Total War: 3 Kingdoms is the greatest Total War game and the greatest 3 Kingdoms game ever. I do not make this claim lightly I’ve been playing several incarnations of each this setting and franchise for two decades. But the setting excellently lends itself to how Total War operates, and developer Inventive Assembly has adapted the series to 3 Kingdoms to make all the things fall into location.
Just before having into the game itself, it is worth discussing what the setting of the 3 Kingdoms suggests, as a entire. In the most superficial sense, it is a series of civil wars that ended the Chinese Han Empire from the late second century CE into the third. But a lot more than that, the 3 Kingdoms era has grow to be a defining occasion of the literature and culture of civil wars, the way that the fall of the Roman Republic, the Wars of the Roses in England, or the American Civil War produce legends for their cultures. This is the story of bigger-than-life figures, engaged in a titanic war not just for territory but for approach and politics and morals, maybe reaching its pop cultural peak in John Woo’s film Red Cliff.
As a result you have a setting exactly where heroes like Liu Bei and Cao Cao stand for as a lot as Pompey and Caesar, or Neville and Richard III, or Ulysses S. Grant and Robert E. Lee … or, to take a current fictional instance of civil war literature, Cersei Lannister and Jon Snow do. This is the story of superheroes, one thing that games like Dynasty Warriors manages, and that the Total Warhammer games, with Malekith and Karl Franz, have primed that franchise to be prepared for.
Extra than any other Total War game, and a lot more than just about any other approach game save Crusader Kings two, 3 Kingdoms is about characters. And Total War: 3 Kingdoms tends to make that vital its expertise.
What you will like
They’re people today, not units
At its core, Total War: 3 Kingdoms is about people today. When you produce armies, you do not start out with a basic and then add 20 units, as has been the case with each and every Total War considering that the original Shogun. It is unique in this game, exactly where you have a character in charge of a retinue of up to six units massive, of which 3 are permitted per army. This adds up to complete armies getting regular-sized for Total War, but with enormous amounts of character added, mainly because every single third is attached to a individual, and every single has their personal identity and interaction with one particular an additional.
Above: Deng Ai in Total War: 3 Kingdoms
These characters? They all get along with every single other in specific approaches. Every single ends up with Crusader Kings-like traits, exactly where Indecisive characters dislike Decisive characters, and Fiery characters piss off nearly every person about them. The a lot more they interact with every single other, by getting in the exact same army, or by getting in the exact same province as every single other strategically, or getting on the ruler’s council with each other, the a lot more these characters start out to like — or hate — every single other. This can lead to you developing armies to match characters who get along with every single other as people today as nicely as characters whose retinues have units who mesh nicely with each other. So you will discover a strategist with her archers, a vanguard with his cavalry, and a sentinel with his infantry, as nicely as corresponding personalities.
The colors, youngsters, the colors!
This is not a tough or complicated method. But it is a satisfying one particular, with comprehensible and fascinating causes and effects. It is not the only one particular in the game, either. Total War: 3 Kingdoms is constructed about a clever and aesthetically satisfying set of intertwined systems primarily based on the Chinese components. Every single of the 5 components — Earth, Metal, Water, Wood, Fire — corresponds to colors: yellow, purple, blue, green, and red.
Every single of these connects to character classes, buildings, and unit kinds. So, for instance, green is the colour of Champion classes — the greatest duelists — which corresponds to agriculture and peasantry in developing kinds, and spear infantry. A Champion will commonly have spear infantry accessible for them to recruit to their retinue, whereas sending them to enable create infrastructure tends to be in approaches that boost meals, population, or taxes.
This all folds back into the way 3 Kingdoms does its tech tree — a literal tree! — exactly where every single big branch corresponds to one particular of the components/colors. Progressing down the green branch will increase your Champions’ happiness, get you a lot more revenue from your peasants, grant new spearman units, and increase meals production each straight and through buildings. It is a superbly sophisticated method it is not vital, but it is valuable for understanding at a single glance how each and every component of the method fits with each other.
Above: The tech tree of Total War: 3 Kingdoms
It is also tremendously aesthetically attractive — when was the final time a tech tree produced you content just to appear at? — in a way that matches the rest of Total War: 3 Kingdoms. Virtually all the things about this game is beautiful and smooth. The UI is smooth and eye-catching at nearly each and every level the music is delightful and the campaign map is gorgeous across all 4 seasons.
Maybe most impressive, provided how a lot the Total War series has been constructed on getting the most technologically sophisticated approach game on the marketplace, 3 Kingdoms runs smoothly — a lot more smoothly than the current Warhammer incarnations. On my SSD, loading instances switching among battles and the campaign map had been 15 seconds or fewer, and the battles themselves, till they got huge, tended to stay away from slowdowns.
Playing the map
And … all that is not even the greatest component of Total War: 3 Kingdoms. The series has generally struggled with keeping a powerful campaign from starting to finish, but in this incarnation, Inventive Assembly appears to have solved the concern. Its Chinese civil war is dynamic and fascinating, with nearly each and every playable faction getting their personal strategic choices to make with far-ranging repercussions.
As Cao Cao, who historically set up a energy-base in the center of China and then took more than the north, I pushed south to see what occurred — which ended up with me as a energy, but not very a superpower. I was surrounded by smaller sized factions, and I discovered it effortless to finish up at war with every person about me. This ravaged my economy thanks to a lack of trade partners, forcing a continuous dance of diplomacy to knock out what rivals I could as rapidly as I could ahead of losing essential territory to my accurate enemies.
Above: Killing Liu Bei does not necessarily increase matters in the campaign. …
The whole campaign had this continuous push-pull. I’ve never ever played a Total War that maintained such strategic dynamism from starting to finish. And despite the fact that I got the furthest with Cao Cao, fairly a lot each and every other big character I began a campaign with was pointed in the exact same path. Total War: 3 Kingdoms has a excellent campaign from starting to finish, and is not merely a car to get cool battles out of, as lots of earlier incarnations it have been.
I’d also like to praise the balance on the economy, one thing that is effortless to not assume about, but in basic my money flow nearly generally matched how I felt the campaign ought to be feeling at that point, and I regularly had to make fascinating choices on the greatest approaches to invest the revenue I got.
Fighting it out
Speaking of the battles, which I’ve spent a fantastic deal of time pondering about, I nevertheless want they had been like Shogun two. In that game, the purpose was to rout enemy armies, a method that tended to take place relatively swiftly and involve rigid formations and essential attacks to trigger a cascading rout. In nearly all the Total Wars considering that, the purpose has been to destroy enemy armies, a method which tends to make battles have a tendency to be scrummier and slower, frequently ending with compact groups of units bashing every single other in the face till one particular comes out.
That mentioned, if that is the path Total War is going, 3 Kingdoms is the greatest incarnation of this type of tactical battle, with the feasible exception of late-game combat in the Warhammer games. The addition of the basic units, who can turn battles with their capabilities or their simple combat prowess, tends to make watching these battles finish nevertheless be entertaining, and tends to hurry it along ahead of it gets interminable.
Above: Xu Huang single-handedly sways a battle in Total War: 3 Kingdoms
An odd byproduct of the retinue method is that it tends to make battles regularly take place among equal-sized armies, which suggests that you will be fighting a lot of reasonably fair fights. It is exhausting at instances, but pleasantly so. You will be spending a lot of time in combat, and it will not really feel poor.
What you will not like
Lack of information, a bit of a political breakdown
Properly, that is not very accurate. Total War: 3 Kingdoms is a enormous, complicated game, so of course there are elements of it that do not very completely function. But the components that do not totally function appear like they’d mostly be enhancements of what does function, and could be patched-in or expanded.
The largest concern I have with 3 Kingdoms is data, specifically about the general trend of the story. For people today who haven’t study the novel, or spent their lives in Dynasty Warriors, it is difficult to inform who’s who, and why specific events, irrespective of whether scripted or emergent, could possibly be essential. Getting a Crusader Kings-like button to take you to a character’s Wikipedia web page, for instance, or a lot more prominently linked to the exceptional comic Inventive Assembly did.
Above: A cutscene from Total War: 3 Kingdoms
For these of us who have been completely immersed in the story of the Romance of the 3 Kingdoms, a lot more macro-level data about who’s winning, exactly where, and when would enable a lot. Like most Total Wars, when you start out the game, you only have data about your neighbors, and gradually create intelligence about the rest of the map. But although that could possibly make sense for planet-spanning games like Warhammer, a China that is in a gradually escalating civil war ought to have a lot more data about, say, what’s occurred to Ma Teng out west. Civilization-style energy charts would be incredible.
The massive selection presented at the starting of campaigns of Romance or Records mode ended up getting a lot much less fascinating than I anticipated. Romance mode, exactly where generals had been person units with superpowers, each match the setting and produced combat so a lot a lot more fascinating that I discovered myself swiftly bored with Records games I began. Considering the fact that the game defaults to Romance, this is not a big concern, but it was one particular that shocked me a bit.
The internal politics, exactly where defections and rebellions appear feasible, also could use a slight buff. Or maybe just that playing as the ridiculously powerful character of Cao Cao inherently tampers these down, and I’m a lot more most likely to see them with other factions. The game is a lot enjoyable without having them, but could seriously shine with a bit a lot more internal dynamism.
I’d also adore to see the southern component of the map fleshed out, a lot more special heroes, and a superior political map mode. But provided how aggressive Inventive Assembly has been with Warhammer and what the studio has currently announced, these are items I can most likely count on through patches, expansions, and mods. It is a fantastic game with space to get notably superior.
Above: Cao Cao’s army types a battle line
Anytime I’ve played 3 Kingdoms-set games in the previous, I’ve generally wished for an ultimate game in the setting. Dynasty Warriors but with a lot more techniques, Dynasty Techniques with a lot more emergent narrative, Romance of the 3 Kingdoms but with superior balance and a lot more action. This generally felt like a pipe dream — but Total War: 3 Kingdoms manages to achieve it.
Likewise, anytime I’ve played a Total War, I’ve generally wished for a campaign mode as superior as the battles, an endgame as fascinating as the early game, and a difficulty that matches my capabilities. Not not possible, but not anticipated — till Total War: 3 Kingdoms.
So I seriously do not have enough superlatives to use right here. Beyond greatest-in-setting and greatest-in-franchise, Total War: 3 Kingdoms is a game that quickly contends for greatest of the year, or greatest in its genre. The setting and franchise right here give it higher expectations, and 3 Kingdoms surpasses these expectations at nearly each and every level.
Total War: 3 Kingdoms is out Could 23 for Computer. The publisher gave GamesBeat a digital code for the purposes of this overview.