Every Total War game has unit stats that are situational, but with a cap on how many units can be in a single army (20), choosing which stats to prioritize can be frustrating. In Three Kingdoms, arguably the most difficult choice to make is deciding whether one’s infantry (sword and axe infantry in particular) should focus on melee or missile defense.
Melee defense, of course, is the infantry’s ability to survive in melee combat. This stat is great for frontline soldiers who charge head-on into enemy formations to either control or slaughter them. Troops with superior melee defense generally carry shields that are square/rectangular (a good way to identify them on the unit recruitment panel without having to actually read their stats).
However, while their shields are still useful against enemy missile attacks (mainly archers), they’re still more vulnerable to arrows and artillery (trebuchets) than their counterparts.
Three Kingdoms offers a wide variety of melee infantry. Complementing their stalwart melee defenders, troops with superior missile defense offer more survivability when closing the gap to the enemy’s forces while under missile fire. They’re still effective when engaged in melee, but may not be able to stand as strongly when engaged in close combat.
Often, units with higher missile defense are great as frontline soldiers for the initial charge to draw enemy archers’ focus while other melee infantry units (melee defense specialists) flank the opposition’s formation. This is particularly useful during siege battles when dealing with a settlement’s pesky towers that deal massive amounts of damage with each missile, often executing one soldier with one hit (as opposed to archer units launching a couple volleys per kill).
Which to Choose
Naturally, the ultimate decision lies with the player and their playstyle. However, prioritizing one stat/unit over the other has its benefits. Infantry with high melee defense are fantastic in close quarters combat, and if one uses their cavalry properly, enemy missile units can be quickly negated in order to support the frontline’s charge.
If an army lacks cavalry, however (especially in Three Kingdoms), infantry with missile defense offer a viable alternative to minimize the damage caused by archers prior to each army’s frontlines clashing.
As a general rule, it’s difficult to justify not having any cavalry in one’s army, unless utilizing a reinforcement force consisting of all cavalry. Thus, it’s often more beneficial to choose melee defense over missile defense, as soldiers on horseback can annihilate the enemy’s missile troops (including artillery) before they cause too many problems.
Why It Matters
In Three Kingdoms, when fighting the AI on lower difficulties, the choice is basically irrelevant, as the enemy’s army compositions are simple and their tactics are substandard at best. Almost any build can wipe out the AI on easy or normal.
Easier difficulties notwithstanding, playing on harder difficulties or against other players with sound strategic minds is where micromanaging one’s decisions is important. Some opposing armies have a heavy focus on missile attacks while others are more melee heavy. Being able to adapt one’s tactics and unaderstand how all the different units work is one of the many keys to victory.
It’s possible, and sometimes necessary, to recruit a mixture of melee infantry. Some can focus on melee defense while others can focus on missile defense. While a build like that is useful and well-rounded, it’s vulnerable to compositions that are also either well-rounded or heavily focused on one type of stat. If the enemy has a heavy amount of archers or artillery, a well-rounded build may be in trouble. Trebuchets can cripple troops with missile defense while archers whittle away infantry with superior melee defense.
Knowing what to choose matters because it reduces one’s vulnerability and increases adaptability.
Try and Fail
At the beginning of one’s time in strategy games, particularly Three Kingdoms, having a decent starting point for decent army compositions and understanding the uses of different stats is crucial to quickly gaining momentum. Nevertheless, it’s going to take some experimentation to figure out one’s playstyle and see which units click the best with that proclivity.
So, try and fail. Failing is one of the best ways to learn what doesn’t work in order to figure out what does work. Don’t be afraid of failure, or losing. The best learning tools are often the most painfully frustrating ones.1