Total War: Three Kingdoms Guide – 9 Tips The Game Doesn’t Tell You

Our Three Kingdoms guide is here to help you rewrite history.

What is united must divide. What is divided must unite. In Total War: Three Kingdoms, ideally, you’ll be the one to fulfill that second part. But if you want to be emperor of all China, you’re going to need every advantage available. And there are certain aspects of running your faction that are easy to miss, which can mean the difference between victory and defeat. Our Total War: Three Kingdoms guide is here to help! Keep these tips in mind and, if you are wise and bold, the Dragon Throne is as good as yours.

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F1 Is Your Best Friend

The in-game adviser will tip you off to the usefulness of the F1 button, but it’s worth repeating. This is probably the best learning tool ever included in a Total War game. Before you even move your armies on turn one, you should probably go through all the menus with the F1 overlay enabled. Then just mouse on over everything. Read carefully, and you’ll learn many considerations and relationships between systems you may have been completely oblivious to otherwise.

Pay Attention to General Drama

It might seem easiest to just pair officers with complementary skills together in the same army, or create a dream team of your strongest fighters to blitz across China. But if their personality traits contrast, there will be trouble eventually. Even if your officers get along now, events throughout the campaign make friends closer and rivals more bitter. One of the drama llamas will likely leave your service entirely, if you continue to make them fight alongside someone they hate.

Total War: Three Kingdoms Guide

Check the Quick Deal Menu Early and Often

The Diplomacy screen offers you a way to see all of the potential deals you could make with all of the factions you’ve met. That’s great for discovering nonviolent avenues to advance your realm you may not have discovered otherwise. If you want to be really diligent, it’s in your interest to check this menu for new opportunities every turn. But, as that can get a bit tedious, once a year is a good middle ground. I usually do so each winter, which is when my armies are the least active and I can take stock of the situation.

Keep an Eye on Recruitable Generals

Unlike other Total War games, Three Kingdoms is constantly full of unaligned officers looking for a lord to serve. You can find a list of them every time you try to recruit a new army. Otherwise just check the “Candidates” section of the government screen. Check on the list of applicants often, as you may get a chance to hire a legendary warrior or strategist you don’t want to pass up. Some of the best generals in Three Kingdoms are likely to quit their faction or become leaderless when that faction is destroyed. That allows you to bring them into the fold — for the right price.

Total War: Three Kingdoms Guide

Spies Do More Than You Think

It’s easy to send a spy off to an enemy faction, use them to gain visibility on the strategic map, and then… totally forget they exist. Doing so will prevent you from using spies most powerful abilities — like sowing discontent in enemy courts and obstructing trade. A spy who gets appointed as a commander or governor, or who becomes a member of their host faction’s ruling house, unlocks even more powerful abilities. But there’s a catch. There is no notification to let you know when your spy has these options available. Make sure to keep checking their Undercover Network strength, and don’t let it just sit around at 100/100 all the time.

Keep Your Enemies Close

Every faction leader has traits that directly affect how they behave militaristically and diplomatically. Yuan Shao, for example, is domineering and self-important. Cao Cao is manipulative and ruthless. Liu Bei is honorable and idealistic. Once you get to know each warlord, you can pretty reliably predict what kinds of actions they will take or avoid. Eventually, you’ll find ways to use these tendencies against them directly. Since every campaign starts with the same core cast, the early game of Three Kingdoms eventually starts to feel familiar. But as those leaders die and their successors take over, make sure you learn about who they are, as well!

Total War: Three Kingdoms Guide

Use the Promote Button

This one is very simple, but also very easy to miss. If you have a general or minister who is about to leave in a huff, you can sometimes placate them (at least temporarily) with the press of a single, tiny button. On the character card, just above traits, there’s a “Promote” button. This will give the character a slight pay raise and a fancier title. That’s it! Often, this is enough to make the difference between keeping them around or not. It will be grayed out if the unit is already promoted as far as they can be at their current status, though.

Don’t Forget to Issue Assignments

Assignments give characters at your court something to do — assuming they’re not already leading a commandery or an army in the field. The bonuses can be quite powerful, too, if you deploy them in the right place at the right time. Unfortunately, Total War: Three Kingdoms doesn’t notify you when you have assignment slots available. What’s worse, each assignment only has a limited duration. This means you need to check down in the bottom left corner of commandery view every turn (or at least every few turns) to make sure your ministers stay busy.

Total War: Three Kingdoms Guide

Specialize Each Commandery

With a limited number of building slots, and some strong synergies that require almost all of them to make the most of, it’s very important to decide each commandery’s role ahead of time. That way you don’t waste money on structures you’ll just replace later to optimize your empire.

Some of these buildings will be money-makers. Others will focus on food production. Finally, some at key strategic crossroads should probably stick to garrison buildings and other things that make them harder to conquer. Then your armies don’t have to be everywhere at once. You should also aim to specialize each of your cash cow commanderies in only one of the main income types: peasantry, industry, or commerce. This will let you stack modifiers and get more out of them in the long run than trying to do all three in the same place.

It’s going to be a long and dramatic road from your humble beginnings to being proclaimed emperor, but the tips in this Total War: Three Kingdoms guide should at least smooth some of the rocks in your path. Oh yeah, and Lu Bu can’t be trusted. Just take my word on that one…

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T.J. Hafer

T.J. is an avid fan of writing, video games, vikings, and writing about video games about vikings. He also likes beer and folk metal music.

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