Total War: Three Kingdoms has come at a time when the franchise was starting to look its age. The series has been the go-to when it comes to strategic warfare for a long time.
Yet, in recent releases the developer, Creative Assembly, has dropped the ball somewhat. The sequels to earlier titles hinted at a series that had become stale. Meanwhile, the experiments with the Warhammer-themed games put off fans who wanted a return to historical settings.
Thanks to these issues, Total War: Three Kingdoms has the unenviable task of satisfying several camps at once: those who enjoyed the fantasy jaunts and those who want pure history, players both old and new.
Creative Assembly chose to do this by setting their 2019 title during the Three Kingdoms period of Chinese history. Historical facts as well as legendary elements from the 14th century Chinese novel Romance of the Three Kingdoms inspired the story, setting, and characters.
Players take on the role of one of the 12 warlords as the Han dynasty begins to collapse. From here, you must form alliances and try to win control of China. The game starts at 190 A.D. just as chaos begins to spread throughout the country and continues to 280 A.D.
To try and walk the divide between the different players, the developers have included two modes in Three Kingdoms: Romance Mode and Records Mode.
Romance Mode is more of a character-led experience, with individual generals given almost superhuman powers. Meanwhile, Records Mode is a more historically-accurate portrayal of the period, where strategy is king.
Although Records Mode is the kind of experience you expect from a Total War game, it is totally eclipsed by Romance Mode. Sure, it’s great on its own and offers a nice clean way to enter battles, but it’s just not as fun as Romance Mode.
Romance Mode is the culmination of everything Creative Assembly has done over the last decade. It brings together the best aspects from each of their previous titles in one package.
Essentially, Romance Mode shifts the focus from units onto the generals. Tactical thinking and battle awareness are still important. but the individual leaders now have a far greater role. They have a variety of abilities to help turn the tide and can even challenge other generals to duels. These can have a huge effect on the outcome of a battle.
Generals also have their own ambitions and traits, meaning they have unique playstyles. Unique characteristics also play a role outside of combat, influencing how the generals will react to alliances or how they govern. Playing as one faction is noticeably different than playing as another because of this. As a result, warfare becomes more streamlined while you get far more invested in the campaign.
For those who are new to strategy games or the Total War series, gameplay can seem overwhelming at first. Even those who are familiar with the franchise might be thrown off by some of the latest mechanics and features.
Thankfully, there are extensive tutorials to take advantage of. They won’t dig deep into every aspect, though. Instead, they offer a basic introduction to the game and the different functions. Advisers also offer advice all the way through the campaign.
Yet, players are left to discover much of the intricacies by themselves rather than told how to do everything. The rest of the gameplay is pretty much the standard fare of previous Total War games.
The only prominent additions are the restrictions to unit types for certain generals and food production management. As a whole, the basics of gameplay work well and run smoothly.
Total War games have always been good at integrating the overall theme into the user interface menus. It’s not a hugely important part of the presentation, but it does so much to immerse you in the overall experience. The vivid colors and intricate artwork make you feel invested in the Chinese setting.
Another great example of this is the world map. No matter how close you zoom in, the map remains a beautiful and impressive spectacle. Seeing the various natural structures in all their glory throughout the various environments is a pleasure.
Of course, the ability to see characters and units up close is also impressive. Players can see various individuals and animals going about their daily business on the map.
While the animations of all of the units are great, zooming in to watch generals duel is fantastic. Every twist, parry, and attack looks superb as they struggle to overcome their adversary.
The detail of everything in Total War: Three Kingdoms is unmatched within the genre. Throw in some fine sound effects and a well-rounded soundtrack, and you will struggle to find a better presented strategy game on the market.
Total War: Three Kingdoms is without a doubt Creative Assembly’s best title to date. Not only that, but it may well be the best strategy game of the past decade. It comes close to perfection in almost every way and only a few minor hiccups are what hold it back.
It manages to finely balance the complex tactical warfare with a deep and satisfying character-driven campaign. This is what makes the game suited to players both new and old.
Three Kingdoms offers a great way to jump into the series for the first time. All the while, it manages to refine the core gameplay and add new features that will engross veterans.