Back in 2012, the late great Antony Bourdain tweeted an impassioned defence of a fellow food writer, then 85 year old Marilyn Hagerty, whose recent positive review of her local Olive Garden had become the subject of widespread memery. I’ve never eaten at an Olive Garden because a.) we don’t have them in the UK, and b.) unlimited pasta sounds like a death sentence. But I understand it’s viewed as a faux-fancy chain for people who think Al Dente was the name of the man who invented spaghetti, and not somewhere you’d want to earnestly praise as a quote unquote ‘serious critic’.
Big Tones was having none of it. He applauded Hagerty’s celebration of Olive Garden as a genuine expression of widespread American food culture, calling her detractors ‘snarkologists’, and then published a book of her reviews. A class act, no doubt. And it’s this championing of the everyman gourmand, this deep passion for non-exclusionary, unpretentious foodie culture, that powers Total War: Warhammer 3’s most joyfully silly campaign experience.
Pictured below is Greasus Goldtooth, formally known as Tradelord Greasus Tribestealer Drakecrush Gatecrasher Hoardmaster Goldtooth the Shockingly Obese, in a winning example of Warhammer’s trademark restraint. In Total Warhammer 3, Greasy Steve heads up the Ogre Kingdoms, nomadic tribes who field no units, only absolute units, and for whom gut girth is status. Don’t call it a mobility scooter. It’s a nobility scooter, sunshine.
Ogres, neither chaotic nor good, are neutral nomads. So they’ll strike up an alliance with the Empire, get paid, then turn around and eat all their horses. They care about two things: food (any) and gold (lots), and the gold is really only prized as it grants access to great quantities of food. Twarhammer 3’s best quality is how it remedies the rigid and occasionally creaky Total War fundamentals by mechanically abstracting each faction’s vivid lore to encourage and reward tactical, flavourful roleplay. And no-one knows the way down to flavortown like the Ogres.
Ogres, neither chaotic nor good, are neutral nomads. They care about two things: food (any) and gold (lots)
They’re a blast to play, partly due to monstrous expansion potential (slowed only by your army’s need to carry a bulging sack of cheeseburgers at all times, lest they start munching each other’s love handles). The nigh-apocalyptic nature of the campaign is great, but everyone needs a breather, and Ogres care not for the tiresome bickerings of church and state, nor the twisted machinations of the ruinous powers. They just want a big plate of something tasty, sans plate.
Over the past twelve months or so, I’ve watched one of my favourite subreddits, r/shittyfoodporn, grow to 2 million members. Occasionally, folk post genuinely cursed food or crushingly disappointing takeaways, but the bulk of it is the sort of impromptu freezer-cleanout stew you make when you’re either high as a lab badger or bean-coveting brassic. Dinosaur nuggets and potato smiley faces, or just like, pasta with ketchup, often given extra presentation flair with tufts of green stuff and fancy sauce drizzles.
I find this incredibly wholesome and reassuring, similar to the genuine warmth and mental health support you get in some ‘depression food’ meme pages. A sort of counterculture to Instagram food or those melts that put edible gold on everything. Unpretentious, mask off. Stop comparing yourself to a hyper polished unreality because everybody, sometimes, arranges dino nuggies and gherkins and bits of cheese into the worlds shittiest charcuterie board, and then eats it under a fort made of blankets in front of Netflix for four hours.
The Ogre Kingdoms ‘Gut magic’, also known as ‘Gastromancy’, involves their shamanic chefs, known as butchers, eating a variety of deeply weird shit to make even weirder shit happen. Crunch some bones, magically break the bones of your enemies. Eat a rock, all your mates become rock hard, and so on. Like many of Warhammer’s supernatural elements, conviction plays a big part here. The Chaos gods themselves exist as manifestations of humanity’s darker impulses, and reality itself is a malleable thing, converging and reshaping itself around deeply held beliefs.
It strikes me that this is not that different from the sort of arbitrary values we assign fine dining gimmicks, and though the Ogres themselves play a part in it, their fundamental deal is just making living smash burgers out of the entire world and having a grand time doing it. A truly inspirational story about the joyful freedom of embracing imperfection, and letting it all hang out.