A couple weeks ago we had the chance to take part in a demo with other games journalists to try out a new mode in Total War: Three Kingdoms. Creative Assembly and SEGA gave us a couple hours to play around on the game and see what we could do with it, and after thinking on it for a couple weeks to see where it sat, we have a few thoughts on their new Romance Mode.
The demo we played featured the character Liu Bei from the novel Romance of the Three Kingdoms, of which the game bases most of its source material from. Bie did not start off with an empire already given to him by birthright, but had a lot of cunning and was a man of the people, so he managed to rise up in the empire through means other than conquest and bloodshed. Unlike his other rivals, his militia has no upkeep, making them cheaper to keep active through food and resources when you do get them rolling. However, unless you can build up some forces, everything you do will be through influence and negotiation.
The Romance Mode to the game is rather unique in that you don't do all of the normal Total War kind of things with armies and strategy. You're given a map that you can peek in on and see where all of your main generals are, moving them around as if you're playing a much grander version of Risk. Fights and conquests are handled in short form in this mode as you will put together all the things you need to make it happen and then give it your best shot through randomicity of combat. I say random because I charged in with a massive army into a settlement and got my trash handed to me by a bunch of rebels.
There are parts of the Romance mode I love and parts I hate. First off, I enjoy the negotiation table, even though it takes some time to get used to. It's a far easier system than in previous games where it was basically a situation of fight or stall until you fight. Here it feels a bit like Civilization where you can have your cake and eat it too, but eventually, you still have to put everyone under your banner, changing each provenance to the color you represent on the map. The downside is the management of town and people. You have to be on top of your game every season, and while we only played 30 turns for the demo, it was a struggle to advance my villages and keep my army going so I had room to grow.
I really enjoyed the fact that the battle mechanic was handled about as smoothly as it possibly could be. All I had to do was charge into an area and let the RNG gods do their work. Even when stuff didn't go in my favor, there was a part of my brain that said: "Well, at least you didn't spend 45 minutes losing, you spent 4.5 seconds losing." If you love that aspect of Total War, this will probably piss you off as you have little say in how things go, just how many of what kind of troops go in to do the work needed. But for me, it was a lovely experience and I could see myself playing the game for hours now that I know one battle won't go on for hours.
Overall, I really enjoyed the Romance Mode for Total War: Three Kingdoms. It gave the series a different flavor and it fit right in with what we were playing as far as the story goes. People who love the story, in general, might get a kick out of all of it, but I could see hardcore players not enjoying this mode because it's not what they're familiar with. We'll be seeing it all in about a month when the game is released on March 7th.