Total War: Three Kingdoms - Eight Princes Review07 Aug 2019 0
Total War: Three Kingdoms - Eight Princes Review
Released 08 Aug 2019
Just as you thought you had enough Three Kingdoms to last for a while, Creative Assembly pulls a Crazy Ivan. Eight Princes - Total War: Three Kingdoms’ first and latest DLC - brings a whole new campaign barely two months after the release of the critically acclaimed main game.
Taking place 100 years after the events of 3K, Eight Princes sees the beginning of the collapse of the Jin dinasty. It’s 291 CE, long after the likes of Liu Bei and Cao Cao have perished in battle or from old age, and the empire usurped by Sima Yi is now falling to pieces. After a series of machinations, setbacks, and backstabbing from the part of the Empresses in charge of the Empire, a civil war erupts between eight princes for the regency and straight up control of China.
If it looks like history repeats itself, that’s because it does. While Eight Princes may contain eight new playable factions and several new characters, it takes place in the same map as Three Kingdoms’ base campaign. Luoyang is still the country’s capital even after being set ablaze by Dong Zhuo 100 years prior; farms, piers, and trade ports remain in the same spots; and the angry remnants of the Han empire are replaced by the angry remnants of the Jim empire - for all its new trappings, Eight Princes is still very much the same game.
However, it isn’t all old news. The time jump brought a few upgrades, with better armoured units now ubiquitous and crossbows a bit more common, while things like cataphracts make a proper appearance in the battlefield (but Defenders of Earth, Protectors of Heaven, and Azure Dragons, among others, are still your only choice of end game units). At the same time, Eight Princes brings a whole new mechanic in the shape of virtue alignments: Mind, Spirit, Might, and Wealth – attributes that are shaped by your decisions, and go on to shape your decisions in return. Each of them is increased by relevant actions like mightily winning a big battle or choosing to spare a captured general, and as you gather points on each category, they increase research rate, raise diplomatic bonuses, extend campaign range, or benefit income from all sources.
These new attributes tie into the narrative background of Eight Princes, where the Empress or Emperor you’re loyal to request things and certain course of actions that may emphasise one attribute over another. Your choices during these quests and dilemmas determine the virtues you align yourself with, and your decision to heed or not support the Imperial throne results in you rising to the rank of Regent… or becoming the Emperor yourself.
That struggle is a key part of Eight Princes, which now features a much more interesting progression system than 3K’s Mandate of Heaven. As you gather prestige and advance from Minor Prince, through Prince, Imperial Prince, and Victorious Prince, you not only get the standard increase in administrators, armies, and court positions of the main game, but also extra unique benefits and authority over the game world. Taking Luoyang as a Prince triggers the Emperor into fleeing to another faction due to fearing a coup, while rising through the ranks before doing so assures him you can be trusted and brings him to your faction once the capital is taken. Similarly, Imperial Princes are invested with the authority to annex vassal Jin Empire territories and have a chance of being offered the regency every turn, resulting in an even more volatile scenario than Three Kingdoms’ ever-changing status quo.
With all that focus on the eponymous princes, the expansion runs with 3K’s faction structure and gives each of the new protagonists unique buildings, units, and playstyles. Shamefully, only about half of the new characters feature brand new mechanics, like Sima Wei’s Fury bar that raises after combat and dwindles between battles, Sima Jiong’s use of captains instead of heroes to lead retinues, and Sima Liong’s focus on cooperation and vassals through his Jurisdiction mechanic. Instead, all of the Eight Princes have a heavy focus on unique assignments – 3K’s most boring administration tool – and generally adhere to much more distinct, specific strategies than factions in the base game, with things like “expansion”, “diplomacy”, or “economy” clearly spelled out in their descriptions.
There are a few other minor changes, like the removal of public order in favour of noble support, which is functionally identical aside from the fact population growth doesn’t affect you negatively – a brilliant decision, given pop growth penalties made sense, but were terribly implemented in the main game. They also revamped the reforms tree, getting rid of the wonderful tree visuals (but not it’s blossoming sound) and turning it into a boring, static grid where upgrades are unlocked by your faction rank and take an x amount of turns to research, as opposed to 3K’s “one reform every 5 turns” system. The quantity of reform options has also been slashed, with about half the number of research options available before you complete the tree.
All in all, Eight Princes is a surprisingly sizeable expansion, especially given CA’s penchant for releasing faction packs this close to release. It packs enough changes and new mechanics and feels novel enough for another playthrough, while keeping mechanics and the basics as feasibly close to the original as possible. If you can’t get enough of Three Kingdoms and just wants a bit more of almost the same, Eight Princes is the right expansion for you.