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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.)