- Total Score - 9.2/109.2/10
Whether you fancy yourself a Dynasty Warrior, or a Crusading King, the absolutely stellar Total War: Three Kingdoms has a lot to offer new players and returning series veterans alike.
Developer – Creative Assembly
Publisher – Sega
Release Date – May 23, 2019
Platforms – PC
Years ago, I used to watch my friends play Total War on their computers and I would admire them from a distance. Back then I barely knew how to use a keyboard and mouse, let alone micro manage thousands of troops in a real time battle. Instead I chose to stay on my consoles and relish my moments with games like Dynasty Warriors. I would still get the historical flavor my friends loved about Total War, without any of that weird, turn based “boring” gameplay Total War provided.
Alas that was years ago, and back then I was a fool of a took. As years went on and I embraced PC gaming I gradually built up the courage and skills to make an attempt at a Total War title. It was Total War: Shogun 2, and it was glorious. It came at the right time for me, with Shogun 2 moving the franchise forward with its great, intuitive UI and the co-op campaign which allowed me to be carried by my brother in arms Mike, who is a veteran of the series.
Ever since then I was hooked, and I’ve played every single Total War game that Creative Assembly has made since that title. From Rome, to Atila, and the awesome Warhammer. However none of them truly struck me in the way Shogun had, mostly because the time period is easily my favorite one. Nothing compared to watching my ninja’s scale walls and the incredible clash of culture that Fall of the Samurai brought to the table.
That was my favorite Total War for a long time, up until Creative Assembly announced Three Kingdoms. It seemed insane and almost dream game material to a hardcore fan of that period of history, which has to feature some of the most recognizable amount of generals, legendary warlords and fighters ever.
Guan Yu, the beautiful beard, or Lu Bu, the meme god, so many of these great names were burned in my mind from Dynasty Warriors sessions combining with the strategic, turn based grand strategy that Total War is known for. It literally seemed too good to be true but upon its release Total War: Three Kingdoms is easily my favorite game in this long and storied franchise.
Total War: Three Kingdoms is the newest historical title in the lineup. After going deep into fantasy with Total Warhammer, Three Kingdoms brings the entire franchise forward with some great new features, and by adding more depth and nuance to its returning ones.
Right off the bat, Total War provides two choices. Romance mode, which seems designed for the more casual strategy fan who loved using all of these great generals in games lime Dynasty Warriors, and Records, which is a mode with the the more over the top elements reigned in for a much more true to life, strategic version of this era.
Regardless of which style you prefer the improvements can be felt across the board. When it comes to battle, maps are bigger than they usually are, and ranged units can shoot much further by default than they’ve ever been able to. Units are much quicker to respond to commands, and the animations for melee attacks and cavalry charges trigger much quicker than usual.
This leads to a very snappy pace for the combat, as units can engage and disengage quickly and precisely, which allows more time for watching some of the incredible duels that can happen between generals on the battlefield.
Said duels, even bring over a bit of the long term strategic effects into combat. For instance, interrupting a duel because your favorite general might lose, can have long term repercussions to your honor, which in turn can cause problems in diplomacy later. It’s a nice wrinkle, and really makes each decision to duel a meaningful one that carries a lot of weight.
Much has also been said about unit variety, especially in ancient China being a bit more limited compared to some of the previous Total War games. This is true, but I really think it helps the game instead of it being a negative. For one, historically speaking this time period has much less to work with in terms of the variety of units. Even despite that, the game does a fairly good job of giving each faction several unique takes on certain unit types, and mid to late game that variety does make its presence felt. The other side of having less unit types, is that each one of them is much more important. Call it rock, paper, scissors all you want, but having cavalry be extremely useful again is fun. Having archers that can really put some damage down on incoming swordsman and be effective at taking out generals is rewarding to pull off.
Every aspect of my army feels good to use, and the strategy comes from how well will you use these units, because the enemy will most likely possess a similar make up of troops. Simple things like locking up swordsman in melee combat while you get a great flanking charge from cavalry hidden in a forest always feel good to pull off, and the combat has great pacing to it.
The area where Three Kingdoms truly steps up however, isn’t in the combat, as fun as that is. It’s the campaign map itself that really brings a a lot of changes with it. I can’t possibly spell it all out in this review, but every aspect of the map has been touched, overhauled or redone from scratch. Previously, I all really worried about was staying away from a deficit, and making sure my nation had enough food in the bank. Other than that, it was just about getting a death ball and moving from territory to territory, sack and occupy over and over again until you win the game. Diplomacy was always around, but never truly fleshed out and it always seemed as if the AI had no rhyme or reason to the decisions they would make.
This time around the diplomacy has been completely overhauled. Information is clearly given to the player in order to help facilitate all negotiations in a way that does come across as gamey. In terms of actual balance this makes things not only more fun to take part in, but it also puts the AI’s cards on the table. No more wondering why this incredibly tiny and outnumbered nation wont just give in to you, or questioning why an ally would all of a sudden hate you from one turn to the next. Every action, tactic, peace treaty, non aggression pact and trade agreement brings clear positives or negatives to your faction, and the factions all around you. Things like coalitions, alliances and vassals all makes sense, and it’s always clear who is up to what at any given time.
Other changes such as severe attrition, or military supplies really change the meta in terms of army management and the ability to just stroll around the world like marching with 200k soldiers is no small effort. Simply creating an army, moving to an enemy occupied province and taking their settlement is a much more involved affair than ever before. Needing to muster troops when they’re recruited, or ensuring military supply is high to avoid suffering negative penalties and attrition bring elements normally seen in Paradox titles.
Even for an admittedly casual player like myself, these changes bring a massive difference to the feel, pace, and strategy to a campaign in ways the previous total War games couldn’t dream of. Despite the initial challenge and feeling a bit over my head, this change is welcome. I’ve engaged in diplomacy, family politics, deception and coalitions far more than I ever have in the past, and the campaigns feel very dynamic because of it.
That old familiar feeling of an inevitable victory is long gone and each turn usually brings new victories, new challenges, and new things to experience. Defeat actually seems plausible, rather than something I truly never worried about.
Wrapping all of the campaign map and the battles together is one of the most beautiful UI and art aesthetics I’ve seen in a long time. Every piece of art, every menu and tool-tip looks very pleasing to the eyes. In game tool tips, tons and tons of great new options for battle interface and camera control are layered through this entire game. Even small touches such as the option for authentic Chinese voice over, really adds a finishing touch on such a great package.
Total War: Three Kingdoms is a fantastic game top to bottom, and one of the best PC exclusive titles I’ve come across in a decent while. Even as a casual fan, it’s worth checking out and returning veterans will have a lot of depth to truly dig into long term.