After leaving us guessing for a couple of years, Sega and Creative Assembly have finally spilled the beans on Total War: Warhammer 3, and it's going to be a big 'un.
To finish up the trilogy, Creative Assembly's put together an appropriately huge war, which it boasts will have an "unprecedented scale". Set in the Realm of Chaos and the Lands of the East, a quartet of daemonic factions will be vying for dominance, accompanied by a pair of new human factions: Kislev and Cathay. That's two more factions than Warhammer 2 launched with, and they're going to be fighting over a gargantuan map.
"In campaign map terms, it's big… roughly twice the size of Warhammer 2's Eye of the Vortex map," says game director Ian Roxburgh. "And it needs to be, as this is the part of the Warhammer world that gives way to the Realms of Chaos, which take up a significant area in their own right. But I suppose more than anything, you can apply the term 'unprecedented scale' to our ambition for the game. We're aiming to conclude the trilogy in a big way—from the narrative, to the playable races, to the wealth of new features, which we'll come to in good time."
Followers of Chaos have been present in both previous Warhammers, but this is the first time we'll be able to lead daemonic factions. The armies of Khorne, Nurgle, Slaanesh and Tzeentch are all distinct, and you can expect them to field lots of big, monstrous creatures. The introduction of these factions also creates new wrinkles, because it's not like a bunch of Chaos-loving daemons are going to be into stuff like diplomacy, which has become an increasingly significant part of Total War.
Creative Assembly isn't ready to share the specifics, but Roxburgh does tease how they differ from what we're used to. "[L]et's just say this: can you really see Khorne and his minions sitting down for some hearty negotiations with feeble mortals? There's only one transaction to be had with the Blood God, and it involves him swilling an awful lot of Claret…"
As much as I'm looking forward to finally getting my hands on these daemonic arseholes, I'm just as intrigued by their human counterparts. Cathay, Warhammer's Chinese analogue, exists in the tabletop game just as lore, so there's no army for Creative Assembly to work with. The shape the faction will take, then, is a bit of a mystery.
"We've built this incredibly close working relationship with Games Workshop over the years, and Cathay's realisation in Warhammer 3 is testament to that," says Roxburgh. "Their design team led the way in defining what Cathay would look like as a fully-fledged faction, and we've fed that design through the Total War lens, so in the final game you'll see a playable race as complete and as storied as any other."
He adds that they're a good narrative fit, as well, balancing out the "sheer weight of Chaos you're going to experience." Historically, Cathay's had to deal with Chaos incursions from the neighbouring steppes, and managed to halt a daemonic invasion. There also might be good news for fans of ogres. While Creative Assembly isn't ready to talk about additional factions, Roxburgh confirmed that we can expect more paid and free DLC, which hopefully means more armies to fight with. Given Cathay's history with the neighbouring ogre tribes, I wouldn't be surprised to see a proper Ogre faction making an appearance. Japanese-themed Nippon is also close by. With Creative Assembly's desire to include pretty much all of the Old World era of the tabletop game, I wouldn't count anything out.
Kislev should also provide some surprises. Like Cathay, the Russian-inspired faction doesn't have an official army in the current version of the tabletop game, though with the upcoming resurrection of the Old World, Games Workshop is in the process of designing one. So far we know it will include bear cavalry, but it's still very much a work-in-progress.
"Kislev is a natural fit for the campaign map geography, as they are one of the bastion races against which the tides of Chaos crash," Roxburgh explains. "Games Workshop are in the process of updating Kislev to the same level of detail as all the other army books, so there's loads of incredibly exciting new detail for players to see and enjoy in the game. We're delving deep into their lore, their history, their beliefs, and the personalities who embody them, such as Katarin [the frosty Ice Queen] who you'll have seen in the trailer."
Along with the deadly bears, Kislev will field a variety of cavalry, infantry, and armaments, but like Cathay we'll have to wait and see what Creative Assembly and Games Workshop come up with. They'll be facing off against some truly horrible daemons, like Khorne's gruesome Bloodletters and hulking Bloodthirsters, so they'll have their work cut out for them. There will be plenty of monstrous units to fight with and against in Warhammer 3, and Roxburgh says that Creative Assembly's designed some brand new ones, too. Fingers crossed for some spectacular battles.
The previous games featured two major events that they hung on: the Chaos invasion in Warhammer 1 and the fight over the Vortex in Warhammer 2. The final game will also feature some kind of big objective or crisis, though Creative Assembly's keeping that in its back pocket for now. Roxburgh does say, however, that the team's learned a lot about designing Warhammer campaigns, and that experience coupled with player feedback means it's got something "appropriately epic" in mind for the trilogy's conclusion.
Of course, Total War: Warhammer isn't content with just one campaign. After Warhammer 2 launched, Creative Assembly released Mortal Empires, a frankly absurd mega campaign that squashed both games together, with all their factions and lords. The combined map isn't an exact recreation of the two maps, so it's a bit smaller than it would be if they were both just thrown into the mix without any tweaks, but it's still gargantuan. Naturally, Warhammer 3 will be adding to it.
Roxburgh says that this monumental combined map is integral to Total War: Warhammer, and one of the things players have told Creative Assembly they're most looking forward to. He doesn't indicate when it will be ready, however, and it would make sense for it to come after launch. How it's all going to fit together isn't clear, but expect it to swallow up a ridiculous number of hours.
All this talk of massive-scale campaigns would have left me a little bit worried about performance a few years ago, but Creative Assembly's made great strides in that regard. Total War: Warhammer is not a brisk series, but you no longer have enough time to make a cup of tea and start a book after you hit 'End Turn'. With Warhammer 3, Roxburgh says that performance remains a top priority, and even with the recent improvements to Mortal Empires, Creative Assembly is still looking for more ways to improve and optimise this very beefy war.
Even with a lot still under wraps, I can't deny that I'm excited. Warhammer 2 has grown into my favourite Total War, and it seems like Warhammer 3 will be even more unusual and experimental. There's no release date yet, but Creative Assembly is aiming to get us back into the war this year.