all their bizarre glory. That includes realms belonging to Khorne, the god of blood and slaughter, but also Nurgle, the god of plagues and pestilence; Slaanesh, the lord of excess; and Tzeentch, the psychedelic “changer of the ways.”
Other incremental and quality-of-life improvements are also on the way in Total War: Warhammer 3. Fans will be pleased to learn that sieges have received lots of attention to make them “deeper and more feature-rich,” according to Roxburgh. Creative Assembly is also adding battles over strategic minor settlements to the game, further augmenting the strategic texture of the overworld map.
And, just as in previous installments of the series, Total War: Warhammer 3 will include a free post-launch update that combines it with the two previous games in the series. That combined campaign will allow players to make use of any of the previous major factions from the first two games to play across an expanded map of the Old World.
“We can’t tell you the details yet,” Roxburgh said, “but I will say it involves going into the Chaos realms and dealing with problems there as well. It really opens up the campaign game to create completely different experiences to what you’ve ever seen in Total War before. It’s a very ambitious way of treating that whole campaign experience and the endgame.”
Expect to hear more about Total War: Warhammer 3 throughout 2021 as Sega winds up to announce a release date.