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‘Total War: Three Kingdoms’ Mixes Romance and History in Ancient China

The “Total War” series has branched out in quite a few ways over time, there is way more to experience outside the straight forward large-scale tactical gameplay featured in mainline games. “Warhammer”, “Thrones of Britannia”, and “Arena” titles have emphasized fantasy, specific historical flashpoints, and competitive play respectively.

It’s been more than five years since “Total War: Rome 2”, the last mainline game in the franchise, and now Creative Assembly is trying something new with “Total War: Three Kingdoms.” In an effort to spice things up, developers are combining the series commitment to historical accuracy with the narrative flourish of the 14th-century novel “Romance of the Three Kingdoms.” “We’re still treating this like a Total War game, we used historical records to build a base, get facts and a layout of the events that happened,” Creative Assembly Senior Designer Leif Walter told Variety. “The Romance novel let us flesh out the personal side with in-depth knowledge of the characters accomplishments and relationships.”

Total War: Three Kingdoms” is another real-time strategy title from UK-based developer Creative Assembly that focuses on the turbulent Three Kingdoms era in China, which includes the struggle for power between the end of the Han Dynasty and the beginning of Jin Dynasty in the year 265.

Previous mainline “Total War” games have focused completely on historical texts and experts from the eras and cultures they are trying to represent. While “Three Kingdoms” still shares that approach, they’ve added embellishment from the novel as well as new mechanics that set it apart from previous games in the series. They’ve created two modes for the main campaign, a ‘Classic’ one that keeps traditional gameplay similar to what longtime players would expect and a ‘Romance’ mode that takes the embellishment from the novel and applies that to the games generals and narrative, giving characters supernatural abilities on the battlefield.

Unlike previous games, when playing in the ‘Romance’ mode, generals will have legendary abilities, items, and mounts that are far more powerful than regular units. The commander Lü Bu, for example, can fight off hundreds of soldiers all on his own while his rival Cao Cao, a strategist, can order his men to take formations that they wouldn’t be able to otherwise. All these specialties are stripped in the “Classic” mode where generals are treated as normal units, which usually means they are far from the action surrounded by guards.

“The main exaggeration from the novel were how legendary these characters were on the battlefield and in the war room. We wanted to include that while giving players an option to play traditional Total War,” said Creative Assembly Art Director Pawel Wojs. “When you start out you can choose to follow the romantic thread from the novels, ignore it and make your own story, or you can play the classic mode and have historically accurate, established narrative.”

The final game, arriving Spring 2019, gives you the option to choose campaigns from 11 iconic warlords from history, complete with items that these famous figures actually had like Lü Bu’s legendary mount Red Hare. Once a general is defeated, their items can be picked up and equipped by your general. It’ll give them the same legendary abilities and will be kept from mission to mission.

“Total War: Three Kingdoms” digs into other elements from the Han Dynasty era of China as well, city layouts have been reproduced to reflect the distinct layout of the time period and the UI features beautiful Chinese style brushstrokes in most dropdown lists, button prompts, and menus. The development team has gone to great lengths to provide a culturally sound experience while keeping the charm of the series intact. “The most important thing is that this is a “Total War” game at its core, a historically authentic “Total War” game,” Wojs added. “We’ve got the romance narrative on top, but still have the classic option for any hardcore fan that wants that real simulation that we’re known for.”

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