Total War: THREE KINGDOMS – Six Things You’ve Asked About Classic Mode


CA KingGobbo
August 3 2018

Our next major historical title, Total War: THREE KINGDOMS, features two modes: Classic Mode (predominantly based on the historical text Records of the Three Kingdoms) and Romance of the Three Kingdoms Mode (inspired by the 14th century historical epic of the same name).

Classic Mode is everything you’ve come to expect from eighteen years of historical Total War: a commitment to historical authenticity, grand-scale conquest, empire management, and the struggle for ultimate military control at the heart of one of history’s greatest conflicts. It’s based on what the historians say happened in Three Kingdoms China, but with the trademark Total War sandbox systems enabling you to guide and rewrite events.

Romance Mode is where things get a little different for the series – but not wildly so. If you’re unfamiliar with Romance of the Three Kingdoms, it’s a cornerstone of Asian culture and widely viewed as one of China’s four great classic novels. It still depicts the actual events, conflicts and political narrative of the period, but with embellishments and embroideries dialling the epic up to 11, as characters perform legendary deeds in both the stateroom and the midst of battle. And yes, you should totally read it.

While Romance Mode is based on this romanticised vision of history, there’s a lot of fine detail that the novel doesn’t cover. For example, the novel doesn’t delve into the architecture of the period, the minutiae of Chinese culture at that time, or the specifics of how armies are organised and formed, which are all key aspects in establishing a feeling of authenticity for the next deep and rich Total War sandbox. In such instances we’ve made design choices based on what the more formal histories say, along with advice from our historical consultant, Rafe De Crespigny. So in many areas of gameplay, Romance Mode is actually a more historically grounded experience than you might expect.

Character theatrics aside, our interpretations of the nuts and bolts of ancient Chinese conquest are very similar in both modes. The real difference between the two is the level of emphasis each places on certain features, while reducing the focus on others.

In Classic Mode for example, battle outcomes are decided principally by how you control your army, with individual heroes appearing as regular mortals and having minimal physical impact. As a result, your heroes have a different level of importance in campaign. In Romance Mode, battle outcomes can be heavily influenced by heroes. This means they have greater value to your armies, and in turn they’ll play a more prominent role in your campaign. So Classic mode is all about tactics and statecraft, while Romance is more about personal bravado and individual martial prowess.

Having a condensed list of fundamental tweaks like this allows us to give each mode a distinct feel while staying true to our different angles of source material. And speaking of the specific differences, we’ve noticed a few recurring questions being asked about Classic Mode, so hopefully the following will offer some clarity.

1. Will heroes use historically authentic equipment in Classic Mode?

In Classic Mode, 3D character models will use historically authentic weapons and period-correct armour. However, 2D Character art will keep a slightly stylised flavour with characters wearing more flamboyant clothing, but we will remove the out of period chainmail and ceremonial weapons to reinforce the historical authenticity of the mode. Having more distinctive 2D art for each character is important to help players pick out who is who in the heat of battle. If hero unit cards all show them wearing similar armour and clothing, that becomes a much harder job.

2. Will heroes be single-unit entities in Classic Mode?

Nope, they fight on the battlefield with a retinue of bodyguards surrounding them like generals in previous historical Total War games. As these characters are only human, they can be killed if left exposed, so you’ll need to protect them if you want them to survive a battle.

3. Will Hero combat abilities feature in Classic Mode?

No, these abilities are drawn based on each character’s romanticised exploits, and aren’t present in the historical texts. A quick example is Xu Chu – based on his depiction as an indomitable brute with incredible strength, in Romance Mode he has an AoE attack ability called Earth Shattering Strike, which he doesn’t have in Classic Mode.

4. Will duels feature in Classic Mode?

Yes, but they work differently to how they do in Romance Mode and follow the historical references we have for single combat. Firstly, they happen much more organically than in Romance Mode: rather than choosing a duel option, a duel can break out between two heroes whenever they clash on the battlefield. Secondly, as heroes are not single entity units in Classic Mode, when two heroes duel, their two retinues of bodyguards will clash too. The clashing bodyguards will encircle the heroes and face off while the duel takes place. Thirdly, as heroes won’t have special combat abilities, there is less focus placed on the actions you take during a duel, and more emphasis placed on how you manage the rest of your army while the duel takes place.

5. Will Classic Mode affect battle pacing?

Typically yes, battles will be slower-paced on average. Without powerful single-entity heroes to carve through enemy frontlines, disrupt formations or pin down stronger units, the pace will be different and will allow you more time to think of your next move on the battlefield. Additionally, fatigue will play a greater role in Classic Mode where troops will tire more easily.

There’ll still be quick battles – when one side vastly outnumbers the other for example – but on average, battles will last longer in Classic mode.

6. Will Classic Mode suffer somehow compared to Romance Mode?

We’re seeing some concern that somehow Classic Mode won’t be “done right” due to Romance Mode. Rest assured Classic is a complete historical Total War experience. If we weren’t doing a Romance Mode, Classic would be the Ancient China TW game we’d be releasing.

But the Romance of the Three Kingdoms is such an epic source of inspiration, how could we not add in a way of playing the game that celebrates it?

Worth noting that the visuals and code we will be sharing on the run up to launch will typically be taken from Romance Mode, but we will be showing plenty of Classic Mode let’s plays, live streams and information on both modes as we get closer to launch.

TL;DR: Classic Mode is more a game of statecraft, Romance Mode is more a game about characters.