The Total War: Warhammer III – Forge of the Chaos Dwarfs DLC unleashes the Dawi-Zharr this week. While I don’t typically enjoy the gameplay of a Dwarf race in strategy games, Creative Assembly has made the Chaos Dwarf faction feel unique. While I found them to be a slow starter, once the labour, raw materials, and gold start to flow in from various sources at a decent speed, the momentum builds into something impressive. But getting to that point can take some extra micromanagement compared to most other races in the game, which may not appeal to some players.
The Dawi-Zharr are a cruel people, always in search of more power. In Total War: Warhammer III – Forge of the Chaos Dwarfs players can choose one of three legendary lords: Astragoth Ironhands, Drazhoath the Ashen, and Zhatan the Black. Each lord provides bonuses based on one aspect of the faction’s gameplay mechanics and specific army units. For example, Astragoth gives bonuses to research, the amount of Conclave Influence gained, and Bull Centaur Renders. Along with the three lords is a new goblin legendary hero to recruit named Gorduz Backstabber, guess what he does really well.
During my first Chaos Dwarf campaign playthrough, I went with Astrogoth since Drazhoath focuses on the K’daai units that can be expensive to upkeep, and Zhatan was all about the artillery/war machine units. But no matter what lord a player chooses, they are all after the same objective, to build the Great Drill and harvest the Blood of Hashut (Bull god of fire, greed, and tyranny) from deep in the earth.
To complete the Great Drill, you must recover and corrupt four Dwarfen artifacts. Being a Chaos Dwarf, a player can either choose to use each artifact found to empower the Drill or keep it for their lord’s own personal power. Thankfully, eight artifacts are on the map, and you can only choose to keep a maximum of four.
The Economy of Tyranny
While searching for artifacts, players will grow the Chaos Dwarf empire. That means acquiring labour and raw materials. The labour is easy enough to get since it’s a byproduct of successful battles. You can also get labour from some convoy routes. But getting the raw materials that are converted into advanced buildings, armaments, and gold is a bit more complicated.
Each time a player captures a new location, they can convert it into an outpost for mining or a factory to create armaments and generate income. For each outpost with a mine the labour needs to be allocated, maximizing the output. On top of this, labour can be sacrificed to force build a structure, gain gold, increase Conclave influence, or increase control over an area.
Once I had a basic grasp of how the Chaos Dwarf economy worked, I enjoyed balancing each aspect so that I typically had a surplus for multiple resources. I also ensured I was at war with at least two other factions. Being at war meant I had a constant flow of labour, and then I filled in the gaps by either sacrificing excess labour or carefully choosing my convoy routes.
Convoys allow players to convert one resource type for another depending on the chosen route. Each one is led by an overseer and can take several turns to complete. While en route conveys can encounter various events and engage in battles. So, they are not always guaranteed to complete successfully.
Compared to most other factions, I found myself micromanaging the Chaos Dwarf economy more regularly and enjoying it. The Labour Economy screen made it easy to manage my workforce, and I mainly guesstimated when I needed a new outpost or factory after a battle. But I could see this extra micromanagement being a turn-off for some players. The Hell Forge and Tower of Zharr also add complexity as they become more useful in the mid to late game.
The Hell Forge
In the early game, the Chaos Dwarf faction relies on its expendable orcs, goblins, and hobgoblin troops. As a player starts to produce armaments, they can spend them in the Hell Forge and start replacing quantity for quality. Each rank bought increases the maximum amount of a specific Chaos Dwarf unit that can be recruited and opens Manufactory options at certain tiers.
The Manufactory options can add combat abilities such as regen or the ability to cause terror, depending on the unit type. But to activate and maintain these abilities players need to spend an upfront activation cost and a per-turn cost per existing unit in armaments. It can drain your resources quickly. But with the right combination, an army can plow through fights. It also introduced some interesting encounters during the campaign when I knew a touch battle was about to occur, so I powered up my units in that army before the fight. I just had to remember the cooldown afterward if I removed the options again and got into another tough battle.
During my first Chaos Dwarf playthrough, I mainly focused on buffing up my Bull Centaurs and Monstrous Flyers. Centaurs held the front line in most battles with minimal support and my flyers could circle formations or go after artillery without issue since they had a barrier, regen, and whatever other buff I felt like at the time. Throw in a few extra units to handle odd tactical situations, and my main armies felt truly powerful. The Hell Forge opened all sorts of options, I look forward to trying out one of the other legendary lords using completely different unit types.
The Tower of Zharr and the Conclave
If everything described so far was not enough customization to keep you busy trying out new army builds, enter the Tower of Zharr. The Tower has four tiers, with the final tier being three seats that allow you to confederate with the other Chaos Dwarf factions. By gaining Conclave Influence from various sources during the campaign, the chaos dwarf factions can spend it to acquire seats. Each seat provides a different ability/passive effect to the owner. When a district within a tier has its seats filled, all Chaos Dwarf factions get a passive buff. The types of abilities are divided into three Districts: Sorcery, Military, and Industry. The challenge is keeping your seats as the campaign continues. Other factions can convert a seat by paying a higher Conclave Influence cost. Each time a seat converts, the cost increases.
The shifting seats create an interesting political minigame that can impact your Relations rating with another Chaos Dwarf faction temporarily if you convert one of their seats. I was surprised at how much I enjoyed this system. I was also pleasantly surprised that I didn’t find it heavily impacted the rest of my game. While it was annoying when I lost a particular seat, it felt so good when I sniped one from someone else. By the late game, I had successfully confederated with the other three factions, and that is when all the bonuses/abilities combined made a big difference.
Over the past week, I have been playing a development build of the DLC. When I looked through the doc of know issues, they matched up with the few things I encountered while playing the campaign and will likely already fixed in a newer build. Beyond that, I had no crashes, and while the game occasionally stuttered at the start of a turn, it didn’t impact my gameplay. I did notice that each time I eliminated a race/faction, the UI didn't notify me, but that may be a minor bug.
Chaos Dwarf graphics, voices, music, animations, and spell effects are all great, what I have come to expect from CA. Watching my empowered centaur units charge and start knocking things around is a joy. The cannon fire hitting blobs of units is so satisfying. Having Astragoth drop an Ash Storm to weaken my enemies against fire and then a Flame Storm to end them looks great. The final campaign fight was fun, but I won’t spoil that here. Unfortunately, the Chaos Dwarf storyline isn’t the best. It functions as a vehicle to advance the campaign, but it wasn’t engaging or interesting.
Another possible downside is that unless you focus on specific progression elements in the early game, the Chaos Dwarf race can be a slow-burning experience. My above description of the various mechanics may have sounded somewhat meticulous, even though I left out a lot of details. That was what it felt like playing the race until mid-game, but the payoff in the late game was worth it. It felt like I was forging a weapon over time. While you can likely ignore some of the gameplay elements previously mentioned, it will make things more difficult but by no means impossible.
On top of this major faction having finally joined the game, CA is also releasing a couple of free features with update 3.0 beyond the typical balance changes. A new legendary hero named Ulrika Magdova, a vampire that can join either Kislev or the Empire, and the Mirror of Madness game modes. I have already tried out one of the two new game modes called The Trials of Fate, and it was a lot of fun fighting to survive while tossing hundreds of orcs in every direction with Tzeentch chaos magic.
Is Total War: Warhammer III - Forge of the Chaos Dwarfs DLC worth your time and money? At $24.99 on Steam the price has increased compared to previous major DLC releases that have a similar amount of content. This may turn away some but the amount of unit gameplay customization is amazing which can provide a good amount of replayability. While I could see some minor tuning that may still need to be done for balance in the near future, the Chaos Dwarf faction feels great once the ball gets rolling. Creative Assembly nailed the vibe of being an evil dwarf and shook up the typical gameplay that comes to mind when I think of Dwarfs. I can’t wait to jump back in and set the Total War Warhammer III world on fire again with enchanted burning metal and chaos magic
A copy of the DLC was provided for the purpose of review.