Total War: Warhammer III is a sequel to the video game adaptation of the board game Warhammer Fantasy Battle. It builds on the same formula constructed by its predecessors, with turn-based empire building on a campaign map and real-time tactical battles. Just like in both predecessors, we get a massive but focused campaign within a certain geographical area. This time it is more storytelling focused than before - and it shows.
The start of the adventure is a literal shot from a gun and sets all nations, empires and demons in motion. We get to see the story in different contexts during the campaign, with it often portrayed in nice animated still images. Compared to the warm tropics in the second or the sandy deserts in the first game, we now travel to colder latitudes. The series' advisor who was established in the first game is back as a character in the universe, and his role is to guide the faction you choose to a dying god in return for a drop of his blood. I can not emphasise enough what a good job the voice actor does and how appropriate it is to integrate the character into the universe, as you know he has his own agenda and is not doing this for you. It works very well with the story and he also works well as support for new players.
There are many playable factions to choose from this time. First are the four evil gods; Khorne, Tzeentch, Slaanesh and Nurgle, all of whom are represented with their own legendary leader and unique game mechanics. They're just as unique and different from each other as I dared to hope for in advance. Whether you choose the hyper-aggressive representative of Khorne known as Skarbrand, or the plague-creating Ku'gath Plaguefather who serves Nurgle, they are vastly different. Creative Assembly has also gone so far as to have Tzeentch representative Kairos Faiteweaver (a demonic bird with two heads) have a voice actor for each head.
The focus on details makes the demons much more interesting. In addition to these four, there is also a demon you can choose that leads Chaos Undivided. For the uninitiated, this one serves all four gods and can thus draw units from all. However, it loses the specialisation the others have if you do not choose that option.
This campaign is a little different as you get to name the character. During the campaign, you also unlock body parts that transform him/her cosmetically, which makes each replay unique. The unique dimensions of the gods you can visit during the campaign are incredibly beautifully recreated from the source material. My favourite was Tzeentch but everyone looks just right. With the deadly nations that stand up to the threat Chaos entails, we have Kislev, a nation that stood as a shield to the rest of the world from the threat in the north. They are inspired by Russia, Poland, Lithuania and Ukraine in appearance and are a hardened but divided people led by three legendary leaders. One is the newly crowned Tsarine Catherine Bokha who excels in ice magic and whose campaign revolves around saving the dying god. The other leader is the highly religious Kostaltyn, an interpretation of the historical Rasputin, he has the same main goal as Katarina but both are locked in a cold civil war. The third you unlock when you play like the other two, which I will not reveal more about. My time with the faction made it clear that this is one of the easier ones to start with. Their soldiers are often hybrids and just like with the High Elves from the second game, they often have a double set of weapons you can switch between whenever you want. This gives Kislev its own niche, together with their bear cavalry and I like that.
The other newcomer to the game series is Grand Cathay, a Chinese-inspired kingdom ruled by dragons. If you enjoy playing as a human empire, this is your faction. Grand Cathay is also an easier starting point for those starting for the first time. Cathay has a wall of titanic size that they use to protect their part of the world from Chaos. The unique thing about their faction is that the legendary leaders can use a human form and transform in battle into their own dragon form. Then they become flying dragons that wreak havoc everywhere. One leader Miao Ming embraces thunder, lightning and storms as a tool in her arsenal. She starts in the north and is the patron of the Great Wall.
Zhao Ming is the other leader and is interested in alchemy and metal, with his dragon shape clad in iron, which matches his focus on melee combat. Both have access to a very amusing caravan system where you can send money over different routes for trade. There are lots of small text stories tied around this where you get to make choices or protect your caravan from attack. Without going into everything, a system of harmony also exists. Ying and Yang are found both in battles and on the campaign map, and you have to keep the balance between the two, with different types of soldiers, technological advances and buildings upsetting the balance. Of the human playable nations, this was my favourite. It's reminiscent of the Empire from the first game.
Last but not least, we have the pre-orderable Ogre Kingdoms who are basically a semi-nomadic people. They consist of large hungry individuals who live for war, gold and food. I liked playing as both of their leaders. Although they were introduced as mercenaries in the predecessor, they play really well here. Their mix of powerful monster infantry, giant monsters and shamanism makes these an interesting race to play. They also have a deeply rooted history in the regions between Cathay and Kislev.
Regardless of which race or leader you choose, the game is rooted in a common ground. Each character can level up and unlock new skills and things to ride on. The whole thing is a bit reminiscent of the systems from Heroes of Might and Magic. You build your cities, raise funds like gold to buy troops. You then battle with them in real-time battles that play better than their predecessors. In addition to a new piece of the world to explore, there are many other innovations. I can not praise enough the choice to include minor sieges. In these you fight for smaller cities without walls. As a defender, you can build towers, wooden walls and other things temporarily to help you. It is possible to attack from several directions, which has made the battles more tactical.
Creative Assembly has also built more verticality in the cities, which means more places for ambush, artillery and other things, such as small bridges in the cities that create new exciting ways to fight. This also applies to the large sieges. In return, the matches are more about conquering positions for points. The horde mode is also new with the idea behind it tasking you to try to take over points against an enemy that has infinite strengths. The classic combat mode has undergone a major overhaul. If you play in multiplayer mode, you not only get to choose forces you enter the battle with but also a large reinforcement to buy in via points. The battles are more about taking control of points to bring in reinforcements. At the moment, this needs to be worked on a bit as one of the meta-strategies means that you do not need to take points as you get a bonus for being behind and can then steamroll the opponent with reinforcements. In addition to the multiplayer mode, there is also a collaborative mode for up to eight players with three campaigns to choose from. The first is the big one, with the other two being smaller areas and a more focused experience to reduce playing time. I also liked the collaboration mode that allow allies to make moves simultaneously on the map. It's not new to the genre but new to the trilogy.
There are also lots of small improvements. The game has a user-friendly interface. The diplomacy in the campaign has received a major upgrade. Now you can see exactly what is required for an agreement and you can also change cities. Diplomacy also now allows you to have much better control over your allies, as you can for example ask to borrow an army from the computer directly under your control. Another important feature is that you can see where allies are heading on the zoomed-out map. My favourite is probably one of the easiest: you can now warn opponents if they are in your territory. If they do not go out, you can declare war without diplomatic consequences, which I have longed for. I can not remember how many times I had other people's forces on my land in the previous years, and unable to stop their plundering.
Another exciting novelty is that you can build outposts with allies. Then you can recruit their troops, which enables a completely different form of strategy with more unique strengths. This is important to use to meet all threats. I can say with a clear conscience that music is a step up for the trilogy. Although the soundtrack is more ambient and in the background it manages to set the dark mood. The voice acting is of a slightly mixed quality. Some characters have amazing voices and others are of lower quality. An example is Tzeentch's character who offers awesome voice acting and in contrast, the demonic prince with his Chaos Undivided has a very generic voice for demons. There are some minor issues like minor visual and technical bugs. The worst I've encountered are flying units that can not really land and hit enemies. I have also had a few crashes, although they are few in number. On the other hand, I think it flows better than both predecessors, and the battles are also noticeably more compliant.
My time with Total War: Warhammer III has been brilliant, it's not a crazy starting point even if you are brand new to the franchise. Overall, it's just like with Civilization, it's hard not to play another round once you start. Unfortunately, there is no modding support, blood or the giant campaign where all three games are merged at release. Total War: Warhammer III is a very worthy end to the trilogy and impresses with its beautiful campaign maps, asymmetrical designs and great music. It is difficult to build strategy games that entertain in this way. Therefore, this is a clear recommendation and a strategy game you must not miss.