Creative Assembly’s Total War: Warhammer 3 Shadows of Change mea culpa is a generous update that’s almost completely misdirected

The final announcement blog post for Total War: Warhammer 3’s Shadows of Change update ends with a strikingly clever bit of marketing: an image with a before and after slider to show all the new units being added. It isn’t quite double the units (despite what the devious placement of Katarin’s new sled might initially suggest), but there are a great deal of impressive, shiny toys. Now, imagine an image where the second half contained, say, just the new heroes, but also a bunch of numbers and UI screens gesturing at faction updates for Kislev and the older Cathay lords. I estimate this probably would have been roughly 74% less visually impressive, despite being much closer to what the game actually needs right now. 

So, here’s the conundrum. Toys sell content. Toys say sorry. But toys, at least in this quantity, are not what Total Warhammer 3 needs half as much as it needs campaigns with the same sort of character as Grom and Eltharion, Rakarth, Snikch, Marcus Wulfhart, or (insert your favourite that I missed.) Campaigns that funnel all those top tier assets and lore and voice lines through the context and flavour they need to keep me clicking long after the point where I’ve unlocked all the new bits, had a couple of battles, and subsequently had my fill. Changeling aside, who has other problems, the DLC’s other campaigns feel lacking in both context and momentum, and the update does little to change that. 

(Image credit: Sega)

Ostankya, for example, feels like a riff on the Wood Elves Drycha; a rogue faction that eschews most of the traditional roster for wild beasts and strange magic. Here, the magic comes in the form of the new Lore of the Hag, which is great, but it’s not enough. There’s still such a lack of commitment to making the campaign either as radically different as Drycha’s or a full re-examination of Kislev’s core issues. The result is something that is too beholden to what came before to truly stand apart but too tangential to really uplift the faction as a whole, while lacking a gripping foe, story, or anything else that would make these issues easier to overlook.  

For the record, I think the idea behind the patch is fantastic. Perhaps my memory is mush from delegating a large chunk of it to remembering what all these new traits do, but I cannot recall the last time a developer this size announced such a definitive mea culpa and made good on it in such a tangible way. I actually feel a bit crass picking apart the specifics of such a classy move on CA’s part, but 20 quid is still half the price of the base game or thereabouts. And since the most dramatic addition here in terms of faction changes is a bunch of angry Kislev dads with fire pokers that you can probably find a mod for an equivalent of, I can’t really get too excited about it all. 

That’s a little reductive of me, sure. There are definitely other winners here. The new heroes are all excellent. The Golden Knight and Katarin’s Sled make for a lethal Kislev goon squad. Cathay’s construct hero is the last word on any kind of artillery duel that doesn’t involve pirate vampires. The flying flamers, combined with their new melee hero on a disk mount, make a Tzeentch air force build both viable and wickedly fun. Ostankya’s Lore of the Hag brings some oppressive flavour back to her campaign. But a bit of seasoning doesn’t go far when Kislev as a whole still remains a scattered jumble of conflicting or uninteresting subsystems, and when Cathay’s two base game lords are functionally identical save a few small modifiers. 

(Image credit: Sega)

I found the real star of this update in a very unexpected place. I’ve always wanted to love Kairos Fateweaver on principle. He is a giant goofbird with the funniest overworld map walking animation in the game, but I’ve always found his campaigns frustrating. I’m not sure if I can credit the patch for this, but the new toys made me push through and realise that after a tricky 20 turns or so, there’s some real fun to be had roasting lizards and forcing elves into military alliances with you by trading them back the settlements you just stole from across the ocean. Aekold Helbrass offers mid game replenishment buffs, and the aforementioned airforce offers some alternative army compositions to work towards. 

The big question, of course, is if Shadows of Change is worth it now. That’s a few different questions, honestly. You don’t need to look further than the aforementioned slider to know there’s more bang for your buck now. But, while I can’t blame CA for wanting to return in style after such a rough period, a little more substance would have gone a long way. 

Is it worth it in the sense that I’d recommend to anyone this would be the first or even fifth expansion they buy? No. It feels too much like an awkward middle child, too transitionary. But it might be worth it for the simple reason that diverting funds, time and attention here is a loud message from Creative Assembly that it still values the health of the series. That transitionary feeling might be a little awkward and not especially exciting, but it does have positive connotations. Transitions lead to something, after all. And while these particular reinforcements might not be Gandalf arriving at first light, they do leave me cautiously hopeful that a game with war in its title twice is getting some of its fight back.

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