Total War: Warhammer 3 – Thrones of Decay review: A return to form

Creative Assembly passes a trial of fire
Creative Assembly / Sega

It’s been a trying time for fans of Total War: Warhammer 3, with a general sense of discontent around the state of the game and the controversial Shadows of Change DLC leading to a deep rift between players and the developer – it seemed like the magic was gone. There’s rarely a miracle cure for situations like this, but Creative Assembly remained persistent and managed to turn the tide: Shadows of Change’s content was doubled post-launch, regular patches were published to address issues, and a customer-friendly pricing model for the next DLC was rolled out with individual parts of the expansion being purchasable separately.

This is the context into which the release of Total War: Warhammer 3 – Thrones of Decay falls and which makes it so very important for both Creative Assembly and the community. All those efforts to rebuild the bridges could be for naught if the DLC ends up being bad. Well, let’s get the suspense out of the way: Thrones of Decay is a return to form – as someone who loved Forge of the Chaos Dwarfs, I think this latest expansion is probably the best DLC the studio has done for Total War: Warhammer 3 overall.

Bringing three Legendary Lords with unique faction mechanics to the table and expanding the available unit rosters for their races, Thrones of Decay is a substantial offering. That’s without the free additions and changes it brings in the form of Update 5.0 for the game, which includes another Legendary Lord and in-depth reworks for the Empire, Dwarfs, and Daemons of Nurgle. It’s important to note that I’m not looking at these changes as part of the DLC in this review, as everyone gets them for free regardless of purchasing it.

Thrones of Decay is bringing three of the most anticipated characters in the entire Warhammer setting to the game: There is Tamurkhan, a man-sized demonic maggot that embedded itself in the flesh of an Ogre warlord and rallies the forces of Nurgle for an all-out assault on the Empire; his antagonist is Elspeth von Draken, a mysterious, shadowy protector of the Empire, who is most definitely not a vampire in secret; and finally, there is Malakai Makaisson, a Slayer Engineer striding the thin line between insanity and genius. Since all of these factions are purchasable by themselves, let’s take a look at each of them.

Elspeth von Draken

Total War: Warhammer 3 screenshot of Elspeth von Draken.
Elspeth von Draken, the Empire's shadowy protector. / Creative Assembly / Sega

Elspeth embodies the “Steel and Gunpowder” part of the Empire’s famous motto, “Faith, Steel and Gunpowder” – her faction is all about artillery and gunlines. It just so happens that those are the parts I like most about the Empire, so it’s a match made in heaven. 

Elspeth brings two different mechanics to the table. Her Imperial Gunnery School allows you to upgrade artillery and missile units with cool perks, recruit special variants of them – called Amethyst units – and unlock powerful army abilities. The Schematics required to do all of this are obtained by using such units in battle. War has always fed technological progress, so a process like this feels very organic. Now, if you’re worried about these upgrades just being some incremental stat gains, then don’t be: It’s cool stuff like Helstorm Rocket Batteries firing additional missiles, units getting explosive ammunition, or – and this is where the devs went a bit bonkers – artillery shots transforming into little black holes that devastate enemy formations.

There is a quote attributed to Frederick the Great that goes something like this: “Artillery adds dignity to what otherwise would be a vulgar brawl.” Elspeth definitely subscribes to that.

Total War: Warhammer 3 screenshot of the Imperial Gunnery School.
The Imperial Gunnery School houses all sorts of great upgrades. / Creative Assembly / Sega

But that’s not all – there is a second side to her, expressed through the Gardens of Morr. Elspeth can construct these in imperial cities, teleporting between them. What’s more, she can construct some buildings to add to the cities’ garrisons and gain some advanced recruitment options. This is an incredible addition to her toolset, allowing her to play the role of the Empire’s secret protector, showing up out of nowhere to save the day. It’s been really fun to play Elspeth that way, roaming around between several crisis points at the Empire’s borders.

Elspeth herself is a master of the Lore of Death, throwing out spells left, right, and center. Her ability to ride a Carmine Dragon makes her unique among the Empire’s roster as well, which otherwise doesn’t have many monstrous mounts.

She’s accompanied by Legendary Hero Theodore Bruckner, a melee powerhouse riding on a Demigryph mount and equipped with a self-destructing amulet that’s designed to take out the enemy that managed to do him in – that’s what got Tamurkhan in the lore. He’s perfect as the anchor for Elspeth’s forces, while she remains airborne and wreaks havoc with magic.

In terms of units, Elspeth brings one of the most wacky Warhammer models ever to the game – the Marienburg Landship. It’s a ship – a naval vessel – with wheels. And guns. Lots of guns. It looks utterly ridiculous and it’s great. Ironsides and Longrifles, two new ranged infantry units, bring additional firepower to your pike and shot armies, while Knights of the Black Rose are a cavalry unit made for surviving longer engagements instead of wheeling hammer and anvil tactics. And for the Steam Tank fans, there is now a variant with a Volleygun as its main weapon.

Though gunpowder units still feel somewhat risky to use due to the line-of-sight rules not always working in their favor, these additions have brought some exciting variety to imperial gunlines.

This is going to be a thread connecting all Thrones of Decay additions – in addition to being fun, their theming is immensely satisfying.

Malakai Makaisson

Total War: Warhammer 3 Thrones of Decay screenshot of Malakai Makaisson.
Malakai Makaisson, the world's best and worst Slayer Engineer. / Creative Assembly / Sega

Malakai, known for his adventures with Gotrek and Felix, is a genius Dwarf Engineer whose mad inventions blew up one too many times, killing fellow Dwarfs. To expunge this shame, he took the Slayer Oath, seeking a glorious death in battle – however, what makes Malakai a great Engineer also makes him the world’s worst Slayer: His meticulous preparation for every foe and drive to perfect his deadly inventions ensure that he’s surviving every encounter he’s heading into.

This is represented in his campaign mechanic, Malakai’s Adventures, which has you seek out powerful monsters and enemies in order to vanquish them. Each of these missions contains a number of preparatory quests, giving Malakai the opportunity to gain additional buffs and boons ahead of the fateful confrontation. Each foe is associated with a certain unit in Malakai’s roster – a dragon hunt, for example, is perfect for fine-tuning Organ Cannons, which means that tackling this particular mission will yield buffs for that unit. It’s a bit similar to Elspeth’s Gunnery School, though the way bonuses are obtained is completely different.

Malakai is also unique because he has the Spirit of Grungni on his side. A Thunderbarge of his own design, Malakai can call her into battle as a powerful, temporary summon. Outside of battle, the Spirit of Grungni always hovers above Malakai’s army and can be upgraded – similar to stuff like Black Arcs. This boosts her power as a summon as well as her recruitment capabilities and other neat bonuses for the campaign map. Combined, both of these mechanics make Malakai a Dwarf faction unlike any other, almost giving him a horde identity. Naturally, they also synergize well: Malakai will be far from home on his adventures, so having the Spirit of Grungni there is necessary to keep him supplied.

Total War: Warhammer 3 Thrones of Decay screenshot showing a Thunderbarge in battle.
Thunderbarges are finally making their appearance – and they don't disappoint. / Creative Assembly / Sega

On the battlefield, Malakai is a support character, though being a Slayer he’s also unbreakable and will never turn tail. Several Slayer units and characters make their way into the game with him: Daemonslayers, Dragonslayers, Slayer Pirates, Goblin Hewers manned by Slayers, and Doomseekers join the roster alongside Thunderers with shotguns and the mighty Thunderbarge. Goblin Hewers are another ultra-whacky Warhammer unit – it’s a contraption that throws axes at the enemy at the speed of a gatling gun, and when it runs out of ammo its Slayer crew can still go to town in melee. Thunderbarges are powerful airships equipped with a variety of weapons – they are incredibly strong and will provide air superiority for any Dwarf army.

For even more unbreakable Slayer-goodness you can recruit Garagrim Ironfirst, a Legendary Hero accompanying Malakai. Son of the Slayer King, Garagrim is following his father’s path. Similar to Doomseekers, Garagrim uses two axes in battle – though they are chained to his wrists because he’s prone to losing them when he goes berserk. What a lad.

If you like guns, you play as Elspeth. If you like the power fantasy of having an army of Dwarfs that’s too angry to die and has one of the best air forces in the game now, then Malakai is the choice. Thanks to his start position near the Northern Chaos Wastes, there is plenty of prey.

Malakai’s campaign mechanics and unit roster feel incredibly thematic and cool to play. It’s the best way of bringing this character to life in the game – especially as you will start with Gotrek and Felix in your army when playing as Malakai.


Total War: Warhammer 3 Thrones of Decay screenshot of Tamurkhan riding his Toad Dragon.
Tamurkhan, Nurgle's greatest warlord. / Creative Assembly / Sega

He wants to be the very best, like no one ever was. To catch them is his real test, to train them is his cause. He will travel across the land, searching far and wide. Each chieftain will understand the power that’s inside. It’s him and you, he knows it’s his destiny. Oh, you’re his best friend, in a world he must destroy. Chieftains, gotta catch ‘em all!

I wrote these totally original lyrics to describe Tamurkhan’s campaign for you – yes, it’s all about the power of friendship. Tamurkhan is a man-sized maggot with the ability to use corpses as a host body, and he’s looking for friends to unite under the banner of Nurgle in order to destroy the world. I’m not joking – it’s an amazing campaign experience.

Tamurkhan’s Chieftains, his main campaign mechanic, allows you to secure the loyalty of many powerful Chaos leaders, adding them and their strengths to your own. To do so, you will have to win their favor by fighting their enemies. This means that depending on which Chieftain you’d like to woo first, your campaign will take a very different route – quite literally. It’s up to you where to head first and this will make for very distinct experiences, leading you to fight different enemies and take different paths of conquest. It will also change the makeup of your armies, as each chieftain brings unique forces to the table – even some that otherwise can’t be recruited by Nurgle’s followers. Chaos Dwarf artillery? Yes, please.

This is such a cool way of bringing Tamurkhan’s journey from his book to the game – you travel the world to collect your forces and win the loyalty of your important henchmen before eventually marching on your main target, which can be the lore-accurate Nuln or whatever else you want.

Total War: Warhammer 3 screenshot of Tamurkhan's Chieftains.
Tamurkhan's Chieftains is a lovely mechanic to bring a narrative structure as well as variety to his campaign. / Creative Assembly / Sega

Tamurkhan himself, as you’d expect, is a beast. Riding on his Toad Dragon mount and using his mighty Ogre body, he’s an absolute savage in melee combat and can tank ridiculous amounts of damage. What’s more, in case Tamurkhan falls in battle, he will trigger an ability that absorbs HP from everyone around him to keep him fighting – representing the fact that his true, maggot-like self can simply switch to a new body if the old one fails him.

As I mentioned above, I’m more of an artillery player myself, so I don’t particularly enjoy the slow, melee-focused armies of Nurgle, and I’m not in the best position to say how much Tamurkhan’s units mix things up. I do think Rot Knights bring much-needed mobility to the roster and there’s probably no one who won’t agree that Toad Dragons are disgustingly awesome. Plague Ogres, Pestigors, and Bile Trolls aren’t that exciting to me – I’d say in terms of units, I much prefer the line-ups Elspeth and Malakai have. But as I said, that’s simply down to taste and does not in any way diminish the brilliance of Tamurkhan’s overall campaign. Plus, the ability to recruit units not otherwise accessible to Nurgle is opening up some completely different playstyles – you don’t need much experience with the faction to say that.

Kayzk the Befouled, Tamurkhan’s Legendary Hero, is another melee tank focused on charging headlong into battle. Thanks to his bonuses, though, he can help his entire army have more initial impact. He’s basically a heavily corrupted knight character with some mobility, so he’s a fun addition to grandfather’s forces.

So, yeah: Guns for Elspeth, angry Dwarfs for Malakai, and Pokémon for Tamurkhan? That sums it up.

Total War: Warhammer 3 – Thrones of Decay is Creative Assembly’s most thematic, detailed, and passion-filled expansion yet, using years’ worth of knowhow to bring some of the coolest Warhammer characters from the page onto the screen in a faithful and fun way. Best of all, the ability to purchase each faction separately means that players will get exactly what they want without having to pay for something they don’t feel as passionate about. Thrones of Decay is exactly what Total War: Warhammer 3 needed – it makes you excited to be a fan again.

Score: 9/10

Version tested: PC

Marco Wutz


Marco Wutz is a writer from Parkstetten, Germany. He has a degree in Ancient History and a particular love for real-time and turn-based strategy games like StarCraft, Age of Empires, Total War, Age of Wonders, Crusader Kings, and Civilization as well as a soft spot for Genshin Impact and Honkai: Star Rail. He began covering StarCraft 2 as a writer in 2011 for the largest German community around the game and hosted a live tournament on a stage at gamescom 2014 before he went on to work for Bonjwa, one of the country's biggest Twitch channels. He branched out to write in English in 2015 by joining, the global center of the StarCraft scene run by Team Liquid, which was nominated as the Best Coverage Website of the Year at the Esports Industry Awards in 2017. He worked as a translator on The Crusader Stands Watch, a biography in memory of Dennis "INTERNETHULK" Hawelka, and provided live coverage of many StarCraft 2 events on the social channels of as well as DreamHack, the world's largest gaming festival. From there, he transitioned into writing about the games industry in general after his graduation, joining GLHF, a content agency specializing in video games coverage for media partners across the globe, in 2021. He has also written for NGL.ONE, kicker, ComputerBild, USA Today's ForTheWin, The Sun, Men's Journal, and Parade. Email: