Alternative Character Interpretation: As a Total War game, the player can opt to play the various personalities from the Three Kingdoms period in various ways, leading to this trope. From the lead-up to the game, two instances stand out:
Youtuber Cody Bonds provides 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.* It's worth noting that, even with this more generous and forgiving interpretation, Dong Zhuo still comes across as being kind of an asshole, even for the time period he lived in.
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 campaign.
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.
Players playing as Cao Cao 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.
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 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 Part of the historical Longzhong Plan by Zhuge Liang involved the taking over of Jingzhou (which Liu Biao's territory formed the northern half of; the southern half was held by Sun Jian at the game's start) before expanding to Yizhou.
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 reflection...at which then you can just rear charge them, which will total pretty much any unit.
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 Eight Princes, 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.
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 Historically, the Sun family did exactly that under Sun Jian's sons, with Sun Quan's alliance with Liu Bei famously leading to the defeat of Cao Cao at the Battle of Red Cliffs (Chibi). On the flip side, Wu was never able to expand north, as Cao Wei always managed to stop them at Hefei, with Wei even building and maintaining a fortress there. As for westward expansion, Wu stopped after recovering the southern half of Jingzhou in order to maintain the alliance with Shu-Han.To rub it in, two nearby commanderies, Changsha and Poyang, are excellent sources of coin income from commerce and industry respectively.
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.
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 "Literally 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.
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 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).
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 Both campaigns' initial victory conditions are basically "gather enough victory points" (Imperium in Charlemagne, Prestige in Princes).
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.
Dong Zhuo and Kong Rong's names are quite easy to meme on.
Ascended Meme: CA called Dong Zhuo "Big Daddy Dong Zhuo" in the official promotion "How to play as Lu 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.
Due to fandom overlap, the community has numerous memes using the 2010 TV series.
Sun Ren comes of age on Turn 87, prompting many jokes about players waiting until then to spam her with marriage proposals.
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.
Non-Indicative Difficulty: Sun Jian is supposed to be of "Normal" difficulty, but with him being down south surrounded by only minor factions that are easy to conquer and snowball off of, his faction mechanics being "Play Total War battles at a base level of competency" (It's actually "Inflict more casualties than your enemies in battles", but same difference) and being able to hire mercenaries to dodge most of the caveats of preparation or even replenishment that other factions will have to do to raise an force as long as you've got money to get them, and having excellent children to inherit his kingdom (Sun Ce in particular is in demand for players to recruit regardless of their actual faction for his +100 charge bonus to all cavalry while he is the faction leader, heir or prime minister)...all in all, most consider Sun Jian to be the game's real easy mode.
Surprise Difficulty: Cao Cao is the game's recommendation for an "easy" game. 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.
Simply the Bestnote Progress a character to the maximum rank. 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.
Friend of Winternote Unlock every reform in a single playthough. 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 Outnote Unlock an entire single element of the reforms tree. 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 Fivenote Have all 5 Tiger Generals (Guan Yu, Zhang Fei, Zhao Yun, Ma Chao, Huang Zhong) in your faction. 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.
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.
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.
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.