Last week Creative Assembly posted a video entitled ‘The future of Total War: Three Kingdoms’. This short three-minute clip bade farewell to the game, showcasing footage from across the game’s lifecycle to sweeping dramatic music, and rounding up some fun player stats.
The video also explained that Three Kingdoms is now “finished”, the team is looking to the future, and that work has begun on a new strategy game also based on the Romance of the Three Kingdoms novel. There’s only one problem with all of this: Three Kingdoms isn’t finished.
I don’t mean that as a disparagement of the game’s quality, but there are at least two things the game hasn’t done yet. First, we know Creative Assembly planned a second expansion pack for Three Kingdoms after The Furious Wild that was meant to build out the north of the map – it was mentioned in a dev blog in July 2020. Suddenly declaring that the team has “completed [their] content for Total War: Three Kingdoms” suggests that something changed quite dramatically in the time since. At least Mount Song and the Hulao Pass were put in the right place.
Secondly, calling Three Kingdoms complete when we don’t have a campaign start point in the actual Three Kingdoms period, i.e the warring states of Wei, Shu, and Wu, does seem a little strange. And that’s not mentioning the other characters and events that many consider to be vital aspects of the novel which are still missing from the game.
Between Steam review bombing and noticeable online backlash I think there’s one overriding reason why players are so angry: we don’t need a new game to finish what Three Kingdoms started. In fact, I think another game realising events and characters that could’ve been in Three Kingdoms actively detracts from what makes it good. Back when Mandate of Heaven released I wrote about how Total War: Warhammer could use Three Kingdoms’ timeline mechanic, and I still believe it’s an excellent tool for enriching a central campaign. Why divide those stories and events between games when they could further expand and complement that already great campaign progression?
We know that this new game is standalone and that it “will not connect to the first” as Total War: Warhammer II does through Mortal Empires. But that raises more questions than it answers. How is this new ROTTK game going to deal with the campaign map? Are we getting a reskin like Total War: Attila’s Age of Charlemagne or Rome II’s Empire Divided, or will it be more like Total War: Warhammer’s DLC mini-campaigns with different maps?
Neither seems preferable to simply extending the current game. We already have a reskin in the form of the lacklustre Eight Princes expansion, and Creative Assembly stopped making those mini-campaigns to focus on bringing more content to Mortal Empires and the Great Vortex, a lesson which feels painfully relevant here.
Maybe we will get a Total War Saga-esque game instead? That feels like a contradiction when you consider the Saga mission statement of standalone games focused on historical snapshots. It doesn’t bear the brand, but in terms of mechanically representing a period, Three Kingdoms is already the best Total War Saga game ever made. Is a second instalment really going to do it more justice?
Overall, as Indypride points out in his video on the subject, what we lack is context. If we knew anything about what Three Kingdoms’ future is being traded for, we might feel differently. But given that we know almost nothing, we’ve been left with nothing but our imaginations and a question: How, exactly, will a new and unconnected Romance of the Three Kingdoms game better serve the stories that are left to tell versus extending the game we already have?
I, for one, am drawing a blank. It’s hard not to see this as an attempt to revitalise the series’ initial success with a new game rather than seeing through what was started. But if Rome II, probably the most disparaged Total War ever at launch due to its many issues, can receive DLC five years after its release, why can’t Three Kingdoms be given time to reach a more natural conclusion?
As someone with thousands of hours in Total War and over two hundred in Three Kingdoms alone, I’m disappointed. This game is so uniquely playful as a historical Total War and allows for all sorts of fun campaigns, like the pacifist playthroughs made more viable by Fates Divided, or the hero-only Musou campaign I’m playing right now. It’s a real shame that this new game – no matter how good it may be – won’t expand and complement Three Kingdoms’ existing content.
After the initial backlash that video was renamed to ‘Moving on from Total War: Three Kingdoms’ and the grief that’s implied in that statement feels accurate. We’re being told a game is dead, but what more evidence is needed to suggest the contrary than the scale of player response this latest twist has caused?