For all of its economy management, army maneuvers, and real-time tactics, Total War: Warhammer 3 has always been a game about spectacle as much as it is about strategy. Rat ninjas assassinate camouflaged wood elves, horse-sized frogs swarm vampiric zombie pirates, giant dinosaurs headbutt four-headed sea monsters, and so on. But my favorite playable races have always been the ones that emphasize the strategic side of things. The Chaos Dwarfs, the first new race added to the trilogy in more than two years, amplify strategy and cunning above all else. And they’re an absolute blast.
I’ve spent the last two weeks playing Forge of the Chaos Dwarfs, the DLC that will be released tomorrow alongside update 3.0. Not only are the Chaos Dwarfs (which members of the Total War community have taken to calling the Chorfs, or ChaDs) one of the more versatile options on Warhammer 3’s real-time battlefields — they’re also a monstrous force in the game’s turn-based campaign layer. Their obsessions with industry, volcanic artillery, daemonic monsters, and droves of Hobgoblin cannon fodder make them decent foils to almost every enemy I encountered. In fact, they’ve led to some of my most engrossing mid- to late-game campaign moments out of the trilogy’s 24-race roster.
I first tried the Chorfs in the Realms of Chaos campaign, Warhammer 3’s more guided, story driven mode that features a smaller portion of Warhammer Fantasy’s world map. Each of the three Chorf factions, which have different buffs and abilities of their own, must build a giant drill to bore down into the ground and tap into the Blood of Hashut (basically, a lava-like substance named after their patron god that can turn metal into molten goop at the slightest contact). They must also, of course, fight off various other races who have bespoke game-winning objectives of their own. (This is Total War, after all, not total peace.)
For my first go, I chose Zhatan the Black, the Chorf Legendary Lord whose faction allows for an extra trade convoy and cheaper war machines. By turn 20, it was clear just how malleable the Chorfs are on the battlefield. Their numerous artillery options (my favorite is the magma cannon, which does exactly what you expect) give them enough range to force defenders to go on the offensive. Only by closing the gap and bringing their own short-range units to bear can they stand up to the fight.
Soon after, I realized that Chorf gunpowder units are true double threats, a brutal one-two punch of long-distance ax-rifles and close-quarters blunderbusses. And their K’daai units — basically daemonic entities trapped inside hulking frames of metal armor — can go toe-to-toe with some of the game’s most intimidating melee monsters. Add to this their cheap Hobgoblin units, and they have an extremely solid front line to hold enemies at bay while elite units pick them off at will. On the battlefield, there’s not much the Chorfs can’t do.
Here’s the catch: It can be tricky to reach the Chorf roster’s full potential. In Warhammer Fantasy lore, the Chaos Dwarfs are a dwindling race that relies on Hobgoblin laborers to fuel their militaristic and industrial pursuits. To reflect this, developer Creative Assembly limits the number of actual Chaos Dwarfs, war machines, and monsters that can be deployed at any one time. If you want to increase this population cap, you have to balance several different types of settlements, currencies, and trade options. In the early turns, your armies will mostly consist of expendable Hobgoblins. The result is a footrace that requires you to plan the early turns wisely in order to steamroll entire swaths of the map later on.
These considerations kept my Realms of Chaos campaign fresh well past turn 50. That’s when the Chorf economics really started to work in my favor. As the de facto armorers of Warhammer Fantasy’s evil factions, the Chorfs can send weapons convoys to various corners of the map. Should they return from their destination safely, you’ll receive building materials, laborers, or gold in return.
And, just as when playing Grand Cathay, the Chinese myth-inspired faction that introduced this convoy system, Chorf escort armies will slowly accumulate a hodgepodge of different units in their travels. Around turn 60, it was a joy to battle random ambushers with my merry band of Hobgoblins, Chaos Dwarfs, mythical sea monsters, war mammoths, and Viking-esque berserkers. I stand by what I said about the Chorfs being more about strategy than spectacle — but damn if this wasn’t some of the most mesmerizing spectacle I’ve seen in this game so far.
The Chorfs have diplomatic concerns, too. Using political influence, each of the three Chorf factions can occupy seats in the Tower of Zharr — a veritable senate, or maybe parliament, albeit with more axes and flaming beards. Each seat offers its own stat buff or army ability. I gravitated toward the seats that increased my armaments output, the better to raise the aforementioned population cap on my most powerful units. I also snatched up the military seats that allowed for off-map bombardments in the real-time battles.
Once again, though, there’s a catch. There are four levels to the Tower of Zharr, each with increasingly powerful benefits. The only way to unlock each new level is to fill every seat in two of the three “districts” on the previous level. This happens much more quickly when all three Chorf factions are filling seats, and so, it helps to maintain friendly — or, at least, polite — diplomatic relations with the other two factions. However, you can spend extra political influence to usurp seats from the other factions.
It’s a process I can only describe as toxic dependency. It reminds me of the fragile alliance between Kendall, Siobhan, and Roman Roy in Succession season 4. As a unified unit, they have much more capital at their disposal, and if they stick together in the long run (I’m putting aside a host of insecurities, unresolved traumas, and sadistic fixations, to be clear) they might amount to a powerful force in the media stratosphere. But of course, the ultimate goal is singular, unchecked power. Much like they use one another in clandestine, Machiavellian power grabs, I used the other two Chorf Lords to unlock the final level of the Tower of Zharr. As soon as it opened, I cut all ties, moved my armies across my allies’ doorsteps, and wiped them off of the map.
I’ve tried each of the three Chorf factions, in both the base game campaign and the Immortal Empires game mode. And although they’ll likely get their fair share of nerfs and minor reworks in the coming months, I can confidently say that they’re one of the most consistently engrossing races in the vast world of Total War: Warhammer. Their armies are flexible, their economy is robust, and their political mind games keep campaigns interesting into the triple-digit turns. As with any addition to this digital facsimile of the Warhammer Fantasy world, their presence will have ripple effects in the game’s future. And as usual, I can’t wait to see what happens next.
Total War: Warhammer 3’s Forge of the Chaos Dwarfs DLC will be released on April 13 on Windows PC. The game was reviewed using a pre-release download code provided by Sega. Vox Media has affiliate partnerships. These do not influence editorial content, though Vox Media may earn commissions for products purchased via affiliate links. You can find additional information about Polygon’s ethics policy here.