Preview: Heroes of Three Kingdoms

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In the early centuries of recorded time, there was scarce a time as turbulent as the rise of the Three Kingdoms. The term “three” kingdoms is somewhat misleading, as each ruler believed he was the true heir to the seat of the Emperor, and therefore ruler of all of China. Though brief in duration, this period has been greatly romanticized by modern scholars and writers. The disunification of China, and the pride of each Kingdom left the country feeling desperate and hopeless, though wartime culture had never been better. The Kingdoms, known as Wei, Shu, and Wu, sought to ascertain control of the country through whatever means necessary.

In Heroes of Three Kingdoms (HotK), you are a warrior brimming with potential, but not yet aligned with any kingdom. You are a sellsword, a mercenary looking to prove yourself and enter the ultimate battle over territory and influence. However, before you begin your conquest, you must choose your weapon and make your appearance known. So begins our preview of Heroes of Three Kingdoms, an exciting title by Perfect World Entertainment.

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Heroes of Three Kingdoms offers a fairly rudimentary creation system, with 24 preset male and female faces to choose from, ranging from relatively childish to outright evil. Male facial options vary mostly upon facial hair, whereas female faces include some amount of face paint and makeup. In the end, none of the faces are terribly ugly, but on the same token, customization is non-existent. One would normally expect lavish and eccentric hairstyles from an Asian RPG, but HoTK takes place in a more conservative time in China (not Japan), so styles are mostly reserved, save for a few spiked and tousled arrangements. Also, for the sake of variety, three height options are also available. An interesting addition is the ability to select a hometown or province from a map of China. There are many options (about 60 in total), but I have not (yet) encountered any differing play experiences between these “origins”.


The only impactful phase of character creation is choosing a weapon style. This is your character’s “class” for all intents and purposes. There are 18 styles in total, though 6 are unavailable at this time. Big factors in weapon mechanics are range, attack speed, and critical hit chance. A sort of pentagonal shape depicts the stats of each weapon, with each corner corresponding to one of five weapon attributes. Long-range weapons include glaives and spears, while short melee weapons like talons and gauntlets provide for a faster combat style. Rounding out the selection, the scepter is a “spiritual melee” option, and bows are in the mix for all you hunters out there. After trying the glaive and dual hookswords, I landed on a single saber due to its high critical hit rate – turns out it was a good decision.

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Before I touch upon content and questing, I want to explore the “feel” of the game. As we all know, movement, animation, and character response time are all big factors in forming an opinion about a game. I’m happy to say that Perfect World Entertainment has used their experience with previous MMOs to polish and streamline the gameplay experience in Heroes of Three Kingdoms. I felt in complete control of my avatar, and combat was quick and snappy. Heavy weapons like the aforementioned glaive, as well as my chosen saber reacted quickly and kept my battles engaging and to the point (pun intended). In combat, constant movement is viable and beneficial; you can circle around enemies to dodge their attacks, as the system takes into account which direction you or your opponent is facing. As such, my swordsman was able to out maneuver long-melee weapons users and land several successive hits to their back before they circled around to face me. This is important to my class, since I am more likely to land critical hits if I attack quickly and without interruption. Other classes, however, may rely more on single-hit burst damage to get the job done, so the strategy and tactics change ever so slightly between weapon styles. In my opinion, that is how it should be. I have not run into any invisible walls (yet), though I haven’t been struck with the desire to go searching for any. That being said, the game progression does lead you down a linear path through NPC villages and quest hubs. This is to be expected, as HoTK is not an open world by any means. Finally, character strafing is responsive, and animation is fluid and connects with the terrain. All in all, the gameplay is sufficiently polished and sensitive to your commands. Within the scope of your weapon and skills, you can legitimately handle a fight in many ways. This is important to both balance and variety.

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As with many Asian MMORPGs, stylization and text can be ruined in the transition to a western audience. Localization, as it is called, is the effort to augment certain aspects of a game to adapt it to another language, among other things. Chinese characters are much more intricate than English letters, so they can be arranged in different ways, and formatted to fit a certain window space. The branch of Perfect World Entertainment that worked on HoTK happens to be located in Foster City, California, so these issues are mostly non-existent as it turns out. Interfaces are intuitive and straight-forward, and text font is easy on the eyes. It should be noted that quest text and dialogue are fraught with spelling errors and grammatical mistakes, but I’m sure those are being fixed, as this is still the beta.

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Perfect World Entertainment’s flagship title, Perfect World International, has its own share of blessings and curses, but among the most common player grievances is the grind. Heroes of Three Kingdoms includes a moderate amount of grind to reach endgame and faction PvP. At the same time, though, grind is necessary in almost every MMO due to the nature of the genre itself. Leveling needs to be difficult enough to warrant meaningful progression, while providing the player with a certain level of risk/reward in return. HoTK is fortunate in that it has a historic backdrop that masks much of the grind. If you are so inclined, you can lose yourself in quest dialogue and side stories, as NPCs are fairly talkative.

You begin your journey in an area of neutral mobs where you can start to hone your weapon skill. Soon enough, you’ll be offered new abilities from a nearby trainer that do well to mix up your combat experience. As you move on to brighter pastures and subsequent villages, NPCs will begin to offer you guidance on gathering and crafting, among other things. Each NPC trainer will instruct you to find or buy certain materials and craft them into something of value.  They may also provide you with recipes themselves. By the time you reach level 15, you’ve got the grasp of the mechanics behind cooking, smithing, tailoring, etc. As I reached what appeared to be the zone’s capital, my quest log increased ten-fold, and suddenly I realized how long my road stretched out before me. Quest hubs containing up to 8-10 quests at a time were available daily – each with typical “kill ten rats” or “gather 15 axes” instructions. I was happy to oblige these quests with my new gear and sword, because smashing faces in HoTK has a decent fun factor about it.

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Now, here’s a big game mechanic that most other MMOs do not include. Auto-routing. This feature puts HoTK on top of all others in terms of “casual-friendly” gameplay. Now, I’m not sure if PWE includes this in their other games, but if you so choose, you may set your character to auto-run to your next objective. That is, you can go grab another cup of coffee while your avatar jogs a predetermined path to a chosen mob spawn or quest goal. When you return, your warrior is standing exactly where he/she needs to be to continue fighting or gathering. It really is nice to opt out of the downtime that is involved with running around, but it also takes out a certain level of immersion, as I have participated in the “toon train” that results when several characters in close proximity are auto-routed to the same destination. In doing this, HoTK allows you to spend all your time doing things that matter, while leaving the system to do the footwork for you.

Finally,the game begins to open up around mid-level to include more than just basic quests. Military quests are available, and they involve unique historically-based scenarios that offer their own form of currency that can be exchanged for items or more quests. This area of the game is still pretty new, but I’ll update our readers as I gain more experience at the later gameplay.


  1. I love this game on the iphone. The graphics was suprisingly good on the small screen. Playbean has done a good job of creating this game. Getting all the character cards is hard.

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