Ursun, the bear god of Kislev, is dead, and I have killed him. That’s a lot to process on my very first turn of Total War: Warhammer 3, but the consolation prize isn’t bad. Slaying this great, fuzzy enemy of chaos has allowed me to turn into a powerful Daemon Prince who can be named and customized with all kinds of different body parts and weapons. While the previously announced Chaos factions will focus on one particular god, the Legions of Chaos can pick any of the four they choose – or mix and match them all by choosing Chaos Undivided.
Warhammer 3’s main campaign is very story-driven. Even more than Warhammer 2’s Eye of the Vortex. Ursun’s death has sent shockwaves across the world that will periodically open up rifts into the Realms of Chaos, spawning destructive neutral armies who had no camaraderie with my upstart prince, and allowing the terrestrial factions to briefly invade the domains of Khorne, Slaanesh, Tzeentch, and Nurgle. They all share the same goal of collecting a powerful daemon’s soul from each of the four realms so they can breach the prison where Ursun’s spirit is being tortured and will soon perish forever. But they all have different reasons. Miao Ying, the Storm Dragon of Cathay, is searching for her lost sister and only Ursun knows where she has gone. Kislev obviously wants their god back. The ogres literally just want to eat him. As for me? I’m out to finish what I started… and become a god myself.
Total War: Warhammer 3 – May 2021 Screenshots
Ursun’s jailer is none other than Be’lakor, the First of the Damned. He’s the most powerful Daemon Prince of them all, and will serve as the main antagonist and a sort of final boss, even if you’re playing as one of the other Chaos factions. The current Big Four don’t necessarily want some upstart challenging their power, after all. I didn’t see him in person in the 50 turns I was able to play, though I was assured he will be around and not merely come down from his dark fortress to challenge you at the final hour. I did, however, keep running into everyone else.
When the rifts into the Chaos Realms open, you have a limited amount of time to defeat a rival Daemon Prince and take his soul. And all the other faction leaders will be trying to do the same thing. I really enjoyed the dynamic this created, like a tight-knit cast of bitter rivals who might be from different corners of the earth, but will be brought together Battle Royale style for murderous sprints through surreal worlds of death and nightmare. I chose to go to Nurgle’s realm first, where merely marching around will cause devastating attrition until you’ve visited four places of power to stack a disease immunity buff. But if you spend too much time doing that, one of the other factions who threw caution to the wind might slay the Daemon Prince before you even get there. You have to know when to play it safe, when to take risks, when to pick a fight with each realm’s defenders, and when it’s worth engaging one of your rivals in a field battle to keep them from the prize.
This also created some satisfying challenges back in the mortal realms. Since my all-star team with big daddy Daemon Prince were tied up more than half the time hunting for souls, it became extra important to keep my second army back home topped up so that jerk Kostaltyn didn’t bring ruin to my hellish empire while I was gone. Even if I failed, though, it was oh so satisfying to return in a vengeful rage and reclaim what I lost as each round of the Chaos Games concluded. And all the way, I was able to dedicate my conquests to any of the four Chaos gods, unlocking new body parts for my lord, new units, and new campaign buffs.
The Legions of Chaos roster is versatile mayhem on the battlefield, eventually able to unlock all of the units from all four Chaos gods if you go down the Chaos Undivided path. Cathay vis very much the opposite. The Yin and Yang system encourages you to build resilient formations where melee troops are always supported by missile troops, and vice-versa. Each army is a well-oiled machine that can dominate as long as you maintain good order and things go according to plan. If one thread starts to unravel, though, it could spell doom for the entire formation. Telling one unit of archers to stand their ground whatever horror may come is a small sacrifice for the greater good, as their presence allows your spearmen to hold the line longer. When things get hairy, it definitely helps to be able to throw a dragon at the problem.
And on the campaign map, the trade routes Cathay can send out to the far-flung corners of the world feature new skill trees for expedition leaders, choose your own adventure elements, and the chance to see parts of the map you might never reach otherwise. This is definitely one of my favorite aspects of that faction so far.
I’m fascinated by what I’ve seen of Total War: Warhammer 3 – particularly the unexpected joy of customizable Daemon Princes. The way the Chaos Realms create frequent collisions of the major players is brilliant. There’s a lot going on, building on the already quite dense mechanical skeleton of Warhammer 2 with things like region trading, diplomatic threats, and even the ability to hire up to four units per army from any allied faction. But it didn’t feel unmanageable.