Total War: Warhammer 3 Immortal Empires' 1.0 release shows that hubris is good, actually
I have no headline space and I must gush
This isn't technically a review, because who would review a game mode for Total War: Warhammer 3? What’s next, a title screen review? A lengthy personal essay about an attract mode clip? Can my cat get a review? First off, yes. Captain Waffles is a visceral tour-de-force that no fan of the genre should miss. 10/10. Secondly, you should know that Immortal Empires is, as far as Total War: Warhammer goes, the game mode. More importantly, this ridiculously expansive, years-spanning grand-strategy project exists as tangible proof that sometimes, the limitless hubris of man is actually rad as hell, despite what the ancient Greeks said. Euripides nuts, more like.
The last time I took a look at Twarhammer’s globe-spanning megamap, it had just released in beta. Since then, it’s seen a host of changes, both small and smaller, and also the beta sticker has fallen off in the wash. At least two of these changes are especially significant, with the most recent perhaps being the most dramatic: Immortal Empires is now playable by anyone who owns Total War: Warhammer 3. Where previously you needed to own all three games in the series on the same platform, all you technically need now is Game Pass.
if you do just own the third game, mind, you will only have access to the action via a fraction of the playable factions. Headline species from games one and two, like Skaven and the Empire, or DLC additions, like Tomb Kings or Wood Elves, will still require additional purchases to play. However, all 80 playable lords across 23 factions will exist on the map, so you’ll still be warring in the total sandbox, even if you can’t play with all the toys. You can, for example, now smash up the entire globe as Skarbrand.
Another big change in the DLC menu is the way faction access works. For example, if you wanted to play Grom the Paunch, you’d have previously needed game 2 and the correct DLC. Now, if you own just Warhammer 3 and The Warden and The Paunch, you’ll be able to play as the elf and orc lords in that expansion, as well as some ‘Free-LC’ downloadable lords. It’s still complicated, but much more generous. Feel free to ask me purchase related queries in the comments. I own everything and have opinions about all of it.
Much of what I said in my initial impressions piece still rings true. While expansive and gorgeous as a map, Immortal Empires still doesn’t feel quite as narratively rich as 2’s Mortal Empires did, largely due to noticeable placeholders for upcoming expansions, and less introductory quests. Its potential for emergent narrative, however, has naturally expanded with its scope. Balance is still all over the place, and Creative Assembly still don’t appear to have found the perfect solution between limiting the artificially zealous ‘anti-player bias’ without making the AI cuddly and passive. There are still bugs and annoyances to be found here and there, some minor, some more pressing, depending on which factions you care about most. It still all works shockingly well despite all this.
The second of those very large changes I mentioned up above pertains to the new minor settlement battles: the bastard middle child between sieges and field battles, involving a capture-and-hold supply system that I have since grown to greatly appreciate, even if I previously lamented their frequency. They offer a comparatively unique challenge that forces you to think differently about unit utility and force composition, but they’re also exhausting to play loads of in a short stretch of time. They’ve since been adjusted to only appear in walled minor settlements, and then only some of the time.
There are, undoubtedly, hundreds of other changes propping up the world now, even if most of them are so small you’d need to comb the patch notes to find many relevant to your current campaign. Taken alongside other 1.0 launches, however, the beta tag coming off Immortal Empires is more marketing than anything else - some fanfare to kick off a year rich with the promise of more content drops. I’m absolutely fine with it. It was great day one, it’s a reasonably less annoying version of great now. Also, I mean, have you seen that trailer up there? Phwoar. I’d have beat a 25 hour RTS campaign on hard just to get a secret ending cinematic half as good back in t’day, and I’d have felt well rewarded.
The beta tag coming off Immortal Empires is more marketing than anything else. I’m absolutely fine with it. It was great day one, it’s a reasonably less annoying version of great now.
Most importantly, the barrier to entry is now, financially speaking, so much lower than it was before, upgrading the base Warhammer 3 experience from a recommendation with caveats to a scarily enthusiastic yelp. I’ve done a lot of scene setting and house keeping so far, with the assumption that most you are at least somewhat familiar with the series. But I suppose I better have at least have a crack at explaining why Total Warhammer is so bloody good.
For context, I currently have a combined 1542.2 hours in games two and three. Getting obsessed with games for long periods of time does not come naturally to me. I say this as someone who will happily wash down two packs of oreos with a gin and tonic and a bucket of vape juice at 11am on a Wednesday. I once almost failed a very expensive ESL course because I couldn’t stop playing XCOM 2. What I’m saying is, I’m a feckless idiot, but I have tried repeatedly to become intentionally hooked on various ‘lifestyle’ games over the years because I reasoned the experience of ‘no lifing’ something was a useful one for someone who writes about games to have in their toolbox. I rarely make it past 100 hours, and never to 200.
So, why this one? Did I change my approach? Is Total War: Warhammer even my favourite series? No to both of these. There is honestly just that much unique content available across all the factions that you will rack up MMORPG hours just trying to experience everything. Any complaint I have about balance is caveated by the fact that getting this many wildly diverse factions to exist and interact in the same space is one of strategy gaming’s most impressively unhinged achievements. It is not just an adaption or interpretation of Warhammer Fantasy’s fiction, it is an act of sheer creative will brought to bear with the same maximalist excess that fuels that fiction’s fires. ‘
It is a dawn-ignoring blast to play. Ever wanted to melt stubborn dwarven phalanxes with poison gas grenades? Ever fantasised about sniping a veteran hero of a thousand battles, and his Griffon, straight out of the sky before he even smells your frontline? Ever looked at an unspeakably ancient tree that acts as the lifeblood of an enchanted forest and thought “I would like to nuke it, please”? You can do all of this as a single faction of a single species.
You shouldn’t worry about being Warhammer fan, either. There is much unique and much particular and interesting about Warhammer fantasy, but there is also so much that has been nicked from elsewhere that it all just blends into a sort of proprietary eponym for fantasy with a sense of humour - the Kleenex, ChapStick, and Hoover of darkly comedic fantasy. The upshot of this is that it allows you live out your Lord Of The Rings fantasies alongside your Jurrasic Park, Holy Roman Empire and Pirates Of The Carribean fantasies, and has both mechanical nuance and narrative justification to support all of it. To call the game asymmetric is like calling (current thing) a (ridiculous understatement about the essential thingness of current thing).
It’s also just beautiful to take in. There are untold worker hours of top-notch craft in art and animation lurking at a level of zoom that most players will rarely even see. Every powder blast and sizzling crackle of arcane power rings out across the battlefield with deft attention to detail, and each unit announces themselves with boasts, grunts, and roars. Huge maps stretch on for miles, packed with tiny details that have no bearing on the actual battle save looking cool. It is not cinematic, because cinema could never.
There are criticisms to make here. Collecting everything will set you back multiple hundreds of pounds. There is a high chance that, at some point, a new patch will introduce a bug that will make your favourite lord unplayable. Perhaps most importantly to convey to strategy fans, the more time I spend with the series, the more I find myself noticing that it is novelty, presentation, flair, and narrative that keeps me coming back, rather than the feeling of mastering an especially deep ruleset. I mind not a jot, and I consider not a penny wasted. Immortal Empires is proof that hubris is good, actually.