Finally won the twenty year arm wrestle between my self and the Kingdom of Wu, who abdicating and were absorbed into my own. Their former allies and vassals quickly folded and petitioned for the same. I was still anticipating a bloody struggle for outright mastery as the final Imperial Claimant, the Kingdom of Shu-Han, had enormous military capacity. Looking at the diplomacy screen, they were some ways away from being convinced of my superiority and would want it proving in blood.
Tentatively and not a little whimsically, I thought I would use the ultimatum option to beef things up. This carries with it a heavy reputation penalty, as the demands of tyrants were precisely what lead to the previous Dynasty’s overthrow and the trigger for at this point 50 years of war throughout the whole of China. But given that the majority of factions were enthusiastically backing me at this point, it felt safe enough.
And quite beautifully, it worked. I say beautifully, not just because of the narrative coherence it provided, but because it was a logic which overthrew the existing numbers. The Diplomacy screen had already said that I was a ways way from beating the AI into submission, but in spite of that, the threat of my opponent having to fight an unwinnable war was sufficient enough to win out for them, and by far the most benevolent and sensible solution for all involved.
This was a happy extension of things happening that were more about the integrity of the simulation over the AI just stacking the odds. Arguably the most important moment in my War of Three Kindgoms was when the Duchy of Liang was released from its vassalage by the Kingdom of Shu Han. I had been monitoring their respective reputation with each other closely as together they formed a power bloc far too big for me to contend with. I noticed with interest that as the years went on and the Duchy were being denied opportunities for expansion by their vassalage, essentially geographically frozen, they were getting more irritated at their Lord. But I was resigned to them just having an academically shitty relationship which would not actually play out in any meaningful way, I was sure their armies would still join forces and threaten my kingdom as though they were fast friends.
But no, the AI player Shu-Han, under the same conditions as myself, was forced to actually contend with the implications of having a rebellious and vengeful subject going rogue, and decided to release them from their commitments. This allowed me in turn to invest in wooing the Duchy and eventually welcoming them into my own fold, mainly through offering them the opportunities that the Diplomacy screen told me their former master had denied, which in turn finally gave me the critical mass required to break the deadlock. But it also provided so much character and plausibility. All Three Claimants were contending with the same issue of holding a mandate with some without holding a mandate with all, and of the erosion of trust and capacity for vulnerability this engendered. I was a co-competitor in this game, which was as much about managing our own administrations as well as beating the others, and not just a human working out how to beat an AI playing by different rules with unreasonable advantages.
Just by way of an epilogue to this episode, as is always the case at the conclusion of a good TW campaign, I found myself struck by Creative Assembly’s passion for such a gratuitously epic experience. I am particularly grateful in this era that they can create a game about national competition and superiority without ever suggesting it is politically endorsed or acceptable . And while I know little of the subject itself, to play a 100+ hour campaign with almost it’s entire audible speech in Chinese, populated exclusively by unambiguously Chinese heroes and soldiers who are visually diverse with reference to regional subtlety; to play for the fate of a country presented not as a racial monolith but as a complex and intricate, evolving world, populated by multiple cultural influences, which made me desperate to know more of the era and caused me to pause in astonishment at the comparative advances and enormity of China even in comparison to the Romans; that shit is magic.
My first enthusiasm for history was essentially in “it’s fantasy, but it really happened”, and it’s never really graduated much beyond that. But’s it’s so easy to fail to communicate that, to make history something wrote and dusty and known, or worse, as is usually the case with videogames and other media, something that has nothing whatever to actually do with the essenece of it’s source, something ashamed of the actual history and so reaches instead for entertainment and associated cliches and dresses it in period garb.
Creative Assembly get the potency of History, and their continued, unapologetic celebration and promotion of its grandness and the sheer child like wonder it should provoke feels like something from a different era, which reminds me of Dorling Kindersely Visual Dictionaries, Horrible Histories, and trips to the library as a wee boy. For CA to invest that same level of breathless investment into their history and art, especially as mainstream developers, some two decades after Shogun; to try and evoke something so richly and with such unambiguous, unapologetic delight, and to not only not stop but to continue to do it better and with even more enthusiasm-I’m not sure I can name another developer who can say they have done the same over the past 20 years.
For those who are interested, a visual timeline:
This was my Empire when I decided to war against the South:
This is my Empire falling to pieces as a consequence:
Which lead to me having to rationalise and cede a lot of territory to my vassals, in order to keep things under control:
The eventual consequence of this coalition building lead to this though. You can see from the empty spaces however that my vassals were still pretty powerful themselves and far from token participants. I think these maps speak pretty highly of how kinetic and evolving a campaign it was.