I have very fond memories of playing Total War: Rome way past my bedtime on a family computer as a kid. Despite this, I've never really gone back to it. Even with the remaster releasing last year, I never quite got caught up in it again.
With just a few short hours with Total War: Warhammer 3, I feel that distinct urge to ignore my bedtime and stay up till morning again.
I recently spent around 8 hours with the game, taking 50 turns with the Grand Cathay and 50 turns with the Daemons of Chaos. Despite getting all this time in, I felt like I barely scratched the surface of the Warhammer 3 experience.
What is the experience?
For the most part, the moment to moment gameplay remains unchanged in Warhammer 3. You start the turn checking your economy, moving your units and preparing for the next move.
There's a chess-like aspect to Total War games, advancing units to make up for their weaknesses and capitalise on your enemy's position. One army will often be your best but a well-rounded board is how you advance the game. If you lay all your hopes on one unit, you prepare to lose if they go.
Although I started strong with both campaigns, it all started to slowly fall apart around turn 40. The preview time limit stopped me from witnessing my end but this playtime taught me something valuable I forgot about Total War: All your resources can go in an instant.
At the start of the game, over 100 clans took over the huge map and I was just one tiny cog in that machine. You may be able to take out a handful of factions surrounding you but a good player bides their time and strikes when its politically viable to do so. Rush when it makes sense and take advantage of all the factions that inhabit the world.
How does it all work?
It's very clear from my time with the game how important the narrative is to the experience. They're bringing in tonnes of clans, all with their own ideology and it needs the framework to support it.
According to this interview with PCGamesN, the Chaos Gods work much more as a force of nature than a traditional villain. They cause destruction but don't operate as a central antagonist. Warhammer is a game of hundreds of ideologies, all butting heads and trying to get their own way.
The story follows the role of a man, left with nothing but the Tome of Fates, a book he can't fully access or comprehend. One drop of Ursun, the Bear-God of Kislev's blood, can set him free and the faction you choose is how you plan on doing so. With the world approaching calamity and a multitude of tribes trying to get their way, you must control one and conquer all.
The two factions I got to control emphasised what Total War has always done well. It showed how varied every faction can possibly be. Whilst the Daemons of Chaos are all about wreaking havoc and taking down enemies, the Grand Cathay is about balance.
Learning to not go into every game with the same method of play is fantastic and one of its greatest strengths.
Factions don't feel like reskins, they feel like new ways to understand the game. Following this philosophy allowed me to understand what it is Total War: Warhammer 3 is really going for. It's not trying to reboot the franchise or really mess with that formula - it's aiming to refine it.
There are some new aspects to the game, of course. Meaningful changes have been made to infantry to support those new factions and small toggles like the ability to ground your flying units helps to fully plan out your attacks.
Outside of combat, in the forge of souls campaign, the world sees regular rifts appear, due to Ursun's pain. You can go into them to move through dimensions and stop its mighty demon hordes from growing. Sometimes, this requires a truce between factions while you figure it out. Other times, it allows you to take advantage and entirely wipe someone out.
Although I only had 50 turns, the moment to moment planning is incredibly infectious in Total War: Warhammer 3. Knowing what you want to do next but not really knowing how makes long term planning incredibly rewarding. It can be pretty tough but finally getting to grips with it makes that all worth it.
The same can be said for the battles. It gives you an estimation of how battles will go, allowing you to simulate them if you don't like doing them but it's as brutal as it has ever been. It doesn't have the complexity of a full on RTS game but it has more than enough to pull back victory from certain defeat and lose your army in a poorly planned push.
With an RTX 3070 on Ultra settings, Warhammer 3 gives fascinating up-close fights in every battlefield. Sometimes, it can be fun to just follow your commander and watch who they take down.
Don't sweat the small stuff
Although I constantly got caught up in all the small details, what makes these games work so well is the entire experience. It's not the singular battles I remember but the entire campaign. Although I only got a glimpse of Total War: Warhammer 3 so far, I can't wait to see the full picture.