Total War is finally heading to China with Total War: Three Kingdoms, and the announcement has been greeted with almost universal approval. This era is the perfect fit for Total War; an era of massive conflict, with many different belligerents, and the possibility for Creative Assembly to carry over the massive faction differences, that have worked so well in fantasy Total War, to historical Total War.
Many of you will, however, no doubt be wondering what the Three Kingdoms era of China is, and what sort of factions we might be seeing across the map come autumn. That is why I’m here, to give some insight into what we might expect from Total War: Three Kingdoms.
For the previous 400 years in the run-up to the time in which Total War: Three Kingdoms is set, 190 CE, the Han dynasty had been ruling China and enjoying Heaven’s Mandate. In the 180’s, however, it appeared that Heaven had withdrawn its favour, and China was plunged into chaos and rebellions. These rebellions, the Yellow Turban Revolt, served to decentralise the empire. This was because the various military leaders in the provinces demanded autonomy from the emperor in order to deal with the revolts, which he assented to. This caused some of the provinces to break away instantly, and those that remained were essentially ruled by a patchwork of warlords, not the emperor.
Whilst all this was ongoing, various factions within the massive imperial government were at each other’s throats. One of the factions wanted to destroy the eunuchs, another faction, and to help do this they asked General Dong Zhuo (who will be one of the central characters of Three Kingdoms) to bring his army to the capital, which at this time was Luoyang in central China on the banks of the Yellow River. This plot was discovered before Dong Zhuo even got there which led to fighting in the city. By the time Dong Zhuo got the city it was ablaze. He ordered his troops to put down the disorder, and he deposed the emperor in favour of the emperor’s younger brother. This caused even more rebellions to break out across China.
The three other main characters in Total War: Three Kingdoms, who according to CA are “sworn to brotherhood in the face of tyranny”, will be Cao Cao, Sun Ce (or maybe Sun Quan), and Liu Bei. At least I think they are, and this is where, at the minute, I am thinking that CA are going to slightly muddle the history to make the best possible story. Dong Zhuo was assassinated in 192 CE, about 30 years before the foundation of the Three Kingdoms, and about 20 years before two of the other three characters had even risen to prominence. But the fact that the game is called Three Kingdoms would suggest that the founders of these three kingdoms will feature prominently in the game. I imagine the three kingdoms will start off small, as duchies, and the first part of the game will be building your power base into a kingdom, at the expense of all the other warlords around you.
Cao Cao founded the Wei kingdom in the north. This was the largest and most populous of the three kingdoms. Sun Ce founded the Wu kingdom in the south-east. This area was seen by most Han Chinese as being a peripheral part of China, and even alien in certain parts. The Wu kingdom was home to many indigenous non-Han peoples in its forests and jungles. The Shu kingdom in the west was founded by Liu Bei, a great hero of Chinese history. Part of Shu was in an area called Sichuan, an extremely productive and resource-rich area of China, and a very populous one even to this day.
There is great licence to give each of these kingdoms, and Dong Zhuo, a very distinct feeling, and play style, as well as unit roster. Dong Zhuo was holed up in the mountains, having moved his capital further west. His faction will possibly play defensively. Wei, in the north, might have a more cavalry based unit roster, due to the fact that it is on the frontier to the steppes. This was the most populous of the three kingdoms, covering all of ‘core’ China at the time, and all of its biggest cities. This might mean they can field the most armies, or possibly have cheaper units. Wu, in the south, might also play defensively, southern China has proved very difficult to conquer throughout history, and the Wu kingdom was the last of the three kingdoms to fall. Their unit roster could be extremely diverse with many non-Chinese auxiliaries. Shu will be the richest of the three kingdoms. The area where they start will be rich in all resources, including silk, gold, and copper.
In addition to these Chinese factions there will also be a menagerie of other factions, and this, for me, is perhaps one of the most exciting aspects of the game. There will be the Xiongnu (who are possibly the same people as the later Huns), the Xianbei, and the Wuhuan (early mongols), who were all steppe nomads, these might have the same horde mechanics as seen in Total War: Attila. Steppe nomads have always played a pivotal role in Chinese history, raiding and conquering the lands north of the Yellow River. There might also be the Korean kingdoms, the early Tibetans, who were fierce fighters and raiders, the various peoples of southern China, and the Vietnamese. Part of the silk road and its myriad of different peoples could feature too. All of these areas and peoples were either part of the Han empire or were interacting with it often. All of these factions would look very different to one another. This could easily be the most diverse historical Total War game, especially given the experience of maximising the diversity that CA have had with Warhammer.
Initially, the objective of the Chinese factions will be to depose Dong Zhuo, it would seem. After that, the objective will be to reunite China, and either restore the rightful Han emperor, or depose him, and become emperor yourself, inheriting Heaven’s Mandate. The latter will probably be the objective for any other non-Chinese factions which are playable. Heaven’s Mandate, the “possession” of the emperor, and rank might be central concepts of the game.
Faction ranks and different governments (kingdom, empire, tribe), as seen in a few previous Total War releases will probably make a comeback and these will fit in very well with the setting. Banditry, as seen in the Empire Divided DLC for Rome 2 will also be a good fit for the setting. Hopefully, the huge differences between factions from Warhammer will be implemented too, as I’ve mentioned. It would make sense given the differences in these people historically. One important thing to note is that even though this setting is essentially landlocked, the Yellow and Yangtze rivers played crucial roles in the Three Kingdoms period, and naval battles on these rivers did occur. Therefore naval battles might still be a part of this game, despite it first appearing to be rather landlocked and continental.
Once the base work is done on the map, the gameplay, and the models, there are quite a few DLC possibilities. These might be set around the Warring States period, the Mongol conquest of China (which would feature Genghis Khan), the 5 Dynasties and 10 Kingdoms period (a period of utter fragmentation, as the name implies), and possibly a DLC about Chinese expansion into Central Asia along the Silk Roads. This could be similar to the Belisarius DLC for Attila, in that you’re the leader of an expedition with a series of objectives given by the emperor, conquering the various oasis cities along the route.
Overall, I’m extremely excited for Total War: Three Kingdoms. I, along with much of the Total War community, have wanted a Chinese Total War game for a long while. On balance, this is probably the perfect period of Chinese history for a Total War game. I can’t wait to see more details released, in particular, the factions and whether they will play totally differently like the factions in Total War: Warhammer. This could easily be the best Total War game to date if handled right.
To conclude, here is a tentative list of possible factions/peoples which might be included in Total War: Three Kingdoms:
- Dong Zhuo
- Wei (Cao Cao)
- Wu (Sun Ce/Quan)
- Shu (Liu Bei)
- Wuhuan (Mongols)
- Qiang (early Tibetans)
- Goguryeo (Korean kingdom)
- Silla (Korean kingdom)
- Northern Vietnam
- Indigenous peoples of southern China