Creative Assembly on the past, present and future of ‘Total War: Warhammer 3’

Lead developers Mark Sinclair and Jim Watson talk us through Creative Assembly's evolution of 'Warhammer'

In the case of Total War: Warhammer 3, conclusion is a strong word. Sure, it’s the last game in Creative Assembly‘s Warhammer trilogy, but the developer has been very open about its plans to expand on this final game for years to come.

A cursory glance at Creative Assembly’s blood-soaked CV shows that it’s been pretty damn thorough with its handling of Warhammer. Case in point: Total War: Warhammer 2, which was released back in 2017, only received its final piece of content last year. That span of development has introduced some of the community’s favourite characters, from Doomguy-lizard Oxyotl to the many-titled Settra and (of course) definitely-not-Henry-Cavill.

That being said, for all the love that Creative Assembly has received for its thorough updates, there have been some areas due for improvement – and that’s something the developer was keenly aware of going into the final game. Warhammer 3‘s lead designer Jim Watson and lead campaign designer Mark Sinclair, were eager to tell us about how they approached building on the success of Warhammer 2:

“We look at a lot of feedback from our players from the previous two games in the series, and we’re players ourselves,” said Watson. “One of our main focuses has been rejigging the settlement battles and sieges, so we’ve added a whole suite of features in there. The defending army can now build towers and barricades within the settlement so that the battle is no longer just about getting over the wall – it’s also about fighting your way through the streets, to capture points and overcome defenders that way. We think that’s offering a much more compelling experience in those battles.”

Watson is also excited for players to get their hands on survival battles, which he says add a “really big bang” to the end of each Chaos god’s kingdom in the realm of Chaos – a hellish area that players must venture into for the main storyline.

For Sinclair, he says there are “so many things” he’s excited to share but he’s particularly happy with Warhammer 3‘s narrative, which tasks players with entering those four corners of Chaos in search of the dying Kislev bear-god, Ursun.

“We knew we needed to include [the realm of Chaos] from the start, but it was always a tricky one, because it’s kind of analogous to hell in our world – which is quite a tricky thing to represent,” admits Sinclair. He’s happy with how they turned out though, because he thinks that – combined with survival battles – the mechanic “gives a reason for a player to start a campaign, to continue, and to finish it in this epic final battle”.

“We’ve really taken a lot of learnings from Warhammer 2 in regards to the narrative and the overall story arc that goes through the whole game, and it’s something that we’ve really pushed in Warhammer 3…the narrative is really a key component of this game.”

Total War: Warhammer 3. Creative Assembly
Total War: Warhammer 3. Credit: Creative Assembly

As Sinclair says, the realm of Chaos is a big addition to Total War, and comes with a lot of new options for how a faction can be played:

“We wanted the players to have a choice, right? Rifts [to the realm] open throughout the map, and that gives the option to enter the rift. But not just that – they can also travel between rifts. So you might not necessarily want to enter a realm this time, you might decide to go to the other side of the map. If you’re playing as Kislev for example, you could jump over to Cathay in an instant and that means you can suddenly capture territory there, set up a foothold there, or do diplomacy with them.”

Speaking of diplomacy, Sinclair shares that this example is a good way to outline some of the new diplomatic options available.

“Say you are Kislev and you jump into Cathay, you can build up an alliance with one of those Cathayan factions and that will actually allow you to recruit some of their units if you build an outpost in their territory. I think the realms and the rifts mechanic is really going to give a lot of replayability depending on how you play.”

Total War: Warhammer 3. Credit: Creative Assembly.
Total War: Warhammer 3. Credit: Creative Assembly.

As well as these new options, Creative Assembly found itself assessing the concept of symmetry in its Warhammer games. Unlike historical titles, factions in Warhammer have much more dramatic strengths and weaknesses – for example dwarves have no cavalry, making them easy to flank, while the Vampire Counts have incredibly limited options for ranged recruitment. As Watson explained, that posed a significant question to Warhammer‘s development:

“One of the core pillars that we set for ourselves was based on our experiences from playing the tabletop game. Part of our research was to sit down and play the game, every single faction, and work out what makes each of them tick, what their differences are, what their strengths and weaknesses are. And then we had a decision to make, because there is a heck of a lot of difference between each of those races: do we try to twist things to redress some of those imbalances, or do we actually embrace that asymmetry?”

“We decided the latter option, and we think the game’s much stronger because of that. Each of the races that we’ve included in this game – and the previous two games – have very different feature sets, rosters, magical spell laws, characters…and obviously that presents us with a big challenge in terms of balancing the game. But as we’ve gone through the series, we’ve become increasingly comfortable with that challenge.”

Never one to leave a challenge unanswered, Creative Assembly has upped the ante entirely with the Daemon Prince – a surprise faction that lets players build their own Daemon and recruit from the forces of all four Chaos gods, something that Watson says was the result of Creative Assembly “pushing the limits of the engine”.

Total War: Warhammer 3. Credit: Creative Assembly.
Total War: Warhammer 3. Credit: Creative Assembly.

Sinclair chips in to say that Chaos Undivided is “a really important part of the tabletop game,” and the team recognised that it needed “to represent that in the game”. Like many of Warhammer 3‘s biggest additions, Sinclair notes that the Daemon Prince is an evolution of something that Creative Assembly has been working on throughout the trilogy.

“We had a look at the RPG elements in the previous games – things like naming your characters, new units, and choosing your equipment on the campaign map – so we really wanted to dial that up to 11.”

Both developers are visibly excited to be chatting about the Daemon Prince. Watson says they’ve been “waiting for this moment where we can actually talk about the Daemon Prince,” while Sinclair’s very eager “to see what everyone can create” at launch. It’s obvious that Sinclair and Watson have played a lot of Chaos Undivided, so I grill them on what their favourite combinations have been so far. For Watson, he likes having “a whole load of options” for his army – when he first started he was committed to building a Khorne-heavy military, but found that being able to pick up some faster Slaanesh-alligned units were too good to pass up when battling slower factions like Nurgle.

Sinclair’s also been won over by the charm of Slaanesh, and is particularly fond of seducing enemy units over to switch sides to fight on his behalf – laughing, he says he “always gets that one [blessing] first to use it against the enemy and rub it in their faces.”

Total War: Warhammer 3 N'kari
Total War: Warhammer 3. Credit: Creative Assembly

During my own time with the Daemon Prince, I also noticed that many of the races from Warhammer 2 were present in 3‘s map – Sinclair confirms that the map “features almost all the races that are in Warhammer 1 or 2″.

“I think that was a really important decision to make because we need to give players interesting enemies to fight: we obviously just didn’t want you to be fighting the same daemons over and over again,” Sinclair says, before adding that it’s particularly important for the new outposts system as it means new factions can recruit units from the last two games.

For fans, a lot of what Watson and Sinclair are talking about sound like a dream come true. Outside of features like outposts that have come from the blue, many of the game’s bigger changes – including a Chaos Undivided faction, siege changes and diplomacy tweaks – have been things the community has been requesting for a long time. Both developers seem well-tuned to the community’s sentiment, and Watson says that fans are a “really crucial source of information” from a development standpoint.

“We monitor very closely what our players are saying, and to be honest, we’re fanatical players ourselves, so it’s a really useful source of feedback. We also have our own internal feedback – we have a vast group of trusted players that we bring in to play the game, and we take that feedback and act on that.”

Total War: Warhammer 3. Credit: Creative Assembly.
Total War: Warhammer 3. Credit: Creative Assembly.

Sinclair adds that “us developers are checking the forums and the Reddit every day – we’re always keeping on top of it, and if there’s anything that hasn’t been part of the Warhammer 3 launch, we’re obviously going to be supporting this game for years to come, so I think watch this space – things missing might come down the line later on.”

Sinclair’s answer provides a neat segue into something that’s already on many fans minds – the future of Warhammer 3. I bring up the fact that when fans were speculating who the final faction leader could be, names like Thanquol and Nagash were being thrown around. Could those big names – and other, more obscure factions – expect to make an appearance further down the line?

“We’re not ruling anything in or out at this stage,” answered Watson. “The stated intention – right from the first game – was that we want to do everything because we’re incredibly greedy. There is so much stuff that obviously we’ve had to measure out how we can deliver that in a sensible way. Suffice to say that the roadmap beyond the result of this final part of the standalone trilogy is crammed. We can’t go into any details on that, but rest assured – there is so much stuff still to come.”

Likewise, Sinclair adds that “nothing is off-limits” and thinks fans “are going to be really excited to see what we’ve got to come up” after Warhammer 3‘s launch.

Even though Warhammer 3‘s not out yet, it’s hard to stop your mind from jumping to what could be next – especially because it seems like Creative Assembly’s doing the same thing. From our own hands-on with Warhammer 3 we think there’s a lot to be excited for, but perhaps the most interesting thing to watch will be how this final entry changes from launch.

Total War: Warhammer 3 will launch on February 17 for PC, and will be available on PC Game Pass from launch. 

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