Big strategy games tend to struggle with endgames. Distilling hundreds of rounds of decision-making into a satisfying winning state is no easy task. Victory conditions often feel arbitrary, even incoherent—as if competing factions not only pursue different strategies, but play different games. Even if that’s not the case, winning a game often happens hours before the game recognizes it, and the rest is just a matter of you struggling to come to the inevitable conclusion. Total War: Warhammer 3 is no exception. This may be the most spectacular, diverse and tactically rich entry in the series to date, but its endgame issues reverberate throughout the campaign, undermining a strategic layer that deserves better.
The first impression of Warhammer 3 is very good. The Prologue is a mini-campaign that feels like an RPG, zooming in on a main character and providing powerful threading through as you gradually explore the map. Short cinematic scenes present your army’s strategic decisions in a way that makes the choices you make have a narrative purpose. Ultimately, it serves as a great introduction to the game’s basic mechanics, while also drawing you into its world. However, after all the scene setup, most of the flavor and character-driven goals are lost.
Developer Creative Assembly has rethought the series’ traditional approach to winning the Total War campaign in a very unsatisfactory fashion. Mapping the map – a common euphemism for how conquering territories turns them into the colors of your faction – is not the end goal here, although it can still inform the journey. Instead, no matter which faction you choose to play, your goal is to send an army into the Chaos Realm, a purely magical dimension in Warhammer lore, represented here as a separate part of the map, and acquire a set of MacGuffins . Collect all four and you unlock the final battle. You still march around the big map, besieging towns and capturing provinces, just like in any other total war, but your success in the campaign can only be measured by how quickly you collect these McGuffins.
The structural problem here is that the two sides of the campaign — the regular campaign map and the short trip into the realm of Chaos — don’t really talk to each other or interact in any particularly interesting way. In fact, because the latter assumes primacy (because that’s how games are won), most of what you do on regular maps feels redundant. Conquering neighboring towns, making deals with your allies, and building your infrastructure is as enjoyable as ever, but it often feels disconnected from your main goal of equipping an army led by a lord Go to Chaos Realm.
Every few dozen rounds, a portal connecting to the Chaos Realm opens on the map. You can send an army through a portal – only one, and it must be led by your faction leader, the lord – and enter one of the four Chaos Realms, each with a little gimmick that makes the impression profound. finished. One is the geeky labyrinth of linked portals, where you end up playing an awkward game of concentration to figure out which portals will take you where. The other is a series of doors, each offering a nifty piece of gear in exchange for leaving the realm and not doing what you went there to do. It’s meant to be a temptation — an offer you can’t refuse — but all it really reveals is that accepting a gift is a waste of time.
Of course, there are battles to be fought here, and it’s just as good in Chaos Realm as anywhere else. Few strategy games can match the massive spectacle of Total War, and Warhammer 3’s combat benefits from the otherworldly nature of its fantasy, with demons flying over incredibly jagged terrain, and while you’re sending ravenous war beasts to On the battlefield, fire and ice drown the vipers that flank the enemy on the battlefield. But aside from a few battles, the Realm of Chaos doesn’t offer anything you want to be involved in after you’ve seen it once — even the initial encounter makes you think, “Is that so?” are the same, and they have to be done, which further complicates the problem.
By separating the Chaos Realm from the regular campaign map, and allowing only one army to enter, you end up prioritizing a large, well-stocked army commanded by your faction leader over all others. It’s a lone war machine that’s going to win the game for you, and, maybe you have some other minor lords leading some sprawling divisions that you probably don’t need to worry too much about. It’s true that Portal to the Realm of Chaos changes regular gameplay by letting Chaos armies raid and plunder your territory, but you can easily dispatch lords or heroes to shut them down for a fairly insignificant cost. If another faction chooses to invade and your main army is tracking the next MacGuffin, you’ll need some sort of standing army to defend your homeland. However, once your main army is up and running and able to recruit all the most powerful military units, there is no incentive to continue expanding your territory. In fact, contrary to Total War tradition, I find it advantageous to simply curl up and wait for the next opportunity to visit Chaos Realm. Less territory means fewer portals to close, which means fewer uninvited guests escaping, and fewer positions I need to defend. I put all my attention on that army and that’s enough.
That is, winning the election is enough. But not enough to make the experience just a perfunctory, or even a boring chore. That’s a shame, because Total War: Warhammer 3 actually offers a lot of strategic depth and some welcome additions that make for a much more enjoyable experience if you don’t want to hit the campaign goals at all costs.
First, all factions feel very different. From everyone’s fixed starting positions and broader abilities that affect how they use strategy on the campaign map, to the unique makeup of their armies and individual lords and heroes, there is considerable momentum as each of the eight factions Replay the battle — presumably with more post-launch support. They’re also full of personality in a certain way, and somehow manage to be extraordinarily savage, while taking themselves very seriously. “The bondage will be legendary!” one of my lords, the perfect chef’s kiss named Soulscreamer Witherslash, yells whenever I order them to do something. I’m not obsessed with Warhammer at all, so it all seems pretty stupid. But when you recruit a demonic hero named E’ddi’e, you can’t help but accept the absurdity of it all.
Elsewhere, there are some excellent additions to an already solid strategic foundation. Diplomacy has been greatly improved with new features that let you see at a glance which of the over a hundred factions are interested in trading resources or forming alliances. The ability to build outposts in Allied settlements and then recruit their unique units into your army provides greater flexibility in your troop composition and allows you to further refine specific tactics in battle. Sieges have been tweaked to beautify strategic considerations, and every turn you want to wait for the enemy or strike before reinforcements arrive. Even the terrain itself comes into play, as the primordial winds of magic blow in one way or another, and if left unchecked, chaos itself can spread across the land. These and many other small tweaks combine to provide a campaign map that – aside from the endgame objectives – is the best in the series.
Overall, these battles aren’t all that different from what we’ve seen in recent Total War games — and that’s not a criticism. There is enough variety in units and heroes, each with a range of abilities, and it takes time and a lot of experimentation to discover the best tactical approach, increasing the chances of strategizing and seeing your efforts pay off in satisfying fashion. Among the new combat features, I especially like deploying deployable structures like barricades and towers in settlement battles. When combined with the neat layouts of these maps, looking at different terrain heights with a healthy eye, the new structure makes settlements very interesting to defend and challenging to attack. In general, though, in Warhammer 3’s tactical combat, if it’s not broken, don’t fix it.
Warhammer 3 starts strong. The narrative hooks of the prologue are deep, and the massive tweaks to the strategic layers and tactical combat are welcome. But it couldn’t maintain the early momentum. Endgame goals are distracting, though they’re the point, and only weaken the overall campaign. Factions have different reasons for wanting the final MacGuffin, but none of those motivations will affect the outcome of the campaign. They’re all trapped in the same realm of chaos, going through the same actions and pursuing the same unsatisfactory victory conditions. In the end, Total War: Warhammer 3 is a good game — there’s just no good reason to watch it all the way through.