Diving Into The Deep End - Total War: Warhammer III
Life as a video game reviewer has its ups and downs. Sometimes things are great and you are reviewing the latest AAA blockbuster and sometimes things are not so great and you are stuck trying to finish a broken turkey. But one of the things I love the most about the gig is getting to try new games and genres. To dip my toes in where I have never had any experience. It is both refreshing and inspiring and while I may not click with everything, just experiencing as much variety as I can is one the true joys I get as a critic.
So with that in mind, I heartily accepted the opportunity to get an early copy of Total War: Warhammer III. The Total War franchise is always one I watched from afar, never having the opportunity to dive in. It was always a franchise I intended to check out at some point. Little did I know, just dipping your toes into this series isn’t possible. Total War seems to be an all-or-nothing proposition, you commit or you get out, there is no in-between. What probably made my initial shock even greater was the fact that this is a Warhammer game, a franchise known for deep and confusing lore that even the hardest of hardcore fans struggle to keep up with.
So had I made a mistake in even attempting to get into the franchise, especially in this pre-release, reviewer context? Well, I don’t think so but then again, I am still not sure. It should be clear by now this isn’t a review in the traditional sense, this is simply the story of someone taking their first steps into a franchise that has a long history, deep and technical mechanics and a dedicated cult following.
From early on it is easy to see why Total War has such a following. There is an attention to detail that impresses me as much as it frightens me. The more I dug into the systems, the more awe I felt. It is clear that these systems, these gameplay elements have been refined and polished over many years and iterations. The game gives off this silent expectation that I should have known this, that I should be, if not proficient, at least aware of the mechanics. It is quite the hill to climb. The game’s introduction and prologue make a somewhat basic attempt to teach new players what is going on in both the lore and gameplay but there is still the giant feeling that I am missing things, fumbling around when I should be moving with purpose and precision.
For those that don’t know Total War: Warhammer III is, for the most part, an RTS. But when I say RTS, don’t think Command and Conquer or Starcraft, that will get you into strife. In Total War, it seems that you start with a set army and head off to conquer the opposition with this select pool of units. There is no base-building during battles, no resource gathering. Just you, your general (hero) unit and a whole bunch of soldiers, mounted units, archers and magic users cheerily marching to their death. Positioning, using the appropriate unit for the appropriate situation and strategising your path to victory all plays a huge part and it is here the game basically let go of my hand and said to me “sink or swim peon, sink or swim.”
At this point, I was almost regretting my choice to dive into the franchise with this game. Learning both the lore of Warhammer to understand the story and the deep game mechanics was almost too much for my late-night game time mental capacity. It is a mighty hill to climb that is for sure. But just as it was all getting too much, things started to click. I started to grasp what the game was pushing me towards. Sure the game has one hell of a difficulty wall, but it did just enough to give me the ability to push through it on my own. Now I won’t say I am great at the game (very very far from it) I will say I get it now, I understand the allure. Sending a horde of chaos loving orcs to their doom while sustaining minimal casualties is, without doubt, exhilarating. It is where the game shines, the feeling that you are overcoming and outsmarting another general, be it AI or Human, and I can see it becoming an addiction for many.
One area of the game I felt immediately at home in was the overworld. In this turn-based portion of the game, I was required to explore a map, capture towns and build resources and armies to further complement my existing forces. It gave me a Heroes of Might and Magic feeling, a franchise I am very familiar with, so I enjoyed these moments almost as much as the combat. A very tasty side dish to the game’s main course so to speak.
I can’t give a score to Total War: Warhammer III as I feel like I am not qualified to do so. This is a franchise that needs to be reviewed by a series veteran for series veterans, not a newcomer with no clue. This is simply me telling anyone in a similar position to myself that, should you find yourself with an opportunity, diving into the deep end with this game is not the worst thing you could do. In fact you may find yourself swimming in no time and enjoying every minute of it. It is tough, it is daunting, but I feel like Total War: Warhammer III is worth the effort.