Total War: Three Kingdoms (PC) Review

By Chris Leebody 23.05.2019

Review for Total War: Three Kingdoms on PC

In gaming, Luo Guanzhong's famous Romance of the Three Kingdoms novel has inspired something of a cult following in the West. For many, it was made famous by Koei's long-running Dynasty Warriors. Meanwhile, among the many fans of The Creative Assembly's Total War series, it's fair to say that fan requests for a title based on the great Chinese civil war have always been some of the most vocal. Finally, it has come to fruition with a fully realized new iteration in the shape of Total War: Three Kingdoms. Interestingly this was initially scheduled for March, but was delayed for a further two months in order to add in some extra polish; this was after some preview footage brought about criticism from fans. Alongside some bug fixing and AI tweaks, Creative Assembly has also sought to address previous concerns of fans regarding unit sizes, adding the option to increase them. With the last few mainline Total War entries receiving something of a mixed reception, Creative Assembly has a big task in ensuring Three Kingdoms meets the significant expectations.

It's 190 BC, China. The evil tyrant Dong Zhou has just burned down the great city of Luo Yang, and seized the Emperor under his control, as warlords from around the land strive to topple the corrupt regime and become the ultimate ruler of the land. It is this context that Total War: Three Kingdoms kicks off the franchise renowned campaign, and it could not be a more suitable setting from which to embark upon such an epic struggle. There are 12 launch factions to choose from, including the famous Cao Cao, the virtuous Liu Bei, or even some of the more sideways figures in the novel, such as the pretender to the imperial throne, Yuan Shu. The developer has also promised a road-map of additional factions and unique stories and generals to further explore the Three Kingdoms time period, which will be announced as DLC - anyone who has pre-ordered this will already unlock the Yellow Turbans as a playable faction on launch.

In previous Total War installments, the generals assigned to armies were mere generic figureheads, and it is this facet of this tale that kicks off just why this entry could go down as one of the best of Creative Assembly's output. The headline feature is that in 'romance mode' (there is also a historical mode), the generals in armies are some of the greatest warriors in history such as Zhang Fei, Xiahou Dun, or even the mighty Lu Bu - and all of these can be under the command of a general. The attention to detail in the way so many of them have been uniquely designed is very impressive. They make a fundamental difference to the way the battles play out. Veterans of the series are used to time honoured tactics and battles with thousands of soldiers clashing, cavalry charging, and arrows soaring. This time around, usage and deployment of warriors who are worth thousands of men alone adds a number of strategic layers.

Screenshot for Total War: Three Kingdoms on PC

More than once in a campaign as the great Sun Jian, even when the tide of battle was strongly against, his might in the thick of combat managed several heroic, 'against-the-odds' victories that changed the tides of war. An added facet is that generals can take on single-handed duels with each other and again, a well-made decision to fight can be the difference between inspiring an army to success and losing a key asset in the ranks. Special credit to the animation team for these - it is far too tempting to set down the micromanaging on some occasions and simply watch some of the breath-taking fight scenes that are straight out of a Chinese war movie. It ties in well with a title that is graphically the best the series has ever looked.

The anti-aliasing, among other things, has been markedly improved this time around and the amount of dynamic battle maps with thousands upon thousands of soldiers clashing, or vast cities under siege, never fails to be impressive. This is best experienced by playing with the highest unit sizes that really show off the gorgeous visuals which naturally is going to require a beefier system. However, the really pleasing thing is how well the game runs, and those who do have more modest PCs will still find a great experience to enjoy. Previous launches have never been this smooth with, for example, only one crash experienced in the space of a 50-hour campaign, and no visual bugs that the series has been plagued with at times.

Going back to the campaign, it was well known by fans that Creative Assembly was making a real push to make the game play loop of the campaign much more dynamic than in previous titles. Indeed, there have been regular video features posted by the studio throughout development in explaining the many improvements and complexities added. Total War as a series has always striven for a fine line in terms of being an approachable task for less skilled players as opposed to the deep, statistic heavy marathons of a Paradox strategy game.

Screenshot for Total War: Three Kingdoms on PC

There have been a lot of improvements that have almost eliminated the previous error in games like Rome 2, where campaigns simply devolved into a mopping up exercise. Part of the way they have accomplished this is by paying a lot more attention to diplomacy and ensuring that the AI behaves in a more appropriate manner. It doesn't always get it right; there are still times when the AI makes a strategically bad decision. However, the days of what seems like a bipolar chimp declaring war on a much bigger enemy and then suing for peace in the next turn are over.

The map is vast and leaves plenty of room to play in. Each region is made up of a town or city, and then some outlying specialisation posts that give additional resources like silk, lumber, spice, or iron. All the resource management is balanced, ensuring citizens are happy. This takes the most work with rebellion management being a regular occurrence. Thankfully they don't prove to be an immense irritant and simply add to the flavour of proceedings. There are significantly more diplomatic tools to use, as well as in-game reasons for actions to be accepted or rejected - there is a cool sense of the historical context that creeps into why some factions naturally like or hate each other. History also plays a part in making up each faction's unique missions and events.

With that said, it will be clear that some fans of the time period will be a little shocked when campaigns quickly derail from history. It was very rare in playing through a few times that the AI managed to re-enact successfully the real-life Wei/Wu/Shu domination. That is part of the beauty of these games - their sandbox nature allows history to be completely rewritten. For those who are dedicated to following some of the time-periods key battles, there are a selection of historical battles, allowing aspiring generals to test their mettle in some challenging fights that Dynasty Warriors fans will enjoy.

Screenshot for Total War: Three Kingdoms on PC

Where the AI is slightly let down (and this has been a long-time issue within the series) is in siege battles, specifically in the larger cities. Certainly, in the small villages there has been a significant improvement in enemy tactics when attacking. However, more work could be done in terms of pathfinding, particularly as this seemed to confuse the AI in their movements - a small blot on an otherwise vastly improved aspect.

Special mention must go to the sound. Firstly, the music is authentically classical Chinese, and does a superb job of setting the scene. The tunes crescendo when the action starts to heat up, and in the thick of epic battle, and proceeds to cool to a calm and tranquil aura when navigating the beautifully detailed campaign map. A lot of the unique generals have their own specific voices as well, which really adds to their personality and this is important in building a reason to care - losing a great general comes with that same feeling as losing a highly-levelled soldier in XCOM - which is ultimately the hardest task in getting any audience to engage in a strategy title.

Screenshot for Total War: Three Kingdoms on PC

Cubed3 Rating

Rated 9 out of 10

Exceptional - Gold Award

Rated 9 out of 10

The length of development and the decision to opt for the two-month delay have been vindicated with the release of what is one of the most polished and detail packed Total War entries in the entire series. The number of generals and play styles of each of the factions ensures that there is enough content here to fill at least a several hundred hours of addictive gameplay. As always, the battles are exciting, and the scope and scale never fails to impress, with the addition of the heroes adding a new dimension to tactics and strategies. This is the game that Romance of the Three Kingdoms fans have been waiting for.


Creative Assembly




Real Time RPG



C3 Score

Rated $score out of 10  9/10

Reader Score

Rated $score out of 10  0 (0 Votes)

European release date Out now   North America release date Out now   Japan release date Out now   Australian release date Out now   


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