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Thursday, July 18, 2024

The best things about Total War: Warhammer 3 are small

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Some of the differences between Total War: Warhammer 3 and its predecessors are big, significant, as obvious as a Great Unclean One’s buttcrack. The diplomacy is actually decent, for starters. The one real weakness of the series, diplomacy used to be a matter of sorting a list of nations based on who hated you least and then clicking through one by one to see if they’d have anything to do with you. The new, less opaque diplomacy system—courtesy of Three Kingdoms and Troy—is more focused on showing you what deals you can make and how. It let me get up to some real hijinx when I played as Slaanesh.

Other differences aren’t quite so blatant and back-of-the-box worthy. They’re the kind of changes usually summed up as “quality of life”, which when you think about it is pretty important. I’d rather like it if life had some quality, thanks.

Total War: Warhammer 3 is full of the kind of tweaks that make everything slightly better, in ways it’s easy to miss at first. When it crashed after a particularly drawn-out battle before I had a chance to save, I seriously thought about going back to Total War: Warhammer 2 for a bit, at least until number 3 gets a few more patches. I decided to stick with it when I realized just how many of these there were, the little changes I’d miss. 

Idle units are highlighted: In previous games you’d have to keep an eagle eye on unit icons to make sure your troops weren’t slacking off. A picture of swords meant they were busy fighting, an arrow meant they were busy moving, and anything else meant they were busy doing sweet fuck all. They might be standing still getting shot at, or they might be hiding somewhere near the edge of the map where they’d rallied during a moment when you were too busy to notice the pop-up informing you of this fact, now just standing around passing a cigarette back and forth.

Warhammer 3 puts a great honking row of ZZZs across the images of idle units like it’s pointing fingers in the classroom. “Miss, Miss! Toxfarter, the Decayer of Worlds, isn’t working on his assignment like he’s supposed to!” And so, as the long-suffering teacher, you can throw a piece of chalk at Toxfarter and get him back to work. Or in this case, press the select idle units hotkey, which defaults to backspace. There was a mod for this, but it’s nice to see it become default behavior.

Spellcasting slowdown: Between selecting a spell and choosing a target, everything goes into slow motion. While you could always drop things to half-speed whenever you wanted (unless you play on the highest difficulty like a maniac), having it happen automagically so you can perfectly line up a wind blast to catch as many enemies as possible makes spellcasting more dramatic and fun.

Something that’s not new to Warhammer 3, but which I often forgot in the heat of battle, is that you can click and drag spell templates to re-angle them. That wind blast triangle doesn’t have to hit the middle of a unit and then kick up some empty dust behind it, you can position it to one side of a block of marauders then drag it over them to knock the whole bunch around like skittles. Thanks to spellcasting slowdown, I actually remember to do that now.

Everything about magic item menus: Managing which items and followers are assigned to which characters used to be a hassle in the late-game, when you’ve confederated a bunch of lords and heroes you’ve never seen before and suddenly have to clothe them like unexpected children. By that point you’ve accrued a pile of magical guff you can’t remember the use for, and so can’t figure out who should have what. Why do I have all these banners anyway? Scrolling through them is eating away at my life.

Warhammer 3 makes this easier by letting you junk excess artifacts. Low-tier items can be salvaged for money, or fused with items of the same tier to make a random object of the next tier up. The menu’s simpler too, letting you see who is wielding the Sword of Swift Striking with ease, as well as who has which ancillaries. 

Reassigning them is instant too, rather than taking a turn—getting rid of a penalty that inserted a tiny fragment of hassle for no real benefit. Realism, I suppose? Pfff. I need that Frost Wyrm Skull now, not tomorrow.

Modified replenishment and encamping: A change I wish I’d noticed sooner is that armies can move while in the encamp stance. You’ve always needed to spend half your movement to encamp, but now if there’s any left over you can continue shuffling along while hunkered down replenishing units, being immune to attrition, and recruiting from the global pool.

That makes traveling through the Realms of Chaos a lot easier. In Tzeentch’s realm, where you have to teleport from island to island, stepping through a teleporter ends your turn no matter how much movement you’ve got left. If you hit the encamp stance before teleporting you’ll stay encamped on the other side. It’s free real estate, by which I mean replenishment. And if you get attacked on the other side, which you probably will, you enjoy the defense bonus of being encamped too.

On the subject of replenishment, single-entity units like characters and monsters are now replenished after battle if you choose not to take the money or leadership bonus on the post-battle screen. Used to be that your leaders and monsters would drop hit points and limp from battle to battle while the rest of the army recovered. Not any more.

The unit browser is offline: In the old days, looking up units in the Total War encyclopedia connected you to an online database. All that information is now in-game. This may not be a change everyone notices, but my Australian internet used to choke whenever I tried to access it. More universally, this means units added by mods can be part of the unit browser too. So that’s nice.

Character effects are more obvious: Here’s a real small change I appreciate. When an army or hero crosses the border into a province, a pop-up lets you know what effect their traits and abilities will have on the locals without having to mouse over some tiny icons. They may be minor effects, but if Lother the Beslimed is influencing the area’s corruption level, Vishus Gobspit is reducing control by a couple of points, or Soulscreamer, Minister of Desire, has helped the economy tick up a few percent? Then I would like to know about it.

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