Would you believe it's been almost six long years since we last got a mainline Total War historical strategy game? It was Rome II, if you can remember that far back. After a lengthy sojourn into the realms of Warhammer, CA has brought it all back home with Total War: Three Kingdoms, a sprawling historical RTS and 4X hybrid based on Ancient Chinese warring dynasties.

Here's every advanced graphics setting found in Total War: Three Kingdoms PC, benchmarked and tested for their Frames Per Second performance hit. Using the chart below you can find out just how demanding each setting is. Along with this, we've given priority scores based on how important we believe it is to enable these graphics options, or how important they are to keep an eye on.

Total War: Three Kingdoms System Requirements

For the benchmark results below we used a PNY GeForce GTX 2060 6GB, an Intel Core i7-5820K processor clocked @ 4.2 GHz, and 16GB DDR4 memory.

Total War: Three Kingdoms Graphics Options Performance Breakdown

The further right the bar goes, the more demanding the graphics option is when switching from Low to Ultra.

 

Total War: Three Kingdoms Graphics Settings

Three Kingdoms returns with a fairly typical set of graphics settings. They're largely the same as we saw for Total Warhammer 2 and Total War Saga: Thrones of Britannia, bar a few minor changes such as the removal of the Fog and Water Quality sliders.

You would think though, that the same settings means the same results in terms of terms of how demanding they are. That is absolutely not the case though, with Total War: Three Kingdoms having its visual quality improved in some areas, as well optimised for performance in other key areas.

Texture Quality

Texture quality affects the resolution of TW: 3 Kingdom's textures. The higher the texture quality, the more VRAM used on your graphics card. The performance impact is minimal and basically just comes down to how much VRAM you have on your video card. If you've got enough, there'll be no performance hit. If you don't, expect a very choppy frame rate. This is certainly a setting to keep an eye if you have a GPU with just 2GB VRAM.

Performance Impact - 1/5

Priority - 4/5

 

Shadow Detail

Shadow Detail increases the resolution of shadows in Total War: Three Kingdoms, and basically applies to all of the shadows. Set to ultra and they will appear crisp and sharp, rendered for each individual unit. Set to low and they won't appear at all. This makes a massive impact on the overall visual quality of TW3K but is also the second most demanding graphics option. If you're struggling for frames, dip this down to High and you won't notice a major graphical hit. 

Performance Impact - 4/5

Priority - 4/5

 

VFX Detail

This graphics settings refers to particle effects and comes into play with flaming arrows and the like. It has a middling effect on Three Kingdom's frame rates. Set to medium though and you'd be hard pushed to tell the difference with Ultra.

Performance Impact - 3/5

Priority - 2/5

 

Tree Detail

This one's simple enough. The higher you set it, the higher the quality of the trees. This setting does not apply to grass and other smaller vegetation. This option can also affect the distance at which trees are rendered in at a higher level of detail. On Low this setting looks outright terrible, so considering the minimal performance hit you should try and turn this up to at least Medium.

Performance Impact - 1/5

Priority - 3/5

 

Unit Detail

The big draw of Total War has always been the massive battles. Unit Detail doesn't affect the size of the troops but it does make them look a whole lot better. Unit Detail is actually far less demanding in Total War: Three Kingdoms than it is Total Warhammer 2. It will also affect the distance at which units switch rendering from low poly to high poly as you get closer. 

Performance Impact - 2/5

Priority - 4/5

 

 

Screenspace Reflections

Screen Space Reflections impacts the reflections of objects on water and other wet surfaces, and, perhaps most importantly, gleaming armour on your warriors. Normally we'd say Screenspace Reflections are a top priority in say, a first-person game, but in Total War it's a nice bonus more than anything, particularly considering the 9% hit to frame rates. 

Performance Impact - 3/5

Priority - 2/5

 

Anti-Aliasing

Total War: Three Kingdoms comes with a fairly rudimentary set of antialiasing options which are both demanding and hugely impactful on visual quality. MSAA has been removed from the series, with players choosing between FXAA, for performance efficiency, or TAA, for the highest quality.

The biggest disadvantage to turning off antialiasing is to the units themselves. Each troop is tiny and without antialiasing they can appear shimming and indistinct, particularly once engaged in battle. Antialiasing is quite a large hit, for sure, but absolutely worth it if you want Three Kingdoms looking its best.

Performance Impact - 4/5

Priority - 4/5

 

Texture Filtering

A gaming staple by now, Texture Filtering affects the sharpness of textures towards the edge of screen. Textures you're looking at straight on will normally look fine, but when you look at them from an angle they can look blurred and messy. Texture Filtering, or Anisotropic Filtering, sharpens these textures up and leads to a cleaner image. 

Performance Impact - 1/5

Priority - 4/5

 

Grass Detail

A distinct setting from Tree Quality, Grass Detail affects the visual quality of plants, grasses and other assorted fauna. It works well in conjunction with Tree Detail for more immersive looking environments. This setting can help add far more depth to the battlefields themselves.

Performance Impact - 3/5

Priority - 3/5

 

Terrain Detail

The main impact of terrain detail is in terms of draw distance. The higher you set this, the greater the distance at which objects pop-in. During Total War Three Kingdom's battles, this setting also has an impact on general geometry.

Performance Impact - 3/5

Priority - 2/5

 

Building Detail

Building detail affects the visual quality of buildings and other static structures. Its performance impact was imperceptible on our test rig so feel free to try cranking this one right up.

Performance Impact - 0/5

Priority - 3/5

 

Unit Size

Not the physical size of each individual unit, but rather how many NPCs are present on-screen for each battalion. Turn it down to Low and the number of NPCs in a unit shrinks to just a dozen or so, while Extreme increases the unit size up to the hundreds. This is the heaviest of all the performance hits found in TW: Three Kingdoms, but also results in the grandest looking battles.

Performance Impact - 4/5

Priority - 4/5

 

Depth of Field

An effect similar to Motion Blur, Depth of Field distorts anything which is out of the player's focus. It's designed to replicate human vision. Focus on a specific unit and the periphery will blur. It comes down to taste and isn't overly noticeable, but some folks may approve of the more movie-like effect.

Performance Impact - 1/5

Priority -1/5

 

Post Effects

Post effects is a simple toggle between two different palette options -Romance and Records. Romance features rich, vibrant colours with saturation, while Records is lighter with more realistic colour saturation. It comes down to whether you prefer the idealised vision of Ancient China or a more grounded take.

Performance Impact - 0/5

Priority - 0/5

 

SSAO

SSAO, or Screen Space Ambient Occlusion, is a technique that approximates the contact shadows where two or more objects meet. While not hugely apparent on the battlefield, SSAO does actually lend a great deal of authenticity to the campaign map.

Performance Impact  - 3/5

Priority - 3/5

 

Unlimited Video Memory

Whether you'll get any use out of the Unlimited Video Memory toggle is down to the specifics of your system. If you leave it off, the graphics in-game will automatically scale down during scenes of high-intensity in order to maintain a steady frame rate. With it turned on, Total War: 3 Kingdom's visuals are permanently fixed and you may experience more frame rate drops.

Performance Impact - 0/5

Priority - 0/5

 

Screen Space Shadows

This setting adds shadow detail to objects close to a surface, such as from rocks and other small items. It largely appears to impact the shadow details on objects which are otherwise unaffected by the Shadow Quality setting, so make sure to use the two in conjunction.

Performance Impact - 2/5

Priority - 3/5

 

Vignette

Vignette adds a blur effect to the outermost edges of the screen. The effect is barely noticeable.

Performance Impact - 0/5

Priority - 0/5

 

Proximity Fading

Again, not really a graphics option that has any bearing whatsoever on performance, if Proximity Fading is toggled it simply makes units go transparent when you zoom right in on them, rather than going invisible. Whether you use this or not in Total War: Three Kingdoms is totally down to your personal preferences. It shouldn't impact your frame rate. 

Performance Impact - 0/5

Priority - 1/5

 

Sharpening

One of those graphics settings where it's pretty much impossible to even tell whether it's on or off. Sharpening is a post-process filter that should, in theory, help to bring out the details on objects. Good luck noticing that, but considering it has zero impact on frame rate then on it goes.

Performance Impact - 0/5

Priority - 1/5

Total War: Three Kingdoms PC Performance Report and GPU Benchmarks