Total War: Three Kingdoms is extremely popular in China, so it made sense when NetEase announced that it would become the official publisher of Total War games in China. You might think this would make China’s Total War fans happy, but things aren’t so simple in China.

There was an immediate backlash to the news online, which NetEase announced at Shanghai’s ChinaJoy gaming expo. As has happened before, Chinese gamers were alarmed because of their country’s routine attempts to sanitize imported games. Past game alterations in China have involved stripping out blood, skeletons and other graphic elements.

To make their concerns known, fans took to Steam, the digital shop that’s sold most copies of the game, and review bombed several games in the franchise. Hundreds of new negative reviews appeared on the pages of a number of Total War games such as Three Kingdoms, Warhammer II and Rome II.

Total War: Three Kingdoms recently got a very graphic blood pack. The gory downloadable content probably won’t be available for the official Chinese version. (Picture: Creative Assembly)

The anger isn’t just about possible censorship, though. Once China has official versions of the games for sale in the country, gamers are concerned they’ll no longer be able to buy the international versions through Steam. Creative Assembly told gamers there’s nothing to fear.

“We promise that Steam users will not be affected in any way through our partnership with NetEase, and all Total War products can be purchased/downloaded/experienced as usual,” the British company said in a statement.

But gamers are suspicious because this has happened before. When Rocket League got an official release in China in partnership with Tencent, the popular multiplayer game was suddenly unavailable for purchase on Steam for Chinese users. 

It makes sense that an official partner in China like Tencent or NetEase would prefer people purchase their version rather than one from overseas that doesn’t net them any revenue. So Creative Assembly’s assurances didn’t ease fears among Chinese gamers, who continue to review bomb the Total War games with sometimes vicious comments. 

“[Creative Assembly] betrayed all Chinese players and sold us to this s**t company called NetEase,” one gamer wrote. “We DO NOT WISH TO BE MANAGED UNDER NETEASE.”

“NetEase will censor this game (no more blood pack, for example, generals will literally wave goodbye after being defeated on the battlefield instead of simply dying),” the reviewer added, referencing a PUBG Mobile remake from Tencent called Game for Peace. “Let's short this NetEase stock to show our strength.”

Yet another commenter threatened to only pirate games from Creative Assembly owner Sega in the future. “If there’s a region lock at the end, I’ll never buy another un-pirated version of Sega’s games,” the person wrote. “I won’t let you make a damn buck from me ever.”

Total War: Three Kingdoms has been flooded with negative comments on Steam this month. (Picture: Valve)

It puts Creative Assembly in an interesting spot. They would presumably want to avoid repeating the mistake made with Rocket League’s Tencent release, but at the same time, continued sales on Steam undercuts their Chinese partner. And partnerships in China are important for sustainable revenue in the country.

As of right now, China treats Steam as a gray market, as games sold on the platform aren’t licensed to be sold in the country. And since Steam doesn’t officially operate in China, the government could decide to block it at any time, as it already does to sites like Twitter, Facebook and YouTube.

So Creative Assembly still has much to gain by having Total War games officially available. Review bombs mostly come from a very vocal minority, even though they can be startling in their conspicuousness.

Chinese gamers have routinely resorted to review bombs to voice their frustration with gaming companies. Anything negative related to any game could result in a slew of negative online comments. It’s happened when an esports player typed “ching chong” in a game chat for Valve-owned Dota 2, when a hidden insult aimed at China President Xi Jinping was found in Devotion, and when Metro Exodus left Steam for the Epic Games Store.

Though the practice has become common, many Chinese gamers believe review bombing is going too far.

“This is humiliating. This is making a fool out of us Chinese gamers in front of foreigners,” one gamer commented online. “It didn’t matter how much you bashed Blizzard. It still chose to partner with NetEase. Creative Assembly and NetEase would end up partnering all the same. This doesn’t do anything except embarrass ourselves.”

Someone else offered a reserved defense.

“Those who review bomb have spent hundreds of hours on Total War. The least dedicated ones have logged dozens of hours,” another gamer wrote. “Although I don’t agree with their approach, I think they have to right to give negative reviews.”

However you look at it, though, one thing is for sure: Creative Assembly has reason to keep Chinese gamers happy. In addition to officially launching the Total War video games there soon, China will also be the launch market for a new Total War card game.