And like I’ve hopefully got across, it has been a success! This is still a Civilization game, and it’s still a very good strategy game. It just also happens to be the weakest entry in that series, the one least equipped to endure this long of a wait between games.
As someone prone to bouts of climate doom every time I read anything about carbon levels and ice sheets, Terra Nil was the ultimate form of video game escapism. A little diversion, no matter how unrealistic it is, that rather than asking us to live through the planet’s destruction let us try and recover from one instead.
It may have taken 17 years and one disappointing sequel along the way, but Relic are to be commended here for somehow managing to take tactical perfection and redefining it not just for old veterans, but for a whole new generation of armchair generals as well.
Even the world itself is a bummer. Victoria 3's map is beautiful, even more than Crusader King 3's, a globe bristling with colour and variety and an ever-changing landscape as cities and railroads expand over the decades. But you rarely, if ever, actually use it. This enormous 3D recreation of the entire planet is sitting in the middle of your screen for almost the entire time you play the game, taking up huge amounts of real estate, and you almost never (there are a few exceptions) have to click on it, since the game’s primary interactions are all more quickly and easily handled via sidebars and buttons. It’s a real shame!
This is an enormous bummer, because everything else about this game is so good! In so many ways this is the best Total War game ever made, the latest example of a series that has spent the last 3-4 big releases (we don’t talk about the Saga games here) successfully refining a decades-old formula to keep it fresh and interesting. It’s a shame, then, that having come so far in so many respects this time around, Warhammer III stumbles right where it matters most: at the end.
I absolutely loved my time with Like a Dragon. Ichiban was just too charming, Isezaki Ijincho too interesting and its story too irresistible (in its own pulpy way), proving once again that the strength of Yakuza’s heart can easily overcome any of its gameplay shortcomings. Every time I got mad at its RPG failings, I couldn’t stay mad, because every time I got frustrated at the grind Ichiban would do something beautiful, or I’d fight a man holding a giant smoked turkey leg.
The problem with 2K, though, and it’s bigger this year than ever, is that you can rarely be so clear in your perspective. In 2K21, just like we’ve seen for the last few years, every moment of fun on the court is undermined by the racket being run off it.
This sequel does enough to justify standing on its own merits, though, finding a cozy spot between its rival’s offerings. I’m normally always playing a game like this in my spare time, and I’m confident that this is the one I’ll be playing a lot more of through 2020.
And yet year after year 2K, despite intense fan protest online, turn the dial up and try to squeeze everyone just a little bit more. Clearly there are millions of fans who either don’t care, or are at least willing to suffer through it all, and it’s for these players that 2K is happy to continue building their entire game around the central conceits of microtransactions and advertising.
For those new or interested in the series, this is absolutely the best place to start, as it’ll ease you in and communicate its complexities better than any other Total War. And if you’re experienced, you’ll just love how this is a smoother, smarter ride. Three Kingdoms isn’t a perfect Total War game, but it’s the closest the series has come in a long time.
Even taking its whiffs and missed opportunities into account, I’ve still loved every hour I’ve spent with Gathering Storm. It’s an expansion that may not stick its landing, but which should still be applauded and admired for the way it sets out to change the very world we play on, and succeeds.