Total War: Three Kingdoms is the ultimate homage to one of Asia's most influential books

By Dan Thompson 29 Jun 2018 0

Liu Bei, Cao Cao, and Yuan Shao. If you’re familiar with the ancient Chinese literary epic, The Romance of the Three Kingdoms, these names should be more than familiar to you. The 14th-century novel has been the basis for a variety of different video games. With titles in the Dynasty Warriors and aptly named Romance of the Three Kingdoms (of which there are 13 entries) series depicting the fading away of the Han dynasty (a deemed golden age of China) in a variety of ways. As someone quite familiar with the novel and its incarnations, I was very excited to get my hands on Creative Assembly’s latest work as it was yet another interpretation of this era.

You see, The Romance of the Three Kingdoms is one of the most influential pieces of literature in Asia. It’s a multivolume journey that isn’t for the casual reader. However, the characterization is what has set it apart and made it the timeless classic it is today even among its daunting barrier of entry. The stories within these volumes were meant to be retold for generations (and have), and due to a great deal of the novels being wrought by complex war strategy conjecture, fits perfectly for the Total War series.

In the demo of Total War: Three Kingdoms I got to play at E3 2018, I noticed immediately that the developers at Creative Assembly not only respected the work but cherished it completely. I was to play the Siege of Xiapi, a pivotal and suspenseful battle in which Liu Bei and Cao Cao fought against Lu Bu for months in order to gain control of Xiapi. Ultimately, Liu Bei and Cao Cao were victorious but only due to flooding Xiapi as a last-ditch effort. I didn’t assume that it would be that easy for myself.

I was able to play as the historically winning side of this battle. As Cao Cao, I considered my options for attack, and began to destroy the defenses of Xiapi in Total War fashion. Since I was explained that as a commander, Cao Cao could buff the soldiers that were around him, I kept this to my advantage. I made sure to bundle Cao Cao with soldiers and use them as my primary attacking force. After just a few minutes, and these few decisions, the world I had been used to reading about in novels had become flesh and blood. I felt as if I wasn’t just going through the motions of history but rather controlling the way that the story would’ve gone should I had been the fierce strategist in control.

While I went through the ropes of attacking and sieging that’s found in a typical Total War game, I was also introduced to the dueling mechanic that’s new to Total War: Three Kingdoms. If I haven’t explained enough, the interpersonal relationships between characters in the stories told of this era are what set it apart as so thought-provoking. For example, I got to duel against Lu Bu as Xiahou Dun, a man whose eye was shot out by Lu Bu. The crazy thing is that after being shot in the eye, Dun ripped the arrow out with his eye attached and ate his eye from it, swearing vengeance on Lu Bu. I can’t iterate enough, Romance of the Three Kingdoms is some of the best storytelling to ever come out of Asia, and Total War: Three Kingdoms is utilizing every ounce it can to make an effective title.

On the ground

Swelling with vengeance, I challenged Lu Bu to a duel and went up against him one on one. My soldiers were not able to come to my aid should I need help, it was a personal fight that really elevated the war which was still going on around me. The best part is that these aren’t canned or scripted events, these instances could be engaged on any one combatant. The motion capture and choreography of the fighting seemed straight out of a Chinese action film, it was very exciting to see the two face off in what ultimately ended with a victory for Xiahou before the demo session ended.

There’s so much love and attention to detail with the stories that really elevated the overall experience of Total War: Three Kingdoms for myself. The philosophies of storytelling were seemingly adapted from the Romance of the Three Kingdoms in a very effective way, relying on the relationships and personal strife that allowed that era of history to have so much heart. These characters are timeless, each with their own backstories that can now be introduced to a new audience. Perhaps, it’ll be one of the best ways to experience the long-standing classic without having to leaf through over 2,000 pages.

Total War: Three Kingdoms is due out Spring 2019.

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