“A million deaths are a statistic.”
Something someone in the Warhammer universe would say… Anyway, just when I thought the obsession couldn’t get any more intense, my unbroken streak of playtime exclusively spent with Total War: Warhammer II and its many factions was brought low. Only one thing could break that streak: the release of Total War: Warhammer III in February. Unfortunately, Creative Assembly and Sega’s RTS fantasy war sim crushed not only the bones of my enemies but my excitement for the series, as well.
Whereas I loved Warhammer II so heartily that I downloaded character DLCs and even picked up the first game to gain access to the Mortal Empires campaign. Totally worth it. Warhammer II provided endless hours of savage entertainment fortifying the geomantic web with the Lizardmen, tallying grudges with the Dwarves, unifying Ulthuan with the High Elves, grinding opposition under my heel as the Dark Elves. And that was just scratching the surface.
I miss my lizards.
Warhammer III, on the other hand, launched with two human civilizations, Kislev and Grand Cathay (Chinese imperials and medieval Russians, essentially) plus five flavors of Chaos: Khorne for pure melee, Tzeentch for magic, Nurgle for tanks, and Slaanesh for speed, plus Daemons of Chaos for a mix. There’s also Ogre Kingdoms which I got them free of charge on Game Pass with an additional download. At the time of this writing, it still only has 8 playable factions.
That’s still plenty of game but it pales in comparison to Warhammer II, especially when combined with the first game. Warhammer III represents simply too big a world to be represented by such a small number of playable factions. You can, however, rest assured that other races are opponents in III and there’s word of more playable armies coming down the road. Surely Warhammer II didn’t launch with all of its current factions in place.
To give credit where it’s due, however, Warhammer III seems built for those new to the series. Rather than serving as a kind of direct sequel, III lays out a very evenly paced tutorial campaign as Kislev. This is absolutely essential. My experience playing Warhammer II was immensely satisfying, but it took many long hours trying to wrap my head around all of its overworld and battle mechanics, systems, and gameplay. Warhammer II simply bombarded me with information. Warhammer III, on the other hand, seems to finally understand that this series leans more toward the complex and that players, especially new ones, must be eased into it.
There’s also the matter of Warhammer III’s story about races vying for the dying breath, blood, hide, and hear of Kislev’s bear deity. It’s a story mode more closely tied to characters than I think Warhammer II’s and in my opinion that better serves the overall presentation and affords the player being more invested in the game. The race to be the best in Warhammer III, visiting each of the four Chaos kingdoms, also seems fairer and tighter than the race for the Vortex was in II. I think overall it’s a better campaign.
Build your own prince of darkness.
Therefore, new players are presented with a choice.
You can choose Warhammer III for its story and certainly its approach to tutelage or you can choose Warhammer II for its far greater diversity of playable races and factions, plus two campaigns to mess with, Vortex and Mortal Empires. Personally, if you have any familiarity with real-time strategy games, I’d recommend Warhammer II over III at this point in time. After finishing up a campaign with Grand Cathay, I’d rather go back to II.
I don’t feel that any major innovations, graphically or mechanically (beyond some key conveniences), warrant placing III above II until they start to really develop III’s roster and world. It’s a bit too one-note at launch with so little happening in it. You can jump into II, rather, and select from a number of cruel warlords and warladies, and pace yourself while learning the ropes. Relying on experience with the RTS genre will be key, as will a lot of trial and error.
These games are based on a cruel universe and they can absolutely be cruel to players. Micromanagement can be extreme and the real-time combat can quickly become overwhelming. It’s not always clear what the latest spell or artifact actually does and understanding the roles of each unit in a faction’s roster takes time. Recommended easy mode if you’re new, but play II, not III, until Creative Assembly gives it a bit more meat on its bones. And that’s coming… just give it a few more months.
Red formerly ran The Well-Red Mage and now serves The Pixels as founder, writer, editor, and podcaster. He has undertaken a seemingly endless crusade to talk about the games themselves in the midst of a culture obsessed with the latest controversy, scandal, and news cycle about harassment, toxicity, and negativity. Pick out his feathered cap on Twitter @thewellredmage or Mage Cast. Please support my work on Patreon!