Creative Assembly Discuss Adding Character to Total War

When it decided to make a Total War game based on the Romance of the Three Kingdoms, Creative Assembly had a choice to make. It could either stick to series tradition and make a standard Total War game set in the period described in the book or it could take advantage of the opportunity and do something new. Based on what’s been shown so far, it appears they’ve chosen the latter option. We recently sat down to discuss this with Pawel Wojs, the project’s art director, and Al Bickman, Development Communications Manager at Creative Assembly. They were only too happy to oblige us and elaborate on what sets Total War: Three Kingdoms apart from its predecessors.

So far, Creative Assembly has put a great deal of emphasis upon the generals of Total War: Three Kingdoms. Their importance is obvious, so we asked Wojs and Bickman why exactly that is. It seems that just like in the novel the game is based on, everything revolves around these characters. “They have a big effect on the gameplay, but also, what’s different is their influences on the narrative and strategic tapestry, said Wojs. “The result is a bit of romanticized history. It’s still a historical game at its core, but with this additional layer of narrative that we gained from the ‘Romance of the Three Kingdoms’ novel.”

He further explained how the book goes into great detail its descriptions of the characters and their motivations, drives, wants, relationships and their deeds. This kind of information is, apparently, not usually included in the historical texts the team typically uses as their primary references. “So with this game we have the records of the Three Kingdoms historical accounts on the one hand and the beautifully detailed “Romance of the Three Kingdoms” novel on the other. And the combination of the two is the resulting game. That’s definitely something that’s new,” he said

Total War: Three Kingdoms Key Art Cut
With all this additional information available, it’s probably safe to assume that basing the game around these generals and their legendary prowess only made sense. This has been translated into the game in the form of powerful abilities that can easily take out an entire unit. Such powerful individuals are a Total War first, so we asked Bickman and Wojs to discuss the studio’s reasoning for including them in the game’s unique “Romance” mode.

“In the Romance mode, they’re as powerful as they are because we wanted them to reflect how they were written in the ‘Romance of the Three Kingdoms’ novel, said Bickham. “[In the novel] they are these larger-than-life characters who perform great deeds which normal men could never do.” To further explain, Wojs told us a bit about legends and the team’s goals for depicting these characters in-game.

“It’s kind of similar to the legends of King Arthur and his knights of the round table,” he said. “It’s a legend told over centuries. With these characters, it’s not like we’re going out of our way to portray them as fantastical. We’re trying to filter everything through this lens of plausibility. [In the novel] these characters are depicted as they are in their legends. It all started with a peasant tilling his fields and looking at these larger-than-life people. They see these Armor-clad warriors taking on five or so soldiers at a time and then tell that story over and over again. Over the centuries, those five men turned out to be a hundred! A thousand! And it’s that retelling of those legends that resulted in the characters we see in Romance of the Three Kingdoms.”

Wojs concluded by saying that this is basically what “Romance Mode” is; it’s the folklore-enhanced version of the events that took place immediately after the fall of the Han dynasty and the important people that participated in them. We then moved onto how these characters and their relationships with one another would influence the campaign. As it turns out, everything seems to hinge on them. Characters can form friendships and rivalries with one another independent of the player’s actions and the effect can be great indeed.

Total War - Three Kingdoms lanterns
“You can have two nobles in the same court who think alike and they build a bond of brotherhood as they work together. That can have quite far-reaching effects, said Wojs. “Say one of those characters is a thorn in your faction’s side, or you’re finding hard to keep him happy because he’s a real warmonger even though you’re playing a peaceful game; you’re expanding through diplomacy rather than force of arms. So this guy’s satisfaction level, his loyalty to you, will start dropping and he may leave your faction. And because he’s left, that other character whom he’s forged a bond with might leave with him. So, by getting rid of one problematic general, you also lose a really good one. These are all things you’ve got to keep an eye on.”

Bickham added that it’s normal for characters to move around independently. Winning and keeping their loyalty depends on what drives them as individuals. “Essentially, this means that characters are not locked into a faction,” said Bickham. “They’ll move around from faction to faction according to their own drive.”

This brought us to the topic of spies, one of Total War: Three Kingdoms’ most exciting new features. Since these characters are known to move around freely, inserting a spy into another faction’s court is a fairly easy thing to do.

“If you want a character to spy for you, you can cast them out. To anyone else, it’ll look like you had a falling out, and another faction will pick up this character. They’re then your spy,” said Bickham. “You can immediately see what’s going on in that faction. Depending on the spy’s class, they can be asked to do certain tasks by that faction. They could be a champion or even a general in charge of armies as a general. And you can see them on the campaign map doing whatever it is their master commanded them do, but they’re working for you. So you can perform various actions as that spy.”

Total War: Three Kingdoms Gamescom Army
Once a spy is embedded in another faction, it seems any number of things can happen. They can simply feed the player intelligence. They can convert armies into friendly forces. They can sow disinformation too, but that’s just the beginning.

“At the very high-level, if your spy remains undetected and they’re really in the favor of the faction leader, the faction leader grows a bond with him and could potentially like him so much that he adopts him into his family and makes him his heir,” said Bickham “That’s something that happened in this period and that’s something you can do.”

“If you have a faction leader and they have weak-stock sons, they can adopt someone else as their heir. So if the faction leader dies, you’ve got someone strong to take over for them. So, if that faction leader dies somehow, your spy becomes the leader. At which point, they can start a civil war and split the faction into two warring factions, one of which is loyal to you.”

Wojs added all of this can be done in multiplayer. He also said that spying is not a sure thing. There’s always a chance that one’s spy could be discovered and there are several things a faction can do in order to increase their chances of finding them. Once discovered, a faction leader has some options regarding what to do with them. They can execute them, they can just release the spy out of respect for the bonds they built or they can tell the spy to return to their master and work as a double agent. Should that happen, it wouldn’t be unusual to suddenly lose an entire province to the enemy, depending on how highly placed ones former-spy is after they return.

The story’s romantic and legendary atmosphere influenced the art direction for Total War: Three Kingdoms just as much as it did with its campaign. We asked Mr. Wojs to tell us a bit about the art team’s goals for the project.

Total War: Three Kingdoms Gamescom River
“We really wanted to bring the color back to Total War,” said Wojs. “It’s a different period. It’s not the apocalyptic period of Attila, with Rome crumbling on all sides and such. Yes, the Han empire is falling apart, but in Chinese culture it’s a period of hope. It’s a much more of a hopeful kind of atmosphere. China is so rich in beauty and atmosphere, and we really wanted to bring that forward and create this kind of ethereal, almost mystical feeling.”

Wojs and Bickman further explained that ink was also a major influence on the visual design, and that the UI was a combination of that traditional style and modern UI design. All in all, one has to say that it turned out well.

Total War: Three Kingdoms offers a more traditional Total War experience through its “Records” Mode,” but it looks like “Romance Mode” will provide fans with quite a bit of surprises, excitement and fresh gameplay. For a better idea of what fighting a battle in Three Kingdoms is like, check out our preview of its Gamescom demo.

Total War: Three Kingdoms is set to launch for PC in Spring 2019.