Walking the streets of San Francisco on a foggy morning, a selection of journalists and I make our way to the event space where Sega and Creative Assembly were set up. This will make the third time I have had hands-on time with the newest in the Total War franchise, Total War: Three Kingdoms, and this time we finally had a chance to see how the single-player campaign will play out.
After a short discussion with the team, we got
some hands-on time with the latest preview build, and while it was limited, allowing
only 30 turns worth of play-time, it provided a very good concept of what is to
be expected with the final version. While there were a few minor bugs and
things were not quite as polished as players can expect with the finished product,
what was on display further cements that this is a Total War game to get
Jumping into the campaign, we got to play as
the enigmatic Liu Bei, and thanks to the humble origins of this leader, we
started with no base or town. We had to build and unify the empire from
nothing. But thanks to Liu Bei’s personality, he does start with a few tricks
up his sleeve. Firstly, militia units require no upkeep cost. Yes, you will
still have to pay out to purchase the units, but once you have your army, it
will be much cheaper to maintain.
Second, and most fun, is the ability to take
over towns and settlements using influence. Again, there are limits on this
power, and influence is a resource like any other, but if you are someone that
wants to spread your empire while spilling as little blood as possible, this is
one way to do it, and I had a lot of fun using this mechanic during my series
The team at Creative Assembly have taken a slightly
different approach with Total War: Three Kingdoms. Yes, there is still the
option to go all in with brutal historical detail, and while the hero units
have leadership and some special stats, they are still small pieces in a
New for this game is Romance Mode, where the
book, Romance of the Three Kingdoms, is taken more literally. Generals
and major players are larger than life figures on the battlefield, and each one
of them can take on armies and come out victorious. While not exactly
“realistic”, it is this mode I had the chance to play while at this session,
and it’s a new way to look at a historical Total War game that was a
blast to experience.
These heroes not only make up some of the most
exciting segments of the battlefield, including duels, but are also how you
allocate heirs, set up kingdoms, and sort out alliances. It makes for a
slightly different Total War experience, but once you dive in and see
how it all plays out, each new move leads to unpredictable outcomes.
Granted, 30 turns is not enough to really sink
your teeth into a Total War title; it barely scrapes the surface on what
is possible with the game, but what was on offer felt solid, well designed, and
strikingly beautiful. Creative Assembly is known for their graphics and the
ability to push strategy games forward both in terms of gameplay and in
visuals, and Total War: Three Kingdoms is no exception.
From the overworld map to the fields of
battle, it is evident in every aspect, from the UI to the gameplay, how much
work and care went into building the experience of Total War: Three Kingdoms.
Jumping into a fight with a faction will test your mettle, especially when
dealing with siege warfare, and often the battles in which you find yourself can
cost you dearly to achieve a victory. But throughout, the little details are
always present and make the playthrough come to life.
If you have a PC that can run Total War:
Three Kingdoms at the best possible settings, it is a real spectacle to
witness and experience, from the day-night cycle to the way battles unfold and
However, even the most visually stunning game
is nothing if the gameplay does not hold up. Thankfully, Creative Assembly has
taken time to make each section of the game feel rewarding, from the minute to
minute feeling on the battlefield to each turn of the open world, it is an engaging
and nail biting experience throughout.
Seeing the power and intricacy of diplomacy
first hand really gives Total War: Three Kingdoms a more cerebral feel when
compared to past titles. There are countless outcomes, with each alliance
pushing you and your faction one step closer to victory. Each choice and trade
needs to be considered against the larger goals, and force you to really
consider what you would be willing to give up to win.
It also throws a bit of unpredictability into
the mix, as factions build up units and resources, the trades they are willing
to make and accept are in a constant state of flux. Will you deny an alliance
request due to the cost, only to need them as you find yourself surrounded?
Playing the same 30 turns around four times, I found myself facing countless
difficult choices, all with advantages and disadvantages. It is staggering to
think how diplomacy changes over a full game of Total War: Three Kingdoms.
I have not even touched on spies, the
selection of commanders and heirs, or the other various complex systems at play
as you struggle to take over China. Total War: Three Kingdoms is a dense
yet interesting experience, and one that I only scratched the surface of during
Creative Assembly has a track record of
crafting elaborate strategic worlds from some of the most exciting and
tumultuous periods of history, and with this release they are once again
pushing what is possible. There is a lot to like about Total War: Three
Kingdoms, and from what I have seen it has only made me more excited of
what is still to come.
With the state of the demo, I feel hesitant to
recommend Total War: Three Kingdoms flat out. This is clearly an early
build, and there is still a bit to go before it is ready for players to jump in
and experience as a total product, but what is on offer so far has that spark
that makes me excited for release day.