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Every time a new Total War game is announced, I’m hyped up. It is without a doubt my favourite game series/franchise ever, and I’m a huge fan of the mechanics. Turn-based empire management, real-time tactical battles with hundreds if not thousands of units on the map, and RPG mechanics to customise your generals just the way you want to? That’s the good stuff. This time, the focus of The Creative Assembly has shifted to China, during the Three Kingdoms period. Is the game any good, compared to the previous entries? Is it more similar to Attila? Or does it function like Warhammer without magic? Let’s find out…

Story and Narrative

The game is set in the year 190 CE in China, a period of war and turmoil not unlike the Sengokou period of Japan that was the scene for Shogun 2. There isn’t a defined story since this game is basically a sandbox, but the gist is you take control of one of the factions vying for supremacy of China and forge a path to ultimate conquest.

The game does it’s best to lay out stepping stones for you to forge your path, and this gives a clear cut set of missions to undertake in order to progress. Simple things, such as “Capture settlement X” or “Vanquish old foe Y” are given interesting backstories in the form of flavour text, and this makes each quest unique. The quests, though radiant (i.e. different on each playthrough), are well designed. There’s no running half way across China to capture a settlement just for the sake of it. Expansion is encouraged, but slowly, and turtling has its merits. I’ll talk about the mechanics a bit later, but suffice to say that the game’s pacing is excellent

The game offers two main campaign modes, Romance and Records. Romance mode plays like a historian’s account with larger than life heroes that have ascended to demigod status. This plays similarly to the Warhammer games, while records show a more down-to-earth portrayal, with generals having a bodyguard squad in battle.

Besides this single player campaign, there’s also a historical battle mode and a custom battle mode. Historical battles are a great way to see the kinds of fights that happened in the era, and custom battles are a fun way to test out new strategies and play styles. The custom battles can also be played with friends, just like the entirety of the campaign.

Gameplay and Mechanics

Even though there isn’t a story, the joy of Total War is forging your own, and if the mechanics that support such a game have to be top notch. Now this game has a LOT of varied mechanics, I’ll break it down piece by piece. Brace yourselves, this is going to be a LONG review.

Empire management

Three Kingdoms has a large number of factions to choose from, and though the units are essentially the same for obvious reasons, the mechanics vary quite a bit. Pick a bandit faction and gain the ability to raid enemies, but lose out diplomatic power for example. There are also unique campaign mechanics for factions, such as Cao Cao’s credibility which lets him manipulate different factions and also instigate proxy wars, like the High Elves in Warhammer 2.

The turn-based part of the game is navigating your empire. You have cities which grow as the population increases, these cities have various buildings that do different things, from providing advanced unit recruits to improving the public order in a province. You can also recruit spies and send them into another faction’s provinces, to either gain intrigue or see their movements. This is a return from the time of Rome 2, and is an interesting mechanic.

Like in Shogun 2, the provinces have been spread out. Yes, there’s a central city where your administration and military thrive, but the majority of raw resources, such as timber and food, are produced by single buildings outside your main city. These are designated Timber Yards or Farms or Fishing Posts that have their own unique building chain. I really like this mechanic, and decentralisation is always good in my book.

Each province can have an administrator based on your reforms, which are akin to research from the previous games. Reforms are essentially branching paths to take and improve certain aspects of your empire such as commerce or food production. Now administrators are essentially characters which reside in a city and take care of things like taxation. Since each character is unique, different administrators provide different buffs and debuffs. As an example, this one character in my faction provided a 50% increase in tax income, while also reducing public order quite a bit.

This mode is turn-based, and the major challenge here is managing your public order, population and treasury. You also have to make sure your generals and other characters are satisfied and happy, by providing them positions in the royal court, or they might rebel. Even in a pure turn-based mode, there’s a LOT to do in Three Kingdoms. Beat the campaign, and you can also get to play as the legendary tyrant, Dong Zhuo.

This mode isn’t without problems, however. The generals’ satisfaction feels a bit gimmicky and is always creeping lower. This gets a bit annoying. Also, if you have a lot of farmlands and upgrade them, it becomes really easy to cheese money from the AI, since everyone else seems to be starving. Offer them a couple of units of food per turn, and they will suddenly be willing to empty their entire treasury every turn for the next 10 seasons in your favour. This might be intentional, but the game gets a bit too easy this way.

The other issue I had with the game isn’t strictly related to empire management, but it’s a factor. The Yellow Turban DLC is NOT worth it if you didn’t get it for free. The faction is severely underpowered diplomatically, so much so that you can’t even broker PEACE deals. This might have been an intentional mechanic, but for the asking price of ₹359, I would stay away from it.

Diplomacy and The Court

As an extension of the empire management mode, there’s diplomacy. At the beginning of the game, at least for the major factions, you won’t have all the options enabled, and this makes sense realistically. A small faction with 3 cities can’t realistically claim a vassal, or make sense in a military alliance. These are locked behind Levels of the empire, sort of like Renown in Rome 2. The more your faction grows in terms of size, the more benefits you get.

Diplomacy finally feels like it’s meaningful, unlike the previous games where it was WAR/PEACE and not much else. The overhaul in the mechanics is very welcome. Thank you, CA for listening to feedback. This adds in with the system from Warhammer 2, where each hero has a unique weapon, mount, follower and a trinket. They provide different buffs and bonuses and are all tradeable, opening up different diplomatic avenues

The court system is an interesting concept, similar to the Empire in Warhammer. You appoint Ministers and such to your court for passive boosts for the empire, and active boosts in combat. Your military commander will be a beast in duels, and will also reduce upkeep for his army. This is another interesting mechanic the game brings to the table that I very much enjoy.

Battle Mode

The other crux of this game is the real-time battle mode. Unlike in previous games, each general has a maximum retinue of 6 units. However, each army can have three generals on the field, which brings the total to 21 units total, which is technically one more than the previous games.

The way this works in the campaign is, if two armies meet on the campaign map, the world is zoomed in and the battle map is essentially the same as the campaign map, with trees, rivers and settlements in the locations relative to the meeting armies. You control the units as squads, issuing orders in real time. All the usual tactics such as spear cav trap, or cav flanking work as advertised, and the battles are extremely fun to watch play out. The AI has all the good aspects from Warhammer 2 and thankfully leaves Rome 2 in the dust. It’s competent, and on higher difficulties, pretty darn good. Even without all the buffs it gets at those difficulties, the AI makes smart choices, such as not firing arrows into a bunch of shielded and braced spearmen.

The caveat is, battles are extremely short. Yes, it was expected in Warhammer, because of the monsters and magic being killing machines, but this feels like a rehash of Rome 2, where thousands of units on the field end the battle within 10 minutes. I would very much appreciate longer battles and watching units slug it out for dominance.

The new addition to Three Kingdoms compared to other historical total wars is the Romance mode. As I’ve said, this makes the game similar to the Warhammer Total War games, where the heroes are larger than life, with buffed up stats, that can take on large swathes of infantry and mow them down single handed. If you prefer not to play this way, though, there’s always the “records” mode that brings them back to a human level.

The other reason to play Romance mode is the new “Duel” mechanic. If you feel your army is slightly weaker and might take a LOT of casualties if the battle drags on, or if you want to wrap up a battle quickly with a strong general, challenge the opposing lord to a Duel, where just the two of them duke it out in the middle of the field, hurling insults while trying to kill/wound each other. The losing side suffers a huge morale penalty, and the general’s death might cause a mass rout, which essentially gets you what you want.

The duel mechanic feels a bit cheesy, as you can basically defeat a mighty army with a strong general and some cheap holding units, provided you win the duel. This makes battles a tad RNG. YMMV, though.

Sound, Visuals, and Performance

As in all total wars, the sound design in this game is award-winning. The battle sound effects are realistic, from the clanging of spears to the screaming of soldiers as fire arrows rain down upon them to the wind on the battlefield, every sound has gotten it’s fair share of love and it shows.

The voice acting is top notch. Generals insult with conviction in duels and on the campaign map, the advisor voiceover is not jarring (“A SHAMEFUR DISPRAY” comes to mind) and the loading screen narrator does an amazing job keeping you up to date on what’s happened should you take a break from commanding your forces.

The game looks stunning on the high settings, with detailed unit models with unique faces, glistening weapons and even moving blades of grass when you get down to unit level. The map looks beautiful, be it summer or winter and the art design just makes me want to stare at the screen all day long. It’s that beautiful.

Unfortunately, as this is Sega, there’s no blood. COME ON, SEGA. NO BLOOD IN A WAR GAME WITH SHARP WEAPONS? SERIOUSLY? Yes, I know it’s coming as a blood DLC later on down the road, but it’s a despicable business practice. Right now it feels like the soldiers just fainted from being hit with blunt weapons. Not cool. Blood should at least be a free DLC for this move to make sense.

The game’s performance is stellar, and on my system performs remarkably well. There have been a grand total of two crashes during my entire playthrough, and that’s probably because of a combination of OBS + Alt Tab. The game maintains a solid 55+ fps at Ultra settings on my Ryzen 1600 + GTX 1060 at 1080p, whether I’m playing on Windows or Linux. However, The Linux port of this game is outstanding, and I wish more developers ported their games to Linux. Kudos for that, Feral Interactive. Be that as it may, both the Windows and Linux versions sometimes suffer from random stutters and frame drops, which are mildly annoying at times.

[toggles behavior=”toggle”] [toggle title=”Minimum requirements”]OS: Windows 7 64 Bit

Processor: Intel Core 2 Duo 3.00Ghz

Memory: 4 GB RAM

Graphics: GTX 650 Ti 1GB|HD 7850 1GB|Intel UHD Graphics 620

DirectX: Version 11

Storage: 60 GB available space

Additional Notes: 6GB Memory if using integrated GPU[/toggle] [toggle title=”Recommended Requirements”]

OS: Windows 10 64 Bit

Processor: Intel i5-6600 | Ryzen 5 2600X

Memory: 8 GB RAM

Graphics: GTX 970 | R9 Fury X 4GB VRAM

DirectX: Version 11

Storage: 60 GB available space[/toggle] [toggle title=”Review Specs”]OS: 64-bit Windows 10 / Manjaro Linux KDE

Processor: AMD Ryzen 5 1600

Memory: 16 GB RAM

Graphics: NVIDIA GeForce 1060

DirectX: Version 11[/toggle] [/toggles]


Total War Three Kingdoms is a benchmark strategy game. It gets a lot of things right, with only a few minor annoyances. The diplomacy has been reworked from previous iterations and is now the best it’s ever been. The AI is solid and fun to play against, and the campaign mechanics are sufficiently unique so as to make this game a brand new experience even to veteran Total War players such as myself. Yes, the DLC policy is not the best in the world, but just the base game is definitely worth it, even at full price (₹2000). The game is a solid entry point for newcomers to the genre and franchise as there’s a ton of quality of life improvements from previous entries. The best part? All of this can be played co-operatively. Highly recommended. FOR CHINA!!!!!

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