Tuesday, 23 July 2019 14:02

Total War: THREE KINGDOMS Review

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Edited by: Jade Swann

War for the Romantics

Total War: THREE KINGDOMS, developed by Creative Assembly and Feral Interactive and published by SEGA, is the latest in the long line of Total War games. As the name suggests, THREE KINGDOMS uses the classic Chinese novel Romance of the Three Kingdoms as the backdrop for this iteration. For the most part, you will manage an ever-expanding kingdom while trying to outwit your opponents and unify China under your banner. Players familiar with previous Total War titles will be in familiar territory, with newcomers finding a relatively easy curve to get acquainted with the intricacies of the franchise.

Wu, Shu, Wei, Et. Al.

THREE KINGDOMS, for the most part, stays true to the Total War formula. The bulk of the game takes place on a macro scale. You are in charge of your own little slice of China. There are buildings to upgrade, armies to raise, deals to broker, and, when all else fails, wars to wage. Conflict takes place on a battle-to-battle basis on a real-time strategy map. You can deploy your units onto the battlefield, parade them around, and clash them against your opponent until one of you routs the other. As with previous entries, the interplay between the turn-based and real-time layers is where the gameplay truly shines. Do you reinforce your smaller army with a larger one, hoping that the smaller force can hold out until reinforcements arrive, or do you wait a turn until you can leverage your larger army and risk the enemy getting away? Do you break a risky siege before setting up completely to try and take a province before the defenders can catch you from behind with another army? Do you trust your tactical ability on the micro layer to carry you into a close victory over a greater force, or withdraw so your units can replenish, or do you fight recklessly to try and bloody the superior army to soften them for a counterstroke?

While these moment-to-moment decisions would be enough to carry a game, THREE KINGDOMS plays the setting to its hilt. For the uninitiated, Romance of the Three Kingdoms has an extensive roster of characters and is almost double the length of War and Peace. Most of the characters are there with only the major players representing the various factions you can play as. While you can’t play as the Mad Tyrant Dong Zhuo himself (he plays the villain for pretty much every faction), you can play as anyone from Cao Cao to Zhang Yan. With the inclusion of the Yellow Turban Rebellion DLC, you can even play as the major players from said rebellion. Each faction has its own unique mechanic as well. While I only played as Cao Cao and He Yi to get a feel for the base game and the DLC respectively, the differences between the two campaigns were vast. With Cao Cao, I found myself more diplomacy-minded, using his credibility resource to manipulate the factions around me and incite proxy wars to buy me time to rebuild after major conflicts. He Yi's campaign demanded a more defensive approach, focusing on researching new technologies to provide my faction with significant buffs to everything from food production to resource management.

China is People

Regardless of the faction you choose, you will also have to micromanage your individual leaders. As I mentioned, THREE KINGDOMS uses a lot of the cast from the source material, and each has their own wants, desires, likes, and dislikes. Each faction starts with the leader and perhaps one or two legendary generals with the option to hire on more nobles and leaders as the turns progress. Only some of these hirelings will be from opposing factions, but all of them will have their own opinions on how leaders should act. As you might expect, this leads to conflict within the ranks. Each noble has a satisfaction rating, impacted by their current assignment, who they're forced to work with in the court or in the field, and what items you've given them. Stronger generals are useful in battle, but must be appeased with higher positions in court. If they are not satisfied, then they may defect or outright rebel depending on how highly you've placed them.

Each general can also form relationships with other generals over time. Sometimes, putting two generals that hate each other in the same army can force them to work out their differences and become sworn brothers, conferring various bonuses in battle. Other times, it can just make their relationship worse, causing greater dissatisfaction with both parties. Much of your strategy will revolve around deciding who gets what position and who leads your armies. Ultimately, a wisely-chosen general can be the deciding factor in winning a battle. Playing to this idea is the fact that THREE KINGDOMS introduces what it calls a romance setting. Usually, in Total War games, your general unit isn’t just a single person, but rather the general and their retainers. Turning on romance mode changes it so that the general unit is just that, your general. No retainers, no attaches, just one man mowing down the opposition. These generals can then duel other generals mid-battle, starting a one-on-one match between the two with only one of them leaving alive.

Harmony in Aesthetics

THREE KINGDOMS is just a pleasure to look at sometimes. The seasons change as the turns progress, and China's countryside goes from verdant to autumnal to snow-covered quite pleasingly. As per usual, each unit in the real-time battles is individually modeled and animated. The aforementioned duels are also rendered well, with full wuxia spectacle on display. Even with all this, it's still easy to follow the action, as the interface is clean and comfortable to read at a glance. The only real issue I encountered was losing the white cursor on the white options screens once or twice.


The Verdict: Great

Vizzini was right, never get involved in a land war in Asia. THREE KINGDOMS will hook you in and not let go until it's three AM on a work night, but if you just go for one more turn, you'll be able to walk away. Solidly built and well designed, you can spend hours getting lost in the minutiae of conquering China. Well into my second playthrough, I was still learning new things about how to manage my burgeoning empire and how to most effectively build my generals. Total War: THREE KINGDOMS is definitely a must-buy for Total War fans and Romance fans alike.

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John Gerritzen

John Gerritzen is a programmer by education, author by hobby, and game critic by occupation. While he usually favors RPGs, he will play anything that engages him narratively or mechanically. When he's not playing games for fun or profit, he's usually reading or watching anime.