Why Total War: Three Kingdoms Failed

Despite being the best selling game in the series, Total War: Three Kingdoms failed to maintain the hype and fell into obscurity. How did this happen? Although a large amount of factors contributed to why Three Kingdoms failed, none are as egregious as Creative Assembly's handling and post-launch support of the game.

Why Total War: Three Kingdoms Failed Cover

Selling one million copies in just a week, Total War: Three Kingdoms was the fastest selling game in the series, surpassing even Total War: Warhammer II. Initial fan reception was positive, with many fans praising the overhauled diplomacy, roleplaying aspects, and characters. With the era the game takes place in being ripe with stories spanning nearly a century, all signs pointed towards Three Kingdoms being Creative Assembly’s historical masterpiece.

With a successful launch, it was up to Creative Assembly to keep the hype train running with their patches and DLCs. Unfortunately, that’s when Three Kingdoms began to die a slow and painful death. Infrequent patches that don’t address major bugs to extremely questionable DLC decisions, Creative Assembly made misstep after misstep in their support of the title. All of this culminated in the game being abandoned, just two years after release. Worse yet, the game is arguably unfinished, with no piece of official content taking place during the actual titular formation of the Three Kingdoms. 

How did this come to happen? What were those questionable DLC practices? Let’s take a trip through Creative Assembly’s vision of the most celebrated time period in Chinese history and see why Total War: Three Kingdoms failed.

Bug Infestation

Creative Assembly aren’t exactly known for smooth launches; see the launch of Total War: Rome II. Given their previous track record however, Three Kingdoms was a very successful launch. With that being said, a lot of bugs still permeated the game which wouldn’t get fixed for months on end. To make matters worse, the infrequent patches would often introduce bugs of their own, which would take another couple months to fix. Rinse and repeat until Creative Assembly terminates support for the game.

Although their 1.7.1 patch does finally address some major bugs for the game, some were left in the game for far too long. Three Kingdoms failed to fix many bugs in time.

As an example, a bug in Mandate of Heaven involved Lü Bu potentially not joining Dong Zhuo due to an error in events. This bug wouldn’t get fixed until the 1.7.1 patch, nearly a year after the release of Mandate of Heaven. Another bug includes the “Iron General” title not unlocking properly, which has been a problem ever since the titles were introduced a year ago. These are just a few examples of the many, many unaddressed bugs that plagued the game for months.

A large amount of posts were made on both the Total War subreddit and the Total War forums calling for Creative Assembly to fix the bugs to no avail. With the lack of support and communication for Three Kingdoms, perhaps it’s no surprise Creative Assembly decided to terminate support.

Questionable DLC 

DLC for the series has usually been on point. Total War: Warhammer II has a plethora of amazing expansions ranging from Rise of the Tomb Kings to the Vampire Coasts. Total War: Shogun II has the Fall of the Samurai DLC which later became a Saga title, and Total War: Attila had Age of Charlemagne.

With Three Kingdoms though, it’s a different story.

Eight Princes

The first piece of DLC for Three Kingdoms was Eight Princes, an extremely obscure time period completely unrelated to the Romance of the Three Kingdoms. Taking place a hundred years after the start of the campaign, Eight Princes involves a civil war between the titular eight princes of the Jin Dynasty fighting for control of China. 

The first DLC, Eight Princes

The first DLC, Eight Princes

This was an odd choice. Why was Creative Assembly’s first expansion completely unrelated to the Three Kingdoms era? Why were they focusing on this extremely obscure time period instead of further developing the grand campaign? At this point in development, major players of the era such as Cao Pi, the first Emperor of Wei, didn’t even have a unique portrait yet. 

Eight Princes was widely panned at release, helped in no small part by the shoddy Chinese translation of the expansion. The DLC also just lacked any interesting mechanics in both the campaign and battles, recycling many mechanics and assets from the grand campaign. In addition, with no unique portraits other than the eight princes, the campaign feels extraordinarily empty as armies of generic generals battle each other. 

Mandate of Heaven

The second piece of DLC was Mandate of Heaven, an expansion focusing on the events leading up to the fall of the Han Dynasty. Taking place in 184 CE, just before the grand campaign of 190, it focuses on the peasant uprising called the Yellow Turban Rebellion.

Mandate of Heaven is very buggy

Mandate of Heaven is very buggy

Although the concept of the DLC was much more appealing to fans, any excitement or hype for Mandate of Heaven died as soon as it was released. The expansion was and still is notoriously buggy, with events not firing off, AI factions being steamrolled, and an extremely buggy transition into the grand campaign. Major problems in the DLC wouldn’t get fixed until a whole year later with the final 1.7.1 patch.

Mandate of Heaven’s Chinese translation, much like Eight Princes‘, wasn’t good. 

The Furious Wilds

The prior DLC to The Furious Wilds was A World Betrayed, which was generally very well received. It had good integration of the grand campaign as well as another start date and a plethora of new mechanics. The same cannot be said about Furious Wilds

Furious Wilds adds Nanman

Furious Wilds adds Nanman

This was Creative Assembly’s first proper expansion pack of the game. All of the other DLCs up till now were chapter packs, costing $9.99. Furious Wilds on the other hand costed double, at $18.99. The expansion promised a completely new culture pack, the Nanman, as well as a map expansion in the south-west. Despite that however, Furious Wilds achieved extremely low sales, which was likely the main reason for Three Kingdoms’ end of support.  

The reason for the low sales are all too familiar reasons; odd timing, unbalanced gameplay, and an extreme amount of bugs. Historically, the Nanman didn’t play a major role during the era until 225 CE, where Zhuge Liang launched his campaign against the Nanman in Nanzhong. For reference, the latest start date at this point was 194 CE. 

History aside, the units added were just extremely unbalanced. Tigers for example had an obscene charge bonus that would allow them to melt even elite anti-cavalry units in spear wall formation. Lady Zhurong’s fire units would make it impossible for any other Nanman faction to compete with her, as Nanman have a weakness to fire.

Tiger and fire units are broken

Tiger and fire units are broken

The expansion is also, surprise, very buggy. Shamoke’s campaign mechanics barely work, with his vassalization mechanic being a complete mess due to the AI always betraying you.

Another reason for the low sales is that many people simply don’t care much for the Nanman. While they are an interesting culture, they played an extremely minor role during the Three Kingdoms era. At the release of Furious Wilds, it’d have been over a year without an official start date during the titular three kingdoms of Wei, Shu, and Wu. 

And now, with the end of support for Three Kingdoms, we’ll never get an official start date.

“I would rather betray the world, than have the world betray me.” – Cao Cao

With Creative Assembly’s announcement of their “new” Total War game based off of the Romance of the Three Kingdoms novel, only time will tell if they succeed in their second shot or falter yet again.

One thing’s for certain though, they’ve alienated a large portion of their fanbase, especially from the Chinese and Korean community. Taking a gander through Three Kingdoms’ Steam Workshop will net you with pages upon pages of mods made by dedicated Korean and Chinese fans. With review bombs still coming in, and with Cathay being on the horizon for Total War: Warhammer III, Creative Assembly’s handling of Three Kingdoms failed from start to finish and may come back to haunt them for years to come.

(First video uploaded by Xanidus19.)


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    There is such a thing as new. Will people ever stop putting new in scare quotes?

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    I’m tired of the entire series to be honest. How many times can we get reskins of the same game over and over? Their only venture into other era’s were the decent Empire, and the awful/broken Napoleon. Otherwise it’s spearmen, archers, cavalry, swordsmen, forever. They said things like WW2 Total War, a colonial era Total War, etc were on their checklist. They said that years ago when the first Warhammer game was coming out. Warhammer aside, and it has it’s own flaws, the historical games have been in freefall since Rome 2. Even the recent Rome Remaster was a broken unfinished mess. I’m gonna skip the series for a while until I see something come out that doesn’t look like the same game I’ve been playing for two decades. Creative Assembly has no ambition when it comes to the series, it’s just copy and paste with a new map.

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    I could live without any new DLC, but what makes me especially angry at the lack of any future patch support. 1.7.1 was far from a sufficient “complete” the game. What’s also worse is the total silence to all the backlash. Like they’ve received more dislikes on the announcement video than any video on their channel, over 7.5k negative reviews on steam, general uproar on the forum, and they received a petition with over 3000 signatures in regards to slowing the total ending of support. The response to all of that is hype Warhammer and just to wait for us to forget in two plus years and hope we buy the next copy. This whole episode is super frustrating because it really shows how little power we as gamers have to organize and be listened to by companies like SEGA/CA

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      Sadly, they’ll be correct. Warhammer 3 will sell like mad and so will the next historical game, because it’s not about consumers not having power, it’s that nobody uses it. People just give in to hype and propaganda because most people are dumb and just coast through life giving everything and demanding nothing. Frankly we deserve it.

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        In the grand scheme of things this is really a minor issue. Honestly there will be a Three Kingdoms out within 5 years. While I agree that consumers should get the product they wanted, CA has done enough good that it drowns out the bad. Activision Blizzard have screwed their fans over, multiple times, so go call them dumb. CA has really only this one blemish, and as I said their will be a sequel eventually so…. yea…. And stop taking it out on WARHAMMER! Not Warhammer’s fault…

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        Not sure either of you actually know what you’re talking about tbh.

        Empire was a broken, unfinished, buggy mess. Napoleon fixed many of it’s problems, and while issues remained, they were largely down to engine limitations. Also, Empire WAS pretty much the colonial period, at least the start of it.

        All the talk of WW2 etc came before Warhammer blew up, and even then it was just possibilities that hadn’t made it as far as the drawing board. There were a lot of other ideas that made it this far, just like every other game studio ever.

        Rome 2 wasn’t a highpoint in the series. It was eventually a decent game but we didn’t get a finished game until 2 years after launch.

        Rome Remaster had the same issues Rome had, people bitching about new bugs just demonstrate they never played the original. Though those old bugs not being fixed was indeed outrageous.

        Basically, if you knew what you were talking about, you’d know none of this is new, this pattern has been played over before.

        The difference with 3 Kingdoms is that they seem to have come into it with a less defined idea of what they were doing and where they were going.

        Maybe actually have a look at CA’s back catalogue, and learn what the situation was with them at launch before you make BS claims like ‘CA has really only this one blemish’. Talk to someone who played Rome 2, Thrones of Britannia, Empire for example at launch. Hell, talk to anyone who enjoyed Thrones, if you can find him.

        If you’d played older CA titles, before and after Sega buying CA, you might have an understanding of the studio and it’s games that would allow you to make an informed comment that didn’t sound ridiculous.

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    yea i agree mostly, i was looking forward to CA adding more faction diversity by filling out the northwest/southwest of the map. but the former never happened, and the latter was just a balancing nightmare


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