Total War: Three Kingdoms – Beginner’s Guide to Picking a Starting Faction

Did you recently pick up Total War: Three Kingdoms but have no idea where to begin? We don't blame you, Total War: Three Kingdoms is a complex game that is easy to play but hard to master. This guide will help you get started in carving your way to becoming emperor of China!
Total War: Three Kingdoms - Beginner's Guide to Picking a Starting Faction

Total War: Three Kingdoms – Beginner’s Guide to Picking a Starting Faction


Creative Assembly’s Total War: Three Kingdoms is finally here, and boy, does it stick the landing. Receiving critical acclaim for its strategical depth and beautiful theme Total War: Three Kingdoms marries The Romance of the Three Kingdom epic with the long-standing Total War tactical series. While this entry to the series is the most approachable to newcomers, it still possesses many intricacies that may confuse even veterans of the genre. However, don’t let this dissuade you from pursuing Lu Bu (Had to go there), we have tips to assist you on your path in becoming emperor. What better way to do so than advising which faction to begin your campaign with?

Total War: Three Kingdoms Announcement Cinematic Trailer

Interested in Total War: Three Kingdoms? The game is available now for purchase on Steam for PC, MacOS, and Linux.

Learn your Faction Leaders Strengths

When beginning a campaign, you are first tasked with selecting a faction leader to play as. This is the most important decision you will make in the game as it impacts everything you do and how well (or horribly bad) you do it. It’s important to note that not every faction leader is equal, each hero possesses unique faction traits that can greatly influence your success while playing them. Here is a rundown of each faction hero and their advantages both on the battlefield and in the diplomatic court (Keep in mind we will only cover the coalition factions, as they are highly recommended for your first campaign):

Total War: Three Kingdoms - Beginner's Guide to Picking a Starting Faction

Liu Bei is our top recommended hero for his starting generals and powerful trait.

Liu Bei

Liu Bei arguably has the best starting generals in the game in his sworn brothers Zhang Fei and Guan Yu. This reality coupled with his faction trait unity truly makes him a formidable force, which certainly is needed as he will start out in the thick of the action in eastern China. His unique faction trait Unity not only allows him to claim those pesky Han territories without so much as a battle but can enhance the rate you gain prestige. He is a well-rounded faction leader who has advantages diplomatically and in battle. Although Cao Cao is listed as the recommended faction hero to start as in-game, our primary recommendation goes to Liu Bei and his sworn siblings.

Total War: Three Kingdoms - Beginner's Guide to Picking a Starting Faction

Cao Cao is the game’s suggested hero for his insane stats and powerful generals.

Cao Cao

In the Romance of the Three Kingdoms novels, Cao Cao is known as a shrewd but brilliant military strategist. The age-old idiom of playing chess not checkers applies here, as he methodically decimates his foes. His faction trait credibility allows Cao Cao to shape the political landscape, eventually leading to him activating proxy wars, leading to factions declaring war on one another. This is incredibly useful in the early game as Cao Cao lies in the hotbed of the action right off the bat and can influence war to erupt beyond his borders. Cao Cao begins with the mighty cousins Xiahou Dun and Xiahou Yuan. His faction thrives on the talents of Cao Cao and his generals, thus, making it much easier to dominate in early to late game situations.

Total War: Three Kingdoms - Beginner's Guide to Picking a Starting Faction

Sun Jian is a powerful military leader and has many talented children to choose as heirs.


Sun Jian

With Sun Tzu as his ancestor, Sun Jian relies on military might to dominate his opponents. His faction trait Heroism allows him to build currency for discounts on unit upkeep and recruitment. In addition, larger pools of heroism keep his generals satisfied which can keep them fighting loyally and with higher morale. All he needs to do is win battles and or ensure his opponents lose more units in battle than he does. He begins the game with his trusty ally Huang Gai but it isn’t long before his mighty son Sun Ce is within fighting age. Speaking of, Sun Jian’s greatest asset is his slew of talented children who follow him. In addition, his starting position is the most advantageous of all factions allowing him a clear path to blaze south, cutting through lowly Han generals vying for territories. 

Total War: Three Kingdoms - Beginner's Guide to Picking a Starting Faction

Yuan Shao has powerful generals and an amazing unique trait in the early game.

Yuan Shao

The charismatic leader Yuang Shao begins each campaign with access to create alliances immediately, with only his brother Yuan Shu capable of doing the same. This is huge for players looking to leverage diplomatic measures to obtain prestige and territories. His unique faction trait Lineage being the driving force behind this. In addition, it assists in sustaining public order, a stat that can affect the population growth of commanderies. His loyal generals Wen Chou and Yan Liang are fearsome in combat, allowing some bullying of northern factions in the early stages of a campaign.  

Total War: Three Kingdoms - Beginner's Guide to Picking a Starting Faction

Gonsun Zan is military-minded and possesses one of the strongest generals in Zhou Yun.

Gongsun Zan

The protector of the northern territories, GZ is best for players who are more military minded. Unlike the other faction leaders, Gongsun Zan does not have a unique trait that is tied with currency, rather his uniqueness lies within the strength in his military administration. Instead of hosting a court with administrative posts his faction replaces them with military posts, gaining bonuses to public order, movement on the campaign map, and unique military constructions. Perhaps the most important feature of Gonsun Zan is that he starts with Zhao Yun, one of the most powerful generals in the game. In fact, any unit not named Lu Bu or Guan Yu cannot stand to the might of Zhao Yun, so players who choose Gonsun Zan are well positioned for military conquest.


There you have it: our list of recommended factions to begin your first campaign in Total War: Three Kingdoms. We highly recommend during your first playthrough to choose one of the aforementioned factor leaders for your campaign, especially if you are new to the Total War series. These heroes are positioned to strive early on, especially considering how the story events shape the playing field in their favor. Now go out there and dominate your foes and bring everlasting peace to a fractured nation!

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