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Total War: Three Kingdoms: Mandate of Heaven Review

Edited by: Jade Swann

Achieve Heaven...

Total War: Three Kingdoms - Mandate of Heaven, developed by Creative Assembly and published by SEGA, expands the Yellow Turban Rebellion era, allowing you to play during 182 CE and onward. While you can play as most characters during this era, the real draw is the addition of the three brothers Zhang, Zhang Jue, Zhang Bao, and Zhang Liang. The central conflict in this expanded setting becomes the Mandate War, a factionalized conflict between the Yellow Turbans and the Han Empire for control of Luoyang and, ultimately, all of China.

...Through Violence

While not a lot has changed with the other factions, aside from starting allied under the Han Empire, the Yellow Turbans introduce some interesting mechanics into the mix. First off, instead of the reform tree that the other factions get, playing as one of the Zhang brothers gives you four different trees that require research to advance. Instead of consistently getting a new reform to pass every five turns, the Yellow Turbans choose a reform and have to research it for a set amount of turns. Usually, this is still five turns, but later reforms take longer, and earlier reforms take fewer. Special buildings unique to the Yellow Turbans can speed up the research process, but take up valuable building space in your cities.

The Zhang brothers also share a unique resource: Zeal. Zeal affects pretty much everything in your kingdom, from troop replenishment to food production. Zeal is gained by winning battles; the harder the fight, the more Zeal is earned. Zeal is also lost by losing battles and passively as turns progress. Now, any of the three Zhang brothers can contribute to the Zeal total, both positively and negatively. This means if your AI brothers keep losing territory, your Zeal score can tank pretty rapidly. In the early game, I played much like I usually do, letting the AI do pretty much whatever it wanted. After losing Zhang Liang within the first few turns, I realized that the war effort would have to be shared.

A Righteous Fury

As a Yellow Turban, you have more than just the force of arms at your disposal. You also have Fervor. Fervor naturally accrues in commanderies around Yellow Turban holdings. High Fervor benefits the Turbans, granting bonuses to public order and income while affecting the opposite in enemy territory. Both sides have buildings that can raise and lower Fervor, depending. 

Ultimately, the goal of the Mandate of Heaven campaign is to rule all of China. On the one hand, you have the Yellow Turbans trying to hold as much territory as possible, with the crowning jewel being Luoyang. This load is distributed across all Yellow Turban players, Zhang or not. On the opposite hand, the Han Empire is trying to kill all of the Yellow Turban leaders. So long as even one remains, the dream is still alive. Further complicating the issue, the Han Empire eventually dissolves, as is historically accurate, when Dong Zhuo seizes control of the capital. This frequently leads to infighting amongst the former Han territories, easing up on some of the heat during the Yellow Turban campaign.

China is People

I was honestly surprised at how the communal mechanics of the Yellow Turban effectively changed my playstyle. For one, I was much more willing to cooperate with my AI allies, rather than leaving them to their own devices and grabbing as much territory as I could for myself. More than once, I found myself trading away territory to Zhang Bao (for a nominal fee, of course) to keep him alive and able to share the load of the conflict. For two, it forced me to play much more aggressively. Nothing hurts more than setting up your territory, accounting for the significant bonuses that Zeal provides, only to pass three turns, drop to a lower threshold, and suddenly be in a food and supply shortage. You almost always have to be fighting to keep Zeal high. Fights, however, will be plentiful, as you will always be at war with someone due to alliance and ideological differences. I found myself having to be more aware of the map lest I overextend and be taken by surprise.

7

The Verdict: Great

If you liked the base game, Mandate of Heaven provides more than enough content to add to your experience. The Zhang brothers are more than worth the price of admission.

See About Us to learn how we score

John Gerritzen
Written by
Tuesday, 17 March 2020 09:00
Published in Strategy

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.

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