By default, Total War: Three Kingdoms doesn't look like a gritty, realistic simulation of ancient Chinese warfare. Sure, the political and espionage systems make my head spin, but its heroic generals give it some of the same feel as Total War: Warhammer. Enter Records mode, an alternate, more historically accurate way to play Three Kingdoms. Creative Assembly's new mode reduces generals back to mere mortals, assigns them bodyguards to keep them safe, and makes battles a slower, more strategic affair. See how it works in the videos below, including a 23 minute battle.
Records mode interestingly highlights the changes Creative Assembly have made to the combat for Three Kingdoms. Tiredness affects troops less, and heroes are capable of literally shouting lesser troops to death. It's not quite the magic powers of Total Warhammer, but close enough, and heroes act as entirely standalone units. It's all rather Dynasty Warriors. Records mode just reverts it to more Total War standard - generals provide morale boosts, and maybe are a bit tougher than the average grunt, but they're still just another unit in the middle of a larger regiment.
Hero skills being axed aside, Records mode looks like it makes no changes to the overarching campaign layer - it's just a toggle for players who prefer 'classic' Total War combat. Creative Assembly estimate that battles take around 30% longer in Records mode, partly from the slower movement (so as not to tire troops out), and partly from heroes not bowling over entire regiments. Fortunately some of the more fanciful features are retained even in this more historical version, such as the Dynasty Warriors-esque smack-talking that happens between generals mid-battle.
While a little red and dusty, the full battle video also gives us a good look at the combat, warts and all. One cornered infantry unit gets stuck because it can't decide a direction to flee in, but that's a known issue and hopefully will be hammered out by launch. Beyond that, the enemy puts up a solid defence, and ends up making it a narrow, Pyrrhic victory. Impressive, given the complexity of the battlefield, including multiple choke-points to control. Here's hoping it stays that smart in the final release - maybe it'll even know not to pursue Lu Bu, at least in Romance mode.
Total War: Three Kingdoms has sadly been delayed until May 23rd. You can find it on Steam and Humble, priced at £45/€60/$60, with early adopters getting the Yellow Turban DLC faction free. It’s published by Sega.