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Total War: Three Kingdoms Review

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Total War: Three Kingdoms Review

You will be confronted with the scattered remains of the last great Han warlords, and your entire adult life is building up to now. Since you first took up arms against the corruption that dried up China at the age of eighteen, revenge has been the only thing driving you forward. People call you the Bandit Queen and spit the title at your feet in battle before your twin axes split their heads off their shoulders. Here is our Total War: Three Kingdoms Review.

1. Total War: Three Kingdoms Review: About

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  • Platform: Microsoft Windows, Classic Mac OS, Linux, Macintosh
  • Developer: Creative Assembly, Feral Interactive
  • Publisher: Sega, Feral Interactive
  • Genre: Real-time tactics
  • Release Date: May 23, 2019

2. Official Trailer

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3. Total War: Three Kingdoms Review: Gameplay

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The Romance of the Three Kingdoms is the Chinese version of The Iliad in construction. More than life-size characters, a sometimes intoxicating mix of romance and intrigue, and a lot of combat are what define it. However, it is almost unique as a text, because, despite embellishment, it is widely considered a reasonable account of the events of the turbulent period from 169 to 280 AD in Chinese history.

The Total War franchise is no stranger to the militaristic trials and tribulations of our world’s past. Still, Romance of the Three Kingdoms is a work that has sometimes transcended the dual worlds of academia and fantasy. While the popular Dynasty Warriors games portrayed the fantasy very successfully, it was not so easy to capture the intricate, personal stories of now recognizable figures like Cao Cao, or to capture how they played in the broader scheme of the world as we know it.

Total War: Three Kingdoms Review

Total War: Three Kingdoms focuses sharply on those key figures and their motivations, using the extensive canon of literature as food for your strategic in-game actions. If you find yourself in the middle of the battles and diplomacy of 190 AD, you need courage and perseverance to unite China or break through the chains of oppression that are holding its people. Creative Assembly has managed the themes of a decade, life-size epic in a form that will appeal to both Total War professionals and beginners.

For the uninitiated, Total War is a turn-based strategy and real-time combat where you take full control of squads of warriors and watch them fight your enemies on a picturesque patch of blood-stained grass. When you don’t exercise military power over everyone, the entries in the series have historically focused on strategic elements similar to the items you’d see in traditional 4X games like Civilization.

You need to balance growing cities with diplomacy, control population growth, and happiness, and also deal with the genuine concerns of keeping enemies away from you. You do this by managing a series of complex, interconnected systems that affect everything from your inner circle to what a particular township should trade in the winter. Give a city a green thumb governor and watch trade flourish, or marry a dissenter to an enemy and see earlier peace treaties wither.

As with any strategy title, the implications of your choices are far-reaching, and Total War is an exercise in choosing wisely. The first thing that strikes you at Three Kingdoms is how it puts its best foot forward in terms of production values. Dynamic weather, lighting, and beautiful watercolor environments – ranging from mountains to beleaguered cottages – provide a striking backdrop to the conflict and bloodshed that will follow.

Your generals themselves remain more significant than ever and down to the smallest detail, and their idle chatter (uttered entirely in Chinese, if you choose) gives them a lot of personalities when you take the time to decide on your next move. The user interface is also clean and well designed; Three Kingdoms is a throwback to the usual array of interactive windows with the tiniest details and stats seen in older Total War titles. However, information can be pinned and rejected at will, so you don’t fight a battlefield of clutter.

Detailed mechanics from previous titles are returning, which means a lot of information for more recent Total War fans to contend with. This is especially noticeable when struggling with your allies, which is now primarily a full-time job. Managing relationships within your clique is no longer as easy as paying them to look the other way, and the effects aren’t instantaneous either. It is now a long game of min-maxing consequence, victories, ideal reforms, and calm.

While you choose a general, faction identities aren’t as fixed in practice as in previous titles. Playing styles ranging from expansionist and bellicose to diplomatic are all found in the same faction, and this translates well to create a dynamic inner circle. Few of the streamlining done in recent Total War titles has declined, possibly highlighting Three Kingdom’s focus on personality cultures in line with the source material for the game. Your advisers and family members are all full-fledged characters of their own with personality traits that, sometimes deadly, violate your ethos.

Making coordinated decisions over a long period that are consistent with the beliefs of your vassals is necessary to keep them sharp, or you can take on a challenge and a sword in the back when you don’t need it. The threat of apostasy from your wider allies is also always on the horizon; the factions fighting for China are as broken as the country itself.

Where Total War Saga: Thrones of Britannia invited you to think about preserving your faction to ensure your reforms continue, diplomacy and camp in Three Kingdoms feel more like putting pressure on a bleeding wound. Everyone starts together in the throat, with the highest balance of power in favor of the Han Empire. Whether you were part of the Yellow Turban rebellion, an independent warlord, or a former seneschal of the empire, everyone was screaming for a slice of the pie back then, and that reflected in the mechanics of the Three Kingdoms is a nice touch.

But you can sometimes feel like you conflict with a way that limits your freedom of choice as a player. War declarations come hard and fast, with AIs as mercurial in decision making as their images in the source material. Sure, you can propose marriage or pay to tithe, but taking the peaceful path often shakes as incredibly expensive in negotiations. By the time you stare through a line of cavalry on your territory, you often feel that you have only one real option: fight to the death.

Total War: Three Kingdoms Review

Combat in Three Kingdoms’ primary campaign has two different types depending on which mode you play in Romance, or the more traditional historical option, which is more reminiscent of how Total War usually works. While you can delegate battles to dice of AI-generated auto-fighting opportunities, getting stuck in the details of the battlefield is incredibly exciting. You collect your troops and take them up against your enemies in the pseudo-weapon triangle of cavalry, infantry, and various others, all in real-time.

Whether it’s a brutal siege against a settlement, meeting the Han empire in open combat, or just trying to hold it together while someone else knocks on your gate with ax-wielding bandits, Total War’s portrayal of the battlefield conflict has always excelled; and Three Kingdoms is no different. However, the distinctive, trivial difference between the Three Kingdoms and previous titles is the Romance mode, as mentioned above.

This is where the fantastic merges with the historical in a way that gives you a new way to dominate opponents on the battlefield. In this mode, your generals are head and shoulders above the rest, able to take out entire squads on their own, even shouting orders to the men gathering around them. In Romance mode, the power of these generals grows in epic scale and scope over time, much in line with the fantastic deeds they perform in the source material.

Generals also have the option to duel with each other, making for a spectacular clash of the titans-style fighting spirit. Three Kingdoms also takes you a step further in this kind of confrontation in the new Battle mode, in which you can act out famous skirmishes from Chinese history as these legendary generals. It is both fun and a refreshing change of pace.

The game’s tutorial is good at helping you dissect the essential mechanics of math soup. Still, it feels like a big explanatory information dump as Three Kingdoms tries to educate you on both the world’s deep-seated politics and what to do with all these damn menus and buttons. You get a crash course in everything from waging war to managing the people under your rule within the first 20 turns, which is mechanically almost a lifetime in the game. But not long at all for someone who’s not known with Total War of the Three Kingdoms story to acclimatize well.

But to our credit, Three Kingdoms offers plenty of useful additional material and difficulty tweaks to help rookies learn what they need to know to succeed, provided they get enough time. From instructional videos to the pace at which the game unravels its conflicts on Easy Hard, as well as the ability to streamline processes such as warfare and to build affluent townships (the latter usually through a one-size-fits-all approach to reform). With enough patience, it’s easy to get infected with Total War when you finally get your mouth around that first, overly big bite.

4. Total War: Three Kingdoms Review: Conclusion

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Three Kingdoms feels like a breath of fresh air. By harking back to the intricacies of older titles and building on some of the foundations laid by Thrones of Britannia, it offers a decidedly contemporary and thorough experience. This is the most ambitious Total War has ever been, from the variety of different ways you can enjoy the game to the vast scope of the stories they have woven around the playable experience of each unique character. Three Kingdoms feels like the series’ rightful evolution, coming from its roots in historical military tactics to come up with an engaging modern strategy game that is always a pleasure, even in the less well-oiled moments.

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