A guide to the Total War: Warhammer series, for the uninitiated
If you are new to the franchise, here is all you need to know
So, you’ve seen a trailer or an ad for Total War: Warhammer III and you’re wondering what all the fuss is about.
Or perhaps you want to know why your significant other has recently become a wild-eyed recluse, emerging only briefly from the PC room, and now only responds to the phrase “THE NATION CALLS!”
Maybe you’re just keen to see a free-for-all royal rumble between a dragon, a dinosaur, a wizard, and a tree-like ent with a huge burning sword (by the way, the ent is also a wizard).
Don’t worry, you’ve come to the right place.
We interviewed Glenn Kitson, who, for those that do not know, is one of the main people behind the Total War: Warhammer Wiki Community, so is very much an expert in the field. What Glenn does not know about the games, simply is not worth knowing.
Total War: Warhammer III Launches
What is Total War?
For those not familiar with Total War, it’s a series of strategy PC games created by developer Creative Assembly and published by Sega. The series combines a turn-based grand strategy campaign map with real-time battles.
On the campaign map, you spend your time amassing forces, managing your economy, engaging in diplomacy, directing armies, and constructing buildings in cities under your control.
When two hostile armies meet, a battle is initiated. After a loading screen, the game will display a battle map, where you control your army in real-time.
For a long time, the Total War games were all based on history, with titles like Rome, Shogun and Medieval II Total War.
In 2016, this changed when the first Total War: Warhammer game brought Total War and the Warhammer Fantasy setting together in a marriage made in heaven (or rather, in the hellish, maddening Realm of Chaos).
In 2017, Total War: Warhammer II released, and improved upon the original immensely.
With Total War: Warhammer III out, now is the perfect time to jump into the series.
What is Warhammer Fantasy?
Warhammer Fantasy is a fantasy universe created by British company Games Workshop in the 1980s. It served as the setting for a tabletop battle game played with armies of detailed (and expensive) models. There’s also novels, animations, and video games including Fatshark’s Vermintide series.
It shouldn’t be confused with the sci-fi Warhammer 40,000, or Age of Sigmar. They share some elements in common, but for most purposes, they’re very different settings.
Warhammer Fantasy is a high fantasy setting which takes place on a fictional planet that resembles Earth. It has many of the classic fantasy tropes you’ll be familiar with. There’s human kingdoms, undead, orcs and elves. But most of them have a dark, wacky or funny twist.
For instance, The Empire is based roughly on the 1600s Holy Roman Empire. It has fairly standard historical units like crossbowmen, halberdiers, knights and cannons… but also exploding rocket artillery, generals riding griffons, wizards and even steampunk tanks.
The Greenskins (Orcs and Goblins), are a bloodthirsty and primitive horde that seek only to kill and burn. But they also take a manic glee in fighting, screaming “Waaagh!” and other battle-cries in cockney British accents. Fighting the Greenskins is like having your city razed by unruly football hooligans who leave behind giant stinking piles of poo - some of which act as monster units in battle.
There are also a lot of non-standard races.
There’s swashbuckling vampires leading armies of zombie pirates, barnacle-encrusted cannons and marine monstrosities, like something out of Pirates of the Caribbean.
There’s the Skaven - evil ratmen who lurk in a secret Under-Empire, making hidden settlements beneath the cities of other races. Their armies are swarms of ravenous rats, horrifying mutant rodent monsters, motorized hamster-wheels of doom, and tactical nuclear weapons.
There’s even Aztec/Mayan lizards who ride dinosaurs into battle and fire laser beams. Yes, you read that correctly. Lizards. Riding. Dinosaurs.
With the launch of Total War: Warhammer III, the series now has a whopping 23 separate playable races. And each of them is injected with this amount of character and uniqueness in their aesthetic, lore and playstyle.
So who are the new kids on the block in Warhammer III?
Warhammer III is introducing several new playable races. There’s Kislev, a human kingdom based on a sort of Medieval/Renaissance Russia or Poland. They have ice magic (their leader is sort of an Elsa-type, but with less singing) and bear cavalry.
Grand Cathay are a fantasy China, led by dragons who can shapeshift between human and dragon forms on the battlefield. They focus on defending a huge Great Bastion in the north, and keeping harmony and balance.
Then there’s the Chaos Daemon factions. These are the ultimate bad guys of Warhammer Fantasy. They are what the series has been building towards. There’s four of them, each representing a separately-themed evil deity and each playing very differently.
For instance, Nurgle the god of decay focuses on creating and spreading customized diseases. His armies are disgusting, visibly-rotting creatures who are incredibly resilient and slow.
Slaanesh the pleasure god focuses on seductively converting other factions to their cause. Slaanesh’s daemons are swift damage dealers, whose lithe forms combine both masculine and feminine features.
Lastly on release there will be the Ogre Kingdoms - a race of brutish, monster-sized raiders who migrate across the campaign map. The Ogres are cannibalistic and violent, but also pragmatic and unscrupulous, they’re happy to accept payment in lieu of eating you.
Ogre Kingdoms are a paid DLC, but they’ll be free for anyone who buys the game before February 24th - that’s a week after release, and 9 days after reviews came out.
How do the games play?
In the Total War: Warhammer series, players first pick a fantasy race (eg: Dwarfs), then a faction (eg: Karaz-a-Karak) each of which is led by a different legendary lord.
A legendary lord is a special named character in Warhammer lore - in this example it would be Thorgrim Grudgebearer, the High King.
Even within the same race, separate factions can play very differently. They might start in very different parts of the map, or in some cases have unique custom gameplay features.
From there, players engage in the turn based campaign and/or the real time battles. In campaign mode, there is an auto resolve feature: players who don’t want to play battles can opt to have the AI choose a victor instead.
It should be mentioned that although it’s typically not the main draw of the series, players can ignore the turn-based campaign entirely and just play custom battles against the AI, or battle online against other players.
Speaking of multiplayer, there are also online campaigns. In Total War: Warhammer III, there will be up to 8-player campaigns, and simultaneous turns to speed up the experience.
I’ve heard that the games combine together somehow, how does that work?
From the beginning it was going to be a trilogy of games. The developers reasoned that they couldn’t do all the various races and factions of the setting justice in a single game.
Instead, the plan was for 3 games. Each would be playable separately as a standalone title, but if you owned all of them, you’d get access to a massive mega-campaign in the third game, available some time after release.
In the mega-campaign, you’ll be able to play through any of the content from the three games, including any free or paid DLC you own, together on one huge map.
Creative Assembly already did a trial run, in the Mortal Empires campaign for Total War: Warhammer II. This campaign is available to people who own the first and second game, and all the races, factions and legendary lords from those two games are playable there.
For this to work, you need to own all the games on a single storefront (ie: Steam, Epic or Windows Store). You don’t need to have all 3 games installed - just have them in your library.
What’s with all the DLC?
It can be a little daunting to open up a store page for one of the Total War Warhammer games and be confronted with a huge list of DLC.
So here’s what you need to know.
First, you should note that nearly half the DLC in the list is completely free. This is because every time Creative Assembly release a paid DLC, they release some meaty free content alongside it - most often a new playable faction led by a legendary lord. In many cases, the free content has been just as much fun as (sometimes more than) the paid content.
You usually need to download free DLC manually from Steam or Epic. In some cases you need to create an account and log in to Total War Access, Creative Assembly’s online platform.
When it comes to the paid DLC, there’s broadly two types.
- Those which add a new race (eg: Curse of the Vampire Coast, which adds the titular race of vampire pirates, complete with 4 playable factions)
- Those which add new factions, legendary lords and units (eg: The Warden & The Paunch, which adds new factions+units+lords for High Elves and Greenskins).
Crucially, all the DLC content will appear in the game to fight against, regardless of whether you own the DLC or not. So even if you don’t own the Tomb Kings, you can still waltz your army over to the desert of Nehekhara and fight against their armies of ancient-Egyptian themed skeletons, mummies and walking, jackal-headed statues, and raze their pyramids to the ground.
Lastly, the vast majority of the DLC content doesn’t feel necessary. The base game has hundreds of hours of fun, and you can treat most DLC like an ala-carte menu, picking and choosing the bits you want to buy and play. You won’t feel as though your gameplay experience is poorer for not owning the rest.
If you don’t like the sound of the Beastmen - a roaming horde of bovine mutants that don’t settle down in cities, but rather destroy everything in their path… there’s no need to buy the DLC that makes them playable.
There are a couple of exceptions, for instance The Prophet & The Warlock adds new ranged units for the Skaven, who feel lacking without them. Although, again, this only applies if you’re interested in playing as Skaven.
OK, you’ve hooked me,… but I don’t know where to start.
Creative Assembly have done a lot of work to make Warhammer III the most accessible title for new players yet, including a fantastic story-driven prologue campaign that acts as a tutorial.
I hope you have as much fun conquering the world as I do.
Total War: Warhammer III is now available to buy from Fanatical and for a limited period, you still can get the bonus content to unlock that Ogre race, as well as a great discount on the game.