Note: This review covers the multiplayer of Total War: Warhammer 3. You can find our Total War: Warhammer 3 single-player campaign review here.
Total War: Warhammer 3 has given me more reasons to fire up multiplayer than any game in the series’ history. It's the most effort Creative Assembly has ever put into making its campaign mode work for groups of up to eight friends, and while some network issues can still occasionally crop up like a Skaven undercity, it's pretty damn fun the rest of the time.
The biggest exciting innovations are simultaneous turns and the ability for anybody to pick any side in any battle. And when I say simultaneous, I don't mean everyone decides what they want to do and then it all resolves at the same time. What I mean is, when you start a new turn, if your friend is moving their army, you can actually see them moving. It's all happening in real time, and if you both want to take the same city, whoever clicks faster or is standing closer will get there first.
There are some things I like about this and some I don't. For one, you'll sometimes be held up while the engine decides what to resolve first. If my friend is auto-resolving a battle and I'm selecting a technology, those can't both happen at the same time. So I might click on the tech and not see anything happen for a couple seconds, which makes the UI feel annoyingly unresponsive. It can be fun to race a rival to an objective, too, but the fact that it's twitch-based means you might have to prioritize moving one army quickly at the expense of another being beaten to the punch by a third player, which doesn't feel very Total War. But it’s definitely an improvement over having to wait for everyone's turns to resolve one at a time.
When you get to the combat resolution step, though, that's where the real fun begins. Even if the battle just involves one human player against an AI faction, up to eight people could theoretically become involved. Everyone gets to make their own decision about whether to join one side or the other, or just to spectate. They can also choose to control any reinforcing armies, if there are any. Once on the battle map, the leader of each army can assign any units, lords, and heroes to any player on their side. So it's possible to have some truly epic four-vs-four showdowns that give everyone something to do, even if they have no stake in either army on the campaign map. Just be careful if you're playing against a friend who's way better than you, because if they want to mess with you, they can really grind your campaign to a halt by taking control of your enemies in every engagement.
All of this works in the Realms of Chaos campaign, which I covered extensively in my single-player review of Warhammer 3. But given how long that campaign can take to finish, I wouldn't really recommend trying to tackle it in multiplayer unless you and your friends are under a 10-day quarantine. Luckily, there are also two multiplayer-exclusive campaigns that are paced perfectly for a Sunday evening of beer and bloodshed. Something Rotten in Kislev is a co-op experience for three players that’s based around defending Kislev from hordes of daemons, with some internal tension borrowed from the main campaign's struggle between the Ice Court and the Orthodoxy. It's a nice little compstomp that can be finished in 15 turns, with my only major complaint being that it only features five of Total War: Warhammer's dozens of factions. That can get a little repetitive.
The other campaign is Darkness and Disharmony, which supports up to eight players and is set during a chaotic time in Cathay's history when daemons and ogres were running around making a real mess of the place. There are also some NPC factions like the greenskins knocking around, and everyone from Greasus to N'kari to Miao Ying is playable, so it has a lot more variety in the types of battles you get to fight. It's a pretty simple race for territory, with each held settlement giving you one victory point per turn. The first person to 40 points wins, so these rarely last more than 20 turns. Technology, construction, and recruitment have also been sped up in both of the mini campaigns, and I think the length is just about spot-on.
That all said, I have run into some noticeable network issues, particularly playing with people from other regions. Disconnects are somewhat common, which can lead to having to reload from a previous turn. And lag can sometimes be so bad that it looks like Tsar Boris is galloping across the plains in slow motion. It's not a constant problem, but it is frequent enough that we almost gave up on this campaign.
You can, of course, also play individual battles in ranked matchmaking. It's disappointing to see that it’s limited to only the Warhammer 3 races for now, since I've been waiting to see how my old favorites like the Wood Elves fare against the new guys. It could be a lot more fleshed out, but I'm glad it's there for the more competitive set.