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I’m obsessed with Warhammer fantasy lore because of a single map

Immortal Empires can’t come soon enough

Karl Franz in Total War: Warhammer 3 Immortal Empires Image: Creative Assembly/SEGA
Mike Mahardy leads game criticism and curation at Polygon as senior editor, reviews. He has been covering entertainment professionally for more than 10 years.

I’ve tweaked my morning routine these past couple of weeks. Instead of playing sudoku, reading a short story, or sneaking in a bit of Apex Legends before work, I’ve been drinking my coffee while I stare at this:

Total War: Warhammer 3’s Immortal Empires starting locations Image: Creative Assembly/SEGA

It’s a map of the Warhammer fantasy world in Total War: Warhammer 3. Once a day since June 28, developer Creative Assembly has been adding more of those colorful icons to the map in the lead-up to its Immortal Empires DLC, which will combine all three campaign maps and every playable faction from the strategy trilogy into one massive brawl. Those icons represent the starting location for each Legendary Lord — the playable leaders within each of the series’ 19 factions. At the DLC’s launch, there will be 86 Lords to choose from.

Immortal Empires is an ambitious DLC.

And a Lord’s starting location is a big deal. It not only impacts the geographical features they’ll have to contend with, but also the factions they’ll encounter in the early turns of the campaign. Take, for instance, Helman Ghorst, a leader in the Dracula-inspired Vampire Counts faction. His starting location is represented by that white shield with the blue rose on the coast of the Sea of Dread. This location tells us that he’ll not only be battling the demonic hordes of Nurgle as they stream off of that island to the southwest, but also the ranks of the Ogre Kingdoms as they march out of the mountains to the north. Ghorst will also have to contend with the forces of the High Elves along the coast to the west, and the armies of Cathay to the northeast. Those are four factions with four extremely different mechanics, strengths, and weaknesses.

Tomorrow will mark the final reveal in this starting-location news cycle, and honestly, I think I’ll miss hearing about these reveals every day. I’ve visited the Total War subreddit every morning over the past couple of weeks, and it’s been a blast to read players’ reactions, whether to the fact that the Southlands — the large continent in the bottom half of the map — is going to be an absolute shitshow, or to the news that Creative Assembly placed the dwarf leader Grombrindal right next to the Dark Elf Malekith at the northwest corner of the map. If you’re a football fan, that’s the equivalent of the NFL moving the New York Giants to the AFC East so they have to play the New England Patriots twice during the regular season. It changes everything.

As an unexpected byproduct of this morning routine, I’ve become obsessed with Warhammer fantasy lore. That matchup between Grombrindal and Malekith? It’s basically the grudge match to end all grudge matches. Grombrindal, you see, is rumored to be the vengeful spirit of a Dwarf of legend, returning to punish Malekith for instigating the War of the Beard and causing the deaths of thousands of Dwarfs (as it’s pluralized in Warhammer) back in the day. (Warhammer is so dumb. It’s so, so dumb. And it kicks ass.)

Total War: Warhammer 3 players are often just as excited about the narrative context of these starting locations as they are about their gameplay implications. For the past two weeks, the Total War subreddit has been awash with proper nouns that made absolutely no sense to me until I slithered my way into Warhammer wiki rabbit holes and learned more. After all, I needed to know why everyone is obsessed with the fortress of Nagashizzar. And while I was at it, I absolutely read up on Skarbrand’s exile from the Blood God’s Domain. This rat-man’s name is Queek Headtaker? Sign me the fuck up.

Although it may be rough around the edges at its August launch, Immortal Empires can’t come soon enough. I’m eagerly awaiting details on the Warriors of Chaos’ rework, and I’m already planning my first foray into the DLC’s massive world. (Grombrindal is the only choice, really, but Lokhir Fellheart’s new location above the Jade Sea is tempting.)

Plus, it’s been a blast enveloping myself in the sprawling, strange, never-ending lore of one of the biggest fantasy worlds out there. I love strategy games for how their systems grant players just enough big-picture context to find emergent stories of their own, and it’s a testament to Creative Assembly’s craft that it can get such a huge community excited about the placement of a few PNGs every day. I’m sure I’ll want to learn infinitely more about Warhammer lore once I actually get my hands on the DLC.

But for now, this map will have to do.