The rulers, generals, and warriors of the Three Kingdoms period are some of the most iconic figures in Chinese history, from master strategists like Cao Cao to legendary fighters like Lu Bu. In Total War: Three Kingdoms, Creative Assembly aim to bring these characters to life in an epic setting.
At the outset of a campaign, players assume the role of one of eleven heroic Warlords, each of whom bear distinctive traits and characteristics inspired by both history and legend. Warlords occupy one of five unique classes, each of which defines how they play, whether they are charismatic leaders, talented diplomats, cunning spymasters, or dazzling warriors.
Commander warlords most closely resemble a typical Total War general. While more than capable in the thick of battle, their true talents lie in their ability to inspire their troops and manipulate situations on the campaign map to lend themselves a tactical advantage.
Cao Cao, for example, specialises in diplomacy and manipulation, able to deftly improve his relations with other factions to avoid declarations of war, and even instigate wars between other factions. Liu Bei, meanwhile, inspires his followers through the sheer strength of his own charisma, granting him free peasant militia units and a boost to diplomatic relations with many factions. Commanders are ideal warlords for players who like to win battles before they have begun.
Whereas Commanders excel at plotting and planning, Vanguard warlords are all about leading from the front – usually through the ranks of an opposing army. Vanguards are military-minded Heroes, whose abilities revolve around fielding strong armies and dealing maximum damage to enemy forces.
Vanguard warlords include Ma Teng, an expert in survival and army logistics. Ma Teng gains an automatic bonus to military supplies, while his armies are trained to forage for food when encamped. This makes him ideal for players who prefer a strategy of aggressive expansion. Gongsun Zan, on the other hand, is a cavalry specialist whose shock troops are tougher than anyone else’s, while his White Horse Archers are the most powerful cavalry archers in the game.
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Like Vanguard Heroes, Champions are similarly warlike. Yet while Vanguards concern themselves with the overall tide of battle, Champions focus squarely on one-on-one combat. These master swordsmen excel at duelling, making them highly effective at surgically dispatching enemy warlords.
As well as being talented fighters, Champions are the popstars of ancient China, capable of amassing huge grassroots support. Zhang Yan, for example, is a specialist guerrilla fighter able to move more efficiently than any other hero. Zheng Jiang, meanwhile, is known as The Bandit Queen, and is unique amongst the Heroes in her ‘Infamy’ mechanic. This reduces her diplomatic standing with the Chinese nobility, but makes her more notorious amongst the people as she wins battles and takes settlements. The more aggressive Zheng Yan is, the more powerful she becomes, making her particularly adept at Fire and Sword warfare.
Sentinels are the most stalwart of the warlord classes. On both the campaign map and in battle, Sentinels are equivalent to tanks, able to hold fast and withstand large amounts of damage. They’re ideal for more defensively minded players, although when played well, they can be the most aggressive of all warlords.
The playable Sentinel in Three Kingdoms is Sun Jian, also known as the Tiger of Jiangdong. Sun Jian claims to be descended from Sun Tzu himself, which gives you some idea of the kind of Warlord he is. On the campaign map, Sun Jian gains bonuses from proving his bravery, with each battle won increasing his army replenishment and lowering the cost of mercenaries. On the battlefield, Sun Jian is relentlessly tough, increasing in strength the longer he is engaged in battle. He can also perform a “reckless charge”, which inspires his followers and deals massive damage.
Strategists are the least warlike of the warlords, preferring to secure victory through diplomacy and trade. Three Kingdoms’ playable Strategist is Kong Rong – the “Master Scholar”. Like Sun Jian, Kong Rong claims unique ancestral heritage, this time from the philosopher Confucius.
Kong Rong is the most unusual Hero in Three Kingdoms, able to secure victory with relatively few territories under his control. Kong Rong is capable of exploiting Three Kingdoms’ new “Trade Influence” system, which determines how much two trading partners benefit from a trade agreement. Kong Rong can manipulate trade influence by maintaining high population numbers in settlements, and through a unique diplomacy option. By allying himself with technically more powerful factions, Kong Rong can essentially divert their profits to his own faction, gaining prestige an emerging victorious that way.
These are just some of the main players in Three Kingdoms’ epic campaign. Alongside the other playable warlords are hundreds of other characters who will lead your armies, govern your provinces, and spy on your enemies. Any one of these could emerge as Emperor by the time the last sword is drawn. It all depends on how you play.
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