Take charge and unify the people — Total War: Three Kingdoms preview

The Total War series has provided hours upon hours of intense, strategic gaming over the years. These games have covered a variety of characters and settings, including Attila, Rome, and Napoleon, among others. Creative Assembly is moving the next game in the series to China with Total War: Three Kingdoms, and I was given the opportunity to fly out to get some hands-on with the game.

Total War: Three Kingdoms focuses on the Three Kingdoms era of Chinese history, taking inspiration from the Romance of the Three Kingdoms book, along with the historical records from that time period. The game will feature two main campaign modes: romance mode and classic mode. The romance mode involves the romanticized versions of famous characters, along with special abilities and superhuman strength. The classic mode is the more true to form, realistic version of the events. I was able to play part of the romance build that will be available at Gamescom.

The battle that was available for us was the Ambush of Sun Ren: a moonlit ambush battle. This battle featured authentic geography that was moon-washed, and even featured floating lanterns as the ambush began. Floating lanterns were typically used at nighttime as the go signal, announcing to the troops that it was time to strike. Even though the landscape was dark, there was still plenty of visibility to make your moves.

There are two possible ways to successfully complete an ambush battle: you either wipe out all enemy reinforcements or you escape by having your generals reach the designated extraction point. This is what they labeled their “fight or flight” aspect of the game. The ideal end is to defeat every foe, but if worse comes to worse, you can attempt to retreat. Throughout my several playthroughs of this battle, I had some successful battles, one successful retreat, and unfortunately a couple defeats. How you manage your troops and generals can be the difference between a victory and a loss.

This specific battle gave me control of Sun Ren, otherwise known as Lady Sun, and Sun Quan. Each of these two generals had their own soldiers they’ve recruited, which included spearmen, swordsmen, archers, and cavalrymen. Each type of soldier has advantages and disadvantages in battle; for example, archers are great for long range, but if they get too close, they can be cut down. This means that you’ll need to position your troops carefully, and flanking your enemies will help you secure a victory. If you manage to surround the enemy, you can not only reduce their numbers, but you may terrify them, and cause them to retreat. If they retreat, you can try to hunt them down; what I tended to do was quickly turn my troops there towards another group of foes in order to help out another squadron. The quicker and more efficiently you eliminate the starting enemies, the less you’ll have to worry about when reinforcements arrive. Having some free time to reposition your army and set up your defenses is invaluable.

Lady Ren and Sun Quan both have their own special skills to use in battle, and they are incredibly useful. Most skills have cooldowns before they can be used again, but some have no cooldown with limited uses per battle. Sun Quan is the commander class, which means he focuses on supporting his troops and buffing them in combat. He has Stone Bulwark, which increases the missile block chance and boosts morale. He also has Unyielding Earth, which increases charge resistance, melee block chance, and boosts morale. Lady Ren on the other hand, is the vanguard class, so she’s best used as a frontline fighter. Her special skills are Heart Seeker and Flames of the Phoenix. Heart Seeker is a fire arrow shot at whatever target the player chooses and can only be used three times. No cooldowns or charging up needed in order to activate it. Flames of the Phoenix is an area of effect attack where Lady Ren slams the ground, damaging all surrounding enemies. She is an incredibly strong warrior, so you’ll want her taking out troops whenever you can.

For anyone new to the Total War series like myself, it doesn’t take long to pick up the controls and strategies for playing. That doesn’t necessarily mean the game is easy; in fact, you need to think and move carefully no matter what. I played on normal difficulty, and the biggest difference between my victories and losses was what kind of strategy I used. Other than that, once you get in a rhythm, Total War: Three Kingdoms is a challenging yet fun experience. I didn’t experience any gameplay or graphical issues, which was a great sign considering how far out the release date is. If the full release is anything like what I played here, then it’s going to be an amazing game that longtime fans and newcomers alike will sink their time into.

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