To­tal War: Three King­doms

Dis­cover one of the long­est-run­ning strat­egy se­ries in the in­dus­try

Games TM - - CONTENTS -

If you own a PC you should prob­a­bly be play­ing To­tal War. It’s as sim­ple as that; it doesn’t mat­ter whether you’re a his­tory buff look­ing to take com­mand of some truly epic bat­tles, or an in­quis­i­tive player ea­ger to watch thou­sands of lit­tle sol­diers smash into thou­sands of other lit­tle sol­diers un­til your graph­ics card shat­ters into pieces. To­tal War is a strat­egy se­ries that of­fers some­thing for ev­ery­body; that’s in spite of how im­pos­ing or com­pli­cated it may at first seem.

Lis­ten, we get it. This is a niche genre, one that re­quires more in­vest­ment than your typ­i­cal ac­tion­ad­ven­ture, FPS or RPG. Maybe you caught a Let’s Play on Twitch and be­came im­mea­sur­ably ter­ri­fied by the speed in which the game plays, and the way in which some play­ers can or­ches­trate com­plex ma­noeu­vres with thou­sands of troops un­der their com­mand in sec­onds. Per­haps you tried a To­tal War at a friend’s house one time only to switch it off min­utes later as they erupted into fits of laugh­ter, teas­ing you be­cause you dared to pull the dif­fi­culty down to easy – some wounds never heal. And hey, maybe you watched a trailer and the scale of the cam­paign map and the size of the ar­mies scared the liv­ing be­je­sus out of you. Look, ev­ery­body has their rea­sons for ap­proach­ing the genre with cau­tion, but we’re here to tell you that if you’ve ever had even a pass­ing in­ter­est in To­tal War that this is go­ing to be the game to fi­nally try it.

Three King­doms takes place in a fas­ci­nat­ing pe­riod of his­tory; it’s a story bound by love and loss, driven by he­roes and vil­lains, re­sult­ing in some of the blood­i­est con­flicts known to hu­man­ity. Cre­ative As­sem­bly is lever­ag­ing all of this to build its lat­est and the re­sults are cer­tainly im­pres­sive. With a re­newed fo­cus on char­ac­ters as a way of build­ing ten­sion and a more im­mer­sive cam­paign ex­pe­ri­ence, we hon­estly be­lieve that Three King­doms will be the per­fect re­fresher after the fan­tasy ex­cur­sions of To­tal War: Warham­mer and spin-off sa­gas found in Bri­tan­nia. This is a To­tal War ex­pe­ri­ence that’s go­ing to sur­prise vet­eran play­ers, though it’s also go­ing to be ac­ces­si­ble enough that new play­ers will find en­ter­tain­ment. That’s a dif­fi­cult line to walk and that’s why we’ve had game de­signer Leif Bur­rows and writer Pete Ste­wart join us after a re­cent hands-on ses­sion to help walk you through ev­ery­thing you need to know about To­tal War:

Three King­doms.

It’s a long time com­ing

It’s al­ready been five long years since the re­lease of To­tal War: Rome II. If you too have been ea­ger to see Cre­ative As­sem­bly re­turn to its his­tor­i­cal roots after so many years of deal­ing in fan­tasy, then you’ll want to pay at­ten­tion to To­tal War: Three King­doms.

The stu­dio is break­ing new ground here, ush­er­ing in huge re­vi­sions to its clas­sic for­mula, draw­ing from its re­cent ex­per­i­ments and rich legacy in the genre to de­liver a To­tal War that feels fresh and em­bold­ened to usher in sweep­ing change. Three King­doms is push­ing the se­ries in a new di­rec­tion, tak­ing bold strides to de­liver a To­tal War game that could quite eas­ily sur­pass what we be­lieved it was ca­pa­ble of.

What’s In a lo­ca­tion?

Three King­doms picks up in 190 CE, just as the no­to­ri­ous Han Dy­nasty is on the verge of col­lapse. Game de­signer Leif Bur­rows de­scribes it to us as a “very ex­cit­ing pe­riod in his­tory, where this long-last­ing dy­nasty of al­most

400 years is crum­bling. And then, in the ashes of it, you ba­si­cally have all of th­ese new war­lords emerg­ing,” he says, teas­ing the 11 dif­fer­ent char­ac­ters we will have the op­por­tu­nity to take com­mand of across the cam­paign and in mul­ti­player. “It just made for a per­fect sort of bat­tle­ground for a To­tal War game.” In the Three King­doms cam­paign we will have the op­por­tu­nity to fill the void of power quickly emerg­ing, forged in the fires of con­quest as other pow­er­ful war­lords plan their own as­cent to re­gional dom­i­nance.

a first for the se­ries

Three King­doms is the first To­tal War game to be set in China, with the tac­ti­cal ac­tion framed around what Cre­ative As­sem­bly de­scribes as, “one of the most tur­bu­lent times in Chi­nese his­tory.” It’s dif­fi­cult to be­lieve that it has taken this long for the stu­dio to get here; China is un­ques­tion­ably one of the most re­quested lo­ca­tions for the stu­dio to set­tle on, of­fer­ing an aes­thet­i­cally di­verse ar­ray of bat­tle­grounds, a ros­ter of rich, his­tor­i­cal char­ac­ters to be­come ac­quainted with, and a host of well-sto­ried con­flicts that can be eas­ily lever­aged for To­tal War’s typ­i­cally large-scale bat­tles. It is, as lead writer Pete Ste­wart tell us, “sort of the per­fect To­tal War set­ting.”

Draw­ing from a mix­ture of sources

It might, on the sur­face, feel as if Cre­ative As­sem­bly is ask­ing for trou­ble with Three King­doms, its story tak­ing in­flu­ence from both his­tor­i­cal record and a work of fic­tion to in­form its ac­tion. But Bur­rows main­tains that this ac­tu­ally gives the stu­dio the flex­i­bil­ity to de­liver a truly epic To­tal War game. “We have th­ese two amaz­ing sources to draw from. We have the his­tor­i­cal ac­count, which is very fac­tual, and then we have Ro­mance Of The Three King­doms, the novel where all of th­ese per­sonal sto­ries of bravado, re­venge and friend­ship are all tied together into a nice nar­ra­tive. It’s not like Three King­doms is pure fic­tion, it’s his­tor­i­cal fic­tion and we cer­tainly spent a lot of time mak­ing sure that any­thing from the novel is pre­sented au­then­ti­cally,” says Bur­rows, with Ste­wart adding: “The novel mostly fol­lows the facts, it just kind of em­bel­lishes them in a nice ro­man­tic way.”

It’s all about the char­ac­ters

The fo­cus is whole­heart­edly on char­ac­ter as a driv­ing force for the ac­tion. The large-scale, real-time com­bat and turn-based tac­ti­cal strat­egy that the se­ries is famed for is still in place, but now all of that is driven through unique per­son­al­i­ties and the re­la­tion­ships that they force along the way. It’s been a chal­lenge for Cre­ative As­sem­bly to find the right bal­ance be­tween th­ese el­e­ments. “In a way, this is the first To­tal War ti­tle that is fo­cused on very strong char­ac­ters. We’ve had pre­vi­ous ti­tles, like At­tila and Napoleon – that have taken on a char­ac­ter’s defining moment in his­tory – but Three King­doms is try­ing to bring mul­ti­ple char­ac­ters to life,” Ste­wart con­sid­ers. “This whole pe­riod isn’t de­fined by one per­son; they are all com­pet­ing to de­fine it.”

Draw­ing from Warham­mer

Much like in the fan­tasy games Cre­ative As­sem­bly has re­cently been work­ing on, you’ll be se­lect­ing just one char­ac­ter (and a hand­ful of ret­inues) to play across the cam­paign rather than an en­tire fac­tion. Th­ese leg­endary fig­ures can die if you aren’t care­ful too, with the dy­nasty passed down to an heir of your choos­ing. Bur­rows is also keen to note that any it­er­a­tions made to the sys­tems and en­gine through Warham­mer’s de­vel­op­ment will also be utilised here. “The main en­gine is de­vel­oped in a mod­u­lar way and each project, which ba­si­cally takes the torch for­ward,” he says, adding, “there’s an ex­change of ideas and ex­per­tise [be­tween the teams]. We’re look­ing at what Warham­mer is do­ing, and build­ing on those ideas."

so­cial Dy­nam­ics are al­ways at play

As you en­ter a bat­tle you’ll be able to bring up to three hero units with you. This doesn’t just give you more op­tions on the bat­tle­field but will di­rectly de­ter­mine what types of units you’ll be able to field. You will, how­ever, need to be wary of the so­cial dy­nam­ics at play; all of the hero units won’t nec­es­sar­ily play nicely together and that can have con­se­quences that spill out of the real-time bat­tles and into the turn-based tac­tics across the cam­paign map. While it’s im­pos­si­ble to know how Cre­ative As­sem­bly plans on bal­anc­ing this sys­tem – whether it will throw up too many ran­dom el­e­ments to truly be sat­is­fy­ing – at this stage, though we do hope that it only serves to amp up the drama.

the re­turn of unit formations

Each of the gen­er­als that are avail­able to you in Three King­doms are trained in the art of war and will bring their own spe­cial­i­ties and tac­ti­cal knowl­edge to your army. Cre­ative As­sem­bly is re­flect­ing this in a very real way here, putting more work than ever into unit formations and glo­ri­ous, glo­ri­ous mi­cro-man­age­ment. Un­like the To­tal War: Warham­mer games, unit formations are in­deed re­turn­ing to give an ex­tra layer of tac­ti­cal ve­rac­ity to the game­play, although th­ese will need to be learned – passed down from the gen­er­als to the sol­diers. The bet­ter you in­te­grate the var­i­ous hero char­ac­ters into your army, then the bet­ter pre­pared for bat­tle across the cam­paign they will soon be­come.

you’ve got to have class

Each of the 11 char­ac­ters avail­able falls into one of five dis­tinct char­ac­ter classes – Com­man­der, Cham­pion, Sen­tinel, Strate­gist and Van­guard. Each of th­ese ef­fec­tively of­fers a dif­fer­ent playstyle and there­fore a dif­fer­ent way to tackle To­tal War. You’ll need to utilise tac­tics that bet­ter suit your cho­sen gen­eral, keep­ing an eye out for unique items and mounts to make them even more pow­er­ful. Each com­man­der has their own skill tree, let­ting you ad­vance five ac­tive and five pas­sive abil­i­ties to bet­ter shape their ver­sa­til­ity in the field as you see fit. This will have a huge im­pact in the Ro­mance cam­paign, where gen­er­als can be the dif­fer­ence be­tween a win and a loss, though their power is mit­i­gated in the tra­di­tional His­toric cam­paign.

ro­mance Is a new Way to play

“You can’t re­ally tell the his­tor­i­cal story of the pe­riod with­out the per­sonal sto­ries from the novel as well.

The char­ac­ter re­la­tion­ships are im­por­tant in both game modes, it’s im­por­tant to the his­tor­i­cal back­ground,” Bur­rows tells us and – wait, two game modes? That’s right, Three King­doms will fea­ture two pri­mary ways to play, Ro­mance and Clas­si­cal. Ro­mance is where fact and fic­tion col­lide, as Cre­ative As­sem­bly looks to draw on the larger-than-life pres­ence of the he­roes that dom­i­nated the sto­ries – their myth and leg­end shap­ing the way they im­pact the bat­tle­field. “In Ro­mance mode you get to know the char­ac­ters,” says Bur­rows. “They will have a big im­pact, whereas in His­tor­i­cal/clas­sic mode it’s more grand-scale – the fo­cus is on big ar­mies and ma­noeu­vring your forces.”

you can strip It back If you Want to

It’s worth not­ing that while a lot of the fo­cus – par­tic­u­larly when it comes to the ways in which Cre­ative As­sem­bly demos the game – has been on the Ro­mance mode, the stu­dio is keen to stress that Clas­sic mode is still the To­tal War game that you vet­eran play­ers know and love. There’s still a lot of time, care and at­ten­tion go­ing into this core way to play the game. If any­thing, it puts more at­ten­tion and fo­cus on some of the minu­tiae. For ex­am­ple, the ar­ti­fi­cial in­tel­li­gence has been over­hauled, re­quir­ing a clear at­ten­tion to de­tail and sharp re­ac­tions to fend off en­croach­ing ar­mies; the en­gine can now ren­der out thou­sands of au­then­ti­cally de­signed war­riors on­screen at once and there’s a day/night cy­cle that changes the com­po­si­tion of bat­tles.

It’s still the to­tal War you know

In spite of all of th­ese big sweep­ing changes to the core dy­namic, Clas­sic mode will still be the To­tal War you know and love. You won’t be able to rat­tle through dozens of en­e­mies at a time, nor will they be as im­per­vi­ous to dam­age from reg­u­lar units as they are in the Ro­mance of­fer­ing – in fact, gen­er­als will come with body­guards in the Clas­sic con­fig­u­ra­tion to bet­ter de­pict how th­ese char­ac­ters were treated at the time. We’ve been told that el­e­ments of Three King­doms such as ran­dom events, the ap­pear­ance of cer­tain char­ac­ters and the im­ple­men­ta­tion of broader el­e­ments from the Ro­mance Of The Three King­doms novel won’t ap­pear in a Clas­sic cam­paign. If you want your cam­paign to be pure, the op­tion is cer­tainly there for it.

char­ac­ter Is still key In his­tor­i­cal mode

While you’ll see char­ac­ters ef­fec­tively able to take on en­tire ar­mies by them­selves in Ro­mance mode, the gen­er­als will be more tem­pered fig­ures in the his­tor­i­cal setup. That doesn’t mean, how­ever, that they are to be ig­nored en­tirely. In fact, man­ag­ing the gen­er­als and deal­ing with their re­la­tion­ships, the drama and the be­trayal that helped de­fine that era of con­flict is still go­ing to be a huge ap­peal to the cam­paign. “Th­ese char­ac­ter re­la­tion­ships in­flu­ence other game sys­tems. They cre­ate a lot of in­ter­est­ing chal­lenges and sort of spawn in­ter­est­ing de­ci­sion-mak­ing that you will have to do,” says Bur­rows. “It’s less about jug­gling pos­i­tives and neg­a­tives or do­ing spread­sheets of cal­cu­la­tions, but rather about be­ing a re­ally strong leader.”

you can Duel other he­roes to the Death

Given the myth­i­cal na­ture of th­ese gen­er­als and the power they can have over the turn of bat­tle in Ro­mance mode, you’ll be happy to know that there are ways to take ri­val gen­er­als out of play. It’s a risky ma­noeu­vre, putting your own hero at risk, but it can so of­ten turn the en­tire tide of a bat­tle. You can chal­lenge a ri­val on the bat­tle­field to a duel as the bat­tle rages on around them. The two char­ac­ters meet and im­me­di­ately en­gage in a fight to the death that in our pre­view proved to be a real spec­ta­cle to watch in ac­tion. You’ll also be able to ac­ti­vate abil­i­ties in the fight to try and help your hero out, though its win con­di­tions are ul­ti­mately a blur of class, ex­pe­ri­ence and morale; kill a hero’s brother, for ex­am­ple, and you should ex­pect to see them launch into a near-un­stop­pable grief-fu­elled frenzy. Du­elling is one of our favourite new bat­tle me­chan­ics.

you can’t trust any­body

This pe­riod of his­tory came to be de­fined by blood­shed and be­trayal. To­tal War has the for­mer, with its ridicu­lous bat­tles that pit tens of thou­sands of sol­diers against one an­other in ac­tive com­bat. But it now has the lat­ter too, in­tro­duc­ing a sys­tem that al­lows you to im­plant op­er­a­tives within en­emy ar­mies to bring them down from the in­side – though the same can also hap­pen to you too. “You’ve got to con­stantly wres­tle with the idea that some­one in your fac­tion might be a spy,” teases Ste­wart, who tells us that play­ers will need to pay care­ful at­ten­tion to who they are pro­mot­ing in their ranks. “There’s an el­e­ment of dif­fi­culty and chal­lenge in that sys­tem, es­pe­cially as you keep pro­gress­ing through the cam­paign. It’s one of the big things to be ex­cited about, it makes the char­ac­ters feel like they are part of a world.”

great en­try point for new play­ers

Of all of the To­tal War games that have ar­rived in the last 18 years, there’s an ar­gu­ment to be made that Three King­doms is go­ing to per­haps be the best en­try point for genre new­com­ers that the se­ries has ever seen. That, we’re told, is an in­ten­tional de­ci­sion on Cre­ative As­sem­bly’s part – it’s con­cerned about how eas­ily new play­ers can be­come in­volved with the fun.“i think of­ten To­tal War is seen as this very strate­gic, half-his­tor­i­cal sim­u­la­tion… but it is very much a per­sonal game about char­ac­ters – that’s es­pe­cially true of Three King­doms,” muses Bur­rows, who notes that while a lot of work has been done to grad­u­ally in­tro­duce the sys­tems and to scale the dif­fi­culty in a more ef­fec­tive man­ner, all of it is driven through those he­roes.

how the Dif­fi­culty scale Works

Cre­ative As­sem­bly knows that its games can look overly com­plex and im­pos­ing on the sur­face. It too is aware of how dif­fi­cult they could be to play, par­tic­u­larly for new play­ers. The fo­cus this time around has been on re­work­ing the open­ing hours of the cam­paign – es­pe­cially in Ro­mance mode – to bet­ter bring play­ers of all ex­pe­ri­ence into the fold. “With some of the older games we had this prob­lem where the dif­fi­culty curve is big­gest at the be­gin­ning,” laughs Bur­rows, who ac­knowl­edges that this is akin to throw­ing you into a burn­ing build­ing be­fore teach­ing you how to fight the fire. “For Three King­doms we tried to push more to­wards an ex­pe­ri­ence where you start in an eas­ier en­vi­ron­ment. We want you to get to the more dif­fi­cult bits or­gan­i­cally, with­out forc­ing you to sit through tu­to­ri­als. It should be an or­ganic ex­pe­ri­ence.”

ex­plor­ing the fun of to­tal War

“This is some­thing we keep ex­plor­ing and look­ing into, be­cause as much fun as the To­tal War games are and as great as they are, they can be large, mul­ti­fac­eted beasts,” laughs Ste­wart, main­tain­ing that if there were to be a good kind of beast, To­tal War would be it. But Ste­wart, a vet­eran of Cre­ative As­sem­bly, knows only too well what chal­lenges the stu­dio faces when try­ing to make the game more ac­ces­si­ble to new play­ers. That’s some­thing it is try­ing to change in Three King­doms. “What we have fo­cused on is that when you first start play­ing, if you don’t par­tic­u­larly have a lot of ex­pe­ri­ence, is we wanna sort of help you to get used to the sys­tems slowly, so by the time you’re 20, 30 turns down the line, you’ll ac­tu­ally un­der­stand what’s hap­pen­ing in the game,” he says, although we won­der aloud what a player should do if they are still strug­gling at that point… “Just turn the dif­fi­culty down, there’s no shame in it,” he laughs. “Put it on easy, no one cares.; no one’s look­ing.”

It feels fan­tas­tic

Whether you love the idea of this be­ing such a char­ac­ter-driven game or are ap­proach­ing it with cau­tion, we’re pretty sure that you’re go­ing to fall pretty hard for Three King­doms. The bat­tles feel suit­ably epic – stress­ful and in­vig­o­rat­ing in equal mea­sure. The re­fined control sys­tems feel ex­cel­lent, mak­ing it com­fort­able for us to di­rect large forces across the bat­tle­field and quickly re-or­gan­ise when it all goes hor­ri­bly wrong. The art di­rec­tion is un­like any­thing you’ve ever seen from the se­ries, it’s beau­ti­ful to be­hold. Cre­ative As­sem­bly isn’t pulling any punches as it re­turns to the his­tor­i­cal core of To­tal War. The wait to its Spring 2019 re­lease date is go­ing to be dif­fi­cult to bear.

It’s left us ea­ger for more

Get­ting hands-on with early pre­view codes can of­ten be dif­fi­cult to as­sess, par­tic­u­larly when its scope is lim­ited. We haven’t, for ex­am­ple, had the op­por­tu­nity to sam­ple the turn-based tac­ti­cal side of play – ma­noeu­vring our gen­er­als and army across the huge map in an at­tempt to gain dom­i­nance over China. But we can say that we’re in­cred­i­bly ea­ger to. What we’ve had the op­por­tu­nity to pre­view has left us im­pressed. Cre­ative As­sem­bly knows what it’s do­ing, and it rarely makes a mis­step when it comes to its core his­tor­i­cal wing of the long-run­ning se­ries. But if the at­ten­tion to de­tail we’ve been able to di­vine from the over­lap­ping me­chan­ics and sys­tems is ap­par­ent and rep­re­sented through­out the rest of the game, it’s pretty clear that this is go­ing to be one for the his­tory books.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from UK

© PressReader. All rights reserved.