by Jason Parker (Ragachak)
Last week I took a trip out to the west coast to preview one of the ambush missions of Total War: Three Kingdoms, as well as chat with one of the developers in an interview (seen above). Now, anyone who has read my work before probably knows this, but I owe my career to the Sanguoyanyi (Three Kingdoms) era of history. When I first started seeing the Total War games, I’d always ask myself, “Why isn’t there a Three Kingdoms Total War game? Isn’t it practically built for this point in time”? Thankfully, those prayers have been answered, and Creative Assembly has an absolute hit on their hands. Now, I only got to play one of the ambush maps from the “Romance Mode”, The Ambush of Sun Ren, but it made a very strong impression. One thing I want to point out that I learned while there, is that there are two main modes. The Romance Mode, which I previewed a battle from, and Historic Mode. The major difference between the two is that Romance Mode offers wildly powerful generals/leaders, that have thousands of hit points and incredible abilities to turn the tide of battle.
This version of the game (which I honestly am more excited for) is the more fantastic, exaggerated mode for Total War: Three Kingdoms, and I cannot stress enough how much I enjoyed it. The generals take the field as their own larger-than-life figures and are key to winning in battle, but definitely cannot do it alone. Each one of the generals has their own role to fulfill (commander, duelist, et al), and in this mission, we had a duelist general in Sun Ren, the daughter of the “Tiger of Jiang Dong”, Sun Jian and then her brother, Sun Quan, who would ultimately come to rule the Sun faction. In this mission, Cao Cao’s forces have ambushed Sun Ren and Sun Quan, and the goal is to either defeat all of the enemies or to simply make it to the retreat point. I appreciate that you have these options even in the direst of times. If you are confident you can fight it out, you can weaken their generals, challenge them to a duel and kill them on the battlefield, or you can send some of your troops to die and hold the line so that your important figures can live on.
There isn’t too much that eliminates enemy morale like a successful duel though. The key was to weaken the targeted general with Sun Ren’s attack ability, “Heartseeker”, until they have as little a chance as possible of surviving. That’s when you hit them with the duel challenge. Should they accept, both sides of soldiers surround them while they go into bout after bout. You “can” and should definitely use her melee ability, “Flames of the Phoenix” here, or any dueling general that has one, you should make sure to pop their abilities on cooldown. You can lose your general here because these are not friendly polite duels. These are brutal, scratch-and-claw fights. These are incredibly tactical battles though: Your units can form into special stances and formations, each with their own useful abilities. The battles were ferocious, it was easy to see where you were moving your units (even at night). I’ve played several of the Total War games, but this was the easiest one for me to figure out where my units were going and what they were doing.
Battles are great and all, but we also discussed my personal favorite feature: Being a sneaky bastard. Spies are a huge part of the Three Kingdoms Era, and in this game, when you send out a spy, they’ll come across as a soldier/general that left their lord behind/was fired from their position, and “somehow” wind up in the target lord’s city. The longer they stay and serve that lord, it increases their loyalty and bond with that lord. The downside is, having them perform sneaky acts of treachery have a chance to be found out. You definitely don’t want to get caught with your hand in the pile of Baozi. The really amazing thing is, say you infiltrate Ma Teng’s force, and Ma Teng is on death’s door. Your spy has gotten so close, he’s been adopted by the lord, and is far more useful and powerful compared to Ma Teng’s sons. Now picture your spy having control of the enemy kingdom. Not great enough? Imagine doing this in “online multiplayer”. If that’s not the most salt-inducing thing you can imagine in an online strategy game, I have no idea what to tell you. You can be crafty, cunning, build bonds and break them (and bond with officers does matter), gift officers incredibly valuable items from Chinese history (Red Hare, Sword of the Seven Stars, you name it), all sorts of stuff. I only wish I got to play more of it.
Total War: Three Kingdoms is off to an incredible start, and you can tell that they have put time and effort into making this historically accurate, “and” gorgeous. It’s got a beautiful, unique Chinese visual, from battlefields to the overworld map are stunning to look at. Though I only heard English voice acting so far, I do hope it will have a Chinese dub, so it can really feel like the Romance of the Three Kingdoms TV series. Now, I’m normally not amazing at the Total War games, I’m great at turn-based strategy, but I kind of fall off in the real-time combat. However, this is an era that I know intimately well, I’m vested and ready to tackle some of the sneakier parts of the game. All of the major feudal lords are here, and it begins right when things get good: About the year 190. I’m a little disappointed that the Yellow Turbans aren’t in the game, and that we probably won’t see some of their nutty magic, but I get their explanation. What Zhuge Liang and Sima Yi did wasn’t really magic, but certainly appears that way to the common man. All they did was master meteorology and other sciences. Total War: Three Kingdoms is certainly walking the path towards Hegemony in 2019. I cannot wait to see and play more of it.