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YMMV / Total War: Three Kingdoms

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  • Alternative Character Interpretation: As a Total War game, the player can opt to play the various personalities — both heroic and villainous — from the Three Kingdoms period in various ways, leading to this trope. From the lead-up to the game, Youtuber Cody Bonds provided an alternate take for, of all people, Dong Zhuo. He points out that Dong Zhuo can be seen as a victim of historical villification (which isn't entirely unfounded), and argues that many of his acts can be seen as Villain Has a Point and I Did What I Had to Do. Many of the Tyrant's more traditionally-reviled actions — such as the burning of Luoyang and the use of fear tactics — have a rather logical basis in military strategy and psychological warfare. The video can be seen here.
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  • Annoying Video-Game Helper: Some Hero units like Sun Ce can gain a passive ability that makes them stronger and faster in melee at the cost of making them uncontrollable, which is usually more trouble than it's worth, because not only can they not use special abilities anymore, they also always terminate all commands when the rage wears off. This means you have to constantly reorder them to pursue fleeing enemies every two seconds or so.
  • Anti-Climax Boss: Dong Zhuo can come off as this to players who aren't familiar with the time period, as the work that the promotional materials put into setting him up as the Big Bad is usually undone when he's assassinated by Lü Bu near the beginning of the 190 CE campaign. Averted in the 182 CE campaign, as Dong is still a minor character at the start.
  • Author's Saving Throw: Prior to Fates Divided, several factions which were playable in certain start dates were not playable in others despite their existence; examples include Yuan Shu and Ma Teng in 182 CE, and Liu Chong in 194 CE. With the patch accompanying Fates Divided, these were resolved.
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  • Broken Base: Some think that CA should decide between history and fantasy instead of adapting a semi-historical heroic fantasy novel. This persists in spite of the fact that the game has two different modes of campaign: a realistic historical one, and an embellished romantic one with the standard Wuxia flair. However, players have noted the lack of attention towards "Records" mode, making it less balanced than the "Romance" mode.
  • Complacent Gaming Syndrome:
    • Players playing as Cao Cao in 190 CE would almost certainly use Cao Song in some form of marriage diplomacy, since Song is going to die a few turns into the game.
    • Players who want a relatively easy time will use Sun Jian, due to the reasons listed under his Demonic Spiders entry below.
      • For that matter, anyone starting remotely near the south will rush to grab the Han commanderies in the south-east, as three of the map's six copper mines are located in the region; copper allows the player to eventually build a mint in the settlement to reduce faction-wide inflation.
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    • Players trying for the "Han Shot First" achievement will play as a governor faction, and is very likely to choose Liu Biao, as his starting position is by far the strongest/flexible of the three original governors. His only difficulty at the start is a shortage of food, which can be resolved by trading with his vassals. In contrast, Ma Teng can become hampered by his alliance with Han Sui, while his starting position is uncomfortably close to Dong Zhuo, making it difficult to grab Han commanderies without igniting a big war. Kong Rong's main difficulty is a mandatory battle with Yellow Turban rebels near Beihai a few turns into his campaign. note 
      • Inverted by Liu Biao in the 182CE bookmark. As he requires Tea as a strategic resource for his advanced Lodge buildings, Liu Biao has to expand towards the south. However, the Yellow Turbans are mostly located in the north.
    • Strategists are practically a must-have in every army, since they're the only hero type to be able to recruit missile units above the basic Archer Militia, and have access to the only usable-against-enemy-units siege weapon in the game, Trebuchets (which are a Game-Breaker in of themselves).
      • Vanguards are a close-second with how a shock cavalry's charge into most units will utterly total enemy units, unless they have charge negation or charge which then you can just rear charge them, which will total pretty much any unit.
    • Factions who start with an underage heir will mostly likely swap in an adult (especially a Commander) to act as a placeholder, since the position is pretty important, and the faction heir's Authority increases the satisfaction rating of officials.
      • In the same vein, when increasing the stats of faction leaders and heirs, Authority occupies a pretty high spot. This is made easier with Nanman factions, as they can straight away pick increases in Authority whenever their characters gain levels.
    • Non-Yellow Turban factions will almost always have an inn in every city they control, to take advantage of the percentage bonus to coin income from commerce provided by the city administration building. This goes doubly true if the commandary has a spice/silk depot, in order to take advantage of the assignment which grants a huge bonus to coin income from commerce/silk/spice. Yellow Turban factions, on the other hand, will almost always have their grain depot along with their inn (both of which increases public order), as their city administration building does not produce any income from peasantry.
    • In the 182 CE bookmark, non-Yellow Turban factions will almost always get their city settlement to level 4 asap, so that they can build temples to increase public order and reduce fervor, which helps a lot in preventing YT uprisings.
    • Nanman players will almost always have Sites of Worship in their cities, as they reduce corruption and increase prestige, which the Nanman factions have some difficulty in accumulating.
    • In Eight Princes, inns are very high on the building priority list as they also increase noble support, in addition to their coin income from commerce.
      • With the map expansion from patch 1.6, Sima Ying becomes an easier prince to play as, even more so than the previous candidate, Sima Ai. Ying starts closest to the Nanman lands; unlike Ai, he faces no restrictions in building choices. As long as Ying can maintain peace with his northern neighbours, he can slowly colonise and build up the Nanman lands and from there, move on to greater goals.
      • Players using Sima Ai will prioritize occupying minor settlements which provide food, as food producing structures in his commandery capitals reduce his reformation gain. On that note, his commandery capitals would almost always have schools and inns; schools increase his reformation gain, while inns don't reduce the gain and synergize well with markets, which increases commerce income and reformation gain.
  • Critical Research Failure: In Mandate, when playing as Liu Hong, the eunuchs and scholars were placed in the same "bureaucrat" faction, which was absolutely not the case historically. note 
  • Demonic Spiders: Yuan Shao tends to expand very quickly and vassalise many factions on the campaign map, thanks to his abundance of starting resources as an NPC, even those he doesn't share a border with. He will even vassalize your own allies and make them betray you if you go to war with him. Pretty much the only way to counter him is to vassalize your allies so that they cannot make deals with him.
    • Another DS candidate is Sun Jian, as his starting position is relatively opposition-free. By gobbling up the commanderies held by the pathetically weak Han Empire, his faction can easily expand to cover most of China south of the Yangtze, leading his faction to probably be an eventual huge opponent later in the game. note  To rub it in, two nearby commanderies, Changsha and Poyang, are excellent sources of coin income from commerce and industry respectively.
  • Dueling Games: Mandate with Romance of the Three Kingdoms XIV, as both games are released on the same day in Jan 2020. A World Betrayed is also scheduled to clash with Romance's DLC release in March 2020.
  • Ending Fatigue: Both the Three Kingdoms and Eight Princes campaigns suffer from this for their Ultimate Victory conditions. That being said, its more basic victory has an advantage compared to most other Total War games due to only requiring you be powerful enough to declare yourself Emperor, having enough territory and seizing the capitals of other two rival kingdoms — which also may be done simply by killing most of their forces, as that will quickly cause them to concede and give you their faction's holdings.
    • In Kingdoms, the Ultimate Victory is to eliminate, vassalise or have as coalition members or military allies every single faction.
    • In Princes, the Ultimate Victory is to eliminate the other seven Princes. In some ways, this is actually harder as over the course of the campaign, the player may have a few princes as vassals.
  • Ensemble Dark Horse:
    • Kong Rong proves a surprisingly popular starting character for many players, thanks to his unique civic-oriented gameplay, charismatic Nice Guy persona, and generally peaceful demeanor (players definitely love having someone they can count on making a trade agreement and playing nice with them for at least a while). Certainly better off than his historical fate of him and his family being executed by Cao Cao with his body left on the streets.
    • Sun Ren is one of the few unique female characters and is a potent Game-Breaker (and also based on one of the more prominent females in the novels). It's not seldom to see some players staying single and waiting until she comes to age, upon which they would flood Sun Jian's mailbox with proposals to make her their waifu.
    • Zheng Jiang's announcement mostly had people saying "Who?" Creative Assembly said they came up with her faction to deliver a distinctive experience as an outsider to all of the empire's politics, and her actual gameplay really does effectively have players struggle through a difficult start via one of the game's most powerful Action Girls before they terrorize China and force all of other factions to prostrate themselves before the Bandit Queen and hand over their money (to say nothing of the hilarity of her Infamy mechanic later allowing you to have an entire faction that is unbreakable in morale). Even much of her Reforms tree has different titles and flavor text to highlight her bandit background compared to the other factions.
    • The Mandate of Heaven DLC takes a spotlight to Liu Chong, a bona fide badass from the Han imperial court that gets overlooked in most Three Kingdoms media. His historical affinity for crossbows translates to powerful archery bonuses, which along with his unique design and trophy room mechanic makes him a new favourite among players.
  • Friendly Fandoms: Between the Total War fans and Dynasty Warriors fans since the latter are getting a RTS game set during China's Three Kingdoms period. As well, with the 2010 Three Kingdoms TV series, given that's the largest budget TV adaptation of the novel.
  • Gateway Series: The game helped introduce many longtime players to the larger corpus of Three Kingdoms media, especially the 2010 TV series with all its meme potential.
  • Genius Bonus: The names of some duchies/kingdoms were from the Eastern Zhou era. Examples include Chu (Liu Biao), Qi (Kong Rong), Yan (Gongsun Zan) and Song (Yuan Shao).
    • Liu Bei, unlike the other warlords, starts at a lower rank unique to him named Shoemaker, which was indeed his profession before he joined the local militia.
  • Goddamned Bats: Horse archers aren't really very strong or numerous when they show up, but they like to take up your time and patience to bring them down because they can outrun almost anything you sic on them, only to turn around and pepper you with Annoying Arrows if you change your mind and decide to engage other troops. Strategist heroes, when employed by the enemy, are also often annoying for similar reasons.
  • Hilarious in Hindsight: Before the announcement of Three Kingdoms, several mods had already been made for the previous Total War entries that focus on Ancient China.
  • It's the Same, Now It Sucks!: Eight Princes suffered from this when it soon became clear that many assets were recycled from the Three Kingdoms campaign, right down to four characters' personality descriptions being direct copies of characters from the main campaign (with the names intact; examples include Sima Jiong-Yuan Shao and Sima Ying-Liu Bei). It didn't help that the victory conditions were very similar to the Age of Charlemagne campaign for Total War: Attila. note 
  • Memetic Badass:
    • He Man of the Yellow Turbans. As opposed to dying in the moment he appeared in the novel, he is playable for the He Yi faction and got the Unique status, giving him a non-generic model. Despite being listed as a 'Scholar', many already put up jokes and badass feats of He-Man on the guy. Supporting this are how his sub-title is "The Most Powerful" and one of his skills are the rare "Hail of Arrows", which can wipe out a chunk of units and even enemy generals in one shot, and the only ones capable doing it are mostly big names like Taishi Ci, Huang Zhong or Gan Ning...
    • Yuan Shao is usually known for being an arrogant, overstretching buffoon who's only real strength is a good name and lots of money. In Three Kingdoms, Yuan Shao is the great Vassalizer, easily unifying most of China against the player within the early game. Many memes have been made on Shao's great desire to cover his vassal needs.
    • Kong Rong, something of a minor character in the original Romance, has attracted the Reddit fanbase's love both for his grin on the campaign map and for just how much money he can make. In Total Tycoon: Three Kingdoms, he will buy China a commandery at a time, 50% off. He's also been photoshopped into King Kong.
  • Memetic Mutation:
    • Fans have been making a lot of Dynasty Warriors and/or Three Kingdoms memes over this game.
    • Dong Zhuo and Kong Rong's names are quite easy to meme on. note 
      • Ascended Meme: CA called Dong Zhuo "Big Daddy Dong Zhuo" in the official promotion "How to play as Lyu Bu" video, a name the fans have been using in several iterations since the Dong Zhuo trailer.
    • Kong Rong's shit-eating grin on the campaign map has grown to be the most well-known thing about him.
    • Lots of people like to joke about Liu Bei's baby throwing incident, not that he has already done it by the game's start date (or in history). The actual event of Zhao Yun going behind enemy lines and saving Liu Shan is actually referenced in-game with a random event, but the subsequent infant tossing is unsurprisingly unmentioned.
    • The mightiest warlords of the tail-end of the Han dynasty apparently really liked clay animals. note 
    • Due to fandom overlap, the community has numerous memes using the 2010 TV series.
    • Sun Ren comes of age on Turn 87 (when starting in the 190 CE start date), prompting many jokes about players waiting until then to spam her with marriage proposals.
    • The 1.40 patch accompanying the Mandate of Heaven DLC sometimes caused a large number of generic officers to spawn with the name "Ji Ben", gaining a Memetic Badass reputation of sorts among players.
    • With the reveal trailer for A World Betrayed, fans have began calling the expansion the "daddy issues DLC". As YouTuber King Yat Yau puts it in the DLC trailer's comment section;
    This seems to suggest that this whole Three Kingdoms mess could have been avoided had everyone just gone to group counselling and talked about their dad feelings.
  • Narm: Players probably find the generally-exaggerated smiles characters wear with a high satisfaction stat to be more amusing than they're supposed to.
    • Also, as the named characters in the game died or aged away, the new characters will appear with random names that are unfortunate enough to make Chinese players laugh their asses off.
    • While some of the major characters like Cao Cao or Liu Bei have good voice actors, many of the minor (and in particular non-unique) ones aren't so lucky. As a result, some of them have a noticeable lisp, and others like Kong Rong sound like they are characters in a kids animation movie.
  • Non-Indicative Difficulty: At the 190 CE start, Sun Jian's campaign difficulty is listed as "Normal". However, among other benefits like having a powerful family tree and access to mercenaries, Sun Jian's starting position is the furthest south of all the Warlords, giving him unrestricted access to a massive number of undefended Han settlements, allowing him to conquer the entire bottom half of China with little opposition and become a massive kingdom. As a result most players consider his campaign the easiest. Cao Cao meanwhile, whose campaign is listed as "Easy", starts centrally positioned on an open plain and tends to get caught up in the battle royale that is Northern China, making his campaign far from "Easy."
    • Emperor Liu Hong from the Mandate of Heaven DLC is an even worse offender. Ostensibly a "Very Hard" faction, he in fact has one of the easiest campaigns in the game, if not the easiest. Starting off with the massive advantages of a late-game army that only has to pay 20% of its normal upkeep and what's effectively a military alliance with the rest of China, his faction is supposed to be balanced by the large negative modifiers incurred, thanks to the number of eunuchs within his court, chief among these being the per-turn deficit incurred on account of their high salaries. Dealing with this problem, however, becomes a cakewalk once you realize that a eunuch can be dismissed every other turn without penalty, and with 100,000 currency in the treasury at the start of the campaign you have plenty of time to do it. As for the Mandate War itself? The warlords will more often than not prove themselves completely capable of beating the Yellow Turbans without your assistance, meaning that it is perfectly possible to win as Liu Hong without ever leaving your starting commandery. This one became so bad that CA created a hotfix to make him a harder faction to play as; said patch was also the only balance patch to be released before the addition of A World Betrayed.
      • The trope becomes averted as of patch 1.5.3. For some reason, Liu Hong is unable to "Request Aid" from his court officials, which lowers their satisfaction. Before "Request Aid" was removed, it was a vital part of any player's strategy in order to force eunuchs to leave the imperial court.
  • Scrappy Mechanic: Office swapping. You cannot just for some reason make your chancellor and your Grand commander swap offices. One of them must first be assigned to a completely new office before the other can relocate to that post. This is particularly annoying for province administrators, who for some unfathomable reason can't be just reassigned to another province like assignees. No, the only ways to do so are to demote them out of office and then repromote them again or to promote them first and then demote them again, and they will greatly dislike you for having demoted them at least once. And if you somehow lose the province in question (by trading it away or seeing it conquered for example), they will somehow just remain in office, now holding an office that no longer gives you any benefits.
  • Screwed by the Network: Creative Assembly's announcement in May 2021 that official support for the game has ended was widely seen as this, particularly since many bugs remain in the final version (patch 1.71).
  • Surprise Difficulty: Cao Cao is the game's recommendation for an "easy" game in 190 CE. However, this lower difficulty is only apparent if the player uses his unique Credibility to make other factions like him or to incite proxy wars. Location-wise, he actually starts in a crowded neighborhood, and with Yuan Shao not too far away. Moreover, he has two unique building chains; one of them can only be built over rice/grain settlements, making it easy to miss.
    • Ma Teng's start is fairly normal, even on Hard difficulty. Fight an army, take a town, start building infrastructure, that whole jazz. Now, after the release of the Yellow Turban DLC, following the normal starter path is almost guaranteed to result in a wiped army. After taking the nearby Yellow Turban commandery, which you are prompted to do, you will see Gong Du's army in its starting position, facing down a Han army. While normally this is fine, the starting armies usually are about equal in strength, you just fought two battles against opponents that don't surrender, chipping down your forces, while the Han army is highly likely to retreat from Gong Du, allowing him to just waltz up and force you into a remarkably difficult siege battle with his full starter army. A nasty surprise for anyone unaware, and throws Ma Teng's whole game plan out of whack.
  • That One Achievement: Depending on the player's dislikes, many Steam achievements qualify for this.
    • Simply the Best note  requires heavy investment in Schools and other experience-gaining methods, which may not fit in the overall grand scheme of things. Oh, and your characters can easily die of old age. Averted in A World Betrayed, as Lyu Bu can get maximum rank pretty much incidentally.
    • Friend of Winter note  requires you to survive more than 80 in-game years (400 turns). By the time this achievement is unlocked, the historical Three Kingdoms era is ending in less than a decade's time. Even the easier Branching Out note  takes some time as the player is very likely to mix and match reforms from the various elements. With the Eight Princes campaign, Branching Out becomes much easier as the Espionage branch only has four technologies.
    • Party of Five note  is a race against time, as Huang Zhong starts the game with an advanced age and if he dies before you gather all 5, you have to start all over again. Also, the 5 officers are scattered throughout China.
  • Unconventional Learning Experience: Outside of the Koei Romance games, this game is pretty much the first place whereby many people heard of warlords like Shi Xie and Gongsun Du, or realise that the northern and southern borders of the Han Dynasty extended to areas which are today outside the borders of the People's Republic.
    • The announcement of Eight Princes sparked widespread online searches for the short-lived Western Jin dynasty, which is relatively obscure despite being the historical Sequel to the wars of the Three Kingdoms.
  • Unexpected Character:
    • Sun Ren for several factors: Due to emulating war's authenticity where women emancipation wasn't that big in that era, there hasn't been any unique Action Girl in Total War series overall (even Shogun 2 Rise of the Samurai did not let us play as the legendary Tomoe Gozen). Additionally, popular depictions of the Wu strategist Zhou Yu tends to portray him as a Dude Looks Like a Lady. The combination of the above led people to think that the feminine character during Sun Jian's trailer would be Zhou Yu. But eventually, it's revealed to be Sun Ren after all.
    • The Eight Princes DLC. While some of the audience might know that the Jin dynasty was merely a respite before an even longer period of fragmentation, nobody expected the developers to dig up the War of the Eight Princes, which even many Chinese players know little of. At least, not as much as the Three Kingdoms.
    • The Mandate of Heaven DLC. Most players expected a new start date, but placed it later than 190C.E.. Very few expected an earlier start date, or that Emperor Ling himself to be playable.
    • The announcement of Mandate of Heaven sparked online searches for Liu Chong, the last Prince of Chen, as he was the most obscure among the new faction leaders announced.
  • Vocal Minority: A small number of Chinese players review-bombed Eight Princes on Steam after its announcement, apparently livid that it's set during a period that effectively heralded the Chinese Dark Ages.
  • Win Back the Crowd: After several months of fandom debate over whether it should prioritise historical accuracy over the fantastic, romanticised portrayal popularised by Romance of the Three Kingdoms, Creative Assembly announced that the campaign will have two modes, with one having the (relative) authenticity of their prior titles and the other depicting the main characters as larger-than-life, Warhammer-esque heroes.
    • After some intense pre-release debate in the fandom, Dong Zhuo was finally revealed as an unlockable character in the base game, making him the first in the series since Medieval II. It helps that his reveal trailer is perhaps one of the best that Creative Assembly has done.
    • Despite the initial uproar over the Yellow Turban DLC, the gameplay previews garnered positive reactions from the fans, showcasing their many unique units and whole new campaign features that put the DLC on par with Warhammer 2's in terms of content.
    • After Eight Princes were released, players generally felt that the expansion was merely average, as it did not expand on mechanics used in the original campaign. Mandate has been stated to specifically address this issue. Expansions after Mandate have also followed the trend, with The Furious Wild expansion stated to have Nanman tribes (albeit unplayable) appearing in the Mandate bookmark.
  • Woolseyism: The Chinese voice track option is this, as the narration is peppered with idioms and classical expressions, with the English subtitles being a partial translation at best.


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