Total War: Warhammer 3's Thrones of Decay is a gunpowder and steel adventure that puts the Empire and Dwarfs back on top

Total War: Warhammer Thrones of Decay - The three legendary lords
(Image credit: Creative Assembly)

Guns are great. Ever since the first Total War: Warhammer game, I've loved lining up cannons and helstorm rocket batteries on a hill and watching as some hapless norscan army gets torn to shreds trying to get at me. Decimating enemy armies with artillery is one of the fundamental joys of Total War: you smugly sit behind your curtain of troops and watch as their soldiers break and run before even scratching your frontline.

But the Empire and the Dwarfs, known for their love of powder and steel, have been much reduced in recent years. Due to the influx of new daemonic factions, hungry ogres, and Chaos Dwarfs—plus the general power creep of Total War: Warhammer DLC—both have found themselves on the backfoot, unable to contend with the array of threats pushing into their realms. No longer. While Thrones of Decay may introduce Tamurkhan and his warband as one of the most powerful chaos factions around, it bolsters both the Empire and Dwarfs, tactically timed to drop alongside their race reworks.

Thrones of Decay has three things in abundance; guns, heroes, and adventure. We see the deathly Elspeth Von Draken tracking the Nemesis Crown through the heartland of the Empire—a new Sword of Khaine-esque item available to multiple factions. In the north, Tamurkhan is getting the band back together. Part-warchief, part-line manager, the giant maggot has to recruit powerful champions and make sure they don't slit each other's throats around the campfire. My favourite of these is Kayzk the Befouled, a hero so disgusting I almost retch every time I'm forced to click his unit card.

The real highlight, though, is Malakai Makaisson, an exiled Dwarf engineer who sails with his slayer host in a cannon-filled zeppelin, looking for death while inventing new ways to deliver it. Part of the joy of Makaisson's campaign is that he starts with Gotrek and Felix in-tow, now permanent heroes who no longer up and leave after 20 turns. His airship, The Spirit of Grungni, acts as his recruitment centre, but also a battlefield boon, letting him call the thunderbarge for air support to unleash its bombs and turn the tide of battle.

The Spirit of Grungni's harpoon launcher is the best unit ability I've seen in a while (Image credit: Creative Assembly)

Couple this with the reworked grudge-system, which rewards aggressive expansion with special units and free armies, and the new array of suicidal slayer units, and you have a campaign which feels like a daring and deadly adventure. It's one of the best that CA has designed in ages. If you opt to only purchase a single legendary lord from this pack, I'd 100% recommend Makaisson over Elspeth. And no, I'm not just saying that because thunderbarges are cracked.

If you're more into raising apocalyptic warbands and ending civilization, Tamurkhan might be your speed. I don't typically enjoy chaos campaigns—it feels like they struggle to break free from that cycle of raze and repeat—but the maggot host is very fun. Tamurkhan has six warchiefs he can recruit from across the pantheon of chaos, each giving him access to units he wouldn't usually be able to get. Ezar Doombolt, for example, lets the maggot lord recruit some Chaos Dwarf infantry and Dreadquake Mortars.

Alongside the unit-based buffs these warchiefs apply, you have one of the most OP factions I've ever seen in a Total War: Warhammer expansion. Not that this is a bad thing. You just might want to crank the campaign difficulty to very hard if you don't want to steamroll everything with a tide of Toad Dragons and Rot Knights by turn 30. I'd also recommend you play Tamurkhan on Immortal Empires instead of Realms of Chaos. He improves the fealty of his warchiefs by fighting factions, but some of these are hard to find in Realms, or have already perished by the time you get there. I am a little disappointed the expansion doesn't make more fuss over Tamurkhan being a giant parasitic maggot, like maybe he could've had an ability to switch hosts? Perhaps I'm thinking too big…

While still enjoyable, the weaker campaign of the bunch is definitely Elspeth Von Draken. Her primary mechanics revolve around the Garden of Morr—a building she can construct in friendly settlements to bolster garrisons, recruitment, and offer teleportation—and the Imperial Gunnery School that lets her upgrade artillery and gain access to death-magic infused gunpowder units. I certainly like her teleportation since it fits with the Empire's rework putting emphasis on defending the nation's borders. She's a little like the Oxyotl of the Empire, appearing as some spectre of the battlefield to defeat invasions and threats.

Her main quest does a good job casting her as this slightly taboo figure, while explaining why there's such a thing as good death and bad death in Warhammer Fantasy. Like, hey, maybe it's better for this spooky lady to make sure Morr keeps your soul if it means not getting tortured by daemons for eternity, or waking up the next time I cast raise dead in a Vampire Counts campaign.

The Empire still plays very much like the Empire, though. The new engineer and master engineer units have an important role providing gunnery-focused champions to the roster, but the other additions are essentially better guys with better guns. Watching the landship plough into enemies and unleash its cannons is great, but it's not massively different to a steam tank. If you're an Empire fan you'll enjoy the new toys, but I'd say they represent more of a levelling up of what was already there, rather than a fun new playstyle.

It's honestly just a whole heap of content. CA has cleverly continued its trend of reworking the factions receiving DLC at the same time, creating campaigns that compliment those changes. Like most players I'm a little biased to order-based factions—especially my beloved Dawi—but as enjoyable campaign experiences go, Thrones of Decay is one of the most memorable lord packs CA has put out in quite a while.

Sean Martin
Guides Writer

Sean's first PC games were Full Throttle and Total Annihilation and his taste has stayed much the same since. When not scouring games for secrets or bashing his head against puzzles, you'll find him revisiting old Total War campaigns, agonizing over his Destiny 2 fit, or still trying to finish the Horus Heresy. Sean has also written for EDGE, Eurogamer, PCGamesN, Wireframe, EGMNOW, and Inverse.