Total War: Three Kingdoms Press Preview

By Noe Ponce (Inohe)

The Romance of the Three Kingdoms: an 800 thousand word historical novel from 14-century China has been the inspiration for dozens of games over the years. Everything from Hack and Slashers to MMOs to Real Time Strategy. Well, add another tally to the RTS count because the Three Kingdoms is joining the Total War family!

OnRPG was invited out by SEGA Europe and Total War’s developer, Creative Assembly, to experience the game first-hand before E3. While only in pre-alpha, the game already plays great and looks amazing. One of the biggest changes I noticed right out the gate is the minimalistic new art style. It’s dialed back, refined and more elegant than any previous Total War game. You notice the new style the most in the little things: the Chinese mountains off in the distance, the simple-yet easily distinguishable UI cards, and the low hanging mist found throughout the environment. There’s even calligraphy.

Three Kingdoms Xiapo Siege

Total War: Three Kingdoms is more than just a pretty face though. The game focuses on the era’s most famous Warlords. These warriors are larger-than-life with unmatched skill and prowess on the battlefield. Players choose to play as one of 11 legendary generals in the campaign. I played the famed strategist, Cao Cao, and invaded the city of Xiapi.

In an interview with James Given, Total War’s community manager, he explains to me the benefits of playing these generals:

They got loads of abilities that make them unique and kind of reflects who they are as a character but also who they are as a hero as well. Some will be more focused towards melee engagements, some, like the strategist Cao Cao, will be much more [focused on] buffing their troops on the campaign map but also in battle. They also have retinues as well. Each hero will have a selection of warriors they can recruit on the campaign map. Some might be unique to them and can follow them into battle.

Three Kingdoms Warriors
Cao Cao was invading Xiapi because he received word that the recently disgraced Lu Bu was hiding out there with his army. If you’ve never heard of Lu Bu, he’s a crazy strong warrior, a terror to fight in any of the Three Kingdoms inspired games he appears in. So I knew it would be a tough fight. And it was here, in a fight against Lu Bu, that I tried out one of the game’s new mechanics: dueling.

In Total War: Three Kingdoms, certain commanding units can challenge each other to duels. Their forces will respect the duel and not interfere. The two units then begin to clash and the better AI wins. While James later shared strategies for dueling success, my initial attempt at dueling with Lu Bu ended in horrific failure. It cost me the game. Had I been able to defeat Lu Bu, however, I would have immediately won the battle.

We want to give you lots of options when you’re fighting in these battles. You can soften-up these heroes using a wide range of your army before [dueling]. Or maybe you’re lucky and have someone like Lu Bu who’s such a high ranking warrior and dangerous on the battlefield. You can literally be like, ‘I can just go for this guy straight away.’ And when you’re in battle you can use your abilities to kind of slow down, deflect or mow down your enemies depending on what they bring to the battlefield. Unfortunately, I think you put a level 3 guy against a level 9.

Three Kingdoms LuBu

The final feature I learned about was the different game modes. There are actually two different ways to play the campaign in Total War: Three Kingdoms. You have Fantastical mode (also dubbed Romance mode by James) and Classic mode. Fantastical mode is the way the game is meant to be played. The warlord you chose for your campaign is essentially more than a man. He’s an all-powerful force that can take down a small army single-handedly.

All 11 generals are designed to be like this, as the focus of the game is about them and their accomplishments. On the flip side, classic mode strips this feature away, drastically changing the way you should play the game. Patrick Lally, Total War’s Brand Manager, explained it the best to me:

In Classic mode you kind of dial-back those fantastical elements. Lu Bu is still better than a single Warrior, he’s still great, but compared to 10 guys he’s probably going to go down.  [Classic] is a different experience, it’s a different Total War game. Similar to Total War Rome or Attila, it’s all about how you control your armies as a whole. Whereas in [Fantastical mode], it’s more about your heroes and the Romance aspect.

Three Kingdoms Xiapi

Total War: Three Kingdoms is slated for a spring 2019 release but those going to E3 can play it next week by visiting the Total War booth, #5222, in the West Hall! Please visit the Three Kingdom’s blog or keep an eye on its Steam page for information and game updates!

OnRPG would like to thank SEGA, Creative Assembly and the team at Clever Communications for allowing us to once again to experience the newest game in the Total War series.


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