Total War: Warhammer 3 had a fairly rough start when it was released back in 2022 due to a lot of systematic and technical issues that didn’t sit well with the fans of the franchise. For the longest time, it seemed like the game would struggle to truly find its footing up until a few more updates and notable DLC releases that provided much-needed changes such as more factions and story content. The Shadows of Change DLC is looking to reignite excitement for the franchise leading up to new major releases such as Pharaoh. However, certain business decisions from Creative Assembly do make this one a bit of a struggle to recommend.
Shadows of Change needs extra change
The rocky story of Shadows of Change started even before it was available to purchase. Let’s address the elephant in the room here. Yes, Shadows of Change is priced at $25, the most expensive it has ever been for a Total War DLC.
Chief Product Officer Rob Bartholomew justified the price increase due to the rising costs of supporting Warhammer 3. While that is valid enough, the player base has been criticizing the Creative Assembly already for the inconsistent rate of bug fixes and updates.
It’s worth noting that on its own, Total War: Warhammer 3 is a great game. The gameplay has a lot of depth to it in which you can easily lose hours into. A lot of my enjoyment came from trying to learn all of the systems for each faction. While the narrative does have its stumbles, executing a win-state after hundreds of turns is always going to be satisfying. This is one of the ultimate experiences for Warhammer Fantasy and RTS fans alike.
When a post-launch DLC is announced to be more expensive than the ones that came before, it would be realistic to expect that the content included will be much more robust and expansive in its offering, right? That’s where most of the community frustration comes from. Shadows of Change DLC is introducing only 3 new Lords to play with. But controversy aside, how does each one fair? Is this just a case of quality over quantity?
Tzeentch and The Changeling
Let’s first start with something positive. Tzeentch is where I found the most value in this DLC. Visually, it’s the most distinct and stylized campaign. Maybe it’s because I already have an existing fascination with Lovecraftian and dark fantasy art but either way, this part of the package looks great. The Mutalith Vortex Beast is a powerhouse of an offensive unit while also being extremely cool in its design.
Instead of conquering cities, The Changeling puts up Trickster cults after defeating an enemy faction. You can either choose to be parasitic in which you can just pillage the whole place or be symbiotic in hosting the city in anticipation of future battles.
Given that The Changeling focuses on magic and trickery, his main thing is that he’s able to shift into the form of other legendary lords as long as he defeats them in battle or complete certain objectives. I really enjoyed this aspect as I felt like I was truly creating chaos in the field with devious tactics. Who said winning a war requires fairness?
Achieving victory for this character primarily relies on successfully executing Schemes. Throughout gameplay, The Changeling must journey to distinct regions known as “Theatres of War” within the Schemes panel. In each of these areas, the player must accomplish both regular Schemes and a Grand Scheme. Once three Grand Schemes have been accomplished, it triggers the unlocking of the Ultimate Scheme, serving as the last challenge.
Out of the 3 in Shadows of Change, I found The Changeling to be the easiest campaign, but it didn’t mean that it was boring. Tzeentch definitely felt a bit overpowered, which I really enjoyed just wrecking havok with. I was genuinely having fun with this part despite lacking some lord hero variants or being a bit overwhelming to learn at the start.
Yuan Bo, the Jade Dragon, and The Grand Cathay
While playing with a diplomat, warrior, and wizard sounds cool enough, Yuan Bo’s campaign felt a little bit underwhelming. Make no mistake, he’s a beast of a legendary lord. It’s great seeing him smack enemies around but that’s really about it. The gameplay mechanics here are mostly familiar for veteran players and not much pull for newcomers alike.
A lot of the Grand Cathay units serve their purpose well enough but none stood out as much as the Zhangu War Drum, a huge instrument that applies buffs and defensive effects to allies.
Yuan Bo uses different resources to help turn the tide in his favor. Stone goes a long way in setting up infrastructures while also improving relationship building. Steel is used to acquire armies and hero actions. A lot of the successful outcomes in this campaign will come from how well you can manage these resources.
This might be the weakest part of the DLC, not because it does anything egregious, but more so that it didn’t really do anything to stand out long after I finished. It felt more like a filler episode.
Mother Ostankya and the Kislev
Mother Ostankya barely fairs any better. While this campaign is still decent, it felt like a lot of content was cut. There were a lot of things that felt like should be there but weren’t for no reason such as Hag Lords.
However, as a sucker for all things magical, spells, and folklore, this campaign does redeem itself a little by basically making Mother Ostankya the legally allowed version of the Baba Yaga. No, not John Wick (although, that would be amazing), but the creature from Slavic origins. She will do anything to protect her and woe are those who dare step foot.
Mother Ostankya utilizes Hexes and Incantations to fight back. However, it’s not all about brute force. She brings in new units that shine in the forests. Ashika Ambushers’ long-range attacks can turn the tides of the battle in your favor as it picks away more problematic units. You can also use Things in the Woods to flank enemy lines and hit them where they least expect it. These additions give Kislev a much-needed refresh in terms of functionality.
However, I did find that the Hex system can involve a lot of work to really get a grasp on. With the introduction of the Witches Hut, you can combine trinkets you find to form Blessings or Curses. At its best, this system can be rewarding. At its worst, it can be very tedious.
Shadows of Change Final Verdict – 6.5/10
As someone who’s fairly new to the strategy genre, I struggled a bit to fully connect with the experience. It wasn’t until a few more turns and a lot more failures and resets that it clicked for me. The experience was never about instant gratification or the illusion of longevity through content-dripping (like what most AAA releases do nowadays). The Total War games are at their best when you take a step back and witness the scale of everything as a result of all the decisions you’ve made up to that point. Patience and measured decision-making are the names of the game here.
All that great gameplay design is already found in the base game. While the state of its stability and polish is still up in the air for a lot of players, releasing below-average DLC is not a winning strategy to win back those who have already left. Shadows of Change does provide more of Total War: Warhammer 3, but it’s not substantial enough to warrant such an asking price.
In all honesty, I don’t believe the real issue is the price increase. What the players are asking for is content that properly reflects it. If Shadows of Change is a sign of what’s to come for their future releases, they either have to reduce the asking price of the DLCs or take a massive step back and re-evaluate their creative decisions. In a year filled with amazing polished releases, a substandard DLC like Shadows of Change for a game that already has a struggling player base is not going to turn a lot of heads anytime soon.
This review was made via a PC code provided by the publisher and played through an ROG Flow X16.