• Review of Warhammer III - Realm of Chaos campaign

    Review of Warhammer III - Realm of Chaos campaign
    by Alwyn and Zoner16

    Total War: Warhammer III offers an apocalyptic atmosphere, incredible variety and dramatic battles involving monsters and magic. In Warhammer II's Mortal Empires, you fight an end-game invasion by servants of Chaos; in Warhammer III's Realms of Chaos campaign, you're taking on the daemons of Chaos themselves - or leading them. Daemons are breaking into the mortal world through rifts from hell dimensions, and you can save the world or reduce it to ruins.

    Fantasy Total War games aren't for everyone. If you play Total War for the experience of ruling a historical nation, you may not want Warhammer. Even, so, Warhammer games have something to offer historical players who would like to try something different. For players who have seen a campaign map of Europe many times, they offer new lands to explore - and for players who liked the unusually big campaign map of Empire Total War, the large campaign maps of Warhammer may be attractive. For people who enjoy fantasy RPGs, books, films and television series, the Warhammer games offer fantasy adventures on a grand scale. While you might have preferred the setting to be Middle-Earth or Westeros, Warhammer offers a dramatic fantasy setting, as your heroes and lords level up and acquire magic items like characters in a fantasy RPG. If you enjoyed the defiance of Gondor against the might of Sauron's armies in the Lord of the Rings, you might enjoy playing as Kislev, humans holding the line against invading daemons. If you liked the idea of a fantasy kingdom in which the ruling House enforce their rule with dragons, you might enjoy playing as Cathay, a land ruled by dragons who can transform into human form. Also, if you like to see new features appearing in historical Total War games, this is an opportunity to see them being developed. For example, the caravan mechanic for Cathay in Warhammer III would work well in a future historical game, to replace the trade circles that are used in Empire, Napoleon and Shogun II (in which trade ships remained in one place to generate income) with routes in along which caravans or convoys would travel.

    For the first time in the fantasy series, the game features a full tutorial campaign, complete with a storyline that ties into the overarching plot of the Realms of Chaos. While not strictly necessary to understand the RoC campaign, the tutorial is well crafted and presented, with fantastic voice acting and a couple of memorable moments to boot. It follows Prince Yuri Barkov of Kislev, on a mission to rescue the bear god Ursun, whose absence is crushing his homeland. On the way, he battles increasingly deadly Norscan forces, his own despair, and an increasingly dark and powerful shadow that seems to orchestrating events for reasons unknown. It provides a good introduction to the various mechanics of the game, and even for Total War veterans, it can help ease the transition from the historical titles if you've never played a fantasy Total War before.

    While Kislev was a non-playable faction on the edge of Warhammer II's map, in Warhammer III it's playable. Cathay and four daemonic factions appear in the Warhammer series for the first time. There are also the Ogre kingdoms and the Champions of Chaos, added as DLC. For some factions you are offered a choice of Legendary Lords. For example, for Kislev, you can play as Tzarina Katarin, the Patriarch Kostaltyn, or Boris Ursus - and each lord has a different starting location and has different strengths. Katarin's army has cheaper Ice Guards, a powerful melee/ranged infantry unit, while Boris Ursus has cheaper War Bears Riders, which are heavy melee cavalry. The faction mechanics vary too. For example, if you play as Katarin or Kostaltyn, you are in a race to confederate the other leader's nation before they can confederate yours. If you prefer to play a Kislev faction without being involved in the confederation race, Boris Ursus's campaign doesn't include it. Different factions in Warhammer III offer very different play-styles, for example the daemons of Tzeentch rely on magic and skirmishing, the armies of Khorne (the Chaos god of blood, killing and rage) specialise in heavy melee infantry and Cathay's armies tend to be disciplined formations of melee and ranged units.

    The much-anticipated release of Warhammer III was followed by heated debate about the Realm of Chaos campaign. This is the equivalent of Warhammer II's Vortex campaign - a main campaign for the new game focusing on the new factions, with a limited role for factions from previous games. There was much criticism of the game at launch, and some important criticisms were mentioned in reviews of the release version of the game. Alice O'Connor of Rock Paper Shotgun reported that "many players suffering serious performance problems" (this seems to have been a significant issue with the launch version, particularly for some players). Fraser Brown of PC Gamer summed up the new Realm of Chaos campaign mechanics, which made managing your empire difficult with early versions of Warhammer III:

    Every 30 or so turns, rifts open up all over the map, spewing out daemonic armies and inviting mortals to enter Total War's weirdest locations, culminating in massive survival battles against a daemon prince

    The Chaos Realm of Tzeentch - a mini-campaign map of floating islands

    While the rifts offer opportunities to enter one of four Realms of Chaos, at launch many players didn't like the way that this worked. When the rifts appear in a province, it experiences a surge in daemonic corruption, reducing control (Warhammer's public order) and income. The primary problem with the rift system at launch was how badly it punished the player for expanding. Because rifts appeared in a province by province basis, you'd get more rifts the more provinces you held, making the cost of defending provinces higher than their income. The ways around this were to send a hero or army to close a rift, which was fairly costly and repetitive.

    While the rifts are present, the idea is that your Legendary Lord (your faction leader and the commander of your best army) will travel through a rift to defeat a daemon prince and acquire their soul. This means that you regularly send your best army into the realms in order to stay competitive in the race, which robs you of a defensive army at a time when there are more enemy armies potentially spawning in. This could be a problem with the launch version of the game, when there was no way to prevent rfits appearing. Even after updates (when it became possible to prevent rifts from appearing by constructing a protection building), AI factions tend to struggle to close the rifts or to construct buildings to prevent them appearing, which primarily harms order factions. Your Legendary Lord also acquires negative traits which get worse, the longer they spent in a realm of chaos. These traits are removed if you successfully completed your mission in the Chaos realm, or (even if your were not successful) if your lord returns and spends time in a settlement with a protection chain building.

    If you're considering buying Warhammer III, you might wonder whether the Realm of Chaos campaign is good now - have the updates solved the problems which players experienced with the release version? When players acquired the ability to prevent rifts from appearing in a province using a protection building (the type of building which, in Warhammer II, enabled the player to detect Skaven under-cities), this was a significant improvement. Some players reported that the problems with the game's performance were solved by early updates. While (as you'll see below) the replayability of the Realm of Chaos campaign may be limited (because the experience of the Chaos rifts is similar each time), Warhammer III offers a solid introduction to the series for new players, and it's a great way to get a taste of the setting before playing the Immortal Empires campaign which requires owning Warhammer I, II and III on the same platform (such as Steam).

    The Realms of Chaos

    When your Legendary Lord enters a rift, you can choose to enter any of the four realms, one for each god of Chaos. Each realm offers a different challenge. In Khorne's rage-filled realm, you take on a variety of foes in arena-style settings; in Slaanesh's seductive realm, you are offered temptations of money, magic items and faction bonuses to leave; Nurgle's pestilent realm poisons intruders with corruption, while in Tzeentch's mysterious realm, you teleport through a maze of floating islands.

    Enter one of the four realms and you can earn the opportunity to defeat the champion of a Chaos god

    Each realm has a series of battles leading to a boss fight against a daemonic champion; defeat the champion and you claim one of the four souls that you need to reach the campaign's ultimate battle at the Forge of Souls. Playable AI factions compete with you in this race, so they may win the battle at the Forge of Souls before you've got there; however the game does offer the player an opportunity to teleport to the Forge of Souls to intercept an AI army which is about to win the campaign.

    The different art styles and challenges of the four realms are done well. The realms are very creative and thematic. Their mechanics suit each god, and after a couple of balance and quality of life passes, they're fun at least for a couple of times. The problem with them is that you have to do them every single campaign. Each realm has a small number of battle maps and the god-aligned armies that auto-generate within the realms only have a couple of army templates. With the exception of Khorne's festival of rogue armies, the other realms get rather samey to fight in. You're best advised to speed through them, both because of the race and because they get less tolerable to play in the longer you hang around.

    Every realm ends with a survival battle. Due to the scripting, the survival battles are basically the same. They're interesting as a novelty, but they tend to be too drawn out, often clocking in at an hour or so of playtime each, much of which is grinding through blobs in chokepoints. Some factions who excel in blob fights or ranged combat will do well, while others will have a bad time. They're probably best appreciated in small doses, so its fortunate that you can 'autowin' using autoresolve, which counts the late game reinforcement army as part of the calculation.

    For greater replayability, the daemonic realms might have been larger, included more varied battle maps or had procedural elements (such as additional optional parts of the realms that the players could explore). Even so, we understand that there is a trade-off between making bigger maps and improving how the game works on the existing map. Empire Total War's campaign map covers more of the world than that of Napoleon, but Napoleon Total War is more polished. Perhaps the realms could include occasional armies from factions which are aligned to the relevant Chaos god, to provide more variety? For example, as well as fighting armies of Slaanesh daemons on Slaanesh's realm, you could encounter armies from the Dark Elf Cult of Pleasure or Cult of Excess, while armies from the Warriors of Chaos, Beastmen or Norscans could appear in any realm. Admittedly, this would reduce the distinctiveness of Khorne's realm, where you face a variety of opposing armies - but the opponents in Khorne's realm are even more varied, for example including armies of Woof Elf beasts or Greenskins. In the survival battle at the end of a journey to a chaos realm, the opponents could be more varied too, for example if the player's army occasionally faced an attack by a group of one of the game's many monsters, instead of another daemonic army.

    Khorne's realm offers an additional risk/reward option, which is a nice feature - if you go to a specific location, you can acquire a unique magic weapon. Similarly, the final temptation in a visit to Slaanesh's realm involved being offered the Blade of Slaanesh, a unique sword with a huge bonus to armour piercing damage. While Slaanesh's Blade offers your character a huge advantage in melee, it also spreads a little Slaanesh corruption in the local province; the idea of powerful magic items that have an element of danger works well, considering that you took them from a daemonic realm.

    There is also the risk/reward element that you can choose to spend longer in a realm to fight more battles and level up your characters and units, but this involves the risk that another faction might defeat the champion before you do.

    Faction mechanics

    In Total War: Warhammer games, factions don't only have different rosters and technology trees, they have different mechanics on the campaign map. Playing as Cathay, for example, you can send a trade caravan across the campaign map on your chosen route (longer routes are more profitable, shorter routes are safer). Your caravans will have encounters along the way and a successful caravan journey is rewarded with a magic item as well as profit. For example, after a trade caravan reached the Vampire Count city of Castle Drakehof, a caravan commander received Van Carstein's Blade, a powerful magic sword providing regeneration, but at the cost of spreading vampiric corruption and making the user somewhat vulnerable to fire. These trade-offs create enjoyable choices and opportunities, and the caravan mechanic works well. In any future historical Total War game set in the Age of Sail, it would be great to see this mechanic used for sea trade, with convoys of trade shops escorted by a few warships - particularly if the player could use warships to provide additional defences for your own convoys and to raid enemy convoys.

    A caravan encounter for Cathay

    Campaign mechanics can vary, even when you play different Legendary Lords of the same culture. For example, playing as Cathay, if you choose the Storm Dragon, your faction will be defending the Great Bastion, a long fortification along Cathay's north-western frontier - while if you play as the Iron Dragon instead, you're more likely to be dealing with incursions from the Cathay's southern border, where there is no Great Bastion.

    Defending the Great Bastion on the battle map

    The campaign map encourages Cathay not to expand west beyond the Great Bastion. The Great Bastion fortress settlements have strong garrisons and they can also have reduced upkeep for your armies (if you construct a building which enables this). The provinces beyond the wall are uninhabitable (this has the same meaning as in Warhammer II; your faction can occupy uninhabitable settlements, but with significant debuffs for public order, income and replenishment). The threat of attack by the Kurgan warbands builds up over time, and you can find yourself defending against an attack by multiple armies - an enjoyable battle.

    Other factions have different campaign mechanics and they reflect the theme of the faction. For example, Tzarina Katarin, leader of the Ice Court of Kislev, can train Frost Maiden mages (allowing the player to choose from a selection of abilities), issue invocations (causing affects such as winter attrition of enemy armies in your territory), and appoint atamans (governors who provide bonuses for their province.)

    Customising the daemon prince of the Legion of Chaos faction

    If you play as the Legion of Chaos, you can customise the Daemon Prince (your faction leader), giving your character a distinctive appearance and abilities. You can can recruit daemonic units from all four of the chaos faction rosters. When you capture a settlement, you can dedicate it to any one of the four chaos gods - the buildings you can construct there will come from the building tree of that chaos faction. This means that playing as the Legion of Chaos is a great way to introduce yourself to the chaos factions of Khorne, Slaanesh, Nurgle and Tzeentch (the four monogod factions).

    The monogod factions share a few mechanics which are tied to each god's unique corruption and resource: Unholy Manifestations, similar to rites in Warhammer 2. As the corruption of your god increases globally, you can perform more powerful manifestations that are specific to each chaos god. Additionally, every 10 turns, a random god will become ascendant within chaos and their manifestations will increase in power across the board.

    Corruption in enemy regions increases the chance of a cult of the associated god spawning. This acts as an undercity-type settlement that gives you your god's unique resource or cash in different rates depending on the kinds of buildings you build there. You can also choose to construct a building that destroys the cult in exchange for a campaign effect. For example, Tzeentch can destroy their cults to increase the winds of magic in surrounding provinces. Each god also has a main faction mechanic - their monogod faction gets a very powerful version of this mechanic, while their champion faction (one of the Warriors of Chaos) gets a lite version. These involve mechanics generating and spending their faction unique resource to enact powerful campaign effects, whereas the warrior version uses souls for the same purpose.

    Overall, these campaign abilities are where a lot of the fun of the faction lies. While the faction rosters are less distinct, their playstyles are very different thanks to the difference in how they generate and use their corruption and resources. Their warriors getting a smaller version helps to distinguish them, since they get the full roster and campaign mechanics of the revamped Warriors of Chaos.

    Whichever faction you play, there are ways to extend your roster, for example by recruiting ogre mercenaries (in a region with an Ogre camp) or by building an outpost in the city held by an allied faction (allowing you to recruit some units from their roster). Allied AI factions can build an outpost in one of your cities and this will add a few of their units to your garrison. If you play as Slaanesh or the Legion of Chaos, you can seduce one or more units from an enemy army to join your forces for the duration of the battle.

    These Greenkins are not going to attack the daemons to their left, they are going to fight alongside them, because they have been seduced to join the Legion of Chaos

    It's even possible that a lord of Tzeentch (played by the AI) can cause three Spawn of Tzeentch (also known as Chaos Spawn) units to appear in one of your armies. When this happened to one of my Kislev commanders, I thought it was a bug, but according to a video by MercytheMad, an AI lord has a special ability which can be used to cause these units to appear in an army (including an army used by the player).

    Mechanics which allow you to experiment with units that you couldn't normally recruit are not likely to have a decisive impact on the outcome of your campaign, but they add flavour and fun. They also create an incentive for you to keep your allies alive because, if your ally loses the city which contains our outpost, the allied units you recruited will be lost as well.


    The diplomacy rework not only lets you spice up your own armies with auxiliary forces, it also allows AI factions to create wildly new armies as well, since they also benefit from the outpost system. All settlements with an outpost will have a handful of units from the faction that built the garrison, and all AI armies can recruit units from outposts they've built. While the AI isn't the best at building armies with this new system, sometimes wasting their slots on useless chaff, it does make for exciting situations where you run into Wood Elves backed up by Tomb Kings constructs or entire multi-faction alliance members.

    Diplomacy is more satisfying than in earlier Warhammer games, as you are given more information about how close you are to agreement. This avoids situations where the player makes endless futile offers in the hope of getting trade or military access, for example. The Quick Deal feature makes it easy to find any faction which would be willing to make a specific type of agreement with your faction. In Empire Total War campaigns, AI factions often make unreasonable offers, such as offering to end a war in exchange for a region; in Warhammer III, AI factions are more likely to make reasonable offers, for example for trade and military access. Of course, AI factions act in their own interests and they will try to draw you into their wars. Having said that, accepting these offers is a viable way to make money and to improve your relations with friendly nations - and when the faction you're at war with is a long distance away, they're unlikely to cause problems for you (at least for a while).

    It is now possible to see where allied and vassal armies are going using the overlay options (press spacebar) or by mousing over them. This is very useful for planning your moves and for confirming that war coordination is working. War Coordination itself is now quite a bit more consistent, and can be more easily accessed on the campaign map, though it does cost allegiance points to issue new commands.

    With a large amount of allegiance points (built up over time or as rewards from completing objectives), you can now temporarily control allied armies. This is very useful for sniping settlements that your allies are sieging, since you will get the regions that you conquer with borrowed armies. It also lets you quickly take advantage of a conveniently placed allied army, rather than waiting on war coordination or them wandering into your reinforcement range.

    While the overall diplomacy system is still not as deep and complex as that of Three Kingdoms, it does preserve the rationality and quality of life improvements that Three Kingdoms pioneered, such as "make this work" and "balance deal." Region trading is back, though the AI is somewhat stingy about how it values regions.

    The campaign map

    Cathay's Great Bastion on the campaign map

    The map is pretty good. There's a good variety of factions with clear distinctions between regions to create different battle scenarios on different terrain. If the campaign encouraged expansion or travel more, it could take advantage of this. The Realm of Chaos map may not hold up to Immortal Empires. The Vortex managed to stay relevant throughout Warhammer II because Mortal Empires had some unfortunate cuts made to its shape which caused certain new world factions to have rather cramped or railroaded start positions on the combined map while they were freer on the Vortex. Since Immortal Empires seems to have no such cuts, the distinctive feature of the Realms of Chaos map is the chaos realms, which are tied into the narrative race so you rarely go there.

    The starting positions provide a challenge from the start. Playing as Tzarina Katarin, for example, you are under attack from chaos marauders to the east and a rival Kislevite clan to the north. While you can trade and make alliance with the Empire factions to the south, the south also contains vampire counts, and in the west is another rival Kislevite clan. After the release of the Champions of Chaos DLC in August 2022, an additional challenge for Katarin's campaign is the arrival of Valkia the Bloody, champion of the chaos god Khorne.

    The campaign map provides choke points where bridges cross rivers as well as in mountain passes. When the player marches an army to defend a bridge and an attacker approaches, the result tends to be an ordinary field battle. To be fair, there are battle maps with bridges and battle maps with choke points with higher or lower ground, and they can be used when a battle occurs near a bridge, but the player doesn't seem to be able to reliably put an army behind a bridge on the campaign map and get a bridge battle. Similarly, when one of your armies is in Encamp stance (which allows them to recruit and replenish, in exchange for slower movement), if they are attacked there is an ordinary field battle, unlike the fort battles of Rome II (however, the Ogres have a faction ability to create a fort on the campaign map). The absence of bridge defence and fort defence battles (except for Ogres) can make defending your empire harder, although not impossible. Players who enjoyed bridge battles in previous games might miss the opportunity to make a heroic defence of a bridge with a small army against a much larger one, even though of course this could be exploited.

    The game also introduced a new hidden AI difficulty system called 'potential' which would scale bonuses to major enemy factions proportionally to the player's strength. So as Cathay, as you got stronger, Tzeentch and Ogres would get more and more buffs, etc. This, combined with very aggressive anti-player bias, caused more and more enemy armies to cross the length of the map to attack you as time went on. This also meant that your allies would likely end up swallowed by daemons or rivals since they weren't scaling, making diplomacy less useful in a game with a notably extensive diplomacy and alliance system. The good news is that when the rifts are no longer upsetting balance and anti-player bias has been toned down, the potential system does a good job of preventing late game from getting too stale by making sure at least a couple of rival factions can match you by the end. While not as elegant as the alliance endgame of Three Kingdoms, it is a more natural difficulty curve than the chaos invasion of Warhammer II's Mortal Empires campaign.

    Quality of Life

    Warhammer III offers improved quality of life, even compared to Warhammer II. On the battle map, a row of Zzzzs appears on a unit card when the unit is inactive. Instead of reinforcements arriving on the edge of a map from the start of a battle, they now arrive after a delay. In Rome II, it would have been useful to have the option of automatic levelling up for a character, since by the end of the campaign the player can have a lot of characters. Warhammer III offers this feature - in the top left-hand side of the skills screen for a character, there's a tick-box that you can select for automatic allocation of skills when they level up.

    One criticism which is sometimes made of recent Total War games is that the winner of a war will simply be the one that can send multiple armies against single armies enough times - a problem explained in detail by Jurand of Cracow, who described this as "sniping groups of armies". To be fair, while it's true that an inexperienced player could do better by auto-resolving, and, as Heir of Carthage and other veteran players show on YouTube, playing battles manually can lead to a better result - and changes to the timing of reinforcements and to the Lightning Strike ability in Warhammer III provide an improvement in this area.

    In Warhammer II, a reinforcing army starts to arrive soon after a battle begins, so multiple armies can reliably defeat single armies on the battlefield. Also, in Warhammer II a general with the Lightning Strike ability can counter this. Lightning Strike allows a single army to attack one of a group of enemy armies and the other enemy armies cannot arrive as reinforcements. In Warhammer II, Lightning Strike seems overpowered - a Legendary Lord with an elite army can destroy a group of enemy armies easily, fighting each army on its own with no reinforcements.

    In Warhammer III, there is a delay before a reinforcing army starts to arrive, reducing the benefit of a 'sniping group of armies' on the battlefield. Also, instead of preventing other armies from reinforcing at all, Lightning Strike delays enemy reinforcements further (with a longer delay if you put more points in this skill). This is a better system - a single army defending against multiple armies has more of chance to survive, and a single elite army can't use Lightning Strike to destroy army after army easily.

    This might work even better if the reinforcements arrived a bit later - at the moment, they seem to usually start arriving after about two minutes. An example of a battle showing the importance of the timing of reinforcements was a Time Commanders episode, the Battle of Telamon. An army of Celts on a hill faced a small Roman army on the plain in front of them. Behind them, another Roman army marched towards them - but this second army would take a long time to arrive. If the Celts had attacked the first Roman army aggressively, they could have won. However, the players chose to remain on the hill, just as the historical Celts did. This provided them with a good defensive position, but it caused them to be trapped between two Roman armies. With a slightly longer delay before reinforcements start to arrive, an army defending against two (or more) armies could have more of a chance.

    Reinforcements can come from any direction and that direction can be moved (although this will delay the reinforcements further). This is incredibly useful for maximizing the potential of a reinforcing army. There is however a problem that in major settlement sieges, reinforcements can either default to or be moved to coming from within the city itself. This is almost certainly a design oversight or a bug, but until it is fixed, it creates a sometimes problematic and exploitable issue.

    On the battlefield

    An army of Cathay faces the enemy

    Warhammer III's battlefields, like those of previous Warhammer games, are colourful, dramatic and have a lot going on. Instead of a rock-paper-scissors dynamic (such as: spear infantry beating cavalry, who beat skirmishers, who beat spear infantry), Warhammer's battles have flying units, monsters and magic as well as the traditional options of melee and ranged, infantry and cavalry, heavy and light units. This can create a lot of variety in battles, so different tactics will be effective against different opponents - while Cathay's flying gunners and flying artillery are lethal against the melee infantry of a Kurgan warband, they're vulnerable to the massed skirmishers of Tzeentch.

    Magical effects can be very powerful, such as this Tzeentch spell which might remind you of the Eye of Sauron

    Speaking of Tzeentch, as well as massed skirmishers, they have powerful magic. Some players, such as Heir of Carthage, have discussed whether magic is overpowered, since an elite infantry unit can be reduced to a few fleeing survivors by a single spell. On the other hand, some factions such as Tzeentch rely on their magic to compete with other factions - and, since this is the Warhammer universe, some overpowered things - whether it's monsters, magic, heroes or something else - are part of the experience. Sometimes the enemy are blasting a hole in your formation with a powerful spell, sometimes you're doing this to them and feeling like a badass archmage.

    The minor settlement of Gerslev, in the Eastern Oblast

    One of the aspects of Warhammer III that has often been criticised is the minor settlement battles. Zerkovich made a good point that deployable defences (which could be put anywhere in Three Kingdoms) can now only be placed in pre-determined location, and that minor settlement battles make up an excessive proportion of the engagements in a typical campaign. While the addition of minor settlement battles is a good thing, more of a variety of battles would be helpful - in Rome II, if you attack a minor settlement, sometimes the enemy will march out of the settlement and you'll have an open field battle and Warhammer III could have a similar system. To be fair, Creative Assembly have said that they will address this in a future update.

    Another criticism is that minor settlement battles can drag on - partly because minor settlements can be quite large (which is a good thing) and partly because the supplies system means that the defender can assemble barriers and towers during the battle. While it's easy to imagine a defending army putting together an improved barricade by overturning carts and market stalls and piling furniture onto the barrier, it's harder to imagine carpenters building an arrow tower while an invading army is marching through the streets. A solution might be to limit the deployable defences which can be built after the battle begins to simple barricades, or to give the defender a fixed amount of supplies at the start of the battle which won't increase during the battle (as it does now).

    For players new to the fantasy series, battles in Warhammer can feel confusing and overwhelming. The mechanics have been built up over three games and numerous DLCs. Even the most "vanilla" of factions can have several unique quirks and mechanics, to say nothing of more complex factions like the daemons. There are many stats, special traits, activatable abilities, and modifications of different units to take into account during battle, ranging from minor attack bonuses when fighting certain enemy types, healing health under different circumstances, area of effect buffs and debuffs that can be activated on a timer, and even (for the daemons of Tzeentch) regenerating shields like the Protoss in Starcraft. Fortunately, the game has brought back the offline encyclopedia accessible in or out of battle, which combined with very descriptive tooltips, is a great way to get up to speed, one matchup at a time. There are also many tutorials made by the community available online. Once you understand all the possibilities of the system, it can be a goldmine of fun tactics and considerations, but there is quite a learning curve.

    One of the most important aspects of Warhammer battles to keep in mind is that the scale of strength is much larger and the battles are faster than in historical titles. A top tier unit like a dragon or greater daemon can potentially flatten a bottom tier unit like basic spearmen in well under a minute, no matter how they're positioned. This doesn't mean that such units are useless or that tactics have no meaning, but army composition and matchups matter a lot more. Positioning your army to be mutually supporting, and learning how to combine multiple units in battle is incredibly important, particularly when using monsters. There exists a viable counter to basically every tactic, but sometimes you don't have the tools to execute on it, or sometimes you don't have the numbers to pull it off.

    Ambushes in Warhammer used to work like other battles - the two armies would fight until one was broken. With Warhammer III, an ambushed army is given an escape zone - if you move your army into this area, you have escaped the ambush. This is a useful improvement. David McCullough's excellent book 1776: America and Britain at War includes a series of battles fought by George Washington. In most of these battles, the British won in a traditional Total War sense - General Washington's forces retreated after the battles of Bunker Hill and Long Island, for example. However, Washington was successful in some important ways. He prevented the British from destroying his army (successfully evacuating 9,000 Continental soldiers after the Battle of Long Island), he inflicted heavy losses on the British forces (a British officer, General Clinton, famously said after Bunker Hill that "A few more such victories would have shortly put an end to British dominion in America") and learned from his experiences. It could be interesting if the player had more oportunities define your objective at the start of a battle (or during a battle, as the situation develops) - are you trying to break the enemy army or to extricate your troops with as few losses as possible, hoping to fall back and fight in a better location? In other words, in a regular battle you could cause an escape zone to appear, so if you successfully get your troops out with relatively few losses, this would be at least somewhat successful, rather than a simple defeat. To be fair, Warhammer III allows something similar, in some situations. For example, in a battle which involved the player's army attacking a small force outside an enemy city, the plan was to destroy the small army and then withdrawing the player's units before a large army in the city (and the city garrison) arrived. In fact, after the small army was defeated, the game offered the options of ending the battle or continuing - it was good to see that the game recognises that the the player's goal isn't always to fight every enemy who can reach the battlefield on the day of the battle.

    Any discussion of Warhammer III's battles needs to include the engagement that you fight at the end of an adventure in a chaos realm. In these battles, your army fights waves of enemies (without returning to the campaign map in between waves) and, at the end, you face a champion of a chaos god with a final army. Even if you brought an elite army, this would be very difficult, so these battles have something similar to the supplies system which is used in defensive siege battles. While you can use your supplies to build barriers and towers (as in a defensive siege), you can also use them to heal your units, re-supply their ammunition, improve their weapons or armour and even to bring in reinforcements. This system works smoothly when you've got the hang of it (which took a battle or two); this can also make a player wonder why, if your faction can literally run supply lines into a hell dimension, you can't use similar improvements in ordinary battles - particularly the ability to re-supply the ammunition of ranged units in a siege defence.

    While the final battle in each chaos realm can be exciting, and your characters and units can level up quickly, there are downsides. The system of replenishments and reinforcements can be fun, but it can feel a bit strange that my faction's supply lines are at their most effective when you're in a hell dimension. The reinforcements that you can summon don't come from any of your armies or garrisons, so they seem to appear out of nowhere. Because these are, in effect, a series of linked battles, they can take a long time to play (around 40 to 60 minutes) and there is no opportunity to save, so if something comes up in real life after 50 minutes and you need to stop, you may end up re-starting the battle. While it's normal that we can't save during a battle in Total War games, it would be helpful if this was added - if only for these final chaos realm battles, in between each wave of enemies.

    While the AI (as always) is capable of making mistakes, it's also able to engage in sneaky flanking, and sudden concentrated attacks on a specific part of your line and it's satisfying to see AI factions use different tactics in different battles. For example, when the player defends the Great Bastion as Cathay on the battle-map, sometimes the AI spreads its army wide to attack a broad area of the wall at once, and sometimes it sends a whole army to attack a single section of the wall.

    Overall Impressions

    Warhammer III offers an apocalyptic setting in which daemons are breaking through from hell dimensions into the mortal world - and your forces are the first line of defence or are leading the charge to overrun the puny mortals. If you're only interested in historical wargaming or are deterred by the sight of ravaging daemons and slobbering ogres on the battlefield, Warhammer III won't be for you. If you're interested in fantasy adventures on a grand scale, with a variety of settings and faction mechanics, the opportunity to use magic items, monsters and magic of legendary power and the excitement of literally leading your soldiers into Hell, then Warhammer III has a lot to offer.

    While the game has aspects which can frustrate players, some significant frustrations in the release version of the game have been dealt with in patches. Instead of having no way to prevent the order and income of your regions periodically ruined by rifts which spew chaos corruption and spawn daemonic armies, you can prevent rifts appearing with a protection building. Your Legendary Lord is likely to return from a chaos realm with debuffs because of the damaging experience of campaigning in a hell dimension, but these traits disappear when you return after defeating a chaos champion, and even if you returned empty handed, putting your Lord in a settlement with the protection building will remove those traits. The final battle in each chaos realm becomes repetitive, but this may be improved in future updates or with mods - and the release of the Immortal Empires capaign offers a way to expand your experience of playing Warhammer III, without the chaos realm battles.

    After the release of the Immortal Empires campaign for players who own all three Warhammer games on the same platform (such as Steam), it may well be that most players will prefer the sandbox experience of Immortal Empires, rather than the Realm of Chaos - particularly because Inmortal Empires has an even larger map and even more factions. (You only need to own all three games to play Immortal Empires, you don't need to have all three installed.) Even so, if you're new to Warhammer and considering buying Warhammer III as your first step into this fantasy world, the Realm of Chaos offers a dramatic and enjoyable campaign with impressive variety in its loctions and factions. We hope that this review has given you an idea of the variety, drama and quality of life that Warhammer III offers.

    Our thanks to everyone who commented on draft versions of this article, including Belisarius, Dismounted Feudal Knight, Greek Strategos, Makanyane, Søren and Steph, for your encouragement and insights. Thanks also to Søren for the picture 'Defending the Great Bastion on the battle map'.
    Comments 4 Comments
    1. Gigantus's Avatar
      Gigantus -
      Excellent and extensive stuff. Well done!
    1. Søren's Avatar
      Søren -
      Very enjoyable read. I think this is a brilliant overview of what the game has to offer a range of players, and with the release of Immortal Empires there is no better time than now to try it.

      Personally I was someone who got into Total War because I love history, and I was slightly disappointed when Warhammer was first announced. But I gave it a go and over time the series won me over. There are so many improvements to the uniqueness of factions and the overall gameplay, not to mention a surprisingly compelling lore full of real world allusions. I’d encourage any historical fan to try it now, and we can look forward to some of these changes improving future historical games too.
    1. Belisarius's Avatar
      Belisarius -
      Excellent !
    1. ♔Greek Strategos♔'s Avatar
      ♔Greek Strategos♔ -
      That was a first-rate review and I really enjoyed it! Congrats