Total War: Three Kingdoms - Mandate of Heaven Review14 Jan 2020 0
Total War: Three Kingdoms - Mandate of Heaven Review
Released 16 Jan 2020
Heaven is to be rent asunder, earth shall fall away. This poem was written by former Han Emperor Liu Bian’s wife when they were both poisoned by Dong Zhuo. It comes from Total War: Three Kingdom’s base campaign, yet it perfectly fits the new Mandate of Heaven DLC. This latest expansion, covering the collapse of the Han Empire at the hands of the fledgling Yellow Turban Rebellion, brings new units, characters, and a whole prologue campaign; yet is still embedded in the same chain of earth-shattering socio-political changes that weave the rich tapestry of the main game.
Starting in 182 AD right at the start of the Yellow Turban Rebellion, Mandate of Heaven adds six new playable warlords and 40 new units, further expanding the game’s focus on legendary heroes while fixing one of its main flaws. From the three Zhang brothers behind the uprising to the Emperor Liu himself, the new campaign allows you to pick a side on the conflict and fight for it, similar to Shogun 2’s Imperial vs Shogunate setting.
As is now standard, each character has a unique play-style with their own mechanics, adding an always welcome degree of choice and novelty to the game. Each of the Han supporters has a different collection mechanic, such as Lu Zhi’s Great Library collection of books or Liu Chong’s battle trophies, which grant them a series of bonuses when acquired. Meanwhile, the rebel leaders all share a Fervour meter gained through battle that both buffs and debuffs their factions. High fervour leading to increased income and replenishment and low fervour causing severe problems due to lower income, population growth, and major amounts of unrest. Fervour lowers with time and is gained differently depending on the character (attacking, defending, or reunification, for example) and must be kept high on its momentum to ensure the Yellow Turban Rebellion has a chance to succeed.
However, the Emperor himself is the most unique of the bunch. Choosing Liu allows you to start the game as the sovereign, but it requires you to constantly deal with court problems and an empire that’s way too big to sustain or defend itself. Aside from the help of his wife (which like him, cannot be deployed in the campaign or battle maps), the Emperor must manipulate the balance of China’s three greatest factions: the eunuch Bureaucrats trying to steal power for themselves, the Warlords interested in local authority answerable only to the Emperor, and the Dynasts who’d rather the Imperial Family control everything.
To do that, you get access to the powerful Imperial units and a new political influence resource, the latter of which is gained over time via administrative buildings. This political influence can be used to remove corrupt ministers from court in an effort to fix the establishment or straight up annex other Imperial factions, making it a major part of the experience when starting the game as the sitting Emperor.
The most interesting part of the DLC, however, is that it allows you to play through its campaign straight into the main game. Mandate of Heaven acts as a seamless prologue, allowing you to carry over your characters and choices into the Romance of the Three Kingdoms. The DLC even features the origin stories of Cao Cao and Liu Bei, letting you play as them before they became the major figures of later eras.
Last but not least, the new battlefield units. While some like the ballistas are available to all, most are elite units specific to characters or sides. The Han boast Imperial Conscripts -- including ranged, melee, and cavalry -- which are heavily armored and get a boost while fighting alongside other Imperial units, while the rebels make do with a bit more role-specific troops like the light cavalry (yet fear-causing) Messengers of Heaven and poison-arrowed Yaoguai Hunters. Thrown in the mix are special units like the Chen Royal Guard -- a crossbow corp that can switch to shield and spears in melee -- or the Tyrant Slayers shock cavalry which gets a bonus when fighting heroes, and the end result is a much larger and granular roster than what the base game shipped with.
For all of those additions and changes, it’s worth noting that Mandate of Heaven is very much more of the same. Like with every single Total War, the biggest USP of the DLC is your own interest in it, and this expansion is literally a prologue to Three Kingdoms -- aka a bunch of people fighting each other as the world around them goes to crap. If you enjoyed the base game’s mix of combat, strategy, and diplomacy like I did, you will definitely enjoy the new twists of Mandate of Heaven’s characters and mechanics. But if not this DLC is unlikely to change your mind.
For my money, I am very pleased with this expansion. Some of the factions -- especially the Emperor -- make for a very interesting start akin to Attila’s Roman Empire or Rome II’s Empire Divided DLC, while the ability to play as Liu Bei or Dong Zhuo before the fall of Luoyang and carry on through the main campaign makes for a very engrossing experience. If you liked Three Kingdoms and wanted a richer main campaign experience (vs. the self-contained Eight Princes DLC setting), then Mandate of Heaven is almost a must buy.