After securing the North of Langye following a protracted campaign against The Hans and the Yellow Turban Rebels at the early portions of my campaign, my band of misfits consisting of the idealist strategist Liu Bei, the regal God of War Guan Yu, and the ever jovial Drunken Brawler Zhang Fei were finally ready to venture down south when we were given a rude awakening.
Cao Cao, who moments earlier was seemingly positive and supportive of our idea of pacifying the northern threat was suddenly not too keen with us venturing out of our comfort zone and offered us an ultimatum.
His stance? Swear fealty or risk open war with him. What’s wrong, CC? Scared of a little competition? Or are you just uneasy with my potential link-up with Sun Jian? Do I abide with Cao Cao’s strongarm tactics and at that, risk upsetting my own allies – Kong Rong and Yuan Shao or seek for glory?
I hovered the cursor over my armies cards, made sure everyone’s fully replenished and made the call.
My version of Luo Guanzhong’s masterclass literature piece is going to end up more to my liking.
In Total War: Three Kingdoms, developers Creative Assembly presented a familiar, yet refreshing take on the long-standing Total War series, ensuring it remains as one of, if not the best turn-based, real-time strategies game franchise out there. Returning to Asian shores after a nine year hiatus since Total War: Shogun 2 hit the shelves, TW:TK isn’t just the prettiest looking strategy girl in the block, but also the most ambitious and grandest of all Total War games to date. And it lets you rewrite the ever-favoured Three Kingdoms story to your liking.
Total War: Three Kingdoms drops you right in the thick of the political turmoil in China in 190 AD which saw the new emperor, an eight-year-old Emperor Xian, ascending to the throne with the warlord Dong Zhuo pulling the strings in the shadows. This led to an oppressive rule and chaos throughout the lands of China, dividing a once mighty nation to splinter into many smaller domains governed by ambitious warlords and generals, vying for higher positions of power.
From here on, you can choose from a selection of twelve different and distinct faction-leading characters, each with specific traits and abilities that will greatly influence one’s play style.
Unlike Total War games in the past where factions were only differentiated by a set of specific units and starting locations on the map, Three Kingdoms added several more layers to an already convoluted setting. But don’t let this fact scare you. In fact, it made Three Kingdoms much more enjoyable and immersive than any Total War game I’ve played before.
At the start, you can choose to play the game either in Records or Romance mode, with the former being more historically accurate while the latter infuses tons of creative liberty into the characters, just as they were portrayed in the books.
Records mode stick closer to familiar grounds of Total War pre-Warhammer, while in Romance mode, your heroes are more elaborate and are pretty much supermen on the battlefield. Yep, your Generals gets a Dynasty Warriors treatment minus the button mashing.
These ‘hero’ characters carry specific traits which affect friend and foe alike and shines the brightest when used properly. Colour-coded in red, Vanguards such as Zhang Fei and Lu Bu excel in breaking down enemy lines while the green-coded Champions such as Guan Yu is best used against opposing champions in a one-on-one duel.
These highly stylized, wuxia influenced solo battles are extremely valuable as the outcome can sway the morale of troops. Dominate and you’ll immediately see your army’s morale increase, leading to a win or even change the tide of battle.
As usual, the troops are divided into several main categories – ranged, infantry and cavalry – each with unit variations and tiers. You can raise an army with up to three serving Generals and just like their commanding officers, the soldiers are also colour-coded according to their specific roles on the battlefield.
A quick glance at these colours and roles are as follows:
Green – Champion
Champion Generals are expert duelists and should be mainly used to take down opposing Generals. The Champion-class soldiers which are usually spearmen are the cheapest to raise and should form the backbone of any army.
Red – Vanguard
First to fight. If you’re the sort who love to send your armies straight into the thick of it, then these are your main men. Tasked with taking down the initial defences, red-coded units work best as battle initiators thanks to their high survivability rate.
Blue – Strategist
Weakest in melee, Strategists work best behind the lines as they support their comrades in battle with ranged weapons. They play a role from the rear, providing additional army formations and debuffing enemy units from a safe distance.
Yellow – Commander
Authoritative figures, Commanders ensure the satisfaction of their subordinates and morale of their soldiers high. Soldier units in yellow are generally tasked with guarding important ‘hero characters’ and are expensive to raise and maintain. While they can be considered to be competent fighters, Commander-class troops aren’t as effective going against opponents of the Champions or Vanguard-class units.
Purple – Sentinel
As their name implies, Sentinel Generals and units are best used in a defensive stance. Able to hold their own against superior numbers and perceptively stronger opponents, they work best holding down choke points such as gates and bridges.
Although players can opt to conclude every battle by simulating it with the ‘Delegate’ button – why would you ever do that?
The realistic, real-time battles have always been the bread and butter of the Total War games and in Three Kingdoms, it’s the best I’ve ever played on.
However, I would not call it flawless as I have lost whole units simply due to them standing idle despite having arrows raining down on them. Thankfully, such an issue is more of a rarity than a common occurrence.
While it has always been about the factions and what is displayed on the armies’ banners as seen in previous Total War games, TW:TK puts great emphasis on the characters leading them. No other installment comes even close to Three Kingdoms when it comes to its focus – sometimes too much – on the individuals that at times, it does get overwhelming.
It isn’t just your faction leaders who have distinguishable and features. Creative Assembly went the full length, bestowing traits and mannerisms to almost each named character allowing even the lowliest and most incompetent of generals to ascend into power if you choose to do so.
This means that no specific character is tied to a role. Your competent spy can be promoted to a General, govern a province later on or even made heir of your faction.
What is even more intriguing is that Creative Assembly has painstakingly modelled most, if not all of these characters based on the history of the Three Kingdoms saga. Those familiar with Tecmo Koei’s Dynasty Warriors franchise would instantly recognize characters such as Lu Bu, Xiahou Dun and the ever famous Zhuge Liang and it’s up to the players to chart these characters’ future.
In my save file, I adopted the Sleeping Dragon into the Liu Bei family and made him an heir. I probably should marry him off to one of the heiresses of the nearby provinces to secure my borders.
On top of all of this comes the actual governing in Three Kingdoms where you grow settlements, broker deals, balance tax, track food supplies, forge alliances via multiple methods and due to the character relationships mentioned prior, none of them is as clear cut as it seems.
Everyone’s got an opinion of whatever move you make in Three Kingdoms so keeping a close eye on appeasing your allies is as important as outsmarting your rivals. I found securing alliances via marriages is the most effective way to negate any ally from turning their back on me and once things are locked in, all that is left is keeping their mood in the green.
A special mention also goes to the tech tree in Three Kingdoms as I honestly believe it to be the most gorgeous tech tree to have ever existed in a video game. Just look at it; simple, yet gorgeous & ever-expanding.
Each branch stands for a specific researchable trait which in turn benefits your faction in the long run. The one you see above is my save which focused on the commerce and peasantry aspect of things.
Bad Romance? Hardly…
The most ambitious game of its kind, Total War: Three Kingdoms is by far the pinnacle of a long, illustrious lineage of brilliant turn-based RTS games by Creative Assembly. It is grand on so many levels that its minor delay in its release date can be easily forgiven; in fact, I applaud Sega and the devs for it.
Simply put, TW:TK is a must-have for any Total War fanatic. Don’t be dissuaded if you are unaccustomed to the story of Romance of the Three Kingdoms. The game will not only show you the ropes, but it will make you an avid fan of the history of the unification of China just by playing it.
– Highly engaging and engrossing campaign.
– Rich and extensive characters roster.
– The freedom to chart your own ‘Three Kingdoms’ storyline.
– Graphically stunning.
– Lots of battlefields great and small for awesome combat.
– Very accessible, to a point.
– Micromanagement can get
a bit super overwhelming.
– The mid-game part can be a slog, with enemies on every side of the map.
FINAL SCORE: 90/100
We reviewed Total War: Three Kingdoms on the Alienware M17 R3 with the following specifications on Ultra settings:
- i7 6700HQ 2.6GHz CPU
- 16GB RAM
- GTX 980M GPU