Total War: Three Kingdoms is easily one of the best installments in the long-running franchise, filled to the brim with new features and modes, but its intensive graphics and complex campaigns can be drawbacks.
The latest installment in the Total War franchise, Total War: Three Kingdoms, is easily one of its best yet. In fact, it's one of the better turn-based strategy games to come out in recent years. While the Total War series has been around for almost two decades and has spanned several eras, countries, and even game generations, it's quite surprising that it's taken so long for the developers to finally set one of the titles in China. But now that they have, players have an enormous campaign ahead of them.
Total War: Three Kingdoms is set in China during the Three Kingdoms period - which began at the end of the Han dynasty and lasted throughout most of the 3rd century A.D., with China being split into three states - and the player's objective is to conquer the entire country, uniting all factions under one banner. It wouldn't be a Total War game without a simple objective like that, but what Three Kingdoms does differently is that it incorporates the modes Romance - based on the novel Romance of the Three Kingdoms, in which players go through a more mythical campaign - and Records - based on the novel Records of the Three Kingdoms, in which players are given a more historically accurate campaign.
In addition to choosing which mode players want to go through (with Romance perhaps being the most enticing option for fans of the Age of Mythology series), they also have to choose one of 12 different warlords, each of which comes with their own unique attributes. While the Records mode embeds players into a largely traditional Total War campaign, Three Kingdoms is arguably best played through Romance, seeing as it offers more exciting battles and twists that aren't typically present in this series to this point.
Each Total War game is fun in its own right, with strategy enthusiasts taking their time to manage their army and conquer the land in the best way they see fit, but it's no secret that this series is an exhaustive one. Sure, players can jump right into a battle - either in single player or multiplayer - and get things going right away, but the best parts are always the campaign modes. Three Kingdoms attempts to simplify various aspects by making an advanced help system easily accessible by pressing the F1 Key on practically any screen. It then advises players on what to do. After testing it from time to time, it's clear that it's a crucial addition for franchise newcomers.
Of course, there's still a learning curve, even for Total War veterans. And therein lies one of a handful of issues; it's great that Total War: Three Kingdoms is a brand-new experience for almost all gamers, but it, at times, feels like Creative Assembly is trying to do so many new things - worthwhile additions to a series that has been falling by the wayside - all while compressing them into an age-old formula. This results in a quality clash that perhaps could've been avoided. Another issue, one that isn't gameplay related, is the system requirements. For a turn-based strategy game like Total War, Three Kingdoms places itself on the higher-end than it should be. As a result, many players who don't have the latest CPUs or top-tier GPUs may find getting through the more hardware-intensive sequences without suffering from drawbacks will be tough - and, simply, annoying.
One of the best changes made to the Total War franchise in Three Kingdoms is how players approach the campaign as well as the individual battles. With the warlords, players can tackle their quest whichever way they choose, and it's no longer only about winning battles. With the spy network and diplomacy being an option, Three Kingdoms places the trust of quite literally an entire kingdom in the players' hands. Utilizing all aspects of the game is necessary for winning. But while players might not measure up in each caliber, Three Kingdoms presents enough options to make it the most non-linear strategy game out right now.
Aesthetically, Three Kingdoms not only sets the bar for the Total War series but turn-based strategy games as well. There's nothing like it on a triple-A scale; colors ideally correspond to the five elements, and the skill tree (which happens to resemble an actual tree) is elegantly laid out to perfectly represent the China setting. Expanding on that, the overall user interface is a significant improvement on previous iterations, and that applies to the gameplay as well. As long as players have the hardware necessary to run Total War: Three Kingdoms, they'll be impressed by virtually every move they make - either on the home screen or in the heat of battle.
Total War: Three Kingdoms is an ideal representation of what it means to be a PC exclusive series in 2019. In addition to having beautiful graphics and a wide-ranging set of features, it fully utilizes a PC player's understanding of turn-based strategy games to provide a complete, full-scale war experience. While Total War: Three Kingdoms certainly isn't the best installment in the franchise, it's one worth playing, since it takes the traditional Total War formula and expands on it in unique ways. But not everyone will be enthusiastic about those changes.
Total War: Three Kingdoms releases on PC on May 23, 2019. Screen Rant was provided with a PC copy of the game for the purposes of this review.