I recently had the chance to give both Grand Cathay, which I’ll focus on here, and the newly announced Daemons of Chaos (Chaos Undivided) (impressions here) a try for 50 turns a piece in Total War: Warhammer III (I recommend you check out my general impressions here for an overview of all the big new things in the game). Cathay has such an amazing look and feel to it, with an engaging blend of new mechanics, that I think they’ll become quick favorites to many.
Total War: Warhammer has always done a pretty great job at capturing the essence of an army and crafting flavorful mechanics to match them, and Grand Cathay seems to be one of the best examples of it. This may be due in part to the fact that the faction is a brand new army created with input from Creative Assembly themselves, never having an official army in the original Warhammer Fantasy. Thanks to Total War: Warhammer's success, Warhammer Fantasy is getting new attention from Games Workshop overall, too.
When speaking to Game Director Ian Roxburg and Principal Writer Andy Hall, they reiterated that their goal is for every faction to have a unique campaign experience, which is a big reason for the asymmetrical faction design. With that design philosophy in mind, I asked them what goes into crafting a faction, Grand Cathay specifically. Here's what Andy Hall had to say:
Cathay is a real interesting one, actually. That was created kind of in concert with Games Workshop, rather than being a legacy race. And so, we were asking them 'what's the keyword that sums up Cathay?' when they were early in development and they came back with 'Harmony.' That automatically starts things firing in your head ... How do we interpret that?
Harmony is the defining mechanic of Grand Cathay, with almost every decision impacting it. Measured in Yin and Yang, lords you recruit, structures you build, event decisions you make, units you recruit, research - you get the idea - all affect the balance, the Harmony, of your faction. Maintaining that balance is important as everything from income generated, to control, to corruption, and almost anything in between can be affected.
Going further, Harmony also plays a role in battle. Units gain buffs if positioned next to another unit of an opposite attunement, so crafting an army with Harmony in mind could be a huge factor. Thankfully, there are some general things like archers being Yang and swordsman being Yin, so naturally positioning the archers behind the melee will see the buffs there. With how creative the Total War community is, I’m sure synergizing Harmony will get pretty crazy somewhere.
Harmony is great at disrupting the normal line of thinking you follow with most factions. Because Harmony is present in just about everything, you have a new very important variable to consider in just about every decision. Maybe you delay some research or a certain unit you want to get to recruit quickly because it will throw the Harmony out of whack too long, which will kill your income for several turns. Maybe your army is way too Yang heavy, so you recruit some units with Yin to get the Harmony buffs.
Layered on top of already existing mechanics, Harmony fits in brilliantly. It’s another thing to consider that can lead to interesting micro-decisions in battle and macro decisions on the campaign map.
In an already chaotic map full of urgency and decisions pulling you every which way, Grand Cathay can also send Trade Caravans on The Ivory Road to distant cities. You recruit a caravan leader, a lord basically, to lead the caravan on a route of your choosing. Some routes are obviously more valuable than others, and some come with more trouble.
These caravans start with basic armies that can be bolstered along their route through random recruitment events. Of course, there are bad events too where your caravan can be ambushed or run into an unfriendly army. Sometimes you can spend gold to avoid battles, other times you have to fight to keep what’s yours.
Events from caravans were always a fun diversion that could net you some neat things on top of the gold from the trade, like unique items for your heroes and lords. They also get into their own trouble relatively frequently, rewarding you with some neat battles every so often. It’s like sending off an AI lord to randomly get in some mischief.
The novelty of the caravans may wear off with more time playing with them, but they’re a solid addition to lend Cathay some unique flavor.
The final big new mechanic is the Wu Xing Compass. There’s not a ton to engage with while using the compass, but it definitely affects the goings-on in your campaign.
There are four directions to point the compass towards once every several turns, each of which is tooled to benefit you in different ways. One is focused on reducing corruption, another on boosting your control, another on growth, and the last one boosts your defenses and the frequency of attacks at The Last Bastion.
The Last Bastion is another big reason I enjoyed my time with Cathay. Obviously inspired by the Great Wall of China, The Last Bastion is a wall with some gates to keep Chaos contained beyond its borders. Periodically, the Chaos Gods will build up some steam and send attacks towards The Last Bastion in hopes to breakthrough.
The various gates along the wall have unique buildings all about boosting defense, and they seem specifically designed for huge defensive siege battles. Unfortunately, I didn’t get my time to shine in a huge defensive battle, but highlighting siege battles are their obvious function.
Another wrinkle in the things to keep track of while playing Cathay, The Last Bastion is an interesting challenge no other faction has to deal with that I’m sure people will find a good use for. For example, there’s a building in one of the gates that produce a decent chunk of experience for units each turn. Ranking up an army you have in reserves for later isn’t the worst idea.
As for the army itself and the units at your disposal, Cathay is kind of a jack of all trades. Their infantry seems fairly solid, they’ve got some good ranged, the artillery is effective, and their cavalry can get the job done. They've also got some cool magic at their disposal.
Without more time with them, it’s hard to say anything definitive, but I can’t think of one particular strength they have over anyone. They can more or less do it all, with their main weakness being their mobility. You’re not going to want to rely on fancy footwork to get the job done and have to be real vigilant of flanking.
The sky lanterns are an interesting unit that I can see people getting creative with, however. Flying artillery you can move just about anywhere to get a good angle, and relatively quickly, definitely has potential for interesting complications. You can just sit them up above some trees out of the way if you want.
To be honest, look to someone else that’s way more into tinkering with army composition and getting into the nitty-gritty of combat if you want to know more specifics of how Cathay plays. That’s not a big reason I play, so you’re not going to find nuanced takes on how Cathay fairs on the battlefield here.
In the end, I had a blast playing as Cathay and never had a boring moment. Part of that is due to the amazing campaign map and everything going on there, but Cathay routinely led to interesting strategy decisions, which is really all I want out of Total War. If all of the new factions in Warhammer III have a similar quality, I can’t wait.
Total War: Warhammer III releases February 17th on PC. It will be available on PC Game Pass day one as well.
TechRaptor's Total War: Warhammer III preview was conducted on PC through Steam at an online press event.