First Impressions of Total War: Warhammer III

Platform: PC | Release Date: February 17, 2022

As a massive fan of the Total War series (something I pointed out in my review of the first two Total War: Warhammer games), I was incredibly excited when Creative Assembly asked me to review the upcoming third game for Goonhammer. I’ve invested hundreds of hours into the series already and was psyched to tackle the new campaign and playable races.

Before we dive in, I’d like to thank Creative Assembly for providing me with access to a preview build of the game for review purposes.

So What’s So Great About the Total War Games?

At their core, the Total War games focus on empire building, typically through conquest, but diplomacy is also an option. In Total War Warhammer, each faction starts with its own capital city and control of one province of the map, plus a goal that determines what that faction must do to win their campaign. These vary by faction – the armies of Grand Cathay must build a unified force to invade chaos to save a family member, while the forces of Chaos Undivided are instead focused on the murder of the Bear God. While other Total War Games focus more on diplomacy, trade routes, and politicking, those aspects have been toned down in the Old World in favor of a more combat-heavy approach – a better fit for the setting. With this in mind, the forces of Grand Cathay do provide a unique trading option that is meant to reflect the Silk Road of the real world, which provides an excellent source of income. 

Building on the Total War: Warhammer Universe

Although they have numbers behind the titles, the games in the Total War: Warhammer series are more like massive expansions than full sequels, with each expanding on the lands, mechanics, and playable factions in the game to create an even larger, more expansive world. In that sense, Total War: Warhammer brings us to the Eastern side of the great continent, where isolated human nations battle against the forces of Chaos marauding from the Northern wastes. 

This new game introduces us to seven playable factions:

  • Grand Cathay
  • Kislev
  • Chaos Daemon factions, each representing one of the four great powers
    • Exiles of Khorne
    • Oracles of Tzeentch
    • Seducers of Slaanesh
    • Poxmakers of Nurgle
  • Chaos Undivided, led by a story-rich, customizable Daemon Prince. 
  • Ogre Kingdoms, available free to players who pre-order the game or buy the game within the first week

During my time with the preview copy, I had a chance to sit down and play with the armies of Grand Cathay and the Daemons of Chaos Undivided.

Grand Cathay

Grand Cathay is loosely based on Song Dynasty-era China, a massive human nation that gives off a lot of the same vibes as the Matt Damon movie “The Great Wall.” They stave off invading Chaos forces from the north with the help of a massive bastion built to defend their nation, and instead of holding off hordes of horsemen, it’s attempting to hold off hordes of demons as they attempt to ravage their lands. While Cathay is potentially friendly to the Elves and human nations of the West, they’re geographically isolated from most of them and limited in contact.

Lore-wise, Grand Cathay was always on the periphery of the Warhammer Fantasy Battles universe but seldom a group we got to see or interact with from a rules standpoint. So similar to Kislev, Creative Assembly is finally giving players a chance to see this force in action in the Old World, which is just great. 

Grand Cathay has a nearly debilitating focus on maintaining harmony, with a strong focus around the balance between Yin and Yang. The country is ruled by the Dragon Emperor, his wife, and their multiple children. They’re all a bunch of immortal, magic dragons who can take human form. You get to play as two of these children right out the gate. Word on the street is that Dragons are pretty cool.

How do they play?

Grand Cathay plays a lot like an old Total War army where you are forced to keep your units in tight formations. You can use things like calvary or skirmish units to push forward, but that’s where the faction’s focus on maintaining the balance between Yin and Yang comes out in the negative: Most of the melee units have a focus/affinity with Yin, while the ranged are on the Yang side of things. Combining Yin and Yang units gives you a series of different buffs that make each more powerful, making it worthwhile to carefully consider how you’re grouping your units in the field. If your units fall out of balance, your could quickly see your army fall apart as their buffs no longer apply. This causes your ranged units to lose damage and leadership, and your melee units defense and attack. On top of this, Grand Cathay has access to the best firearms in the game, as well as the ability to use their Dragons as a forward combat force.

The Good

That’s the most enjoyable part about playing Cathay – using the faction’s dragons and magical lore, though the faction’s firearms and unique war machines are pretty great as well. There’s a unit called a Sky-Junk that is a dirigible that floats around and rains fireworks of death down on enemy units. When I was playing against some rebel factions, this unit alone was enough to carry me through some tough battles.

The Bad

The lands of Grand Cathay are beautiful and their lore is deep and fascinating. What I didn’t enjoy nearly as much was how they played. The need to keep your units together to get the most of their buffs made winning battles oddly difficult. The Yin and Yang system, though thematic, ends up feeling more like a limitation than a way to get more out of your units: Your units will want to chase forward or go after fleeing units, and when this happens you will lose your buffs quickly. Your melee units will try and push forward or engage on a flank, but without the ranged units there right behind them, They will lose a lot of their survivability and combat capacity. The same is to be said about your Calvary and your Archers; you need to keep these units close together so you will be focusing a lot of your fighting on the battle lines rather than doing flanking maneuvers and playing offensively.

That makes sense from a lore perspective since Grand Cathay are famously great defenders, but it was a way of playing that I struggled with. They’re a unique faction in that it feels as though you want to play as defensively as possible – a slow advance forward with using Calvary to flank armies that are engaging your lines, versus going after their war machines or weak flanks. 

Example of the Ying/Yang aura distance.

Things to know when playing Grand Cathay

Playing Grand Cathay successfully means getting the most out of your Yin and Yang bonuses. You need to be highly aware of the location of your cavalry and active bonuses at all times – they’re too powerful not to use. Being a general who was focused on micromanagement and unit placement is going to go a long way with this faction. Make your battleline, defend yourself from the forces of chaos, win games.

Showing off some Fireworks

Chaos Undivided

On the other side of the Great Bastion was the other new playable faction I spent time with: The armies of Chaos Undivided, which are led by a Daemon Prince who you could say is the key catalyst to the storyline of Warhammer 3.

How do they play?

Chaos Undivided is presented to us as a faction for the every-chaos-man. This is a faction that gives a chaos player, or just a general bad guy appreciator, access to every single chaos faction. You play as a Demon Prince, who is trying to use the boons of every God to his benefit. As you play through the game, conquering cities and winning battles, you can dedicate those locations and victories to different gods. As you do, you build up a type of experience bar, then unlock different customization options for your demon prince. I understand why this faction was saved as the last one to be revealed, as it is by far the coolest one and one of the most rewarding to play. 

Building Your Own Daemon Prince

One of the major mechanics of Chaos Undivided is building and customizing your own Daemon Prince. Your daemonic legions are led by a daemon prince who seeks to curry the favor of the ruinous powers, gaining new gifts and mutations along the way.


This is one of the most fun parts of the army – there are hundreds of options to equip your big bad dude with, customizing appendages, wings, weapons, horns – you name it, with options that reflect each Chaos god. Want to have the head of a bull and feathered wings like a giant bird? How about a two-handed hammer that drips disease but a body clothed in the finest silks? You’ve got options, and each one affects your damage, HP, and abilities. Give your daemon a body befitting the god of war and a weapon dedicated to the god of magic so you can access some of the strongest spells in the game.

The Daemon Prince She Told Me Not to Worry About

How do they play?

The Daemons of Chaos Undivided play like a very close combat-focused Army. Chaos undivided has very little in the ways of ranged weapons, so you’ll be focused on flanking and pushing forward with all your units. I found myself throwing my demon Prince directly at the enemy commander in every mission. Using lots of units with flying, or using just hordes of nurglings to hold your frontline can cause some very fun interactions in the game.

The Good

What makes Chaos Undivided unique is having access to units from every chaos God. The tradeoff is that You won’t get access to every unit that god has to offer unless you progress very far down that god’s devotion tree. You can build devotion by constructing cities in the name of different gods, which will eventually unlock the buildings you need to get higher-level monsters. But even if you do get the monsters, you have to make sure that you’ve put enough devotion into the God of your choosing. There are five different experience bars that you will fill up as you gain more favor from each God. As you move up the tiers of each of these, you will unlock dozens and dozens of customization options. As you do this build-up, you will also unlock stronger and stronger units that will be provided to you by that god. 

The Bad

There was very little I didn’t like about this faction. I didn’t have very long to play the game, but the time I did spend playing it was in this faction, I had a blast running around with all of the models I’ve used in the tabletop over the years, and it was really fun to see that they had very little in the ways of weird mechanics. If anything was missing it was probably that there wasn’t any sense of animosity between your units of different gods. Having Chaos Undivided is a great idea but it didn’t always match my notions of how it would play. I would have liked to see some kind of limits on army construction and how many units I could include from each Chaos God to keep from just becoming an army dedicated to a single god, and potentially with the animosity between units of opposed gods affecting how those units work together on the battlefield.

Battling in the Realms of Khorne garners welcome attention.

Things to know when playing Chaos Undivided

Something to keep in mind is that although there is a benefit to declaring for different gods to get different bonuses, you will want to go heavy into one of the Chaos gods early to unlock mid-tier units. I spread myself out too much early on and found myself stuck with a collection of Tier 1 units when I was running into Tier 2, tier 3 enemies. After you build up one God very highly, you can begin to branch out to the rest.

Playing this faction was some of the most fun I’ve ever had in a Total War game. Seeing the factions of Chaos in the full display was very cathartic for me as a fan of the universe. Not only that but playing as a chaos character who is not in the chaos realm was also a bit of an enjoyable lore moment. Playing as “Archeon light” is incredibly fun and I think the fans will be excited to get their hands on this campaign.

Overall Thoughts

TW:W3 gives us with a brand new setting, an engaging storyline, and factions that have unique methods and approaches to handling challenges in-game. One area things have improved considerably is the story – while prior games had a story that could seem world-spanning and important, at times it also felt like something that could be ignored. This is particularly true when you look at the grand campaign that combined the first two games – there’s very little urgency to the plot; you’re just trying to lead your faction through the world. In contrast, the Total War: Warhammer 3 campaign is much more interesting and engrossing, and ties in to the earlier plot lines in an interesting way. I’m looking forward to seeing how it plays out.

There are also a number of big quality of life changes in the game that are worth pointing out:

  • Balance This Deal: The AI immediately makes known how much gold or diplomatic actions are needed to make a deal work.
  • Allied Recruitment: Players may build outposts in an allied territory which allows for the recruitment of units from ally armies, thus allowing for army compositions formed of various races.
  • Quick Deal: This allows the player to quickly examine potential deals with known factions.
  • Get Off My Land: Should an enemy trespass onto your land, a button will appear above their army, and clicking this will tell them to leave without any diplomatic repercussions.
  • Threaten: Players may threaten enemies or allies in various diplomatic pursuits. The greater your strength rank over them, the more likely the threat is to succeed.

The Tower of Blood

Final Verdict

If you already own the first two games, then you don’t need me to sell you on the game play – with this latest installment you’re getting an interesting new storyline and factions that also highlight the amazing terrain features and artistic elements that Creative Assembly have been putting into these games for years. Every faction’s realm feels unique and like it belongs to them – something that wasn’t always the case for the smaller factions in the first two games.

If you haven’t played any of the total Warhammer games, this one provides a wonderful entry point to the franchise as well as Total War games in general. From unique diplomacy decisions to having factions with very different combat and gameplay styles, there’s a lot of variety here to tailor your experience. This is a fantastic game to start with as your first Total War game. And whether you’re a grognard missing the Old World or an aspiring Warhammer Fantasy fan, there’s a ton of lore in this game that’s accessible for newer players but still bound to scratch the lore itch of players who’ve converted their own armies for Kislev or Grand Cathay.

Once again, Creative Assembly have crafted an amazing experience. The attention to detail and the graphical improvements – especially the lighting – are very noticeable and if you’ve already spent hundreds of hours on Total War games, you’ll find this newest release to be a wonderful addition to your collection. I only got to play for a few hours during the preview and I can’t wait to explore everything this game has to offer when it releases.

Total War: Warhammer III releases on PC on February 17th, 2022.

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