Total War

3K looked scary to me and it took me incredibly long to get into it. Here are some tips to help you get used to it.

So as propably many of you, I have the most time sunk in Total War: Warhammer 1 and 2. For long I've been longing for a more complex campaign in those games and it doesn't look like it's about to happen anytime soon so I gave a chance to Three Kingdoms as I hyped myself into it by watching the TV show, and even buying a translation of the original Three Kingdoms book written by Luo Goanzhong, a nice hard cover, full of maps, dramatis personae, original paintings from the era at that. Still I could not like the game: it was so freaking alien because of the weird differences from Warhammer and the game doesn't really tell you about even on it's info panel, because none of those will compare it to other games. I'd like to help you out a bit with the major differences so you can jump into it and start to enjoy it without more than a year worth of struggling and uninstalling / reinstalling loop.

It is entirely possible I might be wrong in some points so please correct me if I am. I'm breaking the tips down to categories for easier reading.

Understanding Commanderies

  • Commandaries are the same as Provinces, just renamed
  • Building slots work very differently: all minor settlements have 1 slot, and all commandery capitals show only 1 slot but they have more. Unlike in Warhammer you don't see the whole set of slots, the UI expands with +1 building slot whenever you upgrade the main settlement building.
  • The UI doesn't visually separate the capital and the minor town buildings, they all look like as if they are in the same city. That is not the case however, the way their separation is designed is by the town type above them in a white text bow. So for example if you see a commandery with 4 buildings slots and you know there are 2 settlements in the commandery, and the buildings UI has 1 "farmland" white text above the last building slot, that one slot is the minor town, and the first 3 is the main settlement buildings. The order is still always: major settlement to minor settlements, from left to right.
  • There are summary / specialization icons on the very bottom left corner of the screen that tell you about this commandery. Sometimes you can find useful info here, because some commandaries are better at certain economy types.
  • You can only build 1 building at a time in an entire commendary (province) which is strange, but there are less building slots available compared to Warhammer so it kind of balances that out.

Economy

  • Passive income varies per Legendary Lord, it's the same for everyone like in Warhammer.
  • There are 3 main types of economy: commerce, industry, peasantry. They all work in an identical way, so it was extremely stressful for me to learn which is "best" and which one to do where. The answer is: look at the minor settlements. Nearly all of them have some kind of specialization (indicated by an icon next to their names on the world map, and their name tells you the specialization type on the building screen), such as a trade station, fishing, farmland, or mines.
  • These specialized minor settlements allow no choice, they have a single building chain, for example, a fishing village gives you only a fishing building chain, which provides food and commerce income. Therefore you are interested in focusing commerce income type of buildings in the main settlement, because there are many economy buildings that add +% income to the commandery that you can boost skyhigh, like up to 400% or something. If your income producing building, such as a farmland gives you +200 peasantry income, there is no reason to build industry or economy income +% buildings, because it gives you nothing.
  • How many people live in your cities effect income. However more people require more food, and if they starve, public order starts to lower, which isn't ignorable here because it also lowers the productivity of the province, resulting in lesser income. It's not as ignorable as in Warhammer. Be sure to always have enough food.
  • Building chains can branch into 2, rarely 3 even 4 specialized buildings. For example there is a peasantry income building which gives you +50 peasantry income and +25% peasantry income (from all peasantry income sources in this commandery). Maybe on level 2, maybe on level 4 or 5, it branches to alternatives that shift the balance between these stats. One of them gives you more flat income and less % income, the other less flat income and more % income. The latter is preferred if the commendary has many towns that specialize in peasantry income, because a commendary that has 3 more buildings with flat peasantry income benefits more from a % buff to all of them, while a small commandery with maybe 1 minor town benefits more from higher flat income and lesser % buff. Always check out the unique buildings available in a commandery's minor settlements (even if you didn't conquer them all yet) and plan ahead with your main settlement buildings!
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Recruiting

  • It's super weird, but you cannot just recruit 19 units. You can recruit 6+6+6, and there are 3 lords in an army, each leading 6 units. You have to click each lord to recruit their own units.
  • All units are recruited in 1 turn, however they are less than half health. It takes several more turns for recruiting to properly finish, all you have to do is stay in a friendly area for replenishment (or use encamp stance when abroad). This also allows you to move while recruiting ("healing").
  • The coloring of the unit's card indicates which type of lord it is best recruited for. Lords with the matching colour typically have skills to buff those type of units, because there are 5 types of lords each good at something else. This is told if you move your cursor on their lord type (Sentinel, Champion, Commander etc.), but this isn't just a suggestion telling you "best grouped with glaive infantry" because the lord itself is good anti infantry and glaive units are also good at anti infantry. It tells you this because ONLY this type of lord has specific passive skills that buff glaive infantry.
  • Three Kingdoms is excellently communicating with color coding but doesn't tell you this. Even the clothing of characters are color coded to the type of lords they are. Legendary Lords can be exception for historical accuracy, but most of them still line up with this color coding model: Kong Rong is blue clothed, like all other strategists, while Liu Bei is yellow clothed like all other commanders, all the rebels lords are green beacause they are champions like other champion type of generic lords. It gets really mixed with red because red was so popular I guess, especially since the game pushes you to play introducing, easier Legendary Lords who vary in type greatly, yet most of them wear red.
  • There are certain units exclusive to a certain lord types. So far I've only found one: only strategists can recruit artillery unit types.
  • The first lord (to the most left) in any army leads the army. There are many passive skills that apply only to the Retinue of the lord (his own 6 units) and many passive skills that apply to the whole army, BUT ONLY IF this certain lord leads the army. It's easy to overlook the difference so pay attention!

Internal politics

  • Sooner or later you'll meet the screen where you can give titles to your lords, political positions. This isn't a must do at all times, so it's important to know when to use which lord where.
  • The main reason to giving a title to anyone is enjoying the benefits of it, think of them as Offices in Warhammer. However it's a bit more complex than that. There are 2 types of office slots here which the game again, doesn't communicate well. 1: all lords have factionwide traits, but these are inactive, and only gets activated once they are given a certain high position. Such as: +5 public order factionwide, but only if the character is Emperor (faction leader), Heir (next faction leader). Other, lower offices such as advisors, millitary / economy offices give you the same passive buffs regardless who you put there.
  • There are office positions that only give bonuses when a character is assigned to a province. If you played Civ6 with it's Gathering Storm or Rise and Fall expansion, this is best described as the selectable majors who are assigned to a city and give it passive bonuses. Assign a lord to a commandery (again: entire province) to enjoy it's bonuses, you can do this in the buildings UI, left, summary, has an assign button there. Assigning a lord to lead a commandery however, removes them from the pool of "playable" lords, because they cannot lead an army and lead a commandery at the same time. You can always remove them from their assigment and use them as a recruitable army lord however. Assigments themselves are not infinite either, only last a certain amount of turns.
  • Every character expects payment according to the responsibilities they take on. This means not only lords on the field leading armies have an upkeep, but everyone in the "offices" too, and they ask for a LOT. If you are tight on money, check out if you have thousands of gold sipped away by needless burocracy, and reduce the number of lords added to various office slots.
  • Lords have their own individual public order, called satisfaction. This is the equal of Loyality in Warhammer, if it goes too low, the lord defects from your faction. Everyone has this except the faction leader. However it's much more complex here: all lords have a set of traits, similar to the ones in Warhammer, but it also defines their personality here. So for example, a recruiter trait that gives you cheaper recruiting is nice to have, but it also means the lord dislikes having too few units. If their retiune (the 6 units they can recruit) is full, they gain satisfaction, if it's less than full, they lose satisfaction. Another example is greedy: it gets you more income if you assign the lord to a commandery (which hurts public order in that commendary!), but it also means the lord won't be satisfied with a lower office and wants to climb up to higher positions (which means more salary to him). All lords can have a whole set of traits, not just one.
  • Depending on those traits, lords can like or dislike each other. A strict lord may dislike a lazy one, and while both of those traits can have their benefits, putting these 2 together in army means lower satisfaction for both of them. This was the type of depth where I said this is too much and too stressful to care about, but good news is, you can mostly ignore this. Just give them an equippable item that gives them + satisfaction (most of them do) and you are fine. Interestingly, these relationships can develop: if 2 lords fight together successfully all the time, their friendship increases, giving them further bonuses when together.
  • Defecting doesn't mean a rebellion, it means the lord leaves the faction. This means 2 things: it can trigger a crisis if the lord had high responsibility offices (for example, an heir defecting can trigger civil war, while an economy office slot, whoever is in them defecting, can trigger an economy crisis). And, more importantly, there is a shared pool of lords in the game all factions recruit from, so you can even manipulate lords into defecting from other factions and recruit them yourself. There are lord exclusives for many Legendary Lords, typically family members or other famous historical figures who also count as a Legendary Lord (golden font for name) but they are not starting faction leaders.
  • Characters can permanently die, even Legendary Lords, so be very protective of them. This is why faction heir office exists, the person there can take over. Characters can also die of old age but this can be disabled in options, so be sure to do that if you hate to lose your beloved characters thanks to a fucking timer.
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Diplomacy:

  • It fucking matters and it is excellent which is a first for TW franchise.
  • It matters so much.
  • The game will properly warn you if you are about to commit something that lowers trust towards you. Low trust means higher chance to get attacked without others giving a sh_t about what happens to you. However if you are liked in diplomacy, many will dislike the one who attacks you, so being dependable and acting honorably actually provides you defense. There is no such things as biased like / dislike between races like in Warhammer, everyone likes and hates everyone equally, so pay attention to your neighbours and the winners of the campaign who start to grow large.
  • Diplomacy is sensitive. Attacking someone with a nonaggression pact is obviously greatly lowering trust, but even attacking someone whom you trade with greatly lowers trust, because trading suggests good relations between 2 factions, therefore if you attack your friendly neighbourhood, it is properly recognized as distasteful act of betrayal.
  • The number of trade agreements you can have is limited to 1 at start, but can be increased via technology (renamed to Reforms here).
  • The Han: this is a recently added mechanics. There are factions loyal to the Han dynasty, there are those who seek to overthrow them, and there are those who OWN them because the Emperor is a puppet (whom you can even capture and rule in his name, he is like an item carried by a lord). There is a new mechanics where you can spend your political power (a fancy hat icon) to manipulate how the Han sees certain factions. This "fancy hat" resource means, the more you have, the more the Han likes you. However you can sacrifice -5 to lower another faction's stand by -15. It's super weird but you can also sacrifice -5 to increase your own by +15 so you get +10 for free anytime you want which is…. strange. Attacking factions who are loyal to the Han lowers your "fancy hats", while attacking the enemy of the Han increases it. If you can kidnap the Emperor (the tyrant Dong Zhuo owns him by default) you have a choice: restore him as Emperor in which case he becomes your new faction leader and provides you some global buffs, or keep him as a puppet, which gives you control over all his remaining lands and armies (scattered around China) but draws the hostile attention of those who are loyal to the Han.
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Battles:

  • Leadership can be effected by several new factors here. For example, fire in general can lower leadership. In case of artillery, it even adds a higher splash damage.
  • The buffs such as fire arrows or fire ammo for artillery isn't coming from recruiting a better unit, it comes from the passive skills of the lord who leads them, as we previously discussed it with glaive infantry buffs for example. This is why it's important to recruit the matching units for their matching lords. You can have a champion (who excels at dueling) lead 6 archers in their retinue, but you can bet none of his skills will provide buffs to these archers. A strategist however can provide them more ammo, higher rate of fire, fire arrows.
  • Not all lords are supposed to fight. It's fine to leave them behind, closely following the units they command, for the passive bonuses they provide. You should never have a strategist go into hand to hand combat for example, he is best left behind with his archers. This is how the game encourages balanced, mixed armies. There are no doomstacks here.
  • The enviroment is more interactable now. There are firing towers deep in settlements, which you can capture. You can place oil on the ground before the battle (with the right tech / lord skills) which you can burn later, and set up traps. You can set ANY forest on fire which is going to spread, burning units within and massively dropping their leadership. You can place stakes on the flanks to provide defense from cavalry, or barricades on the city streets that act as walls, destroyable by any infantry.

Thanks for reading! If someone got interested in picking up this amazing game, it was worth writing this for an hour.

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