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Total War: Warhammer 3’s AI playing smart in Forge Of The Chaos Dwarfs is as miserable as it is brilliant

Old World Problems

“In a rare display of AI genius, Grimgor has spent the last 4 turns camping outside Zharr-Naggrund killing every caravan I try to send. I'd be furious if it wasn't so funny,” reads the Discord message I sent to a friend - roughly another four turns before the orcish warboss’s occasional smash-and-grab turned into an entire racket that nearly crippled my burgeoning military industrial complex. Last week Total War: Warhammer III's new DLC Forge Of The Chaos Dwarfs arrived, and it highlights the setting’s greatest rivalry to comical effect.

The new Chorf economy is robust and complex in all the best ways, but it all starts with labourers. You learn early on that having trade convoys run at all times, to bring back scores of zero-hour-food-pay-rights contract workers, keeps things as smooth as Jeff Bezos’ tear-shined dome. Things were thus going swimmingly for me, until legendary orc warboss Grimgor finally decided to show some of that Brutal Cunning I’ve been hearing so much about.

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A quick primer on the Caravan system, first accessible to Grand Cathay and now the ChaDs. First, you recruit an overseer with a trait like “Hobgoblin Whisperer” or “Blunderbussy Enjoyer” which has some effect on the convoy’s entourage. You don’t pay upkeep on these convoys like a regular army, but neither can you control them directly. Instead, you pick a destination, load them up with resources, and then try to get them there safely to complete the trade, either through battles or fun little story events. It’s neat! There’s actually a caravan raid in Guy Haley’s Skarsnik novel which I remember reading and thinking “this would be great in Twarhammer!”, and it is. (Creative Assembly, please add maps where the convoy starts in the centre and gets defensive encampments though, that’d be pog, thanks.)

Being ambushed by orcs in Total War: Warhammer III - Forge Of The Chaos Dwarfs

A lot of the battles your convoy fights will be dictated by those story events, but AI factions you’re at war with also view your caravan as they would one of your armies. To balance this, you can do the same to rival caravans for a nice cash boost. The problems crop up when your caravans, which have a bit of power cap unless you’ve kept them alive for a very long time, start having to contend with multiple mid or late game enemy stacks. So enters Grimgor, content to use his gigantic Waaaagh to camp outside the Chorf capital robbing loot trains like a big green Arthur Morgan.

One of Nathan Brown’s excellent newsletters once informed me of an equally excellent take by Graham Smith (RPS in peace) that said something to the effect of “Players don’t want good AI, that’d be miserable. What they want is AI that makes them feel smart,” and never have I felt the deflating truth of those words so strongly as when Grimgor, with minimum effort and maximum results, gradually kicked my beautiful sand-Ziggurats to cigarette butts and driftwood, and also called me a nerd. It was the sort of play I’d expect of another human, and, beleaguered by other wars on both fronts, I had no additional resources to go and deal with it.

Orcish artillery cannon in Total War: Warhammer III - Forge Of The Chaos Dwarfs
An army of orcs camped outside the great walls of a city in Total War: Warhammer III's Forge Of The Chaos Dwarfs DLC

The whole shameful display went on for about ten turns in total, my supply of labourers slowly dwindling. You can nab a few from battles, raiding, and sacking cities, but without my sporadic payloads for the caravans, things were falling dangerously behind. Running out of options, I did the only sensible thing an industrial warlord could do: The old “Zap Brannigan” play, which meant sending a fresh, understaffed caravan at Grimgor’s stacks every single turn, slowly chipping away at his forces by focusing on one or two units each time. I do not know if Orcs have a pre-set kill limit, but they certainly have a pre-set gunpowder to the face limit, and after several excruciating battles, Grimgor’s stacks had dwindled enough that my allies decided to wade in and clean house.

One thing I did learn from all this though: All the wonderful cinematic action of Twarhammer is massively amplified when you know there’s no way you can win the battle. There’s something grimly satisfying about watching my evil, bearded, be-hatted minions make a doomed last stand against an endless tide, even if said tide has been repeatedly crushing me from the last two hours with the same casual disdain they might pick fungus from their gnarled fingernails. Good AI is horrible.

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