For my entire life there have two constant forces in video games: The Three Kingdoms and Total War. The Three Kingdoms came in the form of Dynasty Warriors and a few Playstation based strategy games while Total War was based in Shogun, Rome, and Medieval settings. Finally, those two worlds have collided and we’re now seeing what I would have to consider quite literally the best iteration of Total War since Warhammer II. To start, TW3K is set in the Three Kingdoms era of 190 CE where the factions are warring to unify China under one emperor. This time period has long been the subject of documentaries, movies, series, and even a range of other games, all of which have had a profound effect on culture worldwide. Creative Assembly has taken its responsibility to the history very seriously, hiring world renowned expert Rafe De Crespigny as the historical consultant and sticking closely to the typical classic Chinese motifs that you would have seen in the day.
Creative Assembly has also referred to some of the most famous source material in creating their representation of the ancient Chinese world including Chen Shou’s records from the 3rd Century. Then, of course, you have Lou Guanzhong’s romance from the 14th century. The game contains plenty of objectives and battles but in the end there is just one true goal: Become the emperor.
Exploring the Gameplay Modes
There are two different gameplay modes to expect when we finally see the release in March:
If you’re looking for a typical Total War game then this is it. We know that realistically while the heroes and generals were pretty skilled, they were mere men. This might not be your typical idea of what the Three Kingdoms era looked like, but for strategists who want the brutal reality, this is the way to go.
We all came here for the Romance and we know it. In this mode the heroes are tough and they adhere more to the legends that you’ve heard. They’ll play more like the immortal characters in Dynasty Warriors and give you a lot more to work with when it comes to strategy.
On that note, the game is really built around heroes, which are faction agnostic meaning their loyalties can change significantly over the course of the game. Take Lu Bu as a great example: throughout the Three Kingdoms lore he was definitely agnostic and known for switching factions on a whim. With that being said you can convert virtually any hero to your side so long as they’re friendly to you. So let’s say you have a hero that you want to grab but you killed his brother earlier in the campaign; he probably won’t be friendly to you. Conversely, if you were to constantly capture an enemy hero and then release them then they would likely remember that you showed mercy and they would side with you at a critical moment. This, of course brings us to the Guanxi relationships.
Guanxi Relationships in Total War Three Kingdoms
Chinese relationships are more than just deals and kind words; Guanxi implies that you truly get to know your allies. The diplomacy system in Total War: Three Kingdoms has received a massive overhaul and you can interact with your allies like never before. Trade resources and diplomatic options have made this an entirely different experience and the way you treat your allies really matters. Most importantly we’re seeing a coalition and alliance focused gameplay.
- Coalition – A lower commitment alliance
- Alliance – A full fledged military alliance
Important to note: Coalitions can be converted into full fledged military alliances later on.
To put it simply, your reputation means more now than it has in nearly any previous Total War game.
Managing your Provinces in Three Kingdoms
Do you remember the original Total War games when you could just make a beeline across the country and simply kill whomever you wished? You can’t do that anymore, sorry. Food and military supplies have become a crucial part of the Total War series and just as in real life, an army marches on its stomach. When you command an army on the world map you will notice that they have a yellow bar in the lower left hand corner, which indicates the military supply. As the supply gets lower you will start to notice that your army is far less efficient and eventually you will experience desertions. As your armies dwindle you will definitely start to wish you’d made better choices.
To remedy this problem the best thing you can do is keep your army in friendly territories while sending them on short runs into adjacent enemy territories. Using the new Annexing system you will be able to capture territories using the Unity mechanic. The more unity you have the easier it will be to capture a city, a mine, or any other enemy outpost. In other words, if you see something you like, you can just take it.
Going Into Battle
Total War Three Kingdoms is going to see a lot of changes to the battle system, with the first being the army retinue system that allows you to have up to three heroes and six units per hero at once. You also have synergies that are defined by their class, skill, and stats. In TW3K, hero units have an assigned color which determines their specialty on the battle field:
- Red – Vanguard
- Green – Champion
- Blue – Strategist
When you are building your roster, the recruitment options will not be defined by the hero class and you can recruit elite units. The battles have never been so varied and you have plenty of room to define your strategy.
We’re going to be seeing three different types of battles on the Total War Three Kingdoms map that include:
- Resource Battles
Unlike Total War games in the past you don’t have to finish the fight, even if you got yourself into it. You have the option of using the game’s escape mechanic that involves getting your troops to an evacuation point on the map. This will save you from losing further troops and gather yourself before rushing back into battle. Not to mention it will keep your heroes from being slaughtered, especially if you are playing in records mode.
Just like in the first preview I played, you still have the duel option when you are taking your troops into battle. You have your warlord, Cao Cao for example, and if the enemy wishes to challenge him, they can engage him on the battlefield and depending on which side loses, you will see the morale of your troops decrease or even get a resolution to the battle. It makes a huge difference.
A Word on Factions
When you start the game you will have access to a total of 11 legendary warlords, and as you move through you can choose a faction leader, an heir, prime minister, etc. The people you appoint into these positions make a serious difference. For example, if Zhang Fei is appointed Liu Bei’s heir then he can automatically recruit an extra army.
Becoming the Emperor
The end goal of Total War: Three Kingdoms is to become the emperor and at any given time there will be up to three claimants for the position. As you work your way through the different faction ranks you will gain prestige and can unlock new options with each rank. You will finally gain the Emperor rank and can stake your claim if you wish. To move forward you will want to demolish the rivals’ capitals, which will further solidify your claim. The struggle to become emperor is a real one, especially with the limitations on army movement. You will need to slowly and carefully plan your way across the map while defending your own territory. This is no walk in the park, but becoming the emperor never should be.
Technical Features in Three Kingdoms
We’re seeing a lot of great gameplay innovations in Three Kingdoms but there are also some pretty good technical innovations. Temporal Anti-Aliasing will make the game look better than ever while the new day/night cycle for the campaign will force you to change up your strategies a little. There are a wealth of other features including highly detailed close proximity shadows. To put it as simply as possible: this game is pretty.
Faction progression trees and character development easily make this one of the most complex and beautiful Total War games ever seen. I personally am looking forward to playing it more and getting lost in the beautiful, vibrant Creative Assembly interpretation of the Three Kingdoms universe. It’s coming in March, so get ready to stake your claim for the throne and unify China.Related: Creative Assembly, Preview, SEGA, Strategy, Total War: Three Kingdoms