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Twelve Warlords. Three Kingdoms. One Land.

"At fifteen I joined the army on expedition, Only at eighty did I finally return. On the way I met a villager: "Who is left in my home?" "See there in the distance is your home, Among the pine, cypress, and graves piled high." Rabbits enter through the dog hole, Pheasants fly from the rafters. In the parlour grows wild grain, Upon the well grows wild vegetables. I grind the grain for a meal. I pick the vegetables for the broth. Meal and broth are ready in an instant, But I know not whom to serve. As I step out and look east, Falling tears soak my clothes."
At Fifteen I joined the Army on Expedition
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Total War: Three Kingdoms is an RTS game developed by Creative Assembly and published by Sega. It is the latest of the Total War series; set during the Three Kingdoms era. The era has been popularised in operas, folk stories, novels and in more recent times, films, television, and video games. The best known of these is Luo Guanzhong's Romance of the Three Kingdoms.

The year is 190CE. China is in turmoil. The Han Dynasty crumbles before the child-emperor, Liu Xie. He is but a figurehead; a mere puppet for the tyrant warlord Dong Zhuo. It is a brutal and oppressive regime, and as Dong Zhuo’s power grows, the empire slips further into the cauldron of anarchy. But hope yet blossoms.

Three heroes, sworn to brotherhood in the face of tyranny, rally support for the trials ahead. Scenting opportunity, warlords from China’s great families follow suit, forming a fragile coalition in a bid to challenge Dong Zhuo’s remorseless rule. Will they triumph against the tyrant, or will personal ambition shatter their already crumbling alliance and drive them to supremacy?

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The crucible fizzes. Allegiances shift. The fires of conflict stoke opportunity. Only one thing is certain: the very future of China will be shaped by its champions. Total War: Three Kingdoms is the next major historical strategy game in the award-winning Total War series.

The game was released on May 23, 2019 for PC. The Pre-order/Day 1 Downloadable Content are the Yellow Turban factions.


Total War: Three Kingdoms contains examples of the following:

  • Adaptational Badass: Yuan Shu, who is commonly depicted as a scheming warlord rather than a powerful general, is given combat abilities, a marked departure from his real-life personality.
    • Kong Rong leads a playable faction and can charge into battle just as anyone else can. Historically, he's famous for being a descendant of Confucius, a very clever child, his literary style, and being executed (probably) by Cao Cao for being incredibly rude.
  • Amazon Brigade: In Records mode, Sun Ren comes with an all-female bodyguard unit. note 
  • Anachronism Stew: Some characters in Romance mode are portrayed with anachronistic equipment to fit their image in the popular narrative, like Guan Yu's yanyuedao glaive and Lü Bu's plate mail armour and double-headed ji. The Records mode replaces most of these with period-accurate equipment.
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    • The main siege weapon shown in the game is the counterweight trebuchet, which didn't appear anywhere in the world until much later in history. This was most likely done for gameplay purposes and ease of animation.
  • An Adventurer Is You: You have five different types of Generals available to you:
    • Commander: Golden-clothed leaders of men, connected to the Earth. They act largely as a Buffer for your forces and grant bonuses to melee cavalry in particular. They also increase satisfaction for other characters in their army. As administrators they reduce corruption and give Public Order. Their traits emphasize the traits of the wise and benevolent ruler. Their Stat is Authority.
    • Champion: Paragons of the people and impeccable duelists dressed in Green, connected to Wood. Champions are hero-killers that duel enemy generals; though they suffer somewhat in large combats. As administrators, they buff population growth. Their traits are connected to decency, friendliness and down-to-earth pragmatism. Their Stat is Resolve.
    • Sentinel: Defiant and rugged warriors and survivalists that can take a punch, just as the Metal they are fashioned after. They lead shield-wielding melee infantry and buff general survivability of the army. As administrators, they add bonuses to industry among others. Their traits are equally immovable, and are concerned with loyalty and willpower. Their Stat is Expertise.
    • Vanguard: The military noble, a wild, headstrong warrior that crashes into danger like a raging Fire. They buff shock cavalry to nasty levels and have many abilities that deal Area of Effect damage. As administrators, they improve garrisons and other military capabilities. Their traits are fiery and passionate, all about following one's insticts and heart - sometimes at the loss of tact or smarts. Their stat is Instinct.
    • Strategist: Wily and cunning masters of plots and tactics, who's plans flow like Water on the battlefield. they give more supplies to the army, and more ammunition to ranged units. They can also Debuff enemy Generals with their wits. As administrators they give benefits to trade. Their traits are all about intelligence, wits and creativity, though also often scheming and underhanded-ness. Their Stat is Cunning.
  • And Now for Someone Completely Different: Lu Bu's campaign is accessed by playing Dong Zhuo's and letting history take its course.
  • Anti-Frustration Features: Several new changes have been incorporated into the diplomacy.
    • Once you suggest a diplomatic treaty, the player can click on a "Make it work" button that instantly makes the A.I. tell you what it wants in exchange for your offer.
    • A "quick deal" button has been added to the diplomacy screen, showing you a list of diplomatic deals and all known factions, and shows you how likely each faction is to agree to any selected deal. It then allows you to propose that deal, separate from the regular diplomacy menu.
    • Each treaty shows in numerical terms what impacts it has on the trade balance, and a tooltip breaks that number down by contributing factors, removing a lot of the guesswork from diplomacy.
    • Do you have no shame about Save Scumming? Well, you'll be glad to hear that you're now able to just immediately rematch a battle that you've lost instead of quitting and loading the last save.
    • When playing as the Yellow Turbans, after taking over a city, the game will automatically convert buildings within the city to their Yellow Turban equivalents.
  • Apathetic Citizens: Nope. The Yellow Turban Rebellion was barely suppressed a few years prior, and low public order from misrule can re-ignite smouldering embers into a new inferno. It is even possible for a spy to deliberately incite a Yellow Turban uprising.
  • Artistic License – Economics: The game combines both fiscal corruption and inflation into one statistic, seeing as how better mints and coinage can reduce "corruption". This was probably done to simplify the interface.
  • Ascended Extra: Zheng Jiang, a female bandit who is only mentioned on a single line in Records of the Three Kingdoms note , is a full-fledged playable lord.
  • Automatic Crossbows: The Chinese repeating crossbow shows up as an infantry weapon. Its rate of fire makes it deadly against unarmoured targets, but the weak mechanism severely limits its range and effectiveness against armour.
  • Awesome, but Impractical: The highest tier administration building which reduces corruption has a version whereby the corruption reduction extends to surrounding commanderies. However, the building(s) can only work if the faction has access to jade, which is found only in two settlements in the whole of China. Unless a faction can physically occupy a jade mine, constructing this administration building runs the risk of it failing when trade access to jade is cut off by the faction's trade partner.
    • For that matter, administration buildings which reduce corruption are this as they require fairly-built up cities. In contrast, mints can be built in less-developed towns.
    • Certain reforms have powerful effects, but require the completion of two or more branches before they can be implemented.
  • Badass Family: Characters who are related to each other can share significant boosts in combat.
  • Badass Long Robe: Averted Trope - unlike the other character types, Strategists wear robes on the battlefield while everyone wears armour. They also are unable to enter duels unlike all other officer types, and die about as fast as you'd expect when they get into combat.
  • Big Badass Battle Sequence: The promotional materials have shown a few, namely Cao Cao's pursuit of Dong Zhuo at Xingyang (190CE) and his showdown with Yuan Shao at Guandu (200CE). note 
  • Big Good: Cao Cao is portrayed as such in the initial trailers, but after the release of 'A Hero's Journey' trailer, it is clear that this figure is actually Liu Bei. In addition, in the campaign map, Liu has traits such as 'Kind' and 'Humble'. Also, he is described as the Leader of the People, reflecting his role in the original Romance (even if this was debatable in real life).
  • Balkanize Me: At game start, the only large factions are Dong Zhuo and the utterly weak Han empire, with warlords peppering the land.
  • Bilingual Bonus:
  • Blade on a Stick: A weapon favoured by many during this period. Prominent users include Lü Bu (halberd) Guan Yu (The Green Dragon Crescent Blade, a guandao) and Zhang Fei (serpent spear).
    • Infantry units seemingly heavily use spears, alongside large shields, forming up in tight formations for protection against arrow volleys.
    • The ji halberd is also a common weapon, with a single-headed and an anachronistic double-headed variant.
  • Butt-Monkey: The Han empire is this, as the faction is unable to recruit troops or build buildings. In addition, any faction who has Liu Xie in their possession can march up to any Han settlement, pay the coin cost and just take over the administration.
    • At the meta level, AI Yuan Shu is treated like this, as his unique Legitimacy mechanic makes him less liked by the other factions. Along with his rather precarious starting position, he's often treated like The Friend Nobody Likes.
  • The Chessmaster: Cao Cao is a brilliant military strategist (one of the finest of his era), but as his trailer depicts, his true skill is maneuvering himself into greater power. His unique abilities are also themed around this, allowing him extra ways to influence relationships and even incite proxy wars.
  • Chronic Backstabbing Disorder: Depending on their traits, some faction leaders may be prone to this, and they (obviously) tend to be poor allies or vassals.
  • Civil War: The historical "Three Kingdoms" are the Kingdoms of Wu, Shu-Han and Wei. They all consider themselves to be China. You can imagine this leads to quite a few violent disagreements.
    • On a meta level, you can trigger this if your spy manages to infilitrate the top ranks of an enemy faction. Of course, enemy spies can also do the same to you.
  • Colour-Coded for Your Convenience: The Wu Xing ("Five Elements") are assigned colours for easy identification. This extends to the Reform tree and troop types.
    • Diplomatic stances are also color-coded when the AI factions take their turns. Factions leaders at war with you have a red background around their portraits, allies are blue while vassals are green. Leaders at war with your alliance are marked in pink.
  • Conservation of Ninjutsu: Enforced in Romance mode. If a duel is taking place between two Generals, no one will interfere unless you specifically order the unit to - even when it's a single General vs another AND his five units of Ji Militia.
  • Cosmetically Different Sides: Downplayed among the non-Yellow Turban factions. Each leader has strengths in different fields, and while certain troops are common among them, they usually have unique troop types and buildings.
    • Averted by the Yellow Turbans, who have entirely different buildings and reforms, and unique playstyles. They cannot even recruit officers from non-Yellow Turban factions.
  • Decapitated Army: Retinue units take a large morale hit if their attached commander is defeated and can no longer rally if they break. The same applies to the sub-commanders if the commanding General dies.
  • The Dragon: Dong Zhuo's adopted son, Lü Bu , is this to him.
  • Do Well, but Not Perfect: The player would do well to remember that as the faction leader rises in rank or power, the endgame becomes closer and closer. Should any faction leader reach the rank of King, the game will automatically crown the top three ranked non-governor faction leaders emperors, and the three factions will automatically declare war on each other. Governor factions cannot be crowned emperors this way; they must capture the capital of an existing emperor instead.
  • Duel to the Death: A mechanic inside Romance mode, with any general on the field being able to challenge any enemy non-Strategist general to one. Potentially downplayed in that either side can choose to leg it even after accepting, but the morale penalty from doing this anyway just might cost their side the battle too.
  • Easy Logistics: Still there to a degree, but handled more elegantly than in the past. Armies now carry supplies, which recover in friendly territory and deplete when in hostile territory or besieged; low supplies mean attrition. Additionally, new units no longer pop into existence with a full headcount after a set number of turns, instead being recruited gradually over that time much like replenishment.
    • Played straight with the new retinue system: you can recall a general's retinue anywhere in your empire, then deploy it again elsewhere within your territory in the next turn, plus a few turns to muster the units to full strength. This functions as an Anti-Frustration Feature, as moving your armies between fronts would take too long otherwise. Also, you can only field a fixed number of generals per season.
  • Evil Is Bigger: The cinematic trailer shows Lü Bu towering over common foot soldiers, wearing a formidable suit of armour and effortlessly slaughtering several coalition swordsmen in the blink of an eye.
  • Eyepatch of Power: Xiahou Dun, one of Cao Cao's generals, can be depicted with an eyepatch as per tradition. He will initially have both eyes, until the event that causes him to lose one happens.
  • Fat Bastard: Dong Zhuo has a massive gut, as he's often depicted in media.
  • Foe-Tossing Charge: Generals can get the Mighty Knockback skill which will naturally do this on a successful charge.
  • For Great Justice: By far what most of the Warlords describe as being their main drive. The smallfolk suffers and corruption reaches critical mass - literally with the bloated tyrant Dong Zhuo - which is why most of the Warlords broke with the Han Empire. Their actual drive may differ, however...
  • Full-Circle Revolution: The Yellow Turbans are open about the fact that they seek to supplant the Han dynasty and its corrupt nobility with a new dynasty worthy of the Mandate of Heaven, and not overthrow the idea of an Emperor. If you achieve the Yellow Sky Mandate, you can even seat your own faction leader as Emperor just to rub it in; alternatively you can seat a random peasant on the throne and completely upset the social order instead.
  • Geo Effects: Both the Yangtze and the Yellow River form formidable barriers. Unplanned conquests which leave a faction with territory on both sides of the rivers may have some difficulty in defence...
  • Grey and Black Morality: For all the talk of peace and order, all the Warlords during the game are ruthless Generals readily sending thousands upon thousands of soldiers to their death, ostensibly "for the good of the realm". Even the ones who are legitimately interested in decency like Liu Bei, Kong Rong or arguably Cao Cao are still warlords who press the peasantry to their breaking-point to feed their armies and fight their battles... And that's just the Grey ones! The Black ones, such as Dong Zhuo, Yuan Shu or Zheng Jiang are entirely self-serving and could care less if they have to slaughter the entirety of China to stay on top.
    • White And Black Morality: It must be said though that, on a personal level, quite a lot of the characters in-game are very good people, who wish to help others and save the peasantry from tyranny and chaos. Only a few characters are legitimately cruel and horrible people, and many are extremely virtuous and decent. Random characters can fall everywhere on the spectrum, depending on their Traits.
  • Gunboat Diplomacy: An actual diplomatic option is to demand something from another faction which will cause a war declaration against them if it is not accepted.
  • Hard-Coded Hostility: Yellow Turban playable factions cannot engage in the most rudimentary of diplomacy until the mid-game, and are essentially in a state of permanent war with the rest of China until the Three Kingdoms form. The Yellow Turban rebels are at war with everyone who isn't a playable Yellow Turban.
    • This also happens in the endgame. Once a faction becomes strong enough to declare itself king, the top three non-governor factions all declare themselves as emperors and automatically go to war.
  • Hegemonic Empire: Strong leaders on their way to unifying China often build this type of empire, by intimidating/bribing factions to become their vassals. Vassals have to give up a portion of their coin income to the hegemon, and have to seek permission before declaring war. Territory controlled by vassals count toward the territorial requirement of the victory condition.
  • Kill It with Fire: The best way to deal with a defender's very powerful towers is to burn them down with flaming arrows or flaming shot. These arrows can also cause a morale penalty to enemies hit to help rout them sooner.
  • King Incognito: After the Emperor abdicates, there is a chance he'll appear to your court as a Level 1 Commander.
  • Kung Fu-Proof Mook: Downplayed by Strategists, who are unable to duel. This however doesn't prevent others from sending just about any melee unit to probably kill them instead anyway.
  • Later Installment Weirdness: Downplayed. Unlike previous historical Total War titles, Three Kingdoms takes cues from the Total War: Warhammer games, such a One-Man Army generals with active abilities, battles focusing on clever use of high-powered actions, and one-on-one duels with Mook Chivalry, but only in the Romance mode. Playing in Records mode removes many of the fantastical elements for a more traditional Total War game.
  • Loyal to the Position: In a marked departure from past Total War games, troops under any individual officer are loyal to that officer only; they cannot be reassigned to another officer's command (unless the officer passed away outside of combat). Also, when the officer leaves a faction's service, the troops they command will also leave the faction with them.
  • Luck-Based Mission: Apart from Zhuge Liang, Zhou Yu and Sima Yi, none of the heroes who aren't on the map from the start are guaranteed to spawn in a given campaign. It's possible, for example, to play as Cao Cao and never come across Dian Wei or Xu Chu throughout your whole campaign.
  • Mêlée à Trois: What the endgame essentially boils down to. The moment any faction leader reaches the rank of King, the game will immediately elevate the top three ranked non-governor faction leaders to emperors, and the three factions will declare war on each other.
  • Nice Hat: All characters don fancy historical headgears.
  • Non-Indicative Name: Strictly speaking, the Three Kingdoms era truly began more than 30 years after the game's start date.
  • Obligatory War-Crime Scene: One of the trailers shows Dong Zhuo's army razing the imperial capital of Luoyang and slaughtering civilian stragglers on their retreat to Chang'an.
  • One-Man Army: Generals in Romance mode, who can hold their own against entire units in the right matchups.
  • Only Six Faces: There's a limited number of characters with unique models, and generic characters have very little variance between them.
  • The Power of Friendship: The Chinese cultural ideal of guanxi is adapted into a game mechanic, making characters with close relationships fight better when they're together on the battlefield.
  • Promoted to Playable: Dong Zhuo can be unlocked by becoming an Emperor with any of the starting warlords. And when you play his campaign, you will stumble upon an event that allows Lü Bu to usurp him as the faction leader.
  • Puppet King: The child-emperor, Liu Xie, has no real power and is merely a figurehead (and hostage) to Dong Zhuo.
  • Redshirt Army: Early in the game, most armies will be compromised of peasants and militias who are likely to die by the thousands. Somewhat averted in that they actually deal decent damage; they just can't take it, which is what leads to such deadly confrontations.
  • The Remnant: At game start, the main Yellow Turban uprising has been put down, but Huang Shao, Gong Du and He Yi still lead local bands of Yellow Turbans and low public order can cause more to arise. If playing a Yellow Turban leader, your main objective is to reverse this state of affairs.
  • The Revolution Will Not Be Civilized: The Yellow Turbans are capable of the same brutality as the nobles they oppose, including sacking towns, beheading surrendered enemies and press-ganging foes into their armies. On occasion, they can even come into conflict with local Yellow Turban uprisings. And, of course, ultimately their goal isn't to completely undo the Chinese social order, but simply put a more worthy dynasty in charge. In addition, they struggle with corruption as they do not have institutions to combat corruption; fighting corruption is dependent on Local Leadersnote , which are limited in number.
  • The Revolution Will Not Be Vilified: That said, their factions' creed, technologies and the fluff text on most of their units and buildings make clear that the Yellow Turbans are ultimately motivated by a desire for justice and egalitarianism for China's peasantry; their farms, industrial buildings and housing buildings are collectivized instead of feudal, and all of their Legendary Lords (especially He Yi) are presented as humble and pious characters.
  • Roaring Rampage of Revenge: Generals declaring themselves "Oathsworn" to one another gain armour and ranged evasion buffs for fighting on the same battlefield...but if their Oathsworn falls on the battlefield, they/their unit will go berserk. Hope it won't be a Self-Destructive Charge for you!
  • Royals Who Actually Do Something: Any character who crowns themselves Emperor will inevitably be this, having fought dozens of battles and done much to save the realm from chaos and turmoil.
  • Scenery Porn: The campaign map renders classical China, from the Central Plains to the southern karst mountains of Guilin, in breathtaking beauty.
  • Self-Destructive Charge: In Three Kingdoms, polearm units while braced can reflect a mounted unit's charge bonus back at them. You better believe this is what happens when shock cavalry charges into the front of such a unit.
  • Settling the Frontier: Downplayed. While the frontier does exist (in the south) and it is expensive to colonise abandoned settlements, it is not particularly dangerous otherwise.
  • Shown Their Work:
    • In the Sun Jian trailer, the Imperial Seal is shown to be a jade block with one corner replaced with gold. This is true to historical records: the seal was damaged in 9 CE when it was thrown into the ground by Empress Dowager Wang in response to Wang Mang's usurpation of the throne. Wang Mang would later order the damaged corner to be restored with gold.
    • The army banners use not only the correct Chinese characters for the names of faction leaders, but also have them written in seal script and clerical script, which were prevalent during the Han dynasty as the Chinese regular script hadn't been developed yet.
      • One particular detail is Liu Bei's banner, which use the historically-accurate character 'Han' as opposed to the oft-depicted character 'Shu' seen in many other adaptations.
    • In Cao Cao's trailer, the Go game he played with Yuan Shao is reenacting a real gameplay from the Qing Dynasty. The black (Cao Cao) is struggling against the white (Yuan Shao) until it turns the table in the corner of the board, which the white did not see coming.
  • Shout-Out:
  • Smart People Play Chess: Several characters are shown playing weiqi (or Go).
  • Space-Filling Empire: Not the best way to complete your quest to rule all of China. As a faction's domain increases, corruption will increase, which in turn decreases coin income. Deciding whether to hold settlements or commanderies yourself or to parcel them out to trustworthy vassals is a major part of gameplay from mid-game onwards.
  • Succession Crisis: In the early game, the Emperor is still nominally in charge (though whoever is keeping him in their court is the de facto ruler), but once he abdicates, it's every man for himself (and the Dragon Throne). Eventually, the three largest non-governor factions will declare themselves dynasties, and begin fighting among themselves for the right to become Emperor of all China.
  • Tech Tree: Non-Yellow Turban factions utilizes a Reforms tech tree that is literally a tree: as Reforms are implemented, they blossom like flower buds while the branches said flowers rest on extends; more complex reforms are represented by branches that intertwine, requiring all previous flower buds to bloom before the reform can be issued.
  • Took a Level in Jerkass: Cao Cao's wife, Lady Bian, is surprisingly put with several toxic traits, making her prone to rebelling or not getting along with Cao Cao (and as a Legendary unit, she will retain that trait everytime). This is a far cry from her historical or novel portrayal, as a devoted, kind matriarch of the Cao family, respected by her sons and Cao Cao himself.
  • Tyrant Takes the Helm: The game starts briefly after Dong Zhuo, a cruel north-western warlord, had taken control of the Emperor as his Prime Minister and is now the de-facto ruler of the Han Dynasty.
  • Unfortunate Names: With random name generators, you could end up with someone with the name "Ma Dong" or "Long Wang" or anything that would sound inappropriate if spoken in English language. This is eventually patched that you'll no longer get randoms with such name.
  • Unstable Equilibrium: Downplayed. While a faction's large domain can bring with it significant advantages, the game does penalize large realms with some disadvantages.
    • Large realms bring with them increasing corruption, which reduces coin income. Corruption can be mitigated, but never fully eliminated once a realm is big enough.
    • Other factions will see a large realm as a strategic threat, reducing their goodwill during diplomacy.
  • Violation of Common Sense: Some of the Steam achievements require actions which can be suicidal if not properly planned.
    • "This is Total War!" requires a campaign win, and having declared war on every faction as soon as you encounter them.
    • "Han Shot First" requires another faction to declare themselves emperor before you. If not playing as a governor faction, this usually means self-handicapping.
  • Young Future Famous People: The majority of the featured cast had yet to achieve the accomplishments which made them famous when the game starts. Cao Cao had yet to defeat Yuan Shao at Guan Du, while the Sun brothers are literally teenagers (and their sister a baby). For the strategists, Sima Yi and Zhuge Liang had yet to join their future masters, let alone begin their infamous rivalry. Pretty much the only characters who had already made their fame are Liu Biao, Dong Zhuo and Sun Jian.
  • You Require More Vespene Gas: Won't be a Total War game without this. Each resource usually has more than one way of obtaining them.
    • Coin: The main currency of the game. Factions earn this via taxation from the peasantry, commerce from marketplaces/trade ports and industry such as mineral extraction or product manufacturing. Coin is also earned from occupying spice depots (found in the southwest) or silk markets (found in the northwest). Coin is spent on the construction of buildings, recruitment of troops and their maintenance. It is also used to pay officers' salaries.
    • Food: Used for increasing peasant populations in towns and settlements. Food surplus is also needed to maintain military supplies for the troops. Low food supplies will result in decreased public order, troop desertions and peasants fleeing. Food can be obtained from farming, rearing livestock or fishing.
    • Population: Population increases peasantry coin income by a percentage, increases construction speed for buildings and allows faster replenishment of depleted retinues, but they also decrease public order. Peasantry are attracted to towns and settlements by food surpluses and high public order.
    • Trade Resources: Mainly used in determining the value of trade agreements between factions. However, various resources enable the construction of special buildings which help in the governance of the realm. Trade resources can be obtained via trade agreements or by occupying settlements which produce the resource.
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