Total War: Warhammer 3 – Shadows of Change is here, bringing trickery, massive emerald dragons, and a spooky Baba Yaga.
Playing through the DLC was a pretty fun introduction to the Total War series, and it definitely got me to reconsider my stance towards real-time strategy games.
Shadows of Change adds three new lords, along with a bunch of new units and regiments of renown. That said, not every lord is made equal in this new DLC, and maybe its poster boy, the Changeling, got the bigger piece of the pie.
Total War: Warhammer 3 – Shadows of Change
Developer: Creative Assembly, Feral Interactive
Publisher: SEGA, Feral Interactive
Platforms: Microsoft Windows (Reviewed)
Release Date: August 31, 2023
Before getting to the DLC, I acquainted myself with Total War: Warhammer 3‘s gameplay by going through the tutorial. The tutorial is a 6–8-hour experience where you play as Yuri Barkov, the prince of the Russian-inspired nation of Kislev, who slowly gets corrupted while pursuing a false god.
The story-telling in the tutorial is fantastic, and the story is really captivating. Watching Yuri’s descent into madness in real time reminded me a lot of Warcraft 3‘s campaign, where you watch Arthas get consumed by his goals in the same manner.
The tutorial is pretty linear and feeds you the explanation for both the map portion of the game and its real-time component, and while I did grasp most of the game’s mechanics, I don’t believe the tutorial really prepares players for how complex Total War: Warhammer 3 is.
After finishing the tutorial, I jumped into the Changeling’s campaign, and I was pretty confused. I thought I chose the worst character to start with, as the Changeling doesn’t play like any other unit in the game.
The Changeling’s gameplay consists of establishing hidden cults in settlements but never taking them for yourself. You can choose to create either a parasitic or symbiotic cult inside settlements, and this may even improve your diplomatic relationship with the owners, depending on what you build.
At first, I thought I was really unprepared for this campaign as the Changeling, just because of how many systems are available to the player, but I slowly learned that he is the best character to start playing as.
The Changeling doesn’t have any penalties for trespassing in enemy territory, doesn’t have to worry about losing settlements, can teleport around at will through parts of the map, and gets to completely rewrite the game’s rules.
The amount of power that the Changeling has is honestly insane; you can force people to declare war on each other, hand out a settlement to different owners, and even incite riots, among many other overpowered spells. You are pretty much playing in creative mode with this character.
For the Changeling, the map is divided into a set of theaters where he will enact his perverse machinations. Your victory condition consists of enacting minor and grand schemes to eventually unlock the ultimate scheme.
Minor schemes range from defeating certain factions to winning a certain amount of battles in a specific region, while grand schemes are battles you have to fight within the region of your minor schemes. The ultimate scheme is a massive all-out fight that wins you the match if you succeed.
I found this mechanic to be pretty flexible, as it gives you quite a few schemes to work with, and you don’t really need to complete them all to unlock the ultimate scheme. You will probably complete more than the required amount due to how good some of the rewards are, though.
I found the grand scheme battles to be sort of mixed; the ones where you have to just sit still and defend an area can be pretty boring, but the majority of them aren’t bad, and the ultimate scheme battle can be a nice spectacle as well.
Yuan Bo and Mother Ostankya, on the other hand, are not so impressive. Yuan Bo’s mechanic essentially has him repairing a compass, with cardinal directions being unlocked when you build monuments in certain settlements. You get different bonuses depending on what direction the compass is pointing at, and 4 out of 8 directions start locked.
Yuan Bo just feels like more of the same as far as mechanics go, as his compass doesn’t feel that relevant when it comes to gameplay. Yuan Bo in general just feels like a re-do of Zhao Ming, featuring an underwhelming mechanic that gives you either steel or stone, depending on how you acquire settlements.
The settlements you have to capture for his win condition are all insanely far, which makes for some tedious gameplay. Even after capturing a settlement, you still need to make it grow to finally build your landmark, which unlocks the missing compass directions. Yuan Bo’s campaign is just long and boring, forcing you to play defensively for quite a while.
Mother Ostankya is Kislev’s version of the Baba Yaga. Ostankya is a powerful witch who commands creatures of the forest, and her gameplay consists of gathering together different hexes, which will create the ultimate hex and essentially ruin all enemies of Kislev.
Mother Ostankya has possibly the worst campaign of the DLC characters, starting out near the Chaos Wastes, where you are constantly penalized for simply existing. It doesn’t help that most of Kislev’s units are blocked off from her reach, as she first needs to establish diplomatic relations with other members of the faction to start building her army.
Ostankya’s spell-building mechanic is similar to Grom’s cooking in Total War: Warhammer 2, so it’s pretty cool to see a familiar mechanic come back, although I’m not sure if people would prefer that Grom came back instead, rather than his mechanic attached to a different character.
Overall, Shadows of Change is a mixed experience. It has possibly my favorite character from the game, the Changeling, but it also brings two rehashed additions into the game, in the form of Yuan Bo and Mother Ostankya.
The AI in general plays the DLC characters very poorly, so you are probably going to get your money’s worth in multiplayer instead of playing with bots. Players have also complained about the DLC’s price, and I do have to agree that it is quite expensive for something so underwhelming.
The Changeling is still a blast to play, especially for a beginner due to his low-stakes approach to everything. At the end of the day it boils down to how much you are willing to spend on a DLC pack that only has one fun character.
Total War: Warhammer 3 – Shadows of Change was reviewed on Microsoft Windows using a game code provided by SEGA. You can find additional information about Niche Gamer’s review/ethics policy here. Total War: Warhammer 3 – Shadows of Change is available on Microsoft Windows (through Steam).