A scorching, over-the-top sendup of capital's morbid contempt for labour, Forge of the Chaos Dwarfs adds a wild new unit roster and a fun new campaign, and is an essential addition to Total War: Warhammer 3.
It’s often said that in the world of Warhammer, there are no ‘good guys.’ That’s true as far as it goes, but among the many baddies this fantasy world has to offer, there’s bad, and then there’s very, very bad. Our Total War Warhammer 3 Chaos Dwarfs DLC review concerns a new entry to this latter category in Creative Assembly’s epic strategy game, and they might be the nastiest of the whole lot.
While the Chaos Dwarfs style themselves after Babylonian cherubim, all braided beards and cylindrical hats, their unique mechanics make them something much more modern – a race born out of Upton Sinclair’s worst industrial age nightmares. Seeking to power an enormous drill that will awaken their bull god Hashut, the Chaos Dwarfs run a mines-and-factories economy designed to do two things: outfit Chaos Dwarf troops with the fanciest and deadliest instruments of destruction, and grind up the labour pressed into turning its inexorable wheels.
The implications of this economic system quickly become clear as I start my first campaign as Drazhoath the Ashen, the sorcerer-prophet who rules the Black Fortress on the edge of Gnoblar Country. There’s not much in the way of life out here: the coastline on the Sea of Dread immediately transitions into blasted wasteland, and with mountains full of ogres to my northeast, I’m on a stretch of land that’s hostile and sparsely populated. It’s what I imagine the drive from Las Vegas to Phoenix is like.
I meet my first neighbours when I attempt to move into a ruined settlement on the southern edge of my inhospitable territory. Naturally, it’s a clan of Skaven, who aren’t picky about their real estate owing to the fact they’re planning on living underneath it. In any event, I’ve got to pick out a direction for expansion quickly, since each economic improvement I make comes with increased demand for prison labour. While there are multiple ways to increase the labour pool, the two most reliable sources are slave caravans and warfare.
After sending out my first caravan, I remember an important fact about the Chaos Dwarfs: they’re reviled by just about everyone, and for good reason. Heading west to one of Grand Cathay’s frontier cities, my caravan runs through greenskin territory, where it inspires several orc tribes to declare war on me. Fair enough: throughout the opening third of the campaign, as my forces are still assembling and we’re still working out where the Great Drill is to be sited, chained orc and goblin labourers get to look forward to being my armies’ meat shields.
The next tier up is my formations of hobgoblins – sneaky gits, cutthroats, archers, wolf riders – who are reviled by other greenskin races due to their willingness to work with (checks notes) …me. Hobgoblin units are decently lethal and provide enough variety around which to build a cheap early army, but they’re just the opening act for the main attraction: the Chaos Dwarf units themselves.
All the industrial infrastructure I’m building in my settlements is geared toward producing the armaments I need to outfit my Chaos Dwarf formations. Slave labour produces raw materials, which can then be converted into armaments in my factories. In the new Hell-Forge panel, I can spend armaments to raise the cap on the number of Chaos Dwarf units I can field, and it’s quite the menu: there are the bloodthirsty Infernal Firesworn infantry, winged bulls, fiery bound daemons called K’daai, and devastating war machines and heavy artillery.
Each time I spend armaments to raise the cap on a particular type of high-tier unit, I gain points toward unlocking new abilities I can activate in the manufactory. Soundproofed armour gives missile troops vanguard deployment, for example, and infantry can be enhanced with a bound daemon that terrifies enemies.
Activating any of these additional abilities comes with a per-turn cost in armaments, placing additional demand on my economy to produce more – and to do that, I need to continue ravaging the land and capturing more slaves. If I’m in a rush, I can ‘spend’ labour to instantly complete any construction, but whatever I build is going to increase the demand on my existing labour pool.
As I mentioned, everyone hates the Chaos Dwarfs, which means diplomacy is more inward-facing in this campaign. The Chaos Dwarf clans are locked in a race of malicious cooperation, working together to resurrect Hashut while competing for influence in the Tower of Zharr. Completing campaign actions gives me conclave influence that I can spend to claim seats in the Tower that confer unique bonuses, and when all the seats in a ‘district’ are claimed, every Chaos Dwarf faction gets a special bonus. That makes for an interesting push-pull dynamic while playing Chaos Dwarf politics – yes, I’d certainly like the Dreadquake bombardment ability granted by a tier-two seat in the military district, but what if it means every scheming band of Chaos Dwarfs gets a bonus to global recruitment capacity?
I’m hard-pressed to think of any faction released for any Total War game that more fully embodies the grim realities of the term ‘total war’ than the Chaos Dwarfs. For them, war is both the means and the end: war must be waged so that war can be waged, and everything and anyone is fit to be fuel for the furnace that drives this unceasing engine. When Dwight Eisenhower warned in his farewell address about the dangers of establishing a “military-industrial complex,” the Chaos Dwarfs were taking notes.
Evil as they are, the Chaos Dwarfs check every box for me when it comes to a piece of Total War: Warhammer DLC. They have an interesting new set of rules to play by, a campaign that is a big step up from the whack-a-mole Realms of Chaos that shipped with Total Warhammer 3, and a roster of blisteringly fun new units to march on the battlefield. The new mechanics have a welcome depth, but aren’t so abstract that it’s difficult to work out how they’re actually affecting the campaign’s progress. Forge of the Chaos Dwarfs is a send-up of industrial age capitalism that taps into the best over-the-top traditions of the Warhammer universe, and I think it’ll be a welcome addition to any Total Warhammer fan’s DLC library.