There Is Only War: Playing Total Warhammer As The Chaos Warriors

Raze, sack, slaughter, burn, maraud. The life of a Total War: Warhammer [official site] Chaos Warrior is simple, with few diplomatic interruptions and little in the way of urban planning. There are buildings to construct, but they’re part of the caravan of carnage that makes up your nomadic horde, and when you lay waste to a settlement, occupation isn’t on the cards. The Old World map becomes a chain of battles and the core of any Chaos strategy is to build and maintain forward momentum as you carve your way through the factions.

Playing as Chaos, the game really is Total War, with no distractions. I’ve spent some time campaigning with Khorne and co to figure out if this barebones approach to the game is effective.

Total War: Warhammer’s greatest strength lies in the diverse approaches demanded by the playable factions. I’ve fallen for the Dwarves, whose Book of Grudges delivers a steady stream of short-term objectives that serve to guide my efforts and provide a neat narrative context for the many minor wars and disputes that arise. They’re a great faction for a first campaign partly because of the light hand-holding of the Grudges, and partly thanks to fairly well-rounded army composition. Compared to the Vampire Counts, whose lack of ranged units tears up the tactical playbook, dwarven troops are a cinch to manage.

Chaos Warriors are slightly trickier. While their entire ethos is based on destruction and warfare, the armies you can recruit in the early running of a campaign are a bit naff. Marauders, which make up the bulk of the first tier units, are feeble compared to many of their opponents, only elevated by the mounted units who can lob weapons over short distances, performing a microcosmic version of the hit and run raiding and razing that typifies the Chaos approach to warfare.

Sadly, these early units make all of your Chaos leaders talk of skulls for the skull throne feel slightly ironic. The majority of the skulls you’ll gather with a tier one army belong to your own marauders. Against a sizable stack of human units, marauders tend to fall apart like a Nurgling’s nappy, unable to take the strain. They’re so surprisingly feeble that I was tricked into thinking that the entirety of the Chaos horde had been underpowered to make up for a possible strength in numbers that would evade me until later in the campaign. Dismayed, I decided that my violent voyage into the south would be put on hold while I did something unthinkably unChaotic.

I set about to some serious grinding.

Chaos Warriors might have some puny early units but once you’re recruiting Chaos Knights and monstrous units like the Chaos Giant, you’re more than capable of outmatching an equivalent Imperial force. The horde becomes formidable quite quickly, but making a beeline for the heart of your enemies is unwise. Play like a boxer rather than a piledrivin’ demon straight out of hell and set yourself up by aiming a few jabs at the body and bonce of your opponents before going for the knockout punch. It seems a little odd to play Archaon the Everchosen, Lord of the End Times, as a patient pugilist, but think of the campaign’s opening as the nascent stages of the End Times rather than the actual apocalypse. The drizzle before the storm.

Now, if you’re thinking that playing as Archaon the Everdamp or Kholek Drizzlespouter sounds a little bit less exciting than playing as Archaon the Everchosen or Kholek Suneater, we are of one mind. As I mentioned right at the start, the Chaos strategy is all about momentum, like a snowball trundling downhill that becomes an avalanche. At the beginning of the game, you’re scrabbling around to find enough snow to pat into a ball though, rather than setting the thing rolling right away. That might work out OK if there were more than one type of snow to choose from – bring in Nurgle’s gross acolytes for some of the yellow stuff maybe – but there isn’t much room for experimentation in the early stages.

Perhaps that ties in to the single-minded nature of the Chaos Horde. Orks might seem to fight for the sake of fighting, but Chaos treat destruction as an end in and of itself. Your objectives are mostly simple – raze this many settlements of a certain type, or raze this many settlements total. The focus on combat above all else serves to highlight Warhammer’s battles, which I reckon are Total War’s best in terms of sheer spectacle. Seeing an enormous unit shambling across the battlefield can be intimidating in just the right way, and I still find archers fleeing from flying critters hilarious after tens of hours playing.

The number of battles involved in a Chaos campaign can become draining though. It doesn’t help that the attrition penalty for Horde armies in close proximity means that it’s best to field one army for much of the game, seeing the same units riding out again and again. It’s a shame that sieges and town battles have diminished somewhat in Warhammer, both in regularity thanks to the AI’s preference for open field battles and in variety thanks to the simplified approach taken by Creative Assembly this time around. The thing is, I think the choice to cut back on tedious chokepoint-based fights was a good one on the whole, but when it comes to Chaos, it’d be enjoyable to see settlements in flames during battles as well as on the campaign map.

As it is, expect lots of battles against armies of similar composition. Especially when you run into Kislev, at the northern borders of the lands of men. It’s not unusual to find your mighty Chaos horde is being chased around the wastes of the Old World by several stacks of enemy forces. And when you do meet on the field, temptation to auto-resolve after one too many repetitive battles might be your undoing – larger units, such as those Chaos Giants that are so precious to you, seem to take an inordinate amount of damage during automated combat, which leads to longer healing time post-scrap, which leads to the AI building more stacks to oppose you…and so on and so forth.

None of this is to say that I haven’t enjoyed playing as Chaos, but I can’t imagine starting another campaign with them. It’ll be the Greenskins for me next, and then I might go back to the Dwarves for another playthrough on a higher difficulty.

I’m glad that the Chaos Warriors exist though, partly because the very nature of their ruleset shows that Creative Assembly are willing to explore elements from Total Wars past (the horde mechanics from Attila in this case, though a lesser version of them) as well as playing with the fundamentals of the game when designing new factions. It seems likely that the Wood Elves will be entering the fray at some point, given that their home territory, Athel Loren, is a blank spot on the map. It’s just waiting to be filled with settlements and some weird territorial rules to suit such a reclusive faction, surely.

The other reason to be grateful for Chaos, apart from the splendid nature of their more monstrous units, is the way in which they highlight the game’s flaws. They do so usefully and it was only after playing with them for a while that I decided to install the two mods that have improved the game dramatically. They’re both designed to counter problems that hadn’t become wholly apparent until I spent time with the metalheads up north.

The first is the Home Region Movement Bonus mod, which gives armies travelling in a region owned by their faction a 10% bonus. It doesn’t actually work for Chaos, since the faction doesn’t really own any territory at all, but it was while playing my first Chaos campaign that I broke down and decided that being chased around by enemy armies was one of the most irritating things in the game. This gives at least a small bonus while in home territory, allowing you to outmaneuver enemies who are running around raiding and pillaging.

Even more essential is the Better AI Recruitment and Army Composition mod, which prevents the AI from dumping great big blobs of archers and artillery all over the map. If you’ve played a campaign to its finish, you’ve almost certainly come across this kind of behaviour, and I found it particularly grating when playing as Chaos because of the sheer number of battles I was fighting.

A mixed experience, then, the Chaos Warriors. Not enough to distract me from the riches of the mountainhomes and a little too constrained in their playstyle to keep me hooked for a second campaign playthrough, they feel better suited as a tutorial faction in some ways, lacking some of the complexities of their enemies. I admire the variety of the factions though and the Chaos Warriors are an extreme example of the rule changes Creative Assembly are willing to commit to. Despite my misgivings, I hope for similar extremes when future factions arise.

For our review of the base game, look here.


  1. Eight Rooks says:

    Dismayed, I decided that my violent voyage into the south would be put on hold while I did something unthinkably unChaotic.

    I set about to some serious grinding.

    Oh, I don’t know; I reckon Slaanesh would probably approve. (Sorry, couldn’t resist.)

  2. iaguz says:

    It’s funny you talk about grinding. A Very Hard/Legendary strat involves repeatedly sacking (but never razing) one of the Bearsonling villages near the start position. Every win, even against a tiny garrison, results in more XP for your leader which in turn furthers horde growth (very important talent for WoC) and gives you something to do while you focus on unlocking Chaos Warriors (or just going straight for Giants because why not?)

    • ElementalAlchemist says:

      You can see this illustrated perfectly in LegendOfTotalWar’s Chaos campaign videos. He starts with stacks of auto-resolve armies, made up Marauders. He uses these to grind up experience for his generals and earn cash to upgrade his tech, eventually upgrading to “real” armies comprised of Warriors and so forth that can be used to fight battles manually. It’s a similar strategy for Vampire Counts, where you amass armies of skeletons that are useless in manual battles, but great in auto-resolve.

  3. tattertech says:

    The majority of the skulls you’ll gather with a tier one army belong to your own marauders.

    Remember, your blood too is welcome for the Blood God.

    • darknessest says:

      yes the irony is not beyond Khorne. every violent act is tribute paid, regardless of allegiance. its the emotional expenditure that powers the chaos gods and their particular profiles.

  4. thekelvingreen says:

    Crikey, Estalia and Tilea look tiny on that map! I know Warhammer maps are never consistent, but even so, that’s quite a change.

  5. Flavour Beans says:

    Are those Pirate Bay comic book torrent bookmarks I spy in the map screenshot?

  6. Horg says:

    Chaos Marauders are indeed quite weak, but the war dogs are actually useful for quite some time into the campaign, especially the poison dogs. As a melee focused faction you benefit from having something fast to wrap around the flank and rear charge, but all the chaos infantry are slower than average. Chaos dogs are almost 4 times as fast as the infantry and do respectable damage for a t1 unit. The poison debuff also cripples whatever they are attacking so they help reduce casualties on your warriors. They make a disposable, low upkeep solution until you eventually unlock chariots or knights.

    • Steravel says:

      I love the poison hounds, and kept a pack around all the way through the game. In the early game they serve as a hard counter to the most annoying enemy units–skirmish cav and out of reach archers (with the exception of dwarf quarrelers who are tough enough to kill a pack by themselves). Just fire a pack of dogs at a light cav unit early in a battle, and they wont bother you the rest of the fight. And of course the dogs are highly useful for mopping up routed enemies so you wont have to fight them again next turn.

      Their incredible speed also allows you to use AI-exploiting kiting tactics with them on wooded maps to divide and conquer larger forces that would normally outmatch yours.

      • coburnAlpha says:

        I absolutely hate fighting against those flipping chaos hounds. Their speed is a nightmare, even when you set your spearmen etc up to try and counter them.

  7. PancakeWizard says:

    I don’t think it’s ‘unChaotic’. If anything it plays into the idea that the Chaos gods favour those who bring results. Otherwise you’d just be Khorne, but you’re all four Chaos gods, right?

  8. Steravel says:

    I just finished the Chaos campaign, and found them by far one of the easiest campaigns, once I figured out the Awaken tribe/Subjugate mechanics game doesn’t explain well. There’s no settlements to defend so unlike the other factions, you dont spend the early game doing nothing but trying to put out fires on multiple fronts. And unlike Adam, I found the Chaos armies to be generally tougher on a 1:1 basis than most of my early game opponents right out of the gate, but then I do invest heavily in the unit-buffing areas tech and leader trees. Unlike some other factions, I found that Chaos has a solution for most tactical problems from the onset, unlike say, Dwarves, who get eaten alive by cavalry in the early game.

    The first part of the game should be spent putting the Norsca region under your thumb. You want to awaken tribes when possible (10 turn cooldown), and then immediately subjugate them (attack them after razing all but one settlement). Sometimes this means attacking a settlement 3 times in a row (Sack once for the money, then to awaken, then to subjugate). No one is going to engage in diplomacy with you anyway as Chaos, so the reputation hit doesn’t matter. Then you’ll probably end up with 3 or 4 minor nations as vassals who are much more reliable than free allies who tend to fight amongst themselves. They will proceed to gobble up all the settlements you razed, making friendly territory to speed your healing, and then send out armies to wear down the war targets you specify.

    Late game I had so many of these vassal armies swarming the Bretonnia and Empire lands, I could roll around and knock out the settlements almost completely unopposed by roaming enemy stacks.

    • lasikbear says:

      Ooohhhh, this helps a ton with Chaos. I gave up on them after around 50 turns because I felt like I was missing something, but couldn’t figure out what. I didn’t realize there was a cooldown on awakening tribes, much less that you could then vassalize them.

  9. Wulfram says:

    This article could do with a clearer note that you’re talking about a DLC not included with the base game.

    I mean, its implied by the note at the bottom and many/most people will know, but it could be clearer. Or I’m being dense.

    • Jediben says:

      It’s in the bundle with the Base game until tomorrow I think.

      • Wulfram says:

        It doesn’t look like it on the Steam page. But either way, it’d be good info to include

  10. Farsearcher says:

    I’ve read a few people say they found the dwarf campaign the most beginner friendly.

    Personally I found them far harder than the empire which I played first. The orcs attacked constantly so after a few restarts I adopted an aggressive strategy to try and counter them. Long story short after about 80ish turns I’d wiped the orcs out but because I’d had to spend so much time fielding armies and building up income to pay upkeep I’d done it almost entirely with dwarf warriors, quarrelers and the odd cannon. I never did get to use any of the cool advanced units.

    On mods: I use one called “Chaos please wait”. The Chaos invasion still comes but considerably later which gives you some time to tech up and conquer without being harassed by wack-a-mole chaos stacks.

    • Steravel says:

      I agree. Dwarves were a far tougher start for me after playing Chaos. But I made some mistakes with them. It’s a mistake, I think, to grab too much land early, because the stubby legged mole men are too damn slow to hold it with a single army. Better to just lock down your small starting province and turtle up your economy and tech. Also, diplomacy is *vital*, and I ignored that far too long, and ended up with multiple enemies on multiple fronts.

      Their units are fairly durable, and their ranged units rock, but they have some glaring weaknesses in the early game, like no good answer for mass cav, and a crippling lack of speed on both the strategic map and the battlefield. Chaos with +unit tech steamrolled pretty much anything one on one, and had an answer for everything.

      • Horg says:

        The best start i’ve been using for Dwarves is to take Silver Road in the first two turns while recruiting warriors, then go north after getting a round of quarrelers to take Rib Peak. If the Orcs come while you are up the mountain pass, ignore them. They will probably sack your minor settlements so don’t build them up past t1 barely fields. It slows your main province growth down a little but the trade off is worth it.

        The Rib Peak capitol is a push over if you go quickly as it only contains a t1 capitol garrison of boys and goblins, the quarrelers will shred that without anyone needing to climb the walls. After that the minor settlement is a formality (as long as Zufbar don’t take it first). These two provinces almost never get attacked as you have Zufbar and Karak Kadrin as a buffer against the Vampires. Rib Peak capitol has a gold mine which helps your economy enormously, and can also build the unique Brimstone Mine which gives a massive 6 exp ranks to all artillery recruits in the province as well as a huge amount of gold. Once you head back to Silver Road and retake your minor settlements, you can then trade with the northern Dwarf clans for even more gold, a good reason to not confederate. After that you can turtle if you are under assault, or go sack the orc minor settlements for low risk cash.

      • Lyrion says:

        Yeah I made some mistakes with the Dwarves aswell, made a confederation with Barak Varr while expanding up north. The extra army i’ve gotten from them tanked my economy. Then the greenskins came and raided my main settlements. It gave me a real slow start, but afterwards it stabilized, the economy started to grow and my armies got stronger. Now those stinky greenskins wished they have never raided my lands!

    • Steravel says:

      Also, it’s sort of odd, but Chaos’s lack of a traditional economy and infrastructure makes it one of the easiest economies to maintain. Does,’t matter if you’re 5 grand in the hole at the end of every turn, when your’re sacking settlements for 20-40k a pop. Those +looting tech, leader and follower bonuses add up.

      Plus, their buildings construct quickly. My experience with the more traditional factions is always being short on money in the early game, and always waiting on some building to finish. I never felt that with Chaos as more money was only another sacking away, and I was only constrained by population growth.

    • Blastaz says:

      Never ever turtle in total war. Not if you want an easy life anyway! Go after that first tribe hard and fast till you just have dwarfs to your north and ally and trade with them. They will act as a buffer between you and the VC. Consolidate the factions to your south starting with the guys in the blood river valley. Use their forces as the basis of a second army. You can just about manage to afford two if you keep them simple and dedicate all your provinces to maxing income. First two buildings being workshop and farms. By the time your victorious northern army comes down south you should have beaten the bulk of the main greenskins faction and pinned them back to their keep. At this point dedicate one province to producing troops and build a better army as you push south. Once you hit the bottom of the map it’s time to consolidate the remaining factions, raze the vampire counts, and then go after chaos.

      Dwarfs are easier than Empire precisely because you can manage a one front war, but you should expand aggressively on that front.

      • Steravel says:

        I don’t know. I expanded very early into the Blood River valley and had extreme trouble holding it with multiple Orc factions attacking simultaneously. It was playing whack-a-mole. Defend one settlement, the one behind you gets looted or occupied, causing a loss of investment. Dwarves are just too slow, and too expesnive in the early game to field multiple armies.

        It wasn’t until I got my diplomatic game under control that I started to make headway by peacing out some of the orcs. But to do that, I needed a strong army, which requires strong economy and infrastructure, because you can’t get anything done diplomatically unless you’re ranked high enough.

        With their lack of speed and superior ranged abilities, dwarves seem built for defense. I think a certain amount of turtleing with them is perfectly viable.

    • coburnAlpha says:

      This mod that makes chaos wait a bit…how is it you get this?
      I’m currently playing the Empire and it’s a nightmare to do everything else but still try and counter the constant stream of Chaos that appears every damn round.

      • Ufofighter says:

        It’s called “Chaos Please Wait” You only have to subscribe to it in the steam workshop and check if it’s activated when you launch the game.

        As Empire the best strategy is to expand through the south (Bretonnia and company) while you diplo-annex the other Imperial factions instead fighting them, except the port in the west (Marienburg?), you should conquer that one as soon as you can, it’s worth 2000+ income per turn.

        I’ve just won a VH campaing that way and it’s been easier than the “Hard” one were I tried to unite the empire by force.

        • Ufofighter says:

          And of course at least 3 high-level witch hunters to slow down and catch the chaos armies and kill the agents.

  11. aaheel says:

    Total War: Warhammer is an amazing game as the war is unending and the narrator itself proclaims in the introductory video of Total War:Warhammer but the war has a cost for both monetary and human.Also it’s too complex for new comers.