A Kingdom Long United Must Divide

This is the first in a series of articles recounting and reviewing various aspects of the game, Total War: Three Kingdoms

This is the first in a series of articles recounting and reviewing various aspects of the game, Total War: Three Kingdoms. Developed by Creative Assembly & Published by Sega. Thank you to Creative Assembly for providing us with a review code. Check back for more later in the week. This article is about a Romance Mode Campaign.


After 400 years of Han Dynasty Rule (Apart from a brief change in management around the mid-way mark) China is no longer a united empire. Instead it has shattered into many factions centred around the remains of the once mighty Han and the many Provincial Warlords who have risen up during the chaos created by the Yellow Turban Rebellion. Each of them looking to claim their piece of the empire and have a shot at bringing to fruition their own grand designs for the empire. In Total War: Three Kingdoms you take charge of one of several factions and strive to unite China under your banner.

For those unfamiliar with  Total War, it’s a series of strategy games that combine turn-based campaigns with real time battles, usually with a focus on a historical period like the Roman Empire or the Warring States period in Japan but there have also been 2 games based on the fictional Warhammer universe. Total War: Three Kingdoms is unique in that it is much more of a blend of the historical and the fictional owing to the unique nature of our understanding of the Three Kingdoms period of Chinese History. Unlike most historical periods, the Three Kingdoms period is best remembered because of a novel, The Romance of the Three Kingdoms, which was written in the 14th Century and takes the information in the historical records, adding an artistic flourish to events. Creative Assembly’s challenge then, when they decided to tackle this historical era, was to find a way to reflect this in the game without losing the nature of a Total War title.

Guan Yu charging into Battle

The way they’ve done this is to split the campaign into 2 modes. The first mode is the records mode which will feel very familiar to anyone who’s played a Total War game in the past. The 2nd mode (the one I have been playing) is Romance which plays up the characters just as the novel does. They are no longer merely commanders with a bodyguard unit, they are epic warriors who can storm entire units single handedly or are master tacticians who control the battlefield with their brilliance and knowledge of the art of war. My main experience of Total War games comes from the 2 main titles set in Rome released in 2004 & 2013 respectively. There are major differences but my approach to playing them is basically the same; I focus on different things to suit the systems in the game – for example, in Total War: Rome 2, food production plays a major role in your campaign but that is not a concern in Rome: Total War – however, the difference in approach needed for Three Kingdoms is much more fundamental. The shift in the game design to reflect the importance of the characters themselves changes everything. I actually welcome this change as it means that even the familiar elements of the game have a fresh feel to them that they would not have had otherwise.

As I write this article I’ve played for around 10 hours  which encompasses 2 campaign plays of the faction lead by Cao Cao. The first campaign was short, I like to start off with a quick run through for a few turns and a couple of battles just to get myself familiar with the basics of the new systems and the menus. My second campaign however, is where things get interesting. I started off with a swift and merciless strike on my nearest neighbours, claiming complete control of my starting commandery – which is a group of settlements similar to how provinces worked in Rome 2. With my position secured I built up my forces and turned my starting army into a force to be reckoned with. I was deliberating over which direction to march next when the decision was made for me.  Through an event a War broke out between myself and a faction to the east; Tao Qian. This was the opportunity that I was waiting for, but the territory of another faction lay between us. Through diplomacy in earlier turns, we were friendly and so military access for my armies was obtained swiftly paving the way for me to march on my enemy unhindered.

Our armies met in the field a few turns later. When it became clear that my force was substantially more powerful than that of my enemies, a game of cat and mouse began. The opposing army, led by Tao Qian himself, managed to remain just out of my reach. With each turn that passed I chased them around the territory of the faction I was friendly with. I started to get frustrated; I knew I’d wipe the floor with that army if I could only get close enough to launch an attack. I realised after another turn or so that my army now lay between Tao Qian and the territory he was supposed to be ruling over; so, I hatched a plan. Every faction has a unique resource that they can use. Cao Cao’s resource is “Credibility” which I can spend to manipulate other factions relations with one another or with myself. I can influence it positively or negatively but crucially, with a large enough amount of points, I can convince two factions to go to war with one another. The faction to the north of Tao Qian was ripe for being used in such a ploy, they weren’t all that keen on me so an alliance was out of the question but they weren’t fond of my enemy either. By instigating a war between them I knew that the army I had been chasing would head back towards its own lands which were now threatened by a new enemy and needed to be defended or all would be lost. To do so, they would have to get passed me; A tall order. My plan worked and I had soon made short work of Tao Qian. Conquering his territory proved easy after that and I’d claimed my second commandery.

Guan Yu duelling with an opposing character mid-battle

Over the many turns that followed I didn’t make much ground, my position was solid but I was unable to capture much else with my current strength so I focused on the diplomacy, I worked on creating friends that would sign non-aggression pacts with me. This would give me some security to move my army away and attack another faction elsewhere. Several skirmishes took place between myself and my neighbours. Although I managed to win several battles and took out several armies, the casualties I sustained, and the waiting to replenish my forces that resulted in, left me unable to hold anything for long. I would always need to retreat back to better defensive positions on the map as fresh armies headed to attack me. This back and forth took its toll on my faction and as my economy started to wobble a powerful foe made their move. Declaring war on me and taking a vital area of farmland I’d naively left with only its own garrison for protection. I reacted as quickly as I could but it took several turns before my army reached the area.By then my once mighty force was substantially weakened by attrition from the loss of vital food supplies and a now debilitating lack of money in my treasury. If i won the next battle I believed I could still turn things around but I did not win the next battle. My prized army with the most battle experience and my top generals in command fought bravely but it was to be in vain.

Cao Cao, Xiahou Dun & Xiahou Yuan survived the battle much to my surprise, Xiahou Dun was even released after being captured rather than getting executed as I expected. I’m sure all three of them will be raring to go again to avenge their defeat once they have recovered from their injuries; but I know when I’m beaten. I failed to unite China and return the empire to peace and prosperity.

Next time however…



Adam is a Writer, Editor & Podcaster here at Out of Lives. He casts a wide net across popular culture with video games & anime, in particular, featuring heavily in his work for the site. Hailing from a town just outside Glasgow, this Scotsman can usually be found roaming the Northern Realms on The Path or behind the wheel of a Supersonic Acrobatic Rocket Powered Battle-Car.
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