The newest game is making history out of playing in history
After a few fantasy Warhammer based Total War games, the developer Creative Assembly released a new historical game this year, in a setting that, up to now, has only been on the wishlist of players, ancient China. And both fans and reviewers have embraced it with open arms, some even going as far as calling it the BEST Total War game so far. It has certainly been selling as one, with over a million of copies sold in the first weeks as well as over 180,000 concurrent players on Steam. With its sprawling singleplayer campaign, improved and expanded diplomacy, robust character – general system and even two battle modes, Romance and Records, it just might be very close to being the BEST Total War game. But…
…But how is the multiplayer? It’s actually both better and worse than previous games. Currently the Battle list, the multiplayer lobby and player hosted rooms for custom PVP battles, isn’t even working, and also the invite friends to custom battles system is only sometimes working. What is working, for the most part, if you know how to fix it when it’s stuck in match found state, is the ranked PVP multiplayer. Ranked meaning that your games are recorded in the leaderboards, and that you can’t chose your opponents but that they are randomly chosen for you, by a systems, whose exact settings, haven’t been released by the developers, the Creative Assembly.
The working part of multiplayer
In this ranked mode you are locked into the Romance mode, while you can actually see the Records mode, as an option, in the battle setup screen. Romance mode is the less tactical, and more fantasy mode, compared to the Records mode, in which generals are heroes with extraordinary strength, stamina and powers(spells with no cast time). Units tactical abilities, like loose formation, shield wall, testudo, cavalry wedges, and many others are not available. In ranked multiplayer mode you are allowed to pick the battle site on the map of China, if you are the host of the battle, but you can’t change the game mode or size of units, which is large by default (the middle option), and there is no battle size to pick, you always play the same battle size limited to 11,000 gold fund. What you can pick are your generals, ranging from battle hardened Vanguards, one man units capable of killing hundreds of enemy soldiers, over Champions who aim to kill enemy generals to lightly armed and armored Strategists and Commanders who support your units. Deepening on how much gold you spend on the generals(3 different levels, each costing 500 gold progressively more) you can unlock more powerful units those generals have access to and bring them to the field of battle, as well as upgrade the generals stats, like melee power or toughness. If this last element reminds you of something then it’s probably because you played Total War Shogun 2’s Avatar multiplayer mode in which you could also upgrade your general, chose his abilities as a tactical commander or melee or bow fighter and upgrade his stats. But, in far far more detail.
How Avatar conquest multiplayer worked in TW Shogun 2
I for one, as many other players, remember Shogun 2’s Avatar multiplayer very fondly, and even play it from time to time, as there are still players around. The game itself came out 8 years ago, back in 2011. After it was announced, a video came out from Creative Assembly, detailing a totally new multiplayer game mode, the Avatar mode which was unheard of at that time, and blew many minds away, including mine. It gave each player who entered the Avatar multiplayer a general edit tool, in which they would create their unique looking General, everything from color of pants to the helmet’s crest could be customized, with even more options unlocked as you progressed through the Avatar’s mode immense gameplay. Once you chose the look of your General, your Avatar, you went on to customize the look of your entire army and it’s livery(logo). I went with gold(yellow) and black colors. Trading them for blue and white when I reset and leveled my Avatar for the second time.
After setting up your General/Avatar and Army appearance, you start the Avatar conquest mode. This is the main mod where your Avatar is a chess peace on the map of Japan and every province holds something that you need to unlock to grow and expand your Avatar and your Army(you get two chess pieces actually, one for land battles and another for naval battles). You can then join a clan, a group of players on Steam, and each clan’s members fight for control over provinces by adding their victories to the clans overall rating, the clan with the highest rating on a province wins the province, and clan tokens, which have their use in upgrading units.
When the game released and in the subsequent months I saw, as I was playing, a huge increase in the number of players who where joining clans and fighting in the Avatar conquest. The leaderboards grew day by day, reaching over 600,000 players in only a few weeks, meaning at more than 600,000 players joined in on the multiplayer. There was even a Shogun status that one player could achieve on the leaderboards, for a time, if he was the best. I was very happy to be a part of this massive player driven multiplayer and player it for hundreds and hundreds of battles even starting my own YouTube channel just to share my battles and later my battle experience and knowledge.
In the Avatar conquest in order for a player to conquer a province you move your Avatar on the map to a new province and then must fight a battle vs another players Avatar/General, and only by wining in that battle, land, siege, sea(naval) do you conquer the province and unlock something new for your General or your Army, this can be a new unit type, new Avatar items or upgrades, or retainers. You only need to win a single time in a province to conquer it, and unlock it’s rewards. Retainers are additional personal that travel with your General, and give him or your army, additional stats, while some retainers reduce enemies General and Army stats. You can find a cook for example, an untrained fugu cook to be precise, who gives enemy sword infantry -2 to melee attack. And you can bring several of these retainers to each battle, while you can unlock dozens of different ones.
You chose to play land, siege, naval battle(if you where moving your ship, chess peace on sea province) and after each battle both your General and your units get XP points. Generals level up as they earn enough XP for a new level and you unlock new skills on a skill tree for your General, making him better but also more expensive in terms of gold/koku. There are 4 skill trees, Leadership, Bow Mastery, Physical and Melee combat. They are not exclusive, but rather supplement each other, and allow for a wide verity of mixed or single focus General types. My personal favorite is the Leadership General with bonus melee defense. He has the ability to buff, add stats to my army units, like melee attack or defense, morale, reload speed etc. while the downside is that he can’t be sent into melee battle and has to be protected as he literally sits down on a chair in the middle of the battlefield to command while his bodyguards would set up a defensive square around him.
When a unit gains enough XP, in a single battle, you can chose to make it a veteran and even name it. This opens whole new unit customization options, from coloring the unit in its own special pattern, to leveling its own skill tree up to level 10, and even unlocking special abilities unique to that unit or unit type. Each upgrade comes with a increase to the units cost, balancing out its new found stats and abilities. This is where clan tokens come in, which allow for most powerful skills to be upgraded or unlocked for these veteran units, which also raise the price of the unit the most. This gives the player the incentive to join in on the clan contests. There is a maximum number of veteran units one general can have in his army camp, and after each battle a veteran unit would need to sit out one battle before it would be replenished back to full strength.
As new players join the Avatar conquest they have a nominal ELO rating. The game auto matches them against another player with a similar ELO rating and depending on winning or losing the battle each player gets an increase or a decrease of his ELO rating depending on the difference between their ELO ratings. Wining against a higher ELO player nets you a higher boost to your ELO rating, similarly losing to a player with a lower ELO rating means you lose more ELO points. An additional safeguard for new players is that they first play small, then medium and only later large battles, which helps them learn to play while commanding increasing larger armies. As they level up their Avatar, unlock more units and retainers and crate veteran units they get access to larger battles which are much harder to play . The already leveled up players, with their high level Avatar have a very costly general in small size battles, so even if a new player is matched against a seasoned player he has more free gold/koku to buy units because his general is much cheaper.
Now how could all this be implemented into the new TW Three Kingdoms Avatar?
The new three general system would obviously be the basis of this. As a player would join the Avatar multiplayer in Three Kingdoms, he would be greeted with a screen in which he would chose his first general, and his appearance. After this the player would chose the colors and banner livery(logo) of his army as well as the starting province on the map. Each player could also join up with a clan of players, which are a group on Steam, and play in the overall clan battle for control of China’s provinces. A victory in a single month( or for example 60 days) for the top three clans on their Avatar conquest, with the maximum of 10 clans per instance, would give that clan, and every player member, a new unique color or unit livery, as well as clan tokens, to use to upgrade veteran units with the most expensive upgrades. Of course, there would be a inactivity limit, which would mean players joining wining clans, just to get clan tokens, would not work unless, they have fought for that clan, a certain number of battles, and only wining would increase the number of clan tokens received, beyond the default number.
Depending on the depth the developers from Creative Assembly would go, generals could level and gain flat stat boosts and/or unlock more powerful skills and abilities that affect themselves, enemy generals or the army units in their or enemies army. At the start players would command only a single general, and only small armies. About 3,000 gold worth of general and army units. Depending on the part of the map the player starts, he would have access to a unique unit, from the units the chosen general can command. So, not only would the choice of the general create a unique starting mix of units, but also the starting province would further customize the starting unlocked units. After conquering a certain percentage of provinces, each player would have to play a siege battle, in which he could be the defender or attacker, and if he wins the battle, he unlocks the second general and the next size of battles. For players who don’t like playing siege battles, there could be a fixed number of battles, that have to be played, to unlock the second general. Or an even more complex system could be implemented with additional story elements. Once a player has unlocked his second general, he can chose one, and then have the option of continuing to play small battles, with a single general, or medium battles, round 7000 gold, with two generals. Same process would unlock the third general, and 11,000 gold battles.
Along with unlocking generals, players would be winning battles and conquering provinces, which would unlock new unit types, special units of already unlocked unit types, retainers, general armors and weapons. Retainers would give buff and debuffs to units and generals, while armors and weapons could be just cosmetic items, or not and have actual stat boosting defects. Units would earn veteran status just like in Shogun 2, and this would unlock their more advanced abilities and powers. There could also be advanced versions of those units, which would cost more, but would have better arms and armor. This customization could be limited by general type. For example, a strategists would allowed for more infantry unit abilities, like a shield wall, while a duelist would unlock more options for cavalry units, like the wedge formation.
Players would, of course, be able to change their generals, once they unlock their third general, but it would require them to level them up. The new generals would receive less XP in large battles, but more in small battles, because total XP earned in a battle would be divided between generals. This would give experienced players incentive to play small battles, with lower level generals, and give new players, both a larger pool of players to play against, as well as populate that pool with more experienced players, that new players can learn from. Low level generals would also be limited on how many veteran and upgraded units they can bring with them into battle, which would level the playing field for new and experienced players. Leaving a general unused for a large number of battles, sitting in your generals pool, would have that general lose his edge and drop in level. A single level drop each 50 battles of concurrent inactivity, for example, with larger pools of unlocked generals having smaller penalties, as they could just train which each other in their down time. If all generals are unlocked then non would lose their levels.
Just like in Shogun 2’s Avatar multiplayer, in Three Kingdoms, units could also achieve veteran status, if they get enough XP in a single battle. Player would have a fixed number of veteran units in the army camp, and each unit would have its name, could be painted separately of the armies color pattern and leveled up. Higher level units would then be able to be upgrade, for example higher melee attack rating, that would increase the cost of that unit, by a fixed amount. Veteran unit damaged in a battle would be replenished, just like in Shogun 2 if rested for a single battle. Or, simple version of units could be upgrade into new, better, stronger, units which have new abilities and powers as they reach a certain veteran level. There could even been mini unit development trees.
As Shogun 2’s leaderboards data has shown player do have an interest in multiplayer aspect of Total War games, especially when that multiplayer is engaging on many levels, allows for customization, different play styles, and joining other players in clans, to battle for supremacy over provinces. TW Three Kingdoms, with its new system of three generals, gives Creative Assembly a fantastic opportunity to bring back a fan favorite multiplayer mode to millions of players, both old and new, with a new twist, completely new setting and fresh gameplay. This would keep player entertained for months and probably years to come, as Shogun 2 experience shows, and allow Creative Assembly to expand its fan base with a both easy to learn and a hard to master, mix of unit and generals, and a multiplayer strategy game experience which is totally unique in all of gaming.