Total War Warhammer 3 Preview – Hands on the new Survival Battle mode

Freezing the Blood God.

After the quickfire releases of Total War Warhammer and its first sequel, coming just a year and a few months apart, the wait for the third and final instalment in the fantasy trilogy has been surprisingly long. Sure, there’s been more than a few expansion packs and additions to those first two games, but there’s also been four long years where the Eastern reaches of the map of the Warhammer world has been left blank.

It’s time to fill that map in, to tell an epic new tale, to truly bring the fractious forces of Chaos to bear upon the world, and put the soldiers of Kislev and Grand Cathay on the front lines to turn the tide.

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The new Grand Campaign revolves around the death of one of the gods of the Warhammer world, the ailing deity creating an opportunity for the forces of evil to exploit, and a crisis for the good to try to resolve. For the latter, this will mean venturing into the Realm of Chaos and defeating the forces of the four Chaos gods – Khorne, Tzeentch, Nurgle, and Slaanesh.

A daunting task, to be sure. How do you bring a god and all of its followers to heel? It’s a question that’s probably a bit too big to answer here, a bit like the arguments over which Superhero would win in a fight, but in terms of Total War: Warhammer III, it leads to one of the new battle types found in the game: Survival Battles. We got to go hands on, our army of Kislev battling into the heart of Khorne’s domain to defeat his forces at the foot of the Brass Citadel.

Survival Battles blend together a number of new ideas for the Total War franchise. On the one hand you’re seeking to dominate the battlefield, taking control of a series of three control points to unlock more of the map to battle through. On the other, you’ll be fighting off waves of incoming enemies, and building barricades and defensive towers to help stall their progress and movement.

While it breaks the mould for the series, it doesn’t change the underlying gameplay too much. It doesn’t turn the game into a MOBA or completely sell out to the Tower Defence genre. Yes, there’s elements here, but they’re seasoning on the steak of the strategic manoeuvring and positioning of your forces.

You’ll potentially need every trick in the book to survive, as you start with a relatively modest force of Kislev’s finest, needing to cover multiple attacking angles. Pushing forward and capturing a control point opens up the ability to open a portal and summon reinforcements. Each successive capture point triggers bigger and more challenging waves of enemies, but also adds more potential reinforcements to summon.

The Kislev army is also a lot of fun to play with. You’ve got the solid foundations with your Tzar Guard, but before enemies get to you, you’ll be peppering them with strong archers and the Streltsi hybrid riflemen – their rifle doubles as a two-handed axe – and their Winged Lancers are excellent as shock cavalry, smashing into an enemy and then pulling back. They’re well matched against the melee-focussed hordes of Bloodletters, Chaos Warriors and others that Khorne sends your way. Eventually, you unlock the Elemental Bear, a magic ice bear that can easily go toe to toe with the greatest demons that will be sent your way.

Backing them all up is Katarin Bokha, a powerful Ice Witch, using her mastery of ice-powers for some powerful area of effect spells. Heart of Winter is a fantastic ability to drop in one of the choke points found on the map, stalling an enemy as they take more damage from towers, archers, and eventually stagger into your melee infantry who can just eat them up.

One thing you’ll need to consider is that demons will continue to pour in from the back of the map. The turrets you place at the start can continue to be vital for whittling down the enemy, even though you can demolish them for a partial refund of supplies. You would do well to leave a few items to defend your behind. Your supplies can also be funnelled into restoring your units’ health, stamina and ammo, upgrade their damage and armour.

All in all, it’s a fun twist on the classic style of Total War battling. While it’s called ‘Survival’, in truth you’re alternately defending and attacking, going from a push forward to a capture point to setting up defences and choosing where to spend your precious Supplies.

Creative Assembly promise that this is just the tip of the iceberg for Total War Warhammer 3. There will be other new battle types, including new settlement battles and a new Domination multiplayer mode. Additionally, with the Realm of Chaos for you to invade and the four domains of the different Chaos gods, the campaign map promises to be huge. That’s before you even consider this game’s equivalent to the Mortal Realms, a mouthwatering prospect for Total War fans who want to paint the entire Warhammer world map in the colours of their chosen faction.

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