Total War: Three Kingdoms - Mandate of Heaven impressions

Creative Assembly offers up the best post-release content yet for their Chinese strategy epic.


Not content with simply releasing one of the best strategy games of 2019, Creative Assembly and SEGA have been hard at work producing DLC content for fans of Total War: Three Kingdoms. Following the release of the Eight Princes and Yellow Turban Rebellion DLCs, the studios are kicking off the new year with the biggest post-release DLC package yet in Mandate of Heaven. This release works a bit like a prologue to the campaigns of the original game, as well as including new factions, units, and campaign mechanics. Because it integrates very well into the main game, Mandate of Heaven is easily the cream of the crop when it comes to Three Kingdoms post-release content.

Not Han for long

Mandate of Heaven rolls back the clock to the year 182 and tells the story of the Han Empire’s battle against the Yellow Turban Rebellion. I know next to nothing about Chinese history, but a quick glance at Wikipedia and skimming through in-game text reveals that Taoists managed to get the common folk riled up and spent years causing serious problems for the leadership of the Han Empire. This dustup leads to the start of the Three Kingdoms period. Ultimately, the rebellion was snuffed out, but keyboard and mouse warriors are given the chance to rewrite history (or direct the empire to destroy the rebellion again). 

When starting a new campaign in the DLC, you can select one of several new Warlords. The Yellow Turbans are represented by a trio of brothers, Zhang Jue, Zhang Bao, and Zhang Liang. These guys are the de facto bad guys and want the Han Empire gone for good. On the Han side, players can also select from three new options: Emperor Liu Hong, Prince Liu Chong, and Lu Zhi. Additionally, six Warlords from the base game can be chosen and now offer new starting positions in the overall timeline. Fan-favorite Dong Zhuo is one of these Warlords and was certainly less rotund back in 182 than when we saw him during the original campaign. Mandate of Heaven offers origin stories for these returning characters and their inclusion is a nice treat for the die-hard players.

Different styles for different dudes

Depending on which factions or Warlords you select, you’ll have access to a few new campaign mechanics or units for use during the real-time battles. Should you roll with Emperor Hong, you must spend time dealing with an expanded royal court. At the outset, the court is loaded down with bureaucrats. You need to remove and replace some of these folks in order to shift power towards your Dynasty and Warlords. You must acquire political influence points and spend them to remove officials, promote others, or for annexation. The court system is more complex than it was in the base game and helps to keep things engaging outside of battles.

Prince Chong plays a bit differently and has a unique Fortitude bar mechanic. You fill the bar by murdering people or holding off outside attacks. As the bar fills, you gain buffs, XP bonuses, and speedier troop replenishment. If you let the bar fall, you lose the buffs and inactivity will decrease Fortitude over time. Chong also has a Trophy Cabinet. This is a set of unlockable achievements that grant buffs when completed. You will be able to select any four trophies at once.

Playing as Zhang Jue and his brothers is a tough proposition, but like the other choices, they carry some unique mechanics. The Zeal mechanic ties the siblings together and it works a bit like Prince Chong’s Fortitude bar, though it is filled or depleted as a group. The brothers also have their own unique reform trees, which operate like your typical skill trees in other games. Each of the Zhang brothers has a head start on a unique tree. Admittedly, I did not get very far with any of the Zhangs, as I was regularly defeated early in my campaign attempts. I expect that seasons Total War players will fare much better than I did and will enjoy the challenge. 

A mandate to pick up this DLC?

The big question: Is Mandate of Heaven worth the cost? If you liked the base game and are looking for more, the answer is an easy yes. It expands upon the storylines of multiple characters of the original game along with the introductions of others. The new faction mechanics add depth and complexity without injecting tedium to the experience. Like the original game, Mandate of Heaven comes with some outstanding art. On the technical side of things, the status quo remains. Large battles will definitely bring even the most powerful PCs to their knees and simulating turns can cause major stutters and freezes. On the flip side, none of these issues affect playability and the battles are as good as you’ll see in a strategy game. For the asking price of $10, Mandate of Heaven is a slice of history worth gobbling up.

These impressions were based on the PC Steam release. The game key was provided by the publisher. Total War: Three Kingdoms - Mandate of Heaven was made available for Steam on January 16, 2020.

Contributing Tech Editor

Chris Jarrard likes playing games, crankin' tunes, and looking for fights on obscure online message boards. He understands that breakfast food is the only true food. Don't @ him.

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