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TW3K Wuxing-Xiahou-Yuan.jpg

Wu Xing, also known as Elemental Phases, is a gameplay mechanic in Total War: Three Kingdoms. The system is based on the ancient Chinese philosophy that describes the interrelationships of the five elements to view the workings of the world. The Wu Xing mechanic summarizes the rock-paper-scissor balance approach from previous titles, streamlining them into a closed-circuit system that affects every aspects of gameplay (meta).

Elements are properties for heroes, units, buildings and other gameplay mechanics in the game. There are five types of elements based on Wu Xing philosophy, including Water, Wood, Fire, Earth, Metal. Each type of element feeds (assist) one element, and is weak/strong toward another element. For example, Ranged Retinue has water element that assists Spear Infantry (Wood). It also defines which types of unit it is super effective against (Shock Cavalry/Fire), and which types of unit it is being countered (Melee Cavalry/Earth).[1]

How elements work[]

TW3K Wu Xing-alt.png

Wu Xing Elements are uniformly applied to nearly all gameplay mechanics in the Three Kingdoms. And the interactions such as buff/debuff between elements are similarly applied to every mechanics as well.

Here's an example on Wu Xing meta interactions, any word related to Wu Xing is marked with italics.

Zhang Fei is a Vanguard class hero. He's represented by color Red and element Fire. Zhang Fei loves to give out mission that improves military buildings when he's in the court. Zhang Fei's attributes are dictated by Instinct. As a hero with good Instinct, his military building buff will make related cost reduced if he's administrator and the cost is reduced even more if he's the faction leader. Military buildings researched in military reforms will grant Zhang Fei and Shock Cav better capabilities in battle. Zhang Fei's Shock Cav bonus reduced the upkeep cost of the unit type.

Wu Xing
Elements Earth Metal Water Wood Fire
Color Yellow Purple Blue Green Red
Attributes Authority Expertise Cunning Resolve Instinct
Hero Class Commander Sentinel Strategist Champion Vanguard
Buildings Type Government buildings Economic buildings Education Trade buildings Agriculture buildings Military buildings
Reforms Government Industry Education Trade Espionage Agriculture Military
Unit Type Melee Cav Melee Infantry Ranged Retinue Spearmen Shock Cav
Birth Creates Metal Enrichs Water Feeds Wood Feeds Fire Creates Ash(Earth)
Buff Buff Metal Buff Water Buff Wood Buff Fire Buff Earth
Destroy Dams Water Chops Wood Douses Fire Parts Earth Melts Metal
Debuff Counter Water Counter Wood Counter Fire Counter Earth Counter Metal

Character attributes[]

Main article: Attributes (Total War: Three Kingdoms)

Attributes are properties of a hero that affected by Traits. Each Wu Xing element represents one attribute with corresponding increased effectiveness (buff) for a particular action on the campaign/battlefield.

The five attributes are Authority, Expertise, Cunning, Resolve, and Instinct, which are chosen and colour-coded to match the five elements (Earth/Yellow, Metal/Purple, Water/Blue, Wood/Green and Fire/Red) that all either feed or counter one another.

While in previous titles, buff/nerf are directly linked with traits. In the case of Total War: Three Kingdoms, traits increase or decrease certain attributes of a character. And buff/nerf is connected to the final attributes instead.

List of Attributes
Elements Color Attributes Bonus 1 Bonus 2
Earth Yellow Authority Satisfaction Unit Morale
Metal Purple Expertise Construction Cost Melee Evasion
Water Blue Cunning Ammunition Military Supplies
Wood Green Resolve General's Health Population Growth
Fire Red Instinct Melee Damage Recruitment Cost

Hero Class[]

Main article: Hero (Total War: Three Kingdoms)

Reform branches[]

Main article: Reforms

Building class[]

Main article: Building (Total War: Three Kingdoms)

Unit types[]

Units in Three Kingdoms are classified by its Wu Xing elements, including Earth, Metal, Wood, Fire and Water, though traditional classes of unit such as Melee infantry and Shock cavalry are still being mentioned in the game.


Earth units are mainly melee cavalry. Melee cavalry are armed with swords and shields, so are better able to weather arrow-fire, and deal greater damage over time when locked in melee than shock or ranged cavalry. However, they tend to be vulnerable to spear cavalry charges.


Metal units are mainly melee infantry. Armed with swords or axes and sometimes bearing shields, melee infantry are your principle assault troops as they have a good melee charge bonus. They are effective at dealing damage against polearm and ranged infantry but are less effective against cavalry. Non-shield metal units often have high melee evasion, or ranged block-chance.


Wood units are mainly polearm infantry. They're reasonable all-rounders and your principle defensive troops, pike and spear infantry form the backbone of many armies. While they generally do not deal as much damage as melee infantry, they are much better at fighting cavalry, and when stood still, gain the braced and charge reflection VS mounted abilities against frontal charges. Some spear infantry have shields and can form a turtle formation, granting exceptional protection against almost all ranged attacks at the cost of speed and melee attack rate.


Fire units are mainly shock cavalry. Shock cavalry wield lances, and cause tremendous impact damage. They are therefore best used when charging, and are the best type of cavalry to use against other cavalry. When their charge bonus has faded, they do not deal as much damage over time as melee cavalry, and should be pulled out and cycle-charged to maintain optimal damage output. Few shock cavalry have shields and therefore tend to be vulnerable to projectile attacks.


Water units are your ranged retinue including ranged infantry, ranged cavalry, and ranged artillery. They often make for valuable support in any army and can cause serious damage to unshielded opponents, especially most shock cavalry.

Infantry armed with bows and crossbows can damage enemy units from afar, but are generally lightly armored and less effective in melee than other infantry types, and so are best placed behind the front line. Alternatively, they could be the first line to face the enemy, firing their volley to whittle down the enemy line before retreating behind the safety of melee troops. They are particularly vulnerable to cavalry, which can swiftly maneuver round the front line to access them. Their ranged attacks are generally ineffective against spear infantry in Turtle formation.

Bows usually have somewhat shorter range than crossbows but are faster to fire and can use flaming or poison arrows, while crossbows deal significantly more armor-piercing damage with their standard bolts. Repeater Crossbows have a faster rate of fire than Crossbows, and inflict suppression on the enemy but have shorter range and deal no AP damage.

The faster a unit is moving, the harder it is to hit. Archers will therefore do a lot more damage to a tightly-formed block of static or slow-moving troops, for example, than they will to a loosely spaced unit of cavalry galloping at full speed.

Ranged cavalry carry bows, granting them the ranged damage of archers combined with the speed and maneuverability of cavalry. Due to their cavalry speed and mass, they can still cause impact damage when charging, though are less effective at this than shock or melee cavalry.

Ranged artillery pieces such as the trebuchet are powerful long-range weapons which hurl large projectiles great distances. Trebuchets can damage and destroy city walls, bastion artillery, defensive towers and gates, and may be commanded to fire different ammo types. Multiple Crossbow Throwers are better suited at decimating groups of enemy troops with regular or flaming bolt volleys. Artillery is extremely vulnerable to melee attack however and should be protected by other units.


Total War THREE KINGDOMS gameplay mechanics
Characters AncillaryAttributesBackgroundGuanxiPrestige (Faction Rank)・LegendaryPersonalityResilienceSatisfaction (Title Rank)・SkillSpecialisationTraitsUniqueWu Xing
Campaign AssignmentBuildingsCourt (AdministratorCouncilFamily Tree)・Diplomacy (CoalitionVassal)・Event (Initial Dilemma)・Factions (LeaderHeirPrime Minister)・Mission (Challenge)・RecordsReformsResourcesSeasonsTreasuryUndercover Network
Battle Ability (Unit Ability)・ArmyDuelingFormationFortificationMoraleTerrainSiege (Siege Escalation)・Unit (Hero UnitRetinue)・Weather
Miscellaneous AdvisorDLCsLocations (CommanderyCountySettlement)・Timeline