“There’s never been a better time to start a new 190 CE campaign”: Total War: THREE KINGDOMS – Fates Divided dev interview

Total War: THREE KINGDOMS

Ella McConnell
March 5 2021

With the release of Total War: THREE KINGDOMS – Fates Divided shimmering on the horizon, what better time to sit down and chat with senior designer Craig Kirby about the new DLC’s story, characters, mechanics, and more – check it all out below!

CA: Hi there! First of all, could you please introduce yourself?

Craig Kirby: Hello! I’m Craig Kirby, senior designer on the Total War: THREE KINGDOMS team, and the design lead for patch 1.7.0 and Fates Divided.

CA: So what is Fates Divided?

Craig Kirby: Fates Divided is the new Chapter Pack for Total War: THREE KINGDOMS, showcasing the conflict between Cao Cao and Yuan Shao in 200 CE. The DLC adds 200 CE as a new playable start date, Liu Yan and Liu Zhang as a new playable faction, and over 20 new units.

The free patch alongside Fates Divided adds new unique art for a bunch of characters, new faction mechanics for Cao Cao and Yuan Shao, and shiny new campaign mechanics for all Han Chinese factions. We also overhauled some of the existing campaign features, such as the faction council.

CA: What was happening in the Three Kingdoms in 200 CE (the new Fates Divided start date)?

Craig Kirby:  All the tension that was building up over the last decade has finally reached a tipping point, and huge wars are breaking out across most of China. Cao Cao has taken control of the emperor, relocated him to his capital in Xuchang, and has unified most of central China. Yuan Shao seized control of the north, then turned around to march on his childhood friend. Liu Bei’s been fighting against anyone he sees as a tyrant – which, unfortunately, seems to be mostly everyone. Lü Bu’s train of betrayal has finally been halted, and Sun Ce’s been rapidly uniting the southlands.

Unlike our other Chapter Packs, we’ve got some big factions from the first turn. Cao Cao’s secured more than 30 regions, and many other warlords have over a dozen regions. This means we’ve got wars brewing on multiple fronts, and players can’t necessarily send all their armies together in a single doomstack.  

The emperor has also come of age by this date, which means he gets to play a more prominent role in the narrative.

CA: What new characters will Fates Divided introduce?

Craig Kirby: A lot!

We wanted the emperor (Liu Xie) to play a bigger role in this campaign, so we gave him the full main character treatment. This means he has new unique character art, and a new skill tree that better fits a non-deployable character. While he’s not initially a character on the map, it’s now possible to restore the Han Empire and reinstate him as the rightful ruler. This has been on the wish list for many players, so it’s great to expand his presence in this manner.

The fearsome duo of Wen Chou and Yan Liang have been added for Yuan Shao, as well as Zhang He, Lady Zhen, Yuan Tan, and Yuan Shang. Yuan Shao’s a prominent figure in most of our chapters – and traditionally performs very well when controlled by the AI – so fleshing out his roster was a big priority for us. Different characters are available for him in each start date, but they’re all present in 200 CE – whether within Yuan Shao’s faction, or as one of his vassals.

We also added Cao Ren and Yu Jin for Cao Cao. Cao Ren has been one of the top requested characters for addition, and Fates Divided was the perfect time to include him. As we were adding Lady Zhen, we figured it was a good time to update Cao Pi (Cao Cao’s heir) with new unique art and stats too.

While not directly involved with the conflict in the north, we’ve also added Liu Yan and Liu Zhang as a playable faction. Liu Zhang already had a unique design from previous releases, but Liu Yan’s content is brand new. We also added Fa Zheng to the faction so players got a nice cast of unique characters in the west.

CA: What sets the new Liu Zhang faction apart from the rest?

Craig Kirby: The mechanics for Liu Yan and Liu Zhang are truly cross-generational, something we haven’t experimented with before in THREE KINGDOMS. We traditionally design our mechanics around the initial faction leader, whereas Liu Yan’s mechanics are all about passing on the mantle. Rather than empowering the faction leader, the player is looking to defy history and empower Liu Zhang. We also added a range of campaign-level special abilities, something which is truly unique to this faction.

This design allowed us to play around with mechanical progression in different Chapter Packs – for example, Liu Yan is the faction leader in 190 CE, but he has already died and triggered the inheritance in 200 CE. This means that playing this faction feels mechanically quite different depending on the start date.

Of course, we also stay true to the sandbox nature of the game – the Inheritance mechanic will work no matter who the player sets as the faction heir. A cunning Liu Yan player might choose to capture Lü Bu, and empower the warrior without equal through the Inheritance instead.

CA: What aspects of the new DLC are you most excited about?

Craig Kirby: Liu Yan and Liu Zhang are uniquely positioned on the western edge of China, far from the wars and politics of the Han. This gives them two great opportunities. First, they have a secure and prosperous region to carve out for themselves. Second, the player has really got the freedom to pursue any long-term strategy they desire. 

To the north there’s Ma Teng, and capturing Ma Chao to prime him as my designated heir is one of my favourite Liu Yan strategies. To the east there’s Dong Zhuo and the Han Empire, or a large Liu Biao faction in 200 CE. In the mid-late game, it’s common to run across a chunky Liu Bei kingdom in this area as well. All of these pose a tough challenge, but they tease so many avenues for diplomatic manoeuvres or territorial warfare.

The Nanman tribes to the south also offer significantly different challenges to the Han Chinese warlords – especially in the 200 CE start date, where Meng Huo’s rapidly consolidating power. Pulling a Zhuge Liang and sending an expedition south is a tough path to take, but it’s one that offers great rewards to the player.

The new faction-specific units available to Liu Yan set the stage for some new battle tactics as well.

Overall, the most exciting part of Fates Divided is that everything feels and plays differently to the existing content in previous Chapter Packs.

CA: What about the new systems and mechanics being brought in as part of the Free-LC?

Craig Kirby: My personal favourite is the new schemes mechanic for Cao Cao. We always labelled him as a cunning manipulator, but now he can really shine in this role. Some of his schemes let you break the core rules of the game – such as instantly unlocking techs, or letting an army move again after using all their AP. We wanted to get that feeling of “Oh, Cao Mengde…!” across, and I think we really achieved that. The AI can also use these against the player (or other, less fortunate warlords), and I love seeing Cao Cao looking smug when he does.

The faction council update is also a fun new addition. We received quite a bit of feedback saying the old feature was too passive, so we took Fates Divided as an opportunity to revisit it. The update completely overhauls the mechanic, with a new UI, new character-based interactions, and the added ability for the AI to use it as well. We wanted to drive home that the characters in your faction are actual people, so they’ll offer to perform different tasks based on their personalities. For example, hot-headed or cunning characters might be looking to actively disrupt neighbouring hostile factions.

CA: Please tell us about the new unique missions and narrative events.

Craig Kirby: Most of the narrative for Fates Divided is focused on Cao Cao’s story. Yuan Shao, Liu Bei, and (surprisingly) the Yellow Turban remnants are all working together against Cao Cao to retake control of the emperor. Sun Ce’s dealing with a major border conflict against Liu Biao’s vassals, as well as unruly regional bandits and pirates. Ma Chao’s yearning to fight against Cao Cao, and is even willing to forsake the protection of his father to go join the fight. All these local conflicts are designed to escalate into the wider arena, and will likely lead each regional warlord or governor to fight with – or against – Cao Cao and the emperor.

In the far corner we’ve also got the Nanman tribes at an accelerated start. Meng Huo, Mulu, and Shamoke have each secured the fealty of the tribes around them. Now they’re butting heads against each other, and fighting to become the only king. Meng Huo’s already secured his marriage to Lady Zhurong, though, so the duo are poised to come out on top.

As mentioned before, we added new mechanics for the emperor in Fates Divided. This isn’t specific to the new 200 CE start date, however – the system only enables in 197 CE (when the emperor comes of age). The emperor is going to expect factions to behave “properly” and not fight among themselves. He’s also going to be declaring factions as the enemy of the Han – whether by choice or political coercion – and will direct loyal Han Chinese factions to defeat these enemies.

The new schemes, faction council, and emperor mechanics make the world feel more alive in all chapters – characters in AI factions are going to enact suggestions for their own leaders, and rival warlords will delve into political shenanigans. There should always be new things happening now, even in the downtime between wars.

CA: How about the new units being introduced? Are there any in particular you’d like to showcase?

Craig Kirby: The northern army units really stand out to me. These are veteran variants of the core Han Chinese units, and they’re available as either Cao Cao or Yuan Shao.

Typically, we create a roster for a group of factions – for example, the Nanman tribes in The Furious Wild have a core cultural roster – and then each faction leader gets their own unique additions. In Fates Divided we created a roster that two characters get to compete over. Whoever wins the loyalty of the northern army first will block the other from gaining it.

This also allows us to tie the mechanic into the character-driven narrative of THREE KINGDOMS. Characters in control of northern army colonels can defect to other factions, taking their ability to recruit unique units with them. Warmongers can also capture or kill enemy characters to steal the northern army colonels from them. While we primarily designed this mechanic for Cao Cao and Yuan Shao, it means that any Han Chinese faction will have the chance to secure these new units in the campaign.

CA: What does Fates Divided have to offer returning Total War: THREE KINGDOMS players?

Craig Kirby: Cao Cao, Yuan Shao, Liu Bei, and Sun Jian/Sun Ce are consistently the top four most played factions, and they’re all available in the new 200 CE Chapter Pack. The factions start from turn one with a bunch of fan-favourite characters already recruited, large territorial claims, big multi-front wars, and plenty of room for player expression. Playing the new campaign should feel like a dramatically different experience to the almost grassroots feel of 182 CE, 190 CE, or 194 CE.

For players who haven’t purchased Fates Divided, all the new mechanics and character art are added in the free update. This update was designed to give the Han Chinese characters the same sense of uniqueness that bandits and Nanman characters have. There’s never been a better time to start a new 190 CE campaign. 

CA: What is your favourite part about Fates Divided?

Craig Kirby: As a designer, this project gave us the opportunity to use what we learned from previous DLC packs to enhance existing content. We constantly listen to fan feedback and reviews, and we’ve seen how the fans love what we did with characters like Lü Bu. However, as our new content continued to innovate, we were leaving people like Cao Cao behind. It has been great fun to go back and revisit some of these prominent personas, and bring them up above and beyond the bar we set in A World Betrayed.

This content update also gave us a good excuse to rewatch some of the 2010 Three Kingdoms TV show. The Battle of Guandu scene in this series will forever remain a highlight of the setting.

CA: Thanks for your time! Any final words?

Craig Kirby: It’s been great to visit this point of the Three Kingdoms period. We’re big Three Kingdoms nerds on the DLC team, and the final conflict between Cao Cao and Yuan Shao has been something we always wanted to cover.

I hope everyone enjoys playing Fates Divided as much as we enjoyed making it. Thanks!

Determine the fate of China!

Total War: THREE KINGDOMS – Fates Divided will be released on the 11th of March at 15:00 GMT – pre-order your copy and save 10% here!