Best Faction Leaders in Total War: Three Kingdoms

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Ancient China was filled with warlords that represented various militaristic and political interests. Which means that there was bloodshed in real life, and that means we get to choose one of them to represent our campaign in TW: Three Kingdoms.

The woes of the past become the perks of the future.

Three Kingdoms is one of the best games when it comes to leader uniqueness, in my opinion. Many older Total War titles felt like all the generals and leaders were the same. But Three Kingdoms really makes each and every leader feel unique.

I want to break down each faction here so you can get a better idea of what each one offers, and help you dive into that next Total War gaming session raring to go.

Disclaimer: I’m going to rank the factions in no particular order and share the pros/cons of each one. They all offer their own benefits and disadvantages, so let’s hit each one and help you make your pick!


12. Yuan Shao

Yuan Shao Total War: Three Kingdoms Faction Leader

Yuan Shao can recruit some very powerful infantry units, as well as some of the best and most loyal cavalry units in the game.

The guy has a starting position far more advantageous than most other commanders in the game, which allows you to assess your options quite well before deciding where to push forward to.

It’s easy to keep your generals happy with a commander like Yuan Shao in your army. Be sure to keep him alive, though, or all hell is going to break loose. You’ve been warned.


11. Zheng Jiang

Zheng Jiang in Total War: Three Kingdoms

A leader that thrives when her infamy level is high, Zheng Jiang is one of the two rebel leaders that make for challenging gameplay in Three Kingdoms.

I always found it funny that the Total War community was completely outraged at her inclusion in the game, as she wasn’t much of an important figure in real life.

She actually got killed pretty early into the conflict, as per the history books. Regardless, as useless as she might’ve been in reality, she’s quite a good character to play as in the game.


10. Zhang Yan

Zhang Yan TW3K Faction Leader

Arguably one of the toughest factions to play in Three Kingdoms, this guy is your go-to choice if you’re a fan of dirty tactics and guerrilla warfare.

He’s not very akin to the words “morally correct”. So you’ll be able to take action on matters depending on what suits you best.

Taking a quick look at his starting position and the way he handles empire management will tell you more than enough: his faction is the toughest one to play for most cases.

You’re going to have some issues with getting the best out of this guy’s armies and troops if you’re just getting started with Total War. But if you need a challenge? Buckle up, Zhang Yan will deliver.


9. Liu Biao

Liu Biao Faction Leader in Total War: Three Kingdoms

Liu Biao is the guy to keep away from battles and inside a university classroom.

He has many buffs that allow your faction to progress quicker than the others, and help your leaders to scale through the ranks with unprecedented levels of knowledge.

A fun (but very different) type of gameplay from what you’re probably used to.


8. Yuan Shu

Yuan Shu Total War: Three Kingdoms Faction Leader

Yuan Shu has a few skills that make him an ideal leader to progress through the ranks of his faction very quickly.

This allows you to unlock powerful bonuses, and gives you access to better leaders.

With that said, Yuan Shu is more of a leader that depends on his peers to do the dirty administrative work, while he minds his own business (which could include conquering half of China, of course).

Let me be clear on one thing about this guy’s gameplay, though: it’s very tough to use Yuan Shu’s faction.

You’re going to find yourself presented with a challenge from the early game to the late game, as the administration is not as easy as it is with other leaders. And the guy also doesn’t have access to many powerful units. He mostly relies on the basics.


7. Sun Jian

Sun Jian Total War: Three Kingdoms Faction Leader

Sun Jian is certainly one of the most aggressive faction leaders that you can use. He can recruit militias and make them push forward towards the enemy territory, getting into enemy lines much quicker than most of his peers.

That’s not all, though.

He can also replenish more troops in enemy territory and he has reduced costs for recruiting mercenaries.

The guy honors his portrait very well. He encourages a playstyle that will make you look as much like an asshole as the guy himself.


6. Kong Rong

Kong Rong Total War: Three Kingdoms Faction Leader

So if you feel like playing a more relaxed game where you’ll focus on diplomacy and education, this is the guy you’ll want to pick.

His faction comes with everything you need to punish attacking, so you’re going to have to focus on diplomacy if you want to win the campaign.

According to stories of old, Kong Rong was a descendant of Confucius himself. Which kinda sounds like BS to me. But hey: let’s picture that he really was his descendant to spice up an otherwise pacificist campaign.

In any case, this is a great leader to pick if you’re going for a more well-thought out campaign instead of a rush-and-kill type of playstyle.

As you can imagine, that means that this guy might not be the ideal choice for most Total War players.


5. Liu Bei

Liu Bei TW3K Faction Leader

Liu Bei has a tough starting position. And you’ll need to use his starting army to conquer a province quickly.

But once you manage to settle down with him and cement yourself in a position of power, it’s all going to be smooth sailing from there.

He can recruit militia units for cheap. And they cost you no upkeep. Plus he has very strong bonds with his fellow warlords.

Liu Bei favors a well-thought, smart militaristic playstyle that will have you thinking stuff through over and over again. But attacks and conquers with his armies are as rewarding as they come.

Besides, he gets to claim Han territories very easily.

There’s no need for you to fight at the start of the game if you use his diplomatic abilities in your favor.

You can also plan very interesting expansion plans, taking into account the fact that all Han territories are easy to be claimed.

I’d say that playing with the Liu Bei faction shows you how to look at the map in a different way, as not all enemy territories are actually enemy territories.

I mean, they’ll still kill you on sight. But some are easier to conquer.


4. Ma Teng

Ma Teng in Total War: Three Kingdoms

This guy is the military mastermind of the game.

He has a very pragmatic approach to battles and war in general. Which makes his armies much more versatile than his enemy’s units.

And he has the ability to keep his troops always at the ready to keep pushing forward thanks to their foraging training, which helps them avoid starving while in enemy territory.

Ma Teng is a powerful member of the Han Dynasty. Certainly the one to pick if you wish to continue the legacy of the almighty but shaken empire.


3. Dong Zhuo

Dong Zhuo Total War: Three Kingdoms Faction Leader

Man, this fat bastard is as mean as they come.

Not only does everyone fear him, and forming diplomatic relations is almost impossible while leading his men, but you’ll also have to play it as mean as possible if you want your people to stay on your side.

It’s easy to accidentally have a mutiny on your hands.

Basically, choosing Dong Zhuo is the best way to ensure brutal gameplay on your part. It punishes being the nice guy.

With that said, he has a ton of fantastic cavalry units at his disposal. Which makes him an ideal commander to pick if you intend to burst through enemy lines.

And with the way his faction is built, you’ll probably want to focus on aggressive gameplay anyway.


2. Gongsun Zan

Gongsun Zan Total War: Three Kingdoms Faction Leader

Gongsun Zan is not the one I would recommend if you’re just starting out at the game. Very challenging to newcomers.

With him, you have no access to administrators, which makes managing your provinces a more challenging task.

It’s said that he’s more of a military man than a diplomat. And it clearly shows.

There is an advantage in having such a man leading a faction, though: you will have many army benefits such as increased reinforcement range. The only issue is that he has a tough starting position, so you might want to negotiate with the violent rebels to keep your faction from being crushed from the start.


1. Cao Cao

Cao Cao Total War: Three Kingdoms Faction Leader

Cao Cao is the best warlord to choose if you fancy a diplomatic, strike-from-the-shadows type of gameplay.

Something where your main objective is to screw over your enemies by instigating proxy wars between rivaling factions.

Cao Cao is a master strategist, but his main forte is his ability to manipulate others via his diplomatic skills.

I tried playing with Cao Cao in a military-focused campaign and he still did a good job. But if you’re going to spend some time with diplomacy in the game, you’ll want to focus on it while playing with his faction.

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Marco Ibarra

Born in the first half of the 90s, video games have been a part of my life ever since I was introduced to Age of Empires I by my dad. I'm a Mass Communications graduate with a specialization in Marketing, as well as a hardcore gamer. My aim is to bring you quality content so you can get the best out of your games and take your experience to the next level!