Total War Three Kingdoms A World Betrayed Cao Cao Guide Yuan Shu Dead

Total War: Three Kingdoms – A World Betrayed brings new challenges for the Hero of Chaos, Cao Cao, who’s poised to take over the lands of Chen. Here’s our faction guide to help you with Cao Cao’s campaign.

Note: This guide was completed while playing Romance Mode on VH/VH difficulty. For more information, check out our Total War: Three Kingdoms – A World Betrayed guides and features hub.

Total War Three Kingdoms A World Betrayed Cao Cao Guide Overview


A World Betrayed: Cao Cao’s campaign moves and events

Basic tips:

  • Cao Cao’s faction mechanics have already been discussed in detail in our original guide as well as from tidbits of info in Mandate of Heaven. As such, we’ll dive right into his campaign in A World Betrayed.
  • The “detach and cap” method will save you a lot of turns. It means detaching available strategists (with a siege weapon) to attack a city while other armies surround it. Only the strategist enters the city after its capture, leaving your remaining armies free to move further.
  • The biggest threat you’ll face early on is Lu Bu (and he’ll even come back for a second helping). Zheng Jiang is right around the corner, and you’ll need to keep Yuan Shao, Yuan Shu, and Liu Biao off your back.
  • Cao Cao’s control of Chen and Yingchuan will also lead to exponentially high food production. Use this to propose diplomatic trade deals. Even a “1 food for 10 gold-per-turn (GPT)” deal can help prevent the AI from declaring war on you.

Note: Speaking of GPT, you may encounter a bug with your income when you reload earlier autosaves. It’ll show that you’re bleeding funds (even though that wasn’t the case before reloading). Heading into your next turn, you’ll realize that your gold has been wiped clean before it increases again. This can be a hassle in your Total War: Three Kingdoms – A World Betrayed campaign.

Total War Three Kingdoms A World Betrayed Cao Cao Guide

Turn 1:

  • “Detach and cap” with Xun Yu; your other armies will advance to make Lu Bu back off.
  • Disband Xun Yu’s catapult unit to get 200 GPT early and complete a mission.
  • Family: Change your heir to Lady Bian. She’s got decent faction-wide bonuses and Cao Pi won’t come of age until much later in the game.
  • Court: Have Xiahou Dun administer Yingchuan.
  • Assignments: “Stimulate Markets,” “Tax Collection,” and “Supervise Construction” in Yingchuan.
  • Buildings: Confucian Temple in Chen, Lodge in Yingchuan, Lumber Yard in Luoyang. Remember to convert your Farmlands into Rice Farming Garrisons for the replenishment boosts.
  • Trade agreements: Liu Chong and Yuan Shu; make sure to get some GPT from these deals. You could also check every now and then if non-aggression pacts (“in the green”) are available.
  • Credibility: Don’t use Cao Cao’s credibility resource for anything; just continue building it up.

Tw3k Awb Cc Start 1

Turn 2:

  • Move one army closer to Yingchuan in the west and the other one north tailing Lu Bu (switch to ambush stance if you want).
  • Once you end your turn, Lu Bu might pounce on one of your armies. Retreat for now.

Tw3k Awb Cc Start 2

Turn 3:

  • Move your armies and defeat Lu Bu (you might need one of them to march to be in reinforcement range).
  • Get your armies closer to Yingchuan’s farmland.
  • Yuan Shao will likely offer you a coalition invite once you end your turn. Reject this invitation.

Total War Three Kingdoms A World Betrayed Cao Cao Guide Xiahou Dun Xiapi

Turn 4:

  • Besiege and capture Yingchuan’s farmland. Lu Bu’s been vanquished… for now.
  • Diplomacy: Instead of buddying up with Yuan Shao, form a coalition with Liu Bei instead (add an ancillary to sweeten the deal).
  • Kong Rong and Zang Ba will happily join your merry band.
  • You’ll also notice the next mission which is your conquest of Yuan Shao’s lands.
  • Reform: Pick “Foreign Envoys” to get your third trade agreement (choose Liu Biao).

Tw3k Awb Cc Start 3


The Warrior King and the Bandit Queen

If you have Mao Jie, deploy him too since he has “Fire Arrows.” Recruit troops as long as you’ve got decent income and move towards Dong capital. You’re in a coalition with Zang Ba so your troops will still replenish. Soon, Zheng Jiang will likely besiege Zang Ba’s city, so declare war and defeat her army.

Note: Cao Ang comes of age on turn 7.

Total War Three Kingdoms A World Betrayed Cao Cao Guide Lu Bu Event

You’ll get the event notifying you that Lu Bu has fled to Liu Bei. He ends up declaring war on him on turn 8, taking over his lands. However, Liu Bei still has lots of armies roaming around.

Just keep advancing with your forces. Have one army move close to Zheng Jiang’s last settlement (Pengcheng temple) and the other towards Lu Bu’s lands. Lu Bu should get trounced by Liu Bei’s armies in the field, leaving his cities defenseless. Declare war on Lu Bu and “detach and cap” those settlements. You could also besiege them and wait until Liu Bei’s close enough to help.

Tw3k Awb Cc Lu Bu War 1

Xiahou Dun famously lost his eye in the Battle of Xiapi against Lu Bu’s forces. He ended up eating his own eye to gain an infinite musou boost due to the sheer badassery. Sadly, I don’t think that event exists in Total War: Three Kingdoms – A World Betrayed. Anyway, by turn 13, Zheng Jiang’s faction has been wiped out and Lu Bu was down to his last city:

Tw3k Awb Cc Lu Bu War 2


The Yuan Family

Yuan Shu will likely conquer Liu Chong’s last territory around turn 14 or 15. It’s possible for Liu Chong and/or Luo Jun to end up in your faction.

Note: There’s an event where the two are assassinated by Yuan Shu’s agents, but I haven’t seen this happen before.

Total War Three Kingdoms A World Betrayed Cao Cao Guide Yuan Shu Emperor

On turn 16, Yuan Shu will declare himself emperor. One turn later, you’ll get another mission to defeat a couple of his armies or garrisons. You should have your forces ready to attack. Declare war on Yuan Shu and ask Liu Bei for help. Yangzhou commandery should be yours in a few turns.

Total War Three Kingdoms A World Betrayed Cao Cao Guide Yuan Shu Battle

What about his half-brother Yuan Shao? Well, the moment Cao Cao had enough Credibility, I instigated a Proxy War between Yuan Shao and Liu Biao (who already had military access through my lands). That distracted Yuan Shao for a bit, allowing me to march my veteran soldiers all the way north. Likewise, you’ll have a mission to capture Ye’s and Youbeiping’s capitals. Since I started my conflict with Yuan Shao fairly late, the mission failed.

His son Yuan Tan is also fighting with Kong Rong. There’s an event on turn 23 where Kong Rong is automatically confederated by Yuan Tan’s faction. There does not seem to be a way of preventing this from happening. In any case, you’ll see that Kong Rong is a “potential turncoat” which means you can instantly enable him as a spy.

Total War Three Kingdoms A World Betrayed Cao Cao Guide Anti Yuan Shao Kong Rong

I had around three main armies facing off against Yuan Shao and most of his vassals. Another army led by Xiahou Dun waylaid Yuan Tan’s troops, and I was able to capture Kong Rong’s lands in due course. I also called my coalition partners to join in, and Gongsun Zan even helped distract Yuan Shao for a bit.

Slowly but surely, I was taking over the north. This might be called Total War: Three Kingdoms – A World Betrayed, but I definitely see a massive campaign such as this if ever we do end up with a “Battle of Guandu” DLC.

Total War Three Kingdoms A World Betrayed Cao Cao Guide Anti Yuan Shao Coalition 1


Cao Cao’s future: The Han Emperor and the Kingdom of Wei

From turn 4 onwards, Li Jue and his vassals (Guo Si, Yang Feng, and Li Xian) will play hot potato with the Han Emperor. Eventually, Yang Feng will capture the emperor and move him to Luoyang (which is just a small town in A World Betrayed). You could deploy a small army in the nearby lumber yard to capture the town and gain control of the emperor as soon as possible. There are, however, a few downsides:

  • There’s a chance that the emperor escapes if you still have a low faction rank.
  • The Han Empire is automatically vassalized, and you’ll be constantly at war with random rulers who end up attacking it.

Total War Three Kingdoms A World Betrayed Cao Cao Guide Emperor Events

In my case, I only decided to claim the emperor around turn 25 or so, well after my newly-conquered lands in Yangzhou were pacified. Then, around turn 35-38, Cao Cao will get the Jade Girdle event where the Han Emperor is conspiring with Liu Bei and Ma Teng. Following the storyline option leads to diplomatic penalties with the two lords.

Total War Three Kingdoms A World Betrayed Cao Cao Guide Emperor Jade Girdle

Liu Bei was already part of my coalition so I had nothing to worry about. Ma Teng, meanwhile, was angsty. By the time Cao Cao attained the rank of King in A World Betrayed, I was already at war with him. I guess I could just instigate another Proxy War, this time between him and the Kingdom of Wu led by Sun Ce (who was actually one of my vassals for a short period of time).

Total War Three Kingdoms A World Betrayed Cao Cao Guide Kingdom Of Wei


Total War: Three Kingdoms – A World Betrayed is available via Steam. For more information, check out our guides and features hub.

Jason Rodriguez
Jason Rodriguez writes for various websites under the Enthusiast Gaming umbrella -- Destructoid, Flixist, Daily Esports, PlayStation Enthusiast, and PC Invasion. Jason's Steam library has 1,400+ games at the moment so he definitely has a lot of things to talk about. He's also one of only five games journalists from the Philippines. Just kidding. There are definitely more around, but he doesn't know anyone. Mabuhay!

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