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Editorial

Total War: Three Kingdoms and the Revolutionary Power of Personality

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Total War: Three Kingdoms

With less than a month to go before the originally projected release, Total War: Three Kingdoms has suffered a setback. Eleven weeks have been added to the development schedule. Some fans will no doubt despair at this fact, while others will take solace in the prospect that the additional time will help Creative Assembly match the epic scope and revolutionary bent of the ancient novel by which the game is loosely inspired.

Heretofore, the Total War series has taken as its basis history unadulterated, but the upcoming entry changes that. Instead, Three Kingdoms mixes in the literary and mythical thanks to the debt it owes to Romance of the Three Kingdoms.

That text has been well served in video games by the Dynasty Warriors series, but its enormous, epic scale suggests a fittingness to the hectic grandeur inherent in real-time strategy and tactics games. Previous Total Wars—Rome, NapoleonAttila—have offered vast lands for the interplay of factional fighting, but the action is inevitably of a disembodied type. Players engage in the rise and fall of empires, but never see the human impact.

Total War: Three Kingdoms

The myth-history divulged in Romance of the Three Kingdoms has the potential to change that. The novel tells of the end of the Han Dynasty, and casts the feuding would-be emperors and their advisers as larger-than-life characters. Creative Assembly is tapping into that literary vein via the ‘Romance’ game mode, giving gamers who have previously been turned away by the dispassionate approach to narrative a reason to care.

In this new mode, users are able to assume direct control of generals (who have superior skills and special powers) while on the battlefield. This trait alone promises to personalise the experience, humanising the soldiers on the frontlines rather than featuring them as nothing more than numbers.

These powerful generals is just one of the areas in which Creative Assembly is introducing “some revolutionary features.” Another, convergent with and possibly also more game-changing, is the ‘guanxi’ mechanic.

Total War: Three Kingdoms

Each of the generals has a unique personality and expectations for the behaviour of their warlord, and the player’s failure to cater to them could lead to dire consequences. The novel features this kind of discontent as leading to defections and assassinations, and one hopes that Creative Assembly will not shy away from ending the player’s journey early if they do not take the appropriate actions.

Giving players people to root for—not just distant leaders but also those on the battlefield, the likes of Liu Bei, Guan Yu, Zhuge Liang, Cao Ren, or Sun Jian—the game rewrites a genre-defining script. By placing a greater premium on characterisation, this ‘Romance’ mode promises to reduce the narrative distance common to grand strategy games, making Total War: Three Kingdoms more appealing to gamers with a proclivity towards narrative-focused titles, at least in theory.

Grandeur is a given. Previous Total War games have established the series’s ability to portray conflicts like few others. Three Kingdoms promises the personal. Romance of the Three Kingdoms is a novel of sweeping scope, rousing at some points and devastating at others. If Creative Assembly can tap into and recreate that cadence, then it may open its games up to a previously untapped audience and simultaneously pave a new path for the future of the grand strategy genre. More time will only ensure the game achieves such a revolutionary ambition.

Damien Lawardorn is an aspiring novelist, journalist, and essayist. His goal in writing is to inspire readers to engage and think, rather than simply consume and enjoy. With broad interests ranging from literature and video games to fringe science and social movements, his work tends to touch on the unexpected. Damien is the former Editor-in-Chief of OnlySP. More of his work can be found at https://open.abc.net.au/people/21767

Editorial

Five Single-Player Games to Watch Out for in August 2019

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August

August is packed with interesting titles big and small, so without further ado, go, go, go!

RAD

Release Date: August 20, 2019
Platforms: PC, PlayStation 4, Switch, Xbox One

Want some glowy, mutate-y, 80s-infected roguelite action? Look no further than Double Fine Productions’ latest stylish action-adventure. Like so many of Double Fine’s releases lately, Rad combines a popular genre with the studio’s mildly-offbeat weirdness. 

In this case, Rad takes the winning “Not-Quite-Roguelike” formula of The Binding of Isaac and Rogue Legacy and makes it look a little like 2017’s underrated Hob. Players take on the role of a teenager sent out into a post-post-apocalyptic wasteland to forge a path for humanity. They must explore amongst a terrifying mutant bioscape that resembles Fallout if it took place in the pages of 2000AD.

That might sound like a hat on a hat, but Rad distinguishes itself by going full ’80s cheese: Double Fine Productions was practically made for this. Neon pervades the landscape, currency takes the form of cassette tapes, and being published by Bandai handily acquits them for using a Pac-Man decal on the avatar’s t-shirt.

As with other rogue-lites, players can mix and match powerups to experiment with different strategies, from spider legs to exploding skulls, to all manner of passive bonuses as well. With this rather standard progression in place, then comes the lore of the world and the story to be revealed; which in typical Double Fine fashion is much deeper than it seems.

Rad is less interested in innovating a popular genre than delivering what makes this genre so much fun with the added layer of Double Fine polish. Hopefully, we can all fall in love with the game the way its inhabitants seem to be infatuated with the ’80s.

Oninaki

Release Date: August 22, 2019
Platforms: PC, PlayStation 4 and Switch

Here is an unabashedly weird, smaller-scale game from Square Enix’s Tokyo RPG Factory, possibly the smallest developer under Square that is still making console-release games. Both of the studio’s previous games (I Am Setsuna and Lost Sphear) were essentially ‘budget’ titles, without the pretensions of matching up with Final Fantasy or Dragon Quest. Obviously, the team has a passion for old school RPGs like Chrono Trigger, Mana or PlayStation-era Final Fantasy, but Tokyo RPG Factory has not quite found its groove yet.

This could change with Oninaki, which despite a Final Fantasy X inspired story about liberating dead souls before they become monsters, has enough fresh ideas to stand out in 2019. To begin with, the game is an action-RPG, rather than another ATB-based affair (gamers have plenty of that this year with the re-release of Final Fantasy VII, VIII, and IX). Additionally, the world of Oninaki looks gorgeous, budget-release or no, less generic than the washed-out chibi look of Setsuna or Sphear.

However the game turns out, it looks to be more of its own thing than either of Tokyo RPG Factory’s other games to this point. Worst case scenario, Oninaki is a buggy but interesting failure. Best case, players have a dark and quirky RPG to sink their teeth into until the next major release comes along.

Control

Release Date: August 27, 2019
Platforms: PC, PlayStation 4 and Xbox One

This is the big one. We have written before about how much we love Alan Wake, but the excitement for Control has become greater than any other title in Remedy Entertainment’s oeuvre. Of course, the fact that Max Payne, Alan Wake, and Quantum Break all boasted excellent action mechanics does help.

Max Payne famously made a banquet out of bullet time, while Alan Wake innovated the ‘action’ side of action-adventure almost as much as Half-Life 2. Quantum Break seemed like a speed bump on Remedy’s road to success—because no one asked for a series of television episodes in the middle of their game—but the time-based powers and fine encounter design were still a potent mix.

With the same high bar for action and level design, Control combines the best parts of its predecessors like a video game Voltron. Much more than Remedy’s design pedigree, however, Control simply ignites the imagination on its own merits.

Deep within the sprawling, non-Euclidean interior of the Oldest House, players must fight to stop a mysterious energy called the Hiss from invading our world. As with Alan Wake, the game draws from a variety of sources—this time weird fiction and in particular the ‘box of unexplained things’ tropes of The X-Files, SCP or Warehouse 13.

In the spirit of these episodic stories, Control is also Remedy’s first experiment with a Metroidvania structure. As the game progresses, protagonist Jesse Faden acquires skills that unlock new areas and side-missions, as well as just being cool powers for use in combat.

Above all, the best part is that the game is not a Microsoft exclusive but available on both home consoles at launch. Also, please send us a Switch release, pronto.

Astral Chain

Release Date: August 30, 2019
Platform: Nintendo Switch

Thank you, PlatinumGames, for always giving gamers that sweet, sweet spectacle action. Not a whole lot can be said about Platinum’s trademark design that has not already been more eloquently described elsewhere—but in an age where even Capcom’s Devil May Cry seeks the heights of meticulous detail and realistic human faces, the world could use more developers like Platinum.

Focused on varied and elaborate game mechanics rather than always improving graphics tech, Platinum has continued to turn out singular games that truly evolve the stylish action subgenre, from the precise and silly Bayonetta series, to Nier Automata‘s surprise hit, even through cartoony misfires such as The Wonderful 101 and Transformers Devastation (both of which were still very good, for the record).

Quite simply, Astral Chain is another helping of action heaven from the masters, though with plenty of interesting features to call its own. The game takes place during an otherworldly invasion of incredibly designed monsters; some of which have been harnessed for the humans to fight back. Each of these captured monsters, known as Legions, offer the player different fighting styles as they explore and defend a futuristic city modeled off Tokyo

Alright, fine, that last part is less original, but what makes Astral Chain more than just Devil May Cry wearing another costume is the investigative element. The player character is a police officer and can lose “duty points” if they cause too much chaos during the action portion of the game. To make amends, players switch back and forth between action scenes and mystery scenes where they explore the city and solve crimes.

Will this combination of hardcore action and police work mesh perfectly, or are we looking at a lesser Platinum—fun, but disjointed? Gamers only have to wait a month to find out.

The Dark Pictures: Man of Medan

Release Date: August 30, 2019
Platforms: PC, PlayStation 4 and Xbox One

Dropped at more or less the same time as this title back in 2015, Until Dawn seemed doomed. There had already been the wet thud of The Order: 1886 back in February, this game also seemed like a prime example of choice-based David Cage nonsense, and worst of all, it was too early for spooky season.

We were proven wrong. Until Dawn was not only fun, not only a pretty accurate video game adaptation of the teen-slasher horror genre, but also beat Quantic Dream at their own game in terms of delivering an engrossing thriller with a constantly (if sometimes illusory) branching story.

Now, Supermassive Games are finally back after their trip around ‘Weird Sony Land’ with a spiritual successor to Until Dawn, and Man of Medan sounds like it can fit the bill in every way. Once again, the story centres on a cast of disposable teens as players attempt to not have them all dead by the end, though this time taking place on a ghost ship: an upgrade over a cabin in the woods if you ask me.

Play functions more or less the same as Until Dawn, a mix of exploration and dialogue choices, switching control between the various characters as the story moves forward. There are a couple of multiplayer modes, but the single-player experience is strong enough.

According to Supermassive, The Dark Pictures is an anthology that will see new titles at a roughly six-month cadence from here on, so expect to hear about a followup to Man of Medan sooner rather than later. Spookums for everybody!


August is positively jam-packed with games, so maybe we can try and hit a few more interesting single player releases. There is cult-infiltration action game The Church in the Darkness coming on August 2, followed by the epic 4X Age of Wonders: Planetfall on PC, and the wacko President-in-a-mech game Metal Wolf Chaos XD on PC, PS4 and Xbox One, both releasing August 6.

On August 8, Nintendo Switch owners can dive into Pillars of Eternity: Complete Edition, and on the 13th PC gamers get Rebel Galaxy Outlaw, a prequel to 2015’s space sim Rebel Galaxy. Fan favourite studio Gunfire Games has yet another action game coming, their procedural, Souls-ish Remnant: From the Ashes, releasing on August 20.

PS4 and Xbox One players finally get to play The Bard’s Tale IV on August 27, and come August 30 is the intriguing video game adaptation of Blair Witch releases on PC and Xbox One.

Have we missed anything that you’re looking forward to? Let us know in the comments below and be sure bookmark OnlySP and follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube. You can also join the discussion on our community Discord server.

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