Who knew it’s hard to keep an empire going? I’m no emperor and I have no plans to become one anytime soon, so who am I to try and tell anyone how to run theirs? Still, it pains me to say that the Han dynasty in Total War: Three Kingdoms have sure messed up. And if the story events during the base content was not enough in telling the real raw details out that point in Chinese history, and the inadequacies in government that spurred the Yellow Turban Revolt, the newest DLC called Mandate of Heaven dives into even more of what helped bring the rise of that particular popular movement.
Mandate of Heaven takes place before the main campaign timeline as it explores the source and start of what eventually would have the Han dynasty quivering along with its allies. There are six new warlords added in by this DLC, with a main campaign split into three for each of the Zhang brothers, the main instigators of the uprising, as well as fighting for the Han to continue to endure as one of its loyal generals, and a particularly unique one that puts you in Emperor Liu’s silk sandals, having to deal with the revolt and the chaos engulfing your vast empire, bred by famine, disease, and corruption. This way, you can basically fight for both sides and do your best to make them succeed, along with seeing their point of view to the conflict, which is pretty darn neat and sometimes even a little heartbreaking.
Each of these characters brings in their own set of pros and cons, much like the main game’s own campaign. These are clearly listed in their selection screen, and for as word-heavy as the Total War games tends to get as a whole, Three Kingdoms managed to simplify things by adding in bullet points that enumerate exactly what these guys and gals are all about. In Mandate of Heaven’s case, each of the brothers has a different approach to handling the revolt they’re leading, and you’re tasked with making due with their skills in order to succeed.
On the rebel side, you have to deal with two new mechanics added into their particular campaign. Zeal is the meter that builds up the more you win in combat, take over enemy installations and bring in more supporters to your cause. Lose enough of it and the revolt is doomed, so it’s to your interest to keep this going for as long as possible by forging alliances and making wise decisions along the way. Fervour on the other hand is the amount of pressure you exert on the Han, so keeping that riding high by having your allies attack fortifications and be a general thorn on the emperor’s hide. Then again, neither of these metrics is a science, and for as much you can do to keep them going, things might just start to fall apart regardless, and it’s in that uncertainty where most of the fun in playing a Total War campaign lies.
As a loyalist, things are a tad more difficult, especially if you go and try to give a go as the big kahuna himself, since it has you starting at the top of the food chain right away, forcing you to keep constant tabs on the empire’s problems, and man, those are numerous, let me tell you. There’s no way you can possibly make everyone happy in this mode, even more so when you’re having to make deals with the biggest factions in the game whose allegiance to your cause is shaky at best. Playing as Liu is possibly where you’ll spend the least amount of time trying to wage war, but instead, doing diplomacy and working on cleaning your administrative structure from the corruption that’s taken ahold of it. It’s the game mode I’m most interested in sitting down and really giving the time it deserves after the review for sure.
If you have yet to jump into the main campaign to Total War: Three Kingdoms, you might want to start with Mandate of Heaven, since it allows to to carry over your progress to the primary Romance game mode after being done playing through this prologue. No worries if you have already tried your hand at playing the base game, in fact it might prove to be an asset to your time in the DLC, given that you’re coming in with knowledge of the inner workings of the game, certainly an asset when getting into such a systematically complex experience that Total War is.
Then again, if you gave Total War: Three Kingdoms a go before and didn’t hit it off, Mandate of Heaven isn’t likely to change your mind. It’s basically more of what that game offered in the base content, building upon it by giving you more to do, but not really reinventing the wheel in any way. I, for one, was never particularly into the combat aspects of this version of Total War to begin with since it feels like it only slows down the already dragging pace of the campaigns, so the added units didn’t really got to me as much as someone who likes to micromanage every single soldier would. Obviously, if you liked what you played before, it’s a sure bet that this DLC will grab you, and knowing how Sega and Creative Assembly usually treats new content for their Total War games, it isn’t likely to be the last we’ll see of Total War: Three Kingdoms.