Everything we know about Total War: Three Kingdoms

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In 2019 the wait for a new full-scale historical Total War game will be over. The series is taking on ancient Chinese history during the tumultuous Three Kingdoms era in a game that promises to celebrate the period's legendary heroes on and off the battlefield. 

That means some big changes to the typical Total War formula. Though we haven't seen much of the game in action, there are plenty of details out there. Here's everything we know so far.

What's the Total War: Three Kingdoms release date?

Total War: Three Kingdoms is due out in spring 2019. It was originally due to come out in Autumn 2018 but has since been pushed back.

Are there trailers?

A few so far. The first gameplay footage shows scenes from a siege, with flashes of new UI and hero abilities, including a climactic duel at the end.

The next video digs into Cao Cao's dilemma. In a Steam post CA highlights some of Cao Cao's in-game abilities including:

Opportunistic manipulator: The wily Cao Cao sees opportunity in the hardship of others, skewing scenarios and fortunes to his favour.

Imperious presence: Cao Cao's commanding authority can inspire all around him to take arms and rise up in action.

Trust of god: One of the finest swords ever created, and Cao Cao personal weapon of choice.

Shadow runner: A horse famed for its elegance and speed, said to move so swiftly as to outrun its own shadow.

The debut trailer sets the scene, shows off some gorgeous battle scenes, and introduces several heroes from the era. You see heroes duelling, too, which is a new battle mechanic in the game.

What's the setting of Total War: Three Kingdoms?

The game is set in second-to-third century China after the dissolution of the Han dynasty. Dong Zhuo rules through his puppet, the child emperor, and two leaders—Cao Cao and Yuan Shao—form a fragile alliance to take him down. The power struggles of the period have since been mythologised, most famously in Luo Guanzhong's 14th century epic Romance of the Three Kingdoms. 

Total War: Three Kingdoms is heavily influenced by the romanticised story, in which the heroes possess almost superhuman combat and tactical prowess. This will be reflected on the battlefield, where combat specialists can take on a unit of one hundred enemies single-handedly. On the official Total War blog game director Janos Gaspar says that "characters are very much the cornerstone of the game: their interactions, friendships, rivalries and personalities drive the campaign game like never before."

As well as Cao Cao and Yuan Shao, the trailers show Liu Bei, Zhang Fei and Guan Yu standing together, and the gameplay features Lu Bu, Zhang Liao, and Xiahou Dun. The heroes and their allied warlords eventually form the three kingdoms of Cao Wei to the north, Sun Wu to the southeast, and Shu Han in the southwest. It looks as though the game will cover the events from the fall of Dong Zhuo onwards. Given Total War's sandbox nature, will three kingdoms form in every game once Dong Zhou has been toppled?

Whatever happens, you'll be playing to unite China under your rule. This is the first time Total War has visited Chinese history, which means all-new units, battlefields, and commanders.

What's new?

Instead of picking a faction, as is traditional in Total War, you pick a character from a choice of 11. Playing as that individual, you recruit generals who come with retinues. You can find unique items for each character and their mounts, as Lu Bu shows in gameplay trailer. There are different classes of hero with different active and passive abilities in combat. Guardians are combat masters that can soak up damage, while Strategists can debuff enemies at range. Commanders, meanwhile, excel at buffing nearby friendly troops.

The heroes you bring into battle determine the makeup of your army. You can bring a collection—five are shown in one army in the gameplay trailer—heroes and their retinues into a fight, and the units in each retinue depend on the hero commanding them. Supposedly the interpersonal dynamics between heroes will have consequences on the battlefield, and heroes will even have different levels of self-regard.

In our Total War: Three Kingdoms preview senior designer Simon Mann told us "we have this satisfaction mechanic which is about how a character feels about where they are in life, like their lot within your faction or an enemy faction, and that's something that's driven by all of these relationships and events that occur in every game."

Heroes will also allow you to adopt formations in your army, though these abilities will unlock gradually over the course of the campaign. Mann's example suggests that bringing a high level strategist into battle might allow heavy cavalry to access the diamond formation.

These major changes to how armies work are reflected in a stripped down UI evident in the first gameplay trailer. We also know that agents are getting "very surprising" changes, but don't know precisely what they are yet.

So is it mythological or historical?

It sounds like Total War: Three Kingdoms is leaning into the rich fictionalised version of the era that we see expressed in Romance of the Three Kingdoms and, indeed, the Dynasty Warriors hack 'n slash series. This plays into the game's extensive new hero systems, which are designed to simulate some of the shifting allegiances of the period. We've yet to see these play out on the strategy map yet, though. The art direction also reflects the romanticised take on the era that pulls from art reflecting the period. It's similar to Shogun 2 in this regard. 

If you don't want to field heroes that can wreck units on their own, Total War: Three Kingdoms features a 'classic' mode that shuffles heroes into units and reduces their strength to believable human levels. Some of the more fantastical random events and characters won't turn up in this mode either. It's designed to be a more vanilla take to please long-term fans of historical Total War games.

Here are some Total War: Three Kingdoms screenshots

Here are a few in-engine stills that look as though they were taken from the siege scenario in the gameplay trailer.