Total War is a series that I have been playing for years, since Rome: Total War to be exact. Now, this is not to say that I am particularly good at the franchise or an expert, quite the opposite. I enjoy the installments and have been amazed at the level of consistent quality in each new title, but I have never mastered the combat beyond a novice level. So when I had a chance to sit down at a pre-E3 event in LA and play the latest installment, Total War: THREE KINGDOMS, I approached the task with a level of trepidation.
I was excited to experience the timeframe of China circa 199 CE, and the level of improvement on display from the presentation was staggering. New elements include Legendary Heroes, complex formations, siege engines, and a Chinese inspired art style that is quite frankly stunning.
Sitting down to play the scenario I got to take control of the legendary general Cao Cao as he laid siege to the city of Xiapi. Utilizing a plethora of soldiers, cavalry, siege engines, and a selection of commanders it looked to be an exciting battle, and once I got things underway, I could see how daunting a task this would be.
Now let's make something clear, for someone who knows how to use the tools the Total War series offers to their fullest, this mission would not be that problematic. But for someone like me, who has never mastered any one game in the series, it was a challenge—a fun challenge, but that is why players flock to the series after all.
Jumping back to the battle, my commanders and their troops were rushing through a hole in the wall caused by my siege engines. It is at this time I got to experience the new duel mechanic, where one of my commanders challenged one of the enemy’s. This mechanic sets the stage in an almost fighting game style arena, where the two heroes brutally battle until only one is left standing (or one flees in terror). This aspect adds a new level of complexity to the toolbox of war you have at your disposal. While it can be a high reward if you take on one of their commanders and win, it is a big risk, since once you lose, all troops under that commander suffer a major loss in morale.
For point of reference, I did lose this first duel, a full group of soldiers lost morale, and things started to look very bad for my ill-planned takeover of Xiapi city. Who would have thought a reckless full frontal assault on an ancient general would fail? With so little planned, how could I lose? I had another 30 minutes of playtime, and by Jove, I was determined to win the battle or get kicked off the PC trying.
So my next attempt at taking down the dreaded Lü Bu involved commanding my many regiments of archers to rain down dread on the enemy—and it actually worked. After around two minutes of the arrows and my generals slashing through what troops remained, it was time to make my way to Lü Bu.
Before I go any further I wanted to touch on the striking interface and overall visual flair in Total War: THREE KINGDOMS. All the little touches make the interface akin to a painting from the era. Each icon feels as if they were painted on with a Chinese brush-stroke style. I have always loved how the Total War series looks, but somehow Creative Assembly has outdone themselves with this title. Even the character models, landscapes, and city design manage this level of care and detail. It is truly one of the nicest games in the series, and that is saying something.
Jumping back in the epic battle between Cao Cao and Lü Bu, I had managed to corner my enemy, finally locking my opponent into a duel. Using all the tools at my disposal for the battle and all the special abilities on my toolbar, I managed to emerge victoriously! Half my tools lay in ruins and the city was on fire, but at least I walked away with a win.
Even if it was only dumb luck that lead to a win, I still was happy to receive it. There is something very satisfying about being able to pick up a game and actually snatch a victory from the jaws of defeat on the first try. It also made me more excited than ever for Total War: THREE KINGDOMS. Creative Assembly has taken their knowledge and skill and tackled the Three Kingdoms period of China to fantastic results. What could have been just another installment in the series instead stands out as proof to what the team is capable of. While I don’t know if it will convert anyone to the Total War formula, it will keep fans of the series very happy.
Total War as a series continues to push the limits of strategy combat, and the Han Dynasty makes for a great theatre of war to demonstrate those strategic chops. There is still plenty for Creative Assembly to show off from the title, but what they have shown so far has me excited. Slated for a fall 2018 release, Total War: THREE KINGDOMS is a game any fan of the series, or any fan of strategy games, in general, should have on their radar. Now, I just need to find a way to hone my skills as I wait for that release—Lü Bu will be waiting!
Liked this article and want to read more like it? Check out more of Brendan Frye’s work such as his interview with EA Motive about Star Wars: Battlefront II, and his in-depth look at the Equifax Hack!
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