Total War fans had reason to celebrate yesterday when Creative Assembly finally released Total War: Three Kingdoms, their first mainline historical Total War game since Total War: Attila, back in 2015. The game focuses on the Three Kingdoms period of Chinese history, the same time period as Dynasty Warriors’s setting.
As with normal Total War games, Total War: Three Kingdoms allows you a choice between a number of the many major players throughout China during this period, whether it’s the humble but heroic Liu Bei, the manipulative and brilliant Cao Cao, or even the tyrannical usurper Dong Zhuo. You must lead whichever of these factions you choose in a campaign to conquer all of China and assume the role of the Emperor.
I played the game for several hours yesterday, carving out a small yet significant amount of territory as Liu Bei as I battled the Yellow Turban Rebellion and a number of impotent administrators of Imperial territory, helpless after Dong Zhuo’s coup. While there were plenty of small territories around me, zooming out on the map actually intimidated me somewhat.
No matter how well you do in the beginning, simply zooming out and taking in the entire map of China at the time might cause you to have the same feelings. The map is absolutely massive, so if you commit to a campaign you’ll be playing it for quite some time.
Creative Assembly has also taken a number of leaves out of the pages of previous Total War games. Total War: Three Kingdoms combines both the fantasy and realistic methods of previous Total War games with its Romance and Records modes.
Romance is more like Warhammer, with powerful heroes that can take on entire battalions of men by themselves, while Records is more historical. While your heroes are still tougher than normal in that mode, they are not walking tanks, and have to be protected by units of bodyguards like in historical Total War games.
Due to the way you acquire heroes in Three Kingdoms, however, you’re more likely to feel like you’re playing some sort of Chinese Game of Thrones game. You can send heroes to spy or marry people off, either using it to cement an alliance between your faction and another’s, or to bring their territory into your own.
Thankfully for the most part, the game is easy to pick up, even if you’ve only been playing Total War: Warhammer for the past few years. I had a great deal of fun watching the intense duels between heroes on the battlefield, and the enormous variety of different units and hero types force you to take a more strategic bend with how you comprise your army, whether you’re swamping your enemy under sheer numbers or making use of an elite corps of units to carve your way through a numerically superior enemy.
However, there are a few things that the game doesn’t tell you, especially in regards to how your armies work. Unlike previous Total War games, you can’t merge damaged units together, instead having to wait for them to recover between battles, which can slow your campaign down to a glacial pace.
Upgrading your units is also not available, mainly because of the way units work to begin with; your troops are actually divided among the different types of heroes, so you’re limited per hero in what you can actually recruit without disbanding your older units and replacing them with more advanced ones.
However, those are just niggling concerns that are easily addressed if you have enough of a knowledge of the game’s mechanics. The game’s setting is still awesome to look at, with beautiful landscapes, unique designs for every major hero, and a wide variety of units of all kinds of tiers for you to choose from.
For added authenticity there’s even an option for the narration and character dialogue to be in Chinese, an even better option than Total War: Shogun 2, where they still used heavily-accented English in some areas.
The game does also involve a certain amount of micromanagement, but that’s mitigated by the game having tooltips and notifications to tell you when that sort of stuff is necessary. You have the ability to appoint various heroes as the administrators of cities and towns, but you also have to keep their original roles in mind to see what position they would be best at.
After all, not everyone can be a Lu Bu-style warrior, so you might want to have a hero with the “Clerk” class to command cities and provinces rather than armies in the field.
So, if Total War: Thrones of Britannia failed to scratch your historical Total War itch, but you’re not quite ready to give up the spectacle of the fantasy Total War games, I heartily recommend Total War: Three Kingdoms for its scale, its heroes, and, of course, the battles.