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Total War: Three Kingdoms

Total War: Three Kingdoms

The Creative Assembly is turning its attention to the Three Kingdoms era of Chinese history for one of the most ambitious Total War games to date.

  • Text: Mike Holmes

Generally speaking, there's going to be two ways to play the main campaign in Total War: Three Kingdoms. On the one hand, there's going to be a so-called Record mode which should be much like the Campaign mode from every historical Total War game to date. On the other hand there's the Romance mode, a new twist on the historical formula that the studio has been perfecting over the years whereby the more prominent figures from China's legendary Three Kingdoms era are portrayed larger than life with almost superhuman powers. It's not quite fantasy, but given what the other half of the studio has been working on over the last five or so years, you can see why the period was chosen and how the design came together.

The other reason why The Creative Assembly picked China circa 190CE is that the period was a veritable melting pot of power-hungry warlords and political disharmony. Set just after the Yellow Turban rebellion and the fall of the Han empire, the landscape is fractured and, by taking on the role of one of the key players of the era, you'll be tasked with unifying China and eventually becoming Emperor.

In recent Total War games we've been seeing more characters and stronger narrative themes, and that looks set to continue in Three Kingdoms. Famous figures from the era such as Liu Bei form the core of this campaign, and they'll be doubly important to your experience if you play Romance. The word "squishy" was used more than once to describe the same characters in the more historically accurate portion of the game, so it's really down to the player to choose whether they want the personality of their generals to vein through the campaign, or whether they prefer to just keep things more naturalistic. For what it's worth, when the game lands in March we're almost certainly going to play the Romance mode.

Total War: Three KingdomsTotal War: Three Kingdoms

The steady evolution of Total War continues apace, with CA refining elements here and there, but despite the studio's best efforts to streamline things the sheer number of features and changes means that the first few hours of the game are going to be fairly heavily tutorialised with a talking head in the corner of the screen constantly whispering nuggets of wisdom to guide you. The UI is very busy, and with so many levers to pull and buttons to push, even a relatively seasoned player is going to have to take time to acclimatise themselves, adjusting to the new state of play.

That said, cluttered as it can feel at times (and we didn't even get to the end of the 30-turn demo), it does look rather swanky. There's a painterly style to the UI and in-game artwork that really sells the period, and the art team should be especially proud of themselves. There were some really nice touches, such as the animations on the unit tiles that revealed when they were taking fire - an eye-catching yet practical detail that we really liked. Best of all was the skill tree, which was one of the most elegant designs of its kind that we've ever seen.

Total War: Three Kingdoms
Total War: Three Kingdoms
Total War: Three KingdomsTotal War: Three KingdomsTotal War: Three KingdomsTotal War: Three Kingdoms

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