Just two months after the release of Mandate of Heaven, Creative Assembly is back with another small expansion to their Three Kingdoms tour de force. Back in January, I pondered if the update with the campaign timeline would mean that we should expect future expansions to fill in the gaps. A World Betrayed answers this question with a resounding yes.
This time, the start date is moved forward an inch and you begin your campaign in 194, four years after the initial time period of Three Kingdoms. A World Betrayed focuses on the two factions Sun Ce and the human killing machine that is Lu Bu. There is also an additional faction available as free DLC which focuses on the White Tiger bandits to the south. Aside from the factions, there isn’t all that much in the DLC that is new, except the things brought in with the recent 1.5 patch, but I’ll get to that in a bit.
Fortunately, both Sun Ce and Lu Bu are great fun to play and offer a much more precarious and aggressive playstyle. They both start in very disadvantageous positions and rely heavily on a rapid and aggressive expansion of their borders and military. They go about this in a slightly different manner, however.
Lu Bu is, unsurprisingly, the strong man faction. He starts out with a single army and his settlements besieged. Luckily, he is a total monster on the battlefield and, just like in the base game, he lives up to the moniker ‘the warrior worth a thousand’. Cornered by a force twice your size? No problem, just send out Lu Bu to deal with half of it before they even reach your frontline. In addition to killing everything on the battlefield, Lu Bu also has an army momentum mechanic. This translates into Lu Bu being able to continue to march on enemies as long as he is victorious in battle. Therefore, being surrounded by enemies is not always a bad thing when playing as Lu Bu.
As a faction, though, Lu Bu isn’t invincible, mostly because he is strapped for resources for a long time. You simply cannot replenish your armies and build additional forces the way other factions can when you start a campaign with Lu Bu. Another thing which prevents you from completely steamrolling everyone is that Lu Bu is an arrogant and abrasive arsehole. The more fame and glory you accumulate through conquests. the more unhappy your generals and leaders will be. To mitigate this, you have to spend your glory to make generals put up with you. It strikes a good balance and harkens back to how Lu Bu was portrayed in both the novel and the base game.
In Three Kingdoms, Lu Bu could be recruited as a general to your faction. However, doing so was seldom a great strategy. Sure, he would win battles for you, maybe even a war. However, Lu Bu would never be satisfied and the more you tried to appease him with titles and riches, the likelier his eventual betrayal would hurt you badly.
In addition to the ‘I’m an arsehole’ mechanic, Lu Bu has a few other interesting specialties in A World Betrayed, like a hit list. Lu Bu harbors an ambition to become the greatest warrior in all of China, as such he carries with him a list of famous generals and warriors he wants to beat. Progressing through this list grants you permanent buff and abilities and is very satisfying. Sadly, it is not completely without its demerits, either; events and just the normal progression of a campaign can make some of the targets impossible to solve. Cao Cao might get himself killed by someone else or you may subjugate a nation and its generals, thus making it impossible to kill some targets that are now sworn to you.
Likewise, Sun Ce starts out in a very perilous situation in the southern regions of China. After the death of his father, Sun Jian, Sun Ce has a seemingly stronger army and power base than Lu Bu, but he is so surrounded by danger that it can be snatched away from him in a split second. Inheriting an army from his father and the heavy burden of fulfilling his legacy, Sun Ce must wage war in almost every direction immediately. Otherwise, he is likely betrayed by his officers and even murdered.
I like both the additional factions in A World Betrayed and I especially had fun wreaking havoc as Lu Bu, both on the battlefield and in China’s politics. It is just such a different experience in a Total War game to essentially have a single really strong army or unit and come up with good ways of deploying it effectively. The only thing I can compare it to is the Han faction in Mandate of Heaven, who had extremely powerful units that couldn’t be replenished. The Han started big, though ,and your task with them was to prevent your empire from crumbling. Simply put,both of the additional factions offer new and fresh ways of tackling a Three Kingdoms campaign.
Just like with Mandate of Heaven, A World Betrayed coincides with a larger patch which is released for everyone. This time the focus is on the bandit factions and their mercenary upgrade. From now on, any bandit and Lu Bu can be hired as mercenaries against other factions. It is a good source of income for the smaller, weaker factions and also quite fun to engage with. For one, it gives you a free casus beli against someone and you can engage in conquest with impunity. For another, you can donate the lands you conquer to the faction who owns your contract, giving you a pretty sum of cash in the process. This is handy when conquering lands you believe you are unable to defend or are simply not strategically valuable to your current situation.
The mercenary update does, however, make an old ghost from Total War’s past appear. I’m talking about nonsensical and inept AI diplomacy. One of the things which really impressed me with Three Kingdoms last year was that the AI could finally do meaningful deals and negotiations in diplomacy. They actually formed sensible alliances, sued for peace and trade agreements in a way that seemed almost competent compared to how older games were.
With the mercenaries option, I have seen countless nonsensical contracts being thrown my way. Things like being hired as the White Tiger, who resides on the banks furthest in the east, to take out a leader who is up in the western mountains. Why yes, me and my tiny bandit gang will carve a bloody path through all of China to take out someone you have a grudge with. To make matters worse. you also sometimes don’t see where the target resides until after you have accepted the contract. This can lead you to taking on obligations that are completely impossible for you to fulfill.
Despite this flaw and the rather meager content in A World Betrayed, I would still recommend the expansion for fans of Three Kingdoms. For the price of this DLC, you can engage with two of the most interesting factions the entire series has offered to date. Carving a bloody path through China as Lu Bu, sewing chaos and destruction as you go, is awesome. In the same vein, the immense desperation of the Sun Ce campaign and having to rely on blind luck more often than not also makes his campaign really interesting to play as a Total War veteran.
A review code for A World Betrayed was provided by SEGA for the purposes of this article.
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