Total War: Three Kingdoms Review – A Fine Addition to the Total War Franchise

Total War: Three Kingdoms
Creative Assembly/Sega                             

Total War has always been one of the most celebrated grand strategy franchises in existence. For the most part, the long-running series has stuck to historical titles—such as the epic Total War: Shogun 2 and Total War: Medieval 2, which covered feudal Japan and Europe respectively.

More recently, in 2016, Creative Assembly teamed up with Games Workshop and arguably created their most exceptional titles, Total War: Warhammer 1 and 2 (with game 3 currently in development). These latest games were freed from the shackles of history and allowed for you to wage titanic battles between magic casters, giant monsters, powerful heroes, and flying units; a first for the Total War franchise. Needless to say, the Total War: Warhammer series has become a cash cow for both Creative Assembly and Sega, their publisher.

After receiving a rather lukewarm reception with last year’s Viking and English king-centric, Total War Saga: Thrones of Britannia, CA rolled the dice and took another gamble with a historic title in Total War: Three Kingdoms, well sort of (you’ll see what I’m talking about below). But did they learn any lessons from the many issues that plagued Thrones of Britannia?

Ancient Chinese history isn’t something I’d have guessed CA would try to tackle as a comeback title. While Western gamers have always been able to identify with medieval Europe and even ancient Rome, many folks just found the historical periods of Asian countries a bit too obscure to get into. The one exception has always Japan, which isn’t a surprise since they are cultural exporters. I mean, who doesn’t know what samurai and ninja are?

On the other hand, a country like China has always been reclusive and inwards. The Chinese language has also been hard for Westerners to come to grips with, whereas languages such as Japanese are much more phonetic and easy to grasp.

However, since there is currently a leap forward in terms of global politics and economic power, with regards to China, many Western companies have been scrambling around in an effort to cater to the rapidly emerging Chinese consumer base—and that’s where Total War: Three Kingdoms comes in.

Some Western gamers are vaguely familiar with this new title’s setting. The Three Kingdoms period marked a period of massive upheaval and civil unrest in ancient China and has been depicted in other games before, such as the numerous Dynasty Warriors and Romance of the Three Kingdoms titles.

Compares to those franchises, Total War: Three Kingdoms is a much more fleshed-out game in terms of explaining what this period of Chinese history was all about. This is accomplished through lots of engaging and beautifully-rendered graphical portraits and landscapes, accompanied by excellent voiceover work. Presentation-wise, Total War: Three Kingdoms could be CA’s most polished-looking title yet, and this strict adherence to gorgeous aesthetics permeates the game throughout its entirety.

From the outset, you can choose from two modes; one which is more fantasy-flavored, and the other, which is more centered around historical accuracy. The former allows for less troop attrition and Warhammer-like hero capabilities, while the latter will have you commanding more vulnerable armies and weaker heroes who ride around with their own personal retinues.

The more fantastical route seems to be the one that is garnering more of the attention from gamers, at least right now. This is probably due to the heroes of this mode being able to engage in fierce (and very impressive) duels with enemy heroes, as well as devastate entire throngs of regular troops. In essence, this fantasy mode is more akin to Dynasty Warriors or Romance of the Three Kingdoms, although not quite as over the top.

However, unlike in the Total War: Warhammer games, where your heroes can magically reappear within a campaign after being defeated (although it does take a few turns), in Total War: Three Kingdoms, your heroes can actually be killed for good. This means that although your heroes are powerful units, they aren’t one-man armies that are invincible or immortal.

There are many factions and rulers that you can choose from in Total War: Three Kingdoms, which will almost certainly fit anyone’s particular playstyle. You have leaders like Gongsun Zan who runs a totalitarian, militaristic government; who busied himself by appointing people under him into military positions of power. Then you have the infamous Cao Cao who is all about deception and manipulating those around him in order to stir up proxy wars, and other dastardly activities.

Speaking of war, sadly Total War: Three Kingdoms is yet another one of CA’s historical (mainly) titles that doesn’t have any form naval combat. This is such a bizarre omission since China has gigantic coastlines along with many large waterways, many of which held many large scale naval conflicts. I believe Shogun 2 was the last Total War game which featured naval combat and that game came out many years ago.

There are some things to love about Total War: Three Kingdoms, namely the hero duels and unpredictable political intrigue between factions and their rulers. However, many folks out there may be put off by the esoteric time period as well as the rather same-y battles.

SCORE: 76%

Total War: Three Kingdoms features some pretty nice looking graphics that make its strategic gameplay truly shine. However, you want to have a pretty beefy gaming PC or gaming laptop in order to play it at a decent framerate. So, you may just want to invest in a decent gaming rig:

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