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(Pocket-lint) - The Total War franchise struck a real chord when it first branched out of its historical settings into more fantastical lands, and its ongoing partnership with Warhammer has been a real highlight in recent years. Now, the third game in that series is upon us - and it's just as compelling as ever.

It brings all the zany dark fantasy touches that you'd expect from Warhammer, with some delightful new mechanics layered on top to make sure that veterans still have plenty to dig into, while the fact it's arriving on PC Game Pass on release day makes it an even easier sell.

Our quick take

We've already fallen into the rabbit hole offered up by Total War: Warhammer 3, which is all you want from a Total War game, but it's not a totally familiar warren of tunnels. There are enough new twists to make it feel nice and fresh too.

Whether we're kitting out a Daemon Prince or trying to balance Yin and Yang on Cathay's battlefield, the drive to push through and claim Ursun's power is a strong one. It's got the tactical rigour that Total War fans crave, and best of all for those counting their pennies it's on PC Game Pass.

Total War Warhammer 3 review: A frightful new warfront

Total War Warhammer 3

4.5 stars - Pocket-lint recommended
For
  • Varied campaign map
  • Detailed gory visuals
  • Role-playing elements elements for Daemon Prince
  • Amazing grand scope
  • Fun prologue
Against
  • Still a little overwhelming
  • Tone won't suit everyone

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Some new faces

The story behind Warhammer 3 is a fairly simple one - and we mean that in a good way. A thrilling prologue campaign will have you forging into the frozen North as a prince of Kislev, searching for your missing bear god, Ursun.

The prologue serves as a superb tutorial, running you through most of what you need to know to play the full game within a couple of hours, telling a story of corruption that ends with Ursun captive in the Chaos realms and a whole load of factions simultaneously realising this. That means the main campaign is a bit of a race to get to Ursun, but with the same overarching approach of conquering the lands before you.

This time, though, you'll have to grab chances to fight against the Ruinous Powers of Chaos, in the form of Slaanesh, Khorn, Tzeentch and Nurgle. Each must be vanquished to get a shot at winning the campaign totally.

This is achieved by finding and taking portals into Chaos for shorter campaigns against each adversary, and it provides a nice short-term set of goals that contribute to your longer-term aims.

You can choose to play as a few factions - Grand Cathay, Daemons of Chaos, Kislev, Khorne, Nurgle, Tzeentch, Slaanesh and the Ogre Kingdoms - giving you more ways to make each of your saves feel unique.

Creative AssemblyTotal War Warhammer 3 preview: A frightful new warfront photo 7

Each has its own bonuses and recommended approaches, plus unique twists on gameplay. Take as examples Grand Cathay and Daemons of Choas, two forces that play in completely different ways.

Cathay is focused on maintaining its huge boundary wall and manipulating the Winds of Magic to get favourable results, while in battle its unit synergies make your layout a constant background concern. It's a literal balancing act that requires more fine-tuning and attention while you battle than some alternatives.

Daemons of Chaos, meanwhile, saw us building up a world-rending central bad-guy by pleasing the Chaos gods to unlock boons and equipment, almost giving it a role-playing game (RPG) flavour with a huge strategy game wrapped around our daemon prince. We'd swap out equipment and customise their look to our tastes, earning more and more skills and tools as we laid waste to more armies and settlements.

Same old strategy

Of course, while the playable factions come and go, the pure core of a Total War game rarely changes too drastically, and you'll still spend your time divided between the lush campaign map and in actual battles.

The former phase is relaxing and pretty streamlined, letting you easily move units around, build up your settlements and get into diplomatic chats with other powers you come across - although if you're new to the series you'll still find yourself perusing its many help boxes fairly often.

Creative AssemblyTotal War Warhammer 3 preview: A frightful new warfront photo 8

In battle it's much the same: deploying into the field during a frozen phase in which to arrange your troops as you like, then taking control of them like a classic real-time strategy game (RTS), issuing commands and zooming around the battlefield trying to keep everything going smoothly.

With the unhinged lore of Warhammer to call on, there's a seemingly limitless pool of varied and often horrific troops to both command and come up against, though, so zooming in occasionally for that Total War speciality to see a few individual units fighting each other is as rewarding as ever.

You'll also make a lot of use of magic in various forms, with powerful units that you can recruit, boasting powers that have to be managed on cooldowns, letting you take advantage of huge spikes in power to turn the tide of a tough battle.

A visual powerhouse

Of course, Total War games also have a historical reputation for being absolutely meaty games for any PC to cope with, but their performance has actually improved drastically compared to the bad old days of Empire: Total War and the like.

Our mid-range gaming PC crunched through the game on Ultra settings, suggesting it scales impressively even with hardware limitations, and the whole package looks nothing short of lovely.

Creative AssemblyTotal War Warhammer 3 preview: A frightful new warfront photo 9

From the detailed campaign map with plenty of animated elements and effects to the ever-engaging battle scenes, in which units are improbably detailed once you get up close to them, there's a lot to like here.

The huge variety of unit types means you'll constantly find yourself pausing a battle to get in position and watch your troops fight for a moment in slow motion just to get a sense of how the game's actually matching them up on an individual basis.

The voice acting, meanwhile, is enjoyably committed, while the story beats that happen often in the campaign give you a good sense of what you're fighting for and aiming towards - even if some of the factions have aims that are as simple as pillaging or corrupting the entire world.

To recap

This is another seamless outing from Creative Assembly, with new mechanics layered onto its familiar systems to create a moreish, enticing package.

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Writing by Max Freeman-Mills. Editing by Mike Lowe.