Total War: Warhammer 3 is an absurd package. Developer Creative Assembly has invested heavily in the culmination of this trilogy that started in earnest six years ago. Enough so that game director Ian Roxburgh is confident in claiming that it's "the biggest Total War game we've ever made."
I spent a couple of hours playing Total War: Warhammer 3, and I can see where he's coming from. The upcoming strategy game is launching on February 17 with eight new factions, a sprawling narrative, and a map that's twice as large as Warhammer 2's Eye of the Vortex. It's packed with quality-of-life improvements to the AI and UX, and evolutions to core systems ranging from combat to diplomacy.
It's ambitious. It's impressive. And it's a lot of fun – the sort of experience I'll accidentally sink hundreds of hours into, just as I did with Warhammer one and two. A terrifying thought, especially as Roxburgh says the 50 turns I spent playing as the Grand Cathay race barely scratched the surface. "Because the first two games were so successful, it gave us the opportunity to have a much bigger budget and a longer time to work on Warhammer 3; we really could reach for the stars. I think we've ticked every box that fans would have wanted… and there's loads of new features that fans won't be expecting."
Warhammer is better with friends
Here's a feature that I wasn't expecting: a massive overhaul to multiplayer. Creative Assembly is introducing a new campaign-multiplayer mode in Total War: Warhammer 3 – designed to make the act of global conflict larger, faster, and far more social. The multiplayer campaign is no longer restricted to just two players, supporting up to eight instead. "To facilitate that, all eight players can play their turns simultaneously. So you're not going to have your turn and then have to wait for seven other people to take their turns – you'll all be playing at the same time," says Roxburgh.
As you can probably imagine, this has sweeping implications across the entirety of Total War: Warhammer 3. This franchise was built on a foundation of real-time tactics, but never has that been applied so literally. Roxburgh says you'll need to make decisions quickly and decisively. You'll work to control areas of the map, rushing to capture cities before other players can sweep them out from under you. And that's as you work to accrue resources, establish diplomatic relationships, and recruit a formidable army.
Roxburgh says that this shift "really brings battles to life", unlike any Total War game has before. With eight players marauding around a sprawling map in real-time, Creative Assembly will bring all of you together once one player decides to kick off a conflict. "You all jump into that battle, and the player can gift units of their army to the others. So four or five of you might control different units within that army and some of you might jump on the other side, taking control of the AI's army so that it's more of a multiplayer battle setup. It's a fun and more social experience like we've never had before in a Total War game."
"We've had an absolute blast playing during development. You've got these massive battles happening and all eight players can be a part of it. It's not just one person telling a story about their experience and everyone enjoying that, it's everyone engaged in that experience together. It's a hell of a lot of fun and a very different way of experiencing Total War," says Roxburgh. Principal writer Andy Hall adds: "There's plenty of room for banter as well."
If all you want to do is throw massive armies together with your friends, Creative Assembly has you covered on that front too. Total War: Warhammer 3 features a new competitive domination mode which pits two teams of 1-4 players against one another in area control battles – it sounds perfect for those occasions where you need to one vs one somebody to prove a point.
The eight-player 'Realm of Chaos' multiplayer campaign isn't the end of Creative Assembly's efforts to make Total War: Warhammer 3 more social. The studio has also built smaller 'mini-scenarios' – which I'm told are more agile and less time-consuming. There's 'Darkness & Disharmony' with support for up to eight players and 'Something Rotten in Kislev' for a group of three.
"Rather than the eight-player multiplayer campaign being a potentially six-month experience, as you play through the entire Total War campaign, these mini-scenarios ensure you're right in amongst it from turn one. It's far more action-packed; you get these massive battles where all of you are involved right from the beginning," Roxburgh continues. All eight players are very close in terms of their starting positions, and they're more developed in terms of their tech and unit recruitment. You can start and finish an entire mini-campaign within one evening."
"The Cathay campaign is very adversarial," Hall adds, speaking to the diversity of experience Total War: Warhammer 3 is delivering in multiplayer. "But we've also created a Kislev level where all three of you are banding together against the AI's Chaos Forces. They offer very different flavors. I think there's obviously room for us to expand this concept, and we hope to do that."
Ultimately, this shift to the multiplayer side of play opens up the possibilities of what is possible in Total War: Warhammer 3 in a way that I find to be pretty captivating. As a player who can't invest months-worth of time or attention into a single multiplayer campaign anymore, but is longing for more opportunities to think strategically and act socially after two years of isolation, the idea of being able to blast through a campaign scenario in an evening with friends speaks to me. It's an unexpected evolution for Total War.
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