Since the disappointing release of Rome 2 in 2013, the Total War series seems to have been lost and in search of something. From Attila and Thrones of Britannia's handicrafts to the explosion of the personality of the Warhammer games, there have been wild experiments between the titles. Three kingdoms is the culmination of this adventure.
The release of the Warhammer games in recent years has been a potential schism for the series, long a toy for those who are very much in history. Here were two strategy titles that didn't stick to a time like medieval Europe or Shogunate Japan, but were set in a fantasy world and instead of tormenting themselves over the accuracy of the muskets, the realism in favor of magical powers and RPG-like equipment from the window threw outreaches.
Total War's return to a historical setting in China was marked by the fact that it takes place during the events of the famous romance of the three kingdoms, a book that deals with myths and legends as well as hard facts. Many fans, including myself, suddenly had great fears about the future of the series: A fantasy side-review, as funny as it was, spoiled the appetite for history and left the games to the need for super-charged hero units?
The short answer is no. The longer answer is of course not lmao, this game is amazing.
What Three Kingdoms is doing to address this potential divide is just … on foot. When you start a campaign in this new game, you will be asked if you want to play "Romance Mode" or "Records Mode". The latter is more of a direct Total War game, in which things like infantry movements are handled similarly to older games.
The former ties in with Warhammer's success by making players go wild with their Total War, and that's where the real fun lies. This mode speeds up real-time battles and even introduces leader duels, a premiere for the series, in which rival generals can call each other across a battlefield and engage in one-on-one battles that not only look fantastic, but also help can turn the tide of the fight a heartbeat.
I preferred the romantic mode, but what's cool is that the shooting mode doesn't feel like a less experience, just like another one. And it is a testament to the balancing act Creative Assembly has done here and the strength of the Total War basics of "overworld + real-time combat" that the game can support both options and that both are still so much fun.
Of course, it is the changes made to these foundations that help make it happen. Three Kingdoms simply feels smarter, smoother and more responsive than any other Total War over the course of a campaign. I'm not talking about frame rate or load times (which can be painful if you don't have an SSD), but about the overall flow of the game.
Total Wars often have problems with the endgame and the course of the campaign, with little incentive for other players than looking for "paint the map" and a number of ideas on how to make the victory interesting – from the civil war from Shogun 2 to the complex portal from Warhammer 2 System – I have never come this far.
Three kingdoms move closer together and keep campaigns dynamic and interesting until the end. Even better, your path to victory will vary depending on the type of faction you choose, so campaign reps are a new challenge every time.
The balance of the game also feels good. Whether it's food production (mainly used as a handbrake for rapid expansion), the economy, or the happiness of the population, things that were previously frustrated in a Total War game feel more generous here than if they were more than result and reflection of what I did / built instead of imposing restrictions on myself from the AI.
Three Kingdoms is based on Warhammer and relies heavily on personality, maybe a little too much. Your armies are now usually led by three generals, not just one. Anyone can be upgraded and equipped with custom equipment. At the end of the game, much has to be taken care of by the management of men (and women), but the fact that the game has a limited list of character art that doesn't make it more difficult to identify accurate characters than it could be helps (a problem that also affects campaign managers).
Many of these characters will end up as generals, though not all; When you combine Total War's longstanding family political system with a little more Crusader Kings II, your faction members are not only placed in command positions, but also have their own ambitions and relationships. So if you keep two generals who hate each other in the same army you will have problems.
Indeed, beyond past characters, the personality extends to the factions themselves, which are no longer represented by states or tribes but by leaders, similar to how civilians compete against each other.
Three Kingdoms is fully committed to its topic. To a certain extent, we haven't seen any historical Total War since Shogun 2. The game indulges in its Chinese surroundings, with a wonderfully vivid palette of colors that illuminates the map, wonderfully varied combat cards, and music that is appropriate without getting cheesy. Of particular note is the tech tree, which is literally a tree.
It all leads to a great game, but strangely enough, the real visual star of Three Kingdoms is its user interface. I know this sounds boring, but it's a remarkable achievement that Creative Assembly has done here, and it's more important than you might think for a game like this. I keep criticizing Paradox games for their user interface, as they are an entry barrier and can obscure important information. Here's the opposite: Three Kingdoms is in love with the idea of clean little mouse-over popups, and I love the game for that.
By choosing to display a majority of the game's more nuanced information (not to mention helpful tips on how pretty much every button and system works) as a popup, Three Kingdoms can keep its interface simple without requiring a full screen Once you learn that almost all of the game's information can be found this way, it's a breeze to have everything you need at the helm of a growing empire.
The idea that information is woven through three kingdoms and not layered in menus extends even to the use of colors. Most of the things you use in the game, such as generals, units, buildings, and technology projects, are color-coded, and colors are assigned based on the principle of five elements.
It's very meta, but the game actually sticks to it, with the five colors / elements influencing everything from which units are best suited to what types of missions a particular general could excel at. It is the culmination of a user interface that is an absolute triumph and sets a new standard not only for Total War games, but for strategy games in general.
If the last Total War games really experimented before the next big historical game, it was an unqualified success. Three Kingdoms is the largest success story in Total War's recent history. It combines Shogun 2's thematic perfection with Warhammer's personality and the small (but important) changes that games like thrones have made on the edges.
For those new to the series or interested in the series, this is the absolute best place to start, as it eases complexity and communicates better than any other Total War. And if you have experience, you will love how smooth the ride is. Three Kingdoms is not a perfect Total War game, but it is the next one that the series has achieved in a long time.