Three Kingdoms preview

Total War: Three Kingdoms Preview

If you’ve kept up with the Total War series in the last few years then you know that they’ve really been upping the ante. Known most commonly for their medieval theme, Total War has expanded on it by embracing the Napoleonic period and moving even further by diving into the Warhammer universe. Now they have changed the game again by moving into the Three Kingdoms universe, which chronicles the 14th century drama following the fall of the Han dynasty in Ancient China. As you may know, the saga of the Three Kingdoms has been captured in numerous video games, including one series that has kept closer to the namesake. The other series, which was undeniably more popular, was Dynasty Warriors, was released across multiple platforms including PC at one point. While we haven’t heard much from this setting lately, Sega is about to rock our worlds once again with their upcoming offering: Total War: Three Kingdoms. There’s a lot to unpack here, so let’s get started.

Descending into Ancient China

Total War: Three Kingdoms features a wide range of playable heroes but in the demo we played, we had access to two rather amazing siblings:

  • Sun Ren – Vanguard
  • Sun Quan – Commander

These two are siblings and they compliment each other quite well on the battlefield. As expected, they do much better in combat when they are within close vicinity, but for some reason Sun Quan does much better when his sister is killed in battle. The developers actually told us that a quick way to win a battle is to make sure that Sun Ren is killed. Is that a little messed up? Absolutely, but it’s definitely one way to make sure the battle turns in your favor.

The game features a total of eleven warlords and while we haven’t seen them up close, we fully expect to see the likes of Lu Bu and Cao Cao standing tall on the battlefield.


A New and More Diverse Battlefield

Total War has pushed the limits with every new release and with this one we are seeing some serious improvements to the battlefield itself. First of all, Total War Three Kingdoms features a day/night cycle which is a first for the series. While the day cycle is nothing to get excited about, the night cycle brings brand new challenges. For example, at night you will have reduced vision and your archers will have significantly reduced range. In addition to that, you will need to have a strategist capable of initiating night battles if you want to try to use these limitations to your advantage. On the other hand, the enemy strategist can initiate a night battle against you at any time, so be ready for that.



In the preview I was allowed to check out, we played an ambush map that pitted us against an enemy attack en route to an undisclosed location. While I had the ability to direct my troops at the beginning of the battle, I was still at a disadvantage due to the enemy emerging from a forest. While it was a bit difficult, I think ambush maps are going to make an interesting addition to the single player campaign and they will definitely serve to make it more unpredictable.


A Retinue of Heroes

In the past, Total War has focused on the overall story of the nation itself, but Three Kingdoms will be focusing more on the personal stories of the heroes involved. This very much fits in with the typical style of the Three Kingdoms dialogue, and the developers have brought us two different modes to play in when we finally get the chance to embark on our glorious campaign:

  • Normal Mode – In normal mode you will play the game as you would play any other Total War game with typical strategy and the cunning that you would expect.
  • Three Kingdoms Mode – In this mode, heroes are given extraordinary abilities, which brings the game more in line with other Three Kingdoms games and storyline that we have seen in the past. Fans of Dynasty Warriors will be ecstatic to see this mode and it will definitely be worth a playthrough, even if you are more of a vanilla Total War fan.

On the subject of heroes, there are quite a few of them, and each one that you recruit brings a retinue of their of their very own soldiers. That being said, it is very important that you keep your generals and heroes alive so that they can continue to recruit. Should you happen to lose one, you will not only lose the abilities that they bring to the battlefield but also the troops that they had under their command. In other words, the loss of a commander could become a serious strategic disadvantage; if you are losing a battle, take advantage of the extraction point mechanic to get them to safety.


Let the Leaders Sort it Out

Have you ever wanted to see the leaders of a nation sort out their differences on the battlefield by fighting each other to the death rather than sending their men to die? Now you can. In Total War: Three Kingdoms you will have the ability to send your heroes into a one on one duel against the enemy heroes, and they will literally fight one another to the death. Once the two are engaged, the armies on the battlefield will not interfere unless they are directly instructed and there are consequences for interfering with a duel. There are also consequences for losing the duel, such as losing the general and the retinue of troops that they brought with them. If you feel that you are close to losing the duel, you can always pull back, but the hero will lose all of their morale and they will flee the battlefield. Your chances of winning a battle without a hero on the field leading them will be severely diminished as they will quickly lose morale and the benefits the hero brought with them through their special abilities.



The New and Improved Spies

Spies are nothing new in the Total War series; we saw them in Medieval 2, of course, but you’ve never seen them like this before. In my opinion, the new spy mechanic changes the game completely and adds a level of depth that we’ve never seen before in the Total War series. Once again, agents have been replaced but don’t fret, it’s more fun than you think. Major characters often have the ability to spy, and when you send them into enemy territory they will become double agents. It will become so complex in fact that you may go to battle against their forces with a significant strategic advantage as you will already know troop locations, weaknesses, etc.

While you might want to take full advantage of the spies’ information right away, note that the longer they can remain in deep cover the more detailed the information that they will be able to give you. As they progress on the enemy side, they can poison food to take out enemy heroes and they can even affect trade income. This, however, comes with some slight disadvantage as spies that are undercover for longer may blow their cover. The problem is that when their cover is blown, you won’t always know about it. Rather than outright killing your spy they may turn him against you and send him back to work as a double agent yet again, but this time gathering information on your forces and putting you at a serious disadvantage. Before you ask, yes, this ability will be available in multiplayer.


This is a new incarnation of the Total War series and it is bringing us mechanics that we have never seen before. While the emphasis was once placed more on the armies and nations, we are going to see more in the area of personal stories, and the importance of keeping your heroes alive cannot be overstated. In my opinion, we’re about to see a Three Kingdoms game that far exceeds the ones that we have seen in the past, and a Total War game that completely breaks the mold. We all want to see more, and don’t worry because we will continue our coverage once we have access to the campaign map!

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About Rissa Trent

Rissa grew up on a farm, playing shareware games like Wolfenstein 3D, Doom, Operation Comat, Solar Winds, and Kingdom of Kroz. Later she would dabble in Real Time Strategy games, and eventually left home to go on a cross country adventure of self discovery where she found out absolutely nothing. Today she works as a copywriter and games journalist.