Total War: WARHAMMER III battle types, changes, and additions

Total War: WARHAMMER III

Ben Barrett
June 22 2021

Total War: WARHAMMER III is expanding the franchise like never before – go out with a bang like a crazy Skaven comet-fake, I always say. One area that’s going to be immediately obvious is battles. We’re doing a little bit of everything in WARHAMMER III – new types, remixed types, and old favourites. Like the terrible tendrils of corruption from the Northern Wastes, we’re going to spend a bit of time going through the lot. Today, we’ll talk about the basics – Standard Battles, Quest/Story Battles, and the newly-introduced Survival Battles. In the future, we’ll be updating with further information about Minor Settlements and Siege Battles, as well as other exciting additions and changes.

For this first version we spoke with James Martin, Battle Designer for Total War: WARHAMMER III and one of the major forces behind the development and design of Survival Battles. He gave us the rundown on everything that’s changing moving forward.

Standard Battles

‘But TotalWar.com,’ you cry, addressing a website as you would a person, bit odd ‘what possible changes can you be making to Standard Battles?’ Well, disembodied voice of an example reader that I won’t be strawmanning any further, we agree – they’re pretty good. However, as well as six new races to throw into one-another at break-neck pace and in any combination, we have also done a few updates.

Some of these are overall balancing changes, others are backend updates that make things run smoother and such result in less bugs and more consistent (and fun!) gameplay. Let’s get into it.

In-battle resources

Dark Elf, Greenskin, and Tomb Kings players have long had in-battle resources that allow them to unleash devastating effects based on the progress of the battle – usually to do with how many enemies have been mercilessly cut down. We call these battle currencies. In WARHAMMER III, the backend of that system has been upgraded and improved to support the Supplies menu of Survival battles. Several of the factions in WARHAMMER III will also be making use of it specifically. Over to James:

“In the past these battle currencies were hard-coded systems. They were tough to work around in terms of introducing similar new features. For WARHAMMER III, we have now implemented the whole system in a more accessible way to allow all races and battle modes to make use of the same system at the same time as being flexible. Implementing the battle currency in this way has allowed us to use the supplies currency in Survival battles whilst remaining separate from the individual faction currencies. It’s now a much cleaner system that’s easy to use for multiple purposes in battle. The way this has been implemented also means that this is a moddable feature, it’s all accessible through the database, so for example, a modder could add a currency related feature to the Empire if they wanted.”

Ability improvements and quality of life changes

While WARHAMMER III isn’t going to function completely different to how you remember it, we’ve overhauled a decent amount of backend code and tweaked a lot of minor systems to improve gameplay and balancing.

“It’s a lot of quality-of-life stuff. We’ve gone over every spell type we’ve got, checking how they work under the hood, making sure they’re doing what people are expecting. Lots of small things we’ve tweaked and fixed, making the system a lot healthier and cleaner so it’s more predictable what’s going to happen.” It also “allows us to do new things. Katarin’s Heart of Winter spell is a four-phased direct-damage ability. That’s something we can now do. Lots of little improvements that let us do more.”

This also joins a host of tooltip changes to show more critical information and upgrades to the direct damage and area-of-effect spells/explosions code. Resistances, knockbacks, and healing should all now function better too. It isn’t going to blow your socks off in terms of major upgrades, but it will make the game easier to understand and more responsive. A win all-round.

Single-entity wounds and unit size scaling

Monsters, legendary lords, and big dragons all come under the single-entity header in terms of being some of the most unique, interesting, and powerful units on any battlefield. We’re making some changes so they retain all the power of heroes of the Warhammer universe, but also have more interesting gameplay attached.

The simpler and most impactful of these is the addition of a ‘wounded’ state where a single entity will have some stat debuffs as it gets lower on health. Naturally they can be healed out of this with other effects, but it means that they won’t simply have full damage output until they lose their last health point. Multiplayer balancing, as well as ensuring that the large number of single-entity daemon army units we have coming won’t skew things, are the main targets.

On unit size scaling, balance for lower unit sizes – small and medium – was always a little off. Single entities and towers will have their damage lowered, for example. “Let’s say this tower does 500 damage and your unit has 2000 health on ultra,” says James. “If you then play on small unit size and your unit has 500 health, it’s gonna get one-shot. We never balanced around that, now we do. We also now balance the building health, walls, and towers, because let’s say on you have four cannons in a unit whereas on small you only have one. Before, that one cannon had to do the work of four.”

New maps, areas, and art

As you can imagine, with a whole new part of the world – including the vast stretches of the Chaos Wastes – come new maps, with new art and areas and new types of terrain.

“Compared to what we’ve had in the past, we’ve had a lot more freedom to do crazy magic stuff. In the Realm of Chaos there are no rules. It’s allowed the artists to do crazier stuff that you can’t usually do.”

Map-wise “we’ve kept some old maps. Land-battle wise it’s roughly the same, there might be some more hard-collision than there was before because the new terrain types are quite hostile. There’s a lot more height variation.

“There’s been improvements and changes to battle modes – on chokepoints there was only ever a maximum of two crossings before, it goes up to three or four now. Ambush Battles now have the withdraw feature from Three Kingdoms, where if you get your units to the withdraw point in an Ambush Battle you can escape so you’re not just instantly killed.”

Autoresolve changes

Big quality-of-life changes coming to autoresolve. The most notable is that the game will now tell you the predicted result and which units will be lost before hitting the button, as well as in-general how many casualties you will be taking. The background processing of what the actual result will be has also been improved.

“We’ve made some improvements to our auto-test system. This has allowed us to gather better data, so it’s gonna be much cleaner for the auto-resolve to use and for us to balance the wealth of content. We’ve got a lot more data to go off, it should be cleaner across the board, and we should have less random units that completely skew the autoresolve.”

New info overlay options

We’ve also added a batch of new options to the extra details panel that pops up when you hold spacebar in battle.

“You’ve got the occlusion outlines. If you’ve got a load of men hiding in the forest, you can toggle this on and you get a green outline round the units so you can see where they are through the foliage. We’ve got a few other options in that menu to give people even more control over what they want to do, more options than what we had in WARHAMMER II, many from Three Kingdoms.”

Quest Battles

For when you just have to get the latest snazzy sword or particularly fancy hat for your Legendary Lord (or on other special occasions), quest battles are still here and still great. If you’re picturing what you saw in WARHAMMER II, you’ve got the right idea. Bigger, better, more interesting designs, and with several Survival Battles taking the place of what would have been Story Battles in the past – but overall, the same theme.

Survival Battles

The powerful dessert of our WARHAMMER III meal is the Survival Battle. These are climatic, meaty fights against the forces of Chaos, right on their home turf, that form the peak of the narrative, plus the largest battles we’ve ever made in Total War. We’ve discussed them at length with media, influencers, and in our own content, but here we’re going to give every detail we possibly can.

If you’re completely unfamiliar, the basics are that you, with your most powerful army, attack one of the strongholds of Chaos deep within their own realm. As you progress you can use a new system of Supplies to do everything from constructing barricades and towers around key capture points to reinforcing your troops, replenishing health and ammo, or upgrading their stats.

As you push deeper, stronger and stronger waves of daemons will crash upon you, and you will need to use every asset at your disposal to hold them back and reach your goal.

Every faction has access to every Survival Battle. Even mighty Skarbrand will need to prove his mettle and dominance before Khorne, for he cares not from whence the blood flows, so long as it flows. The same is true of each Daemon Lord and their patrons as they seek the ultimate power that lurks at the heart of the Realm of Chaos.

But why would a nation like Kislev, the bulwark against Chaos, suddenly dare to invade these hellish domains? That goes for all factions, one does not simply walk into the Realm of Chaos… a famous quote… maybe.

Since the first game in the trilogy, creating a narrative has been a strong pillar and one that has been improved upon for each game. WARHAMMER III’s story is an absolute epic, giving each faction a strong motivation for doing what they need to – even if that means expeditions to fight the Chaos Gods on their own doorsteps! Such incursions are not free of consequence, do not break the lore, and the campaign narrative gives it a proper context. We’ll speak more about this once we’ve revealed more.

You start Survival Battles much as you might a Quest Battle, with your customised stack of units from campaign, your legendary lord at the fore. However, you also have a pool of reinforcements that can be gradually brought in by spending supplies, which is determined by that legendary lord – Katarin might have access to more Ice Guard and Ice Witches, while Kostaltyn has more Kossars and Dervishes. Your access to this reinforcement pool is scaled by how far you’ve pushed into the Chaos realm, giving you ever more reasons to move forward.

From this moment it is almost entirely up to you how you conduct the battle. Supplies are gained steadily, and each capture point on your way to ultimate victory will increase the potential and power of their spending.

Reinforcements

As mentioned, the reinforcements in campaign are available depending on your Legendary Lord. When you play these battles through custom or multiplayer lobbies you can create your own pools, the only limit here is the funds. This allows you to bring in new, fresh units to keep you fighting fit. It also allows you to withdraw your units to the reinforcement pool, allowing them to heal up and return to the fight. Even units that are completely wiped out will be added back to the pool over time, such is the magic of the Realm of Chaos and the scale of the engagement you are undertaking. Which units you can bring into the fight will depend on how many capture points you have taken, scaling by cost and tier of the unit.

Replenishments

These are cheaper effects that let you counter-act a situation or buff a unit on an individual, temporary basis. It might allow you to heal and resurrect entities in a unit or refill their ammunition. You can also restore stamina and magical power, reduce cooldowns, or inspire the hearts of a faltering unit to remain in the fight. These will be more expensive for higher tier, more powerful units like Lords, while lower tier units can be kept fighting fit at a fraction of the cost. How you use that is up to you.

Upgrades

Every unit also has a set of upgrades available, three tiers each for their various armour, weapons, shields, and missiles. Again, the more powerful the base unit, the higher the cost of upgrading, but the more valuable the upgrade. The choice is up to you how many supplies you spend on upgraded arms and armour for your forces or if you spend elsewhere. The third tier of an upgrade will always have an even more significant power boost, providing an extra stat that isn’t altered by the other tiers and making it well-worth it – but the cost is significant.

“We would never expect someone to have tier three upgrades on everything in their army unless they brought in a force specifically designed to do that. Perhaps all Bloodthirsters or Dragons, which aren’t going to need ammo replenished and so on. It’s player choice and it’s down to the asymmetry of the faction you’ve taken in. There’s a lot behind this, it’s open to the player’s interpretation.”

Buildings

Perhaps the biggest, most complicated, and most interesting part of Survival Battles is the ability to deploy buildings mid-battle that can assist your forces and rain death on your enemies. These come in two main themes, Towers and Barricades, with various sub-classes within those.

  • Barricades
    • Blockers
      • The most basic type of barricade, stopping enemy troops and requiring a decent amount of damage to take down and bypass.
    • Platforms
      • Allow you to place units on them, meaning they can shoot over your own troops and be far out of reach from retaliation.
    • Monuments
      • Provide a buff in a radius, unique to each faction, which increases their fighting prowess.
    • Traps
      • Debuff enemy troops, damaging or otherwise harming them.
  • Towers
    • Are more powerful than the Siege towers you might be used to from WARHAMMER II. The power of the Realm of Chaos!
    • These give you the option to really camp out at a control point, gathering resources for your next big push, upgrading key units, or simply enjoying the slaughter.

The massive difference between this and previous custom-built defenses in prior Total War games is that you’re now given more placement options, the ability to construct these outside of the deployment phase, multiple type options, and if you want to dismantle them to retain some resources – “it’s a big part of it, it’s constantly adapting to the battle that you’re in. Much more reactive.”

Co-op and custom battles

Finally, we’re letting you play Survival Battles outside the campaign. This allows them to be undertaken in up-to-four-player co-op, with different factions if you wish. Want to conquer the realm of Khorne with an army of your three best friends and every Daemon faction? You can do that. Once the combined map for all three games is available, you will also be able to bring every faction in the game into Survival Battles to see how the Empire, Greenskins, Lizardmen, or anyone else you like matches up against the Chaos Gods. We’re also introducing new systems to transfer control of units in multiplayer battles when players disconnect, meaning you aren’t left with a cut-down force if your friend’s internet goes out.

Make Total War

Phew, that was a lot. Hopefully there’s more than a few tidbits in there that fascinate you and get you excited to fight in the Realms of Chaos. We’ll be back soon enough with details on siege improvements and Minor Settlement Battles, as well as any additional details we can wrangle out of the dev team on everything they’re doing to make Total War: WARHAMMER III the best game ever.