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Total War: Warhammer III cautiously builds upon a tried and true formula

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The latest entry in the Total War franchise was ported by Feral Interactive over to Linux last month. After spending a good chunk of time commanding armies and bringing chaos to the land, I have a few thoughts to share.

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For those of you who might be unaware, the mouthful-of-a-name Total War: Warhammer III is the third entry in the crossover over franchises of the strategic Total War games with the setting of Warhammer Fantasy. It sees players picking between various races and factions and fighting for supremacy, either trying to save or covet the power of an imprisoned and dying god. The game mixes a strategic turn-based layer where armies are recruited and directed, cities conquered or sacked, with real-time battles where hundreds of units might be pitted against one another.

I’ve played a great deal of the Total War series over the years and the core formula remains more or less unchanged. The developers have gotten good at polishing the heart of things and so, even at the game’s worst, it never fails to be at least somewhat entertaining. Effort has been made in this latest entry to add unique mechanics to every faction, mainly choices that can be made every couple of turns that allow for some sort of strategic advantage or boost to units or cities. The technology trees are unique and, often, there might even be different ways to approach city construction and income generation.

The bloodthirsty demons of Khorne may, for example, raze a settlement upon capture, spawning a smaller army from the chaos that can then go on to cause more mayhem before dissipating a couple of turns later. They then have a chance to expand into depopulated settlements automatically, so long as they own another settlement in the region. If not, they can use their unique secondary currency, skulls, to create a settlement. These same skulls are gained from battle or by razing cities and are spent on technologies or to perform special rites that gain the player the favor of Khorne.

Another faction, Grand Cathay, is a Warhammer Fantasy's answer to the Chinese Empire and incorporates a mechanic of harmony between yin and yang, providing bonuses if your empire keeps the elements balanced. Units, buildings and commanders all are either one or the other and some building chains are mutually exclusive. So keeping an eye on the overall situation of your empire is a must. Additionally, trade caravans may be sent to far-off cities, taking several turns to reach their destination and liable to events and possible battles by hostile factions that attack it. If the caravan reaches its destination, a large return on the invested gold is given to the player.

I was pleasantly surprised at how these base factions are all different, given that previous titles only really reserved these more obvious differences for the DLC factions that were added in a steady trickle after launch.

Most of these bells and whistles are found in the singleplayer campaign, the real heart of the game. Every faction essentially competes with one another to reach the dying bear-god Ursun before it dies. While there’s a simplified diplomacy and trade system, by and large interactions with factions will inevitably end with war. To break up the usual map-painting and territory-conquering, every couple of turns portals that lead to the realm of the Chaos Gods open on the map. Factions may then venture forth in order to claim a Daemon Prince’s soul from each god, navigating the hazards of each realm in the process.

I think that this is a particularly good innovation compared to the previous titles, as it’s easier for the AI to keep up with the player throughout the campaign. I had to keep an eye on AI opponents’ progress and be mindful of balancing my expansion; if my main army was too far away from a portal at the wrong time it could mean the difference between snatching a soul before the AI or not. In two of my campaigns, an AI faction got all four souls before of me. I was still able to eventually win, however, as armies can be intercepted before they reach the site of the final campaign battle. Defeating a faction leader makes them lose their collected souls, and so I was able to buy myself a little time and make it myself before Ursun finally succumbed.

The downside to this more focused advancement is, however, that every faction’s win condition is more or less the same. The pre-scripted battles in the Chaos Realms as well as the final battle are a little underwhelming if you do them more than once. There are some faction-specific quests and expansion targets, along with some unique buildings that can be built in specific towns—if conquered—but that does little to offset the general focus. Overall, I’d take this more precise approach over the slogs that characterized the first two titles.

Unit rosters are fairly varied between factions, with some favoring ranged units, cavalry, special abilities, hit and run tactics and all the other things that are, by now, standard to Total War games. There ‘s still some room for experimentation within your faction’s roster, with a few alternative units and heroes potentially emphasizing certain thematic aspects of the faction more than others. For example, Kislev’s infantry tend to also have some ranged capabilities that can either be a basis for a flexible core of all-rounders or be used as distractions for powerful cavalry and ice witches to really do a lot of damage. As units unlock towards the end game, there’s still often good reason to use more basic units in your army as well, thanks to unlocked technologies and bonuses given by commanders.

That said, not every faction is equal. While it’s less obvious in the singleplayer campaign, during single battles with the AI or in multiplayer, these disparities become more obvious. Despite a few patches addressing balance issues, things aren’t quite all there yet. The fact remains that some factions are less competitive than others. Especially when it comes to auto-resolving combat which, again, has been addressed with patches, but still can be needlessly harsh. In a long campaign this can mean a few more hours spent winning relatively-unimportant battles manually in order to preserve the strength of your carefully-recruited armies.

The battle AI itself remains on par with other Total War titles. In other words, it can win against a weaker player but it is usually tactically incompetent. It is easy to flank units, bait it and otherwise apply basic counters to (usual) numerical superiority. The most interesting types of battles came about when trying to hold off a far-flung outpost against a surprise attack using only garrison troops. Part of this is due to the asymmetry but also due to the new siege battle system which allows defenders to place their own obstacles and structures according to available resources. The longer the siege (or with certain technologies unlocked), the more toys defenders will potentially be able to set. It’s a nice novelty but one that ultimately becomes less and less thrilling over the course of a campaign, let alone multiple ones.

Visually, I think that Total War: Warhammer III is generally nice to look at. The Chaos Realms are very unique and have lots of little details and animations that are worth appreciating. Other areas of the map are likewise vibrant, with their own landmarks and special features. But, sadly, all of that gets relatively little opportunity to shine. Because the main conflict will be between the various Chaos factions in the northern, icy wasteland and others, the battlefields tend to repeat themselves a lot. I couldn’t begin to tell you just how many times I fought on similar-looking snow-capped hills or in dead borderlands.

To be fair, this is true to the lore of Warhammer Fantasy. Still, given the ostentatiously colorful lizardmen of the previous entry with their jungle environs, the green and messy orks in the badlands or the cool dead civilization of the desert tomb lords, I can’t help but feel that fighting in predominantly icy areas for most of the game is comparatively bland. It is only in far-flung areas on the periphery of the map—where there is little reason to expand and fight—that jungle, forest, badlands and other areas can be found. An average playthrough will see little-to-no player involvement in those places as you'll be too busy dealing with the AI and the Chaos Realms to send expeditions there.

This particular complaint is already set to be addressed soon. The upcoming Immortal Empires update is expected the be released into beta next month and will combine the map and factions of previous games into a sort of mega campaign. Owners of previous titles will get access to this new campaign along with other free content. It’s something to be excited about and I look forward to seeing how all the disparate factions will alter the feel of the game.

On the technical front, Feral’s Linux port is a solid affair. It easily outperforms the Proton version of the game across the board. The difference is smallest at higher graphical settings (likely due to bottlenecking from my own hardware) but I noticed higher minimums and more higher, and more consistent, frame rates with the port. My aging RX 480 was able to hit a 60 FPS target on both the campaign map and in battles using a mix of settings, mostly in the mid range. Cranking up certain details or options short of ‘ultra’ still provided a very playable experience that staying above 30 FPS. I should also note that the Linux port also has an FSR option that’s not found in the Windows version, allowing players on older hardware to sacrifice a little visual fidelity for higher performance.

There are a pair of very notable drawbacks to the Linux port, however. First and most noticeable is the lack of cross-platform multiplayer. Those playing the port will be unable to play with Windows users. So if you’re into the more competitive multiplayer side of the Total War fandom, it might be best to stick with playing the game via Proton.

Secondly, patches are likely to be delayed for the port. Shortly after the port’s release, the game got its 1.3 update which had a few important balance and quality-of-life changes. It took several weeks for that patch, and a few hotfixes, to make it to the Linux side of things. Given that it was much the same for older releases done by Feral, I would expect that it might be a long while before Linux gamers get their hands on the hotly-anticipated Immortal Empires patch with its expanded campaign and map.

With all of that said, I think that Total War: Warhammer III is a fine game that is likely to get even better with time. It might stay a little close to the tried and true formula for my tastes but the things that are new, such as the Chaos Realms, are welcome attempts to shake things up a little. Elsewhere, it's pretty much just the usual Total War fare. I’m willing to overlook the weak battle AI because the general experience of trying to survive and thrive amidst the challenges from all directions is compelling enough to provide satisfaction upon the completion of a hard-fought campaign. But others might not be so generous and more hardcore players might be put off by the lack of progress on that front. Still, if it's any consolation, there is already a vibrant mod scene. The usual difficulty and balance mods, quality-of-life improvements, and ambitious overhauls and player expansions can be found in the workshop.

With big changes only a month away, it might be prudent to wait until then before hopping into the game for the first time. No doubt large balance changes will follow, as well the usual additional free content that Creative Assembly is known to include with big updates.

You can grab Total War: Warhammer III on Feral’s store, Steam or the Humble Store.

Article taken from GamingOnLinux.com.
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About the author -
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History, sci-fi, technology, cooking, writing and playing games are things I enjoy very much. I'm always keen to try different genres of games and discover all the gems out there.

Oh and the name doesn't mean anything but coincidentally could be pronounced as "Buttery" which suits me just fine.
See more from me
15 comments
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Although i was a huge fantasy fan in younger days and even played Tabletop Warhammer myself i've left this series out. I just never got hyped and i didnt even know why.
Now i cross fingers that CA will develop a new game with historic setting, maybe along with a good ship to ship combat. Something in the Victorian Age is on my wishlist for so long.
TheSHEEEP 26 Jul
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Man, I have hundreds of hours in the TW: Warhammer series.
And they botched the release of WH3 so hard it's almost miraculous - such a surefire success ran into the ground without any need whatsoever.

Still, like most fans I am holding out for the release of Immortal Empires.
It's gonna be the definitive thing to play for years, and I have no doubt it's gonna be good. Eventually.

But like @BTRE I'd recommend holding out a little bit more, because the initial release of IE will likely be rough, even after the beta.
That is - very, very unfortunately - the modus operandi of CA.


Last edited by TheSHEEEP on 26 July 2022 at 7:46 am UTC
so Feral is doing these endless Warhammer games only now there used to be much more appealing stuff like Mad max, Tomb Raiders and what have you.
lukas333 26 Jul
I hope there won't be Warhammer 4 any time soon.
CatKiller 26 Jul
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Quoting: dziadulewiczso Feral is doing these endless Warhammer games only now there used to be much more appealing stuff like Mad max, Tomb Raiders and what have you.
If you've made a Windows-only game that you're vaguely interested in having the ability to run on Linux, but not enough to be bothered to do it yourself, why pay Feral to do it when Valve will do it for you for free? Feral are just finishing up existing contracts.
TheSHEEEP 26 Jul
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Quoting: lukas333I hope there won't be Warhammer 4 any time soon.
No way.
They now have all the known Warhammer world in one game. That was the end goal from the very beginning.

But not even all the factions yet, e.g. most people wager Chaos Dwarves will be added next. Then there is Ind, etc.
In other words, this game will receive new DLCs for years to come.

Just as a comparison, Warhammer 2 released five years ago and only recently had its last DLC.
kokoko3k 26 Jul
Quoting: CatKiller
Quoting: dziadulewiczso Feral is doing these endless Warhammer games only now there used to be much more appealing stuff like Mad max, Tomb Raiders and what have you.
If you've made a Windows-only game that you're vaguely interested in having the ability to run on Linux, but not enough to be bothered to do it yourself, why pay Feral to do it when Valve will do it for you for free? Feral are just finishing up existing contracts.
Isn't (wasn't) Feral paying copyright holders to port games instead?
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Quoting: Deleted_UserAlthough i was a huge fantasy fan in younger days and even played Tabletop Warhammer myself i've left this series out. I just never got hyped and i didnt even know why.
Now i cross fingers that CA will develop a new game with historic setting, maybe along with a good ship to ship combat. Something in the Victorian Age is on my wishlist for so long.

... and you are being charitable. There has been certain gaming-focused media that only devoted half a sentence to the game, mentioned in passing as "a reskin of Total War".

I think the secret here may lie in the Total War part of it, where people don't seem to have enough of it. Be it TW: Shogun, TW: Three Kingdoms, TW: Troy, it seems that each launch is successful enough even though it's essentially another TW game.
Valck 26 Jul
Quoting: lukas333I hope there won't be Warhammer 4 any time soon.
ToarWoar WoarMoar Fwoar

...gonna love it :)
slaapliedje 27 Jul
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Quoting: dziadulewiczso Feral is doing these endless Warhammer games only now there used to be much more appealing stuff like Mad max, Tomb Raiders and what have you.
Mad Max was so good, I rarely want to go back and play newer games, and even rarer does one capture my attention enough to play through to the end (including the new Tomb Raider games) but Mad Max was awesome. And after they added Vulkan, the performance boost was phenomenal.
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