The GameFront Review - Total War: Three Kingdoms

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Published by Digz 4 weeks ago , last updated 4 weeks ago

I hated history as a child, hated the learning of it, did not even want to know about it. It was only when I turned around fifteen (yes late bloomer) did I get a computer good enough to play games like Red Alert 2, Battle for Middle Earth and of course Rome Total War. I bought the game as one of my first ever games because it was strategy and I wanted to test myself to see if I could play these types of games. I never looked back since day. From then on I not only played the game religiously but even studied around it, I read Roman history from the Punic Wars to Julius Caesars commentary of the Gallic Wars and biographies of Augustus, Alexander the Great and even fiction books around the historical time period. Total War games have illuminated something that was once so dark, the history of the world. I have since then purchased every Total War game, and yes including the Warhammer series – Total War: Three Kingdoms brings the best in all the Total War games to fruition.

Since the game was announced Total War: Three Kingdoms has been one of my most anticipated games, I even wrote it for everyone to see here on GameFront. My anticipation was met upon installation and first gameplay tenfold, the game is so beautiful with all the tests and tribulations a Total War should bring but more so. In the build up the development in all their videos pinned a lot of the campaign development on the heroes and how faction lords will use their character to outwit, engage, and play true to their history to get as far as they can in the campaign. The historical make-up of Total War games make them what they are, you immerse yourself into that time period and even gain a huge affinity to certain factions and civilisations as you play with them. As I said above I started to read my way around the Ancient Rome era from playing Rome Total War, and I learnt more about different eras after playing Shogun 2 and Medieval 2 – I’ll be doing the same for China now, as it seems they had their own real life Game of Thrones world going on a millennia ago!

The battles in the game almost take you back to Shogun 2, they’re very fast paced and the maps are beautifully created, sometimes I just sit there and watch the wind blow against the grass as my lancer cavalry knock down the enemy archers, so graceful... Unfortunately there isn’t the same animation style as Shogun 2 where you would see your individual warriors facing off against other ones, it’s a bit clunkier and hopefully they can add that in with a future free-LC update to add some polish to the game.

The game allows you to pick two modes, I’ll take you through the romance mode first. This mode really sets up the characters in a different light, it’s almost like the Warhammer games where your heroes are a lot stronger than normal units and can make a huge difference in the game. They also can duel other heroes in a battle and if they win the enemy army and that characters army retinue will rout, if yours loses, the units that come under that general will most likely rout. Also, interrupt duels at your risk, I’ve tested it out and on one occasion my entire army routed due to the dishonor I had caused! The duels are pretty epic, you see your chosen against someone who you pick to duel, or the AI may challenge you, you see a lot of funky martial arts moves and it’s fairly cinematic. The records mode brings you back to a Rome-esque period in the games where your general would not be a standalone figure but part of a bodyguard. They will still have the same importance in the campaign mode just in battle not as powerful as your generals and heroes are in Warhammer Total War.

Army composition and mustering/unit replenishing 

In your army you have a General, like other total war games and they have a retinue of up to six units, to get a “full stack” as us Total War folk like to call it (in other words a full army composition) you will need to recruit a hero/character/general to your army and they can then have up to six more units. You can have up to three heroes in your army who have a maximum six units each, each hero will have their weapons, armour, mount, extra items you can equip onto them and of course their own stats like health and attack speed. When you recruit units for each character you do not start off with a full stack of that unit, you need to wait a few turns to “muster” that full unit compliment. This can change based off various things like food production, town/settlement population and even your hero traits. Each hero will also their own skills and traits that can help you within battles or the campaign so don’t just pick any character to be generals in your army pick the ones that will affect your army and your wider campaign. You can also utilise your heroes as administrators within your settlements and appoint them to different positions within your court, different characters have different bonuses or negative points so as I said already make sure you use them wisely.

If you have no need for them you can release them from your service, as if they are within your court you will have to pay them a salary depending on what position they are and if you have promoted them or if they have come to you already at a certain rank. You do need to be careful though, as you don’t want to release someone who you feel could stab you in the back and has a very good retinue of units, good skills, traits and obviously has the good armour and weapons you put on them. You can buy more characters and allow them to join your court, these update all the time so make sure you keep checking your court screen as you don’t want rival factions to pick up the good ones.

Your court 

When you defeat enemy armies in battle and capture their characters you can choose to ransom, employ or execute them. Some will outright not join you so you can either release of execute, some will join you so if they’re good employ them. Characters will make or break your campaign, if they do not fit your leader characters personality they will clash and the worrying thing is that if you appoint them to a high position and the disagreements get too bad and they split from you – it could start a civil war within your own faction. It hasn’t happened to me yet but I can tell you the game is pretty full on dealing with everything else going on in the world, you do not need to start off something internally that will detract you from external matters. If it happens you may lose a lot of turns fighting an internal battle and the loss of turns could propel another faction leader to a higher status and allow them to gain a foothold in a territory you desperately needed.

The campaign is excellent, you have a variety of characters to choose from and to make it even more enjoyable read the characters and their profiles and play accordingly. For example if you are playing as Dhong Zhou play as a proper tyrant! A quick note, you have to unlock Dhong Zhou and you can do so by becoming the rank of emperor or by killing him in a campaign. He doesn’t necessarily roam around in an army so you have to force him out, there are many ways of doing this and plenty of articles online in how people have managed to get Dhong Zhou out and into a battle. After you unlock him, he will become available in the character selection screen under the “Tyrant tab”. Look online for articles on how to get Lu Bu too as I know some of you want to unlock him for your faction or play with him with Dhong Zhou due to his legendary warrior status.

The settlements are split up into regions where you have many smaller settlements linked to a utility base (is what I call it), like a farm or a mine as a separate area you will have to conquer to get the benefits and of course control. Then those smaller settlements will lead up to a grander city in the next region which of course if you control is great news for your economy. The killer is population, if you have too much you’ll get public disorder so try not to go too growth heavy, or if you do to begin with you can curtail it with various military buildings that tackle population growth or public order boost. The buildings trees are quite simple, there are few negative effects, in Warhammer there were not negative effects which I thought were strange, in Rome 2 you could only build up so much before squalor wrecked your public order, I think Three Kingdoms has got the balance just right.  

The campaign map from afar 

A lot has changed compared to Warhammer and Rome 2 Total War, diplomacy has been re-vamped and I can tell you it’s much better than before. You have indicators now where you can see if the AI will accept your offer or not, and the AI engage with you a lot more. Within the history you have the coalition that looks to bring down the tyrant and his allies so you will at some point need to join a coalition to avoid being stormed by everyone, choose wisely as if you don’t you’ll either be unable to expand or join the losing side! There are plenty of options for diplomacy too like making someone a vassal but guaranteeing them autonomy, the different options to even push others to not only join wars but become part of coalitions and the like just set the game up for so many eventualities. You can use your influence and power to nudge opposing factions to the decisions you want them to make, either for your benefit or to break up another coalition. The endless possibilities can make it daunting and the number of diplomatic messages you get per turn towards mid-game can get overwhelming as you try to work out who is now friends and how that particular status changes their previous dynamic but mostly importantly how it will affect you.

Diplomacy screen 

Don’t also forget to utilise your spy network. You can get one of your court to act as a spy on another faction and they can report back some juicy bits of information on what buildings they have, where their armies are, and what garrisons they have in their settlements. Annoyingly some farm settlements have more of a garrison than some cities do so make sure you take a healthy batch of reinforcements with you just in case you don’t fancy waiting five turns or so to starve them out, or worse lose the battle. My advice would be try not to fight on too many fronts, pick a target and stick to it and plan your advances carefully because you want to be able to join a coalition in the future, even if for a while whilst you build up your settlements and army for the midgame which all cost money. If you fight too many people and break treaties you will gain the untrustworthy status or treacherous status, which will not help your standing in making those trade treaties and non-aggression pacts when you will need them.

Reforms are essentially research points, every five turns you get to pick another “reform” to choose, some are for your military, some are for agriculture, mining, political purposes, or even to help your diplomatic ability. You will also need to develop some buildings in order to unlock some reforms to issue, it can seem a bit much when you first start developing but in this game turns tend to go fairly quickly whilst you recover from battles, muster your armies and engage in some fruitful diplomacy.

Reform options 

All in all the game is broad, has a great amount of depth and allows you to immerse yourself into a world that you have never been able to do before in a Total War game. You may think you can in Warhammer and Rome, but the lore, the development and usage of your characters just adds so much to the game alongside the number of diplomatic options you have you can either stay try to the character you are playing, or forge your own path in doing things your own way. There are a few things I’d like to see and one of those is better unit animation and battle styles like there was in Rome 2 and Shogun 2. I’d also like to see a better diplomatic summary screen at the end of the turn where you can see what’s happening with whom, and how that affects you, as right now on one turn I got over fifteen notifications and you forget about the first three when you’re halfway through trying to work out what it all means for you.

Despite these two things, this is the game I’ve been waiting for over a year now, I loved Warhammer and it was nice to get into a fantasy element and I feel that was an excellent trial for the usage of heroes that you get in the Romance mode of the game and also just the play styles the AI have depending on what character they are. But for all Warhammer is good for, I love the fact that we are back to historical reality where I can learn about a new era of the world and the wars within it and fall in awe of certain characters that have lead great lives. Total War games don’t just give us games to play, they allow ourselves to feel we are making history – and that’s why Total War games never die, they only become history that everyone revisits time and time again.

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