I’ve always wondered what it’s like to start playing the latest Civilisation with no previous knowledge or experience of the series. Just diving in to see what kind of a learning curve it has and how difficult it is to get to grips with. I no longer have to wonder what’s that’s like thanks to Romance of the Three Kingdoms XIV & the Diplomacy and Strategy Expansion Pack. Romance of the Three Kingdoms games have always been a bit of a mystery to me in the past, I’ve tried to play a few back on the PlayStation 2 but never quite got my head around it back then and quickly went back to the SRPGs/JRPGs of the day. With Romance of the Three Kingdoms 14 now out with an expansion pack bundled it was time to raise my banner, pop on a big hat and conquer the land!
Just as other strategy games boil down to a few key things, Romance of the Three Kingdoms XIV is mainly about your Gold, Supplies, Soldiers and People in your employ. The world is laid out in hexes and you can zoom in to see the trees and soldiers or zoom out until you see the stars. There is a lot of impressive goings on in Romance of the Three Kingdoms XIV and everything feels like it was made with the PS4 controls in mind. You’ll be navigating menus and clicking between options easily and the button prompts are the same for each screen. The strategy is incredibly deep and don’t expect a quick win over an easy AI, even on the mildest of settings with a huge army behind you a well controlled unit can easily cut off your route and withstand huge attacks. Romance of the Three Kingdoms XIV is turn based but unlike other strategy games you’ll be setting up all your actions then setting them in motion and seeing the results. This results in both a sense of urgency and action when a lot of pieces are moving and still calm planning out between but being unable to stop the actions mid-turn once they’re started quickly instils the importance of planning.
Pokémon Conquest now makes a lot more sense to me (although technically that was Nobunaga’s Ambition) Romance of the Three Kingdoms XIV has a strong focus on officers and how you manage them. Although there is strategy in moving units and making sure supply lines are still intact, most of your time will be spent making sure your officers are busy either managing a district or city to get the most of the area. If they aren’t making you gold, supplies or troops then you’ll be sending them out to search for new officers, recruiting others, training or working on diplomacy or subterfuge. It’s a lot of tapping through commands using each turns limited amount of Orders to make sure everyone is doing something. It’s a little fiddly at first but you’ll eventually be flicking through menus and getting your conquest in order and trying to recruit anyone and everyone to your cause.
There’s a slight niggling feeling when playing Romance of the Three Kingdoms XIV that I feel like I’m still missing out on one of the biggest draws of the RotTK series. The unique historical and separate romanticized stories of the Three Kingdoms that Romance of the Three Kingdoms XIV tells is pretty much lost on me. Despite each chapter of history being told in a separate level of the game I only recognise a handful of characters from the Dynasty Warriors series. Events occur and cutscenes will show up from time to time with options before each game to set how historically accurate you want it to be, but to me it’s all set dressing for the stage. There isn’t any particular benefit to knowing if a character like Chen Gui had any significance but it is incredibly useful that each character has a unique and well presented image and voice. After a few hours it became less important to know who each officer was and more about what they were doing which Romance of the Three Kingdoms XIV makes very easy to see. You do get benefits for pairing siblings together but if in double make them siblings by law, give them some fancy titles and can carry on regardless.
Visually Romance of the Three Kingdoms XIV nails that balance between showing a lot of detail and showing what details are important by not being too overwhelming or simplistic at the same time. You’ll have tables of stats and decisions to make throughout but there’s always an auto mode, a help guide or a highlighted tool for helping see through the numbers and know what needs to happen where. The text is easy to read and when you start to deal with huge maps with a lot going on everything is easily colour coded. Romance of the Three Kingdoms XIV runs impressively well considering the amount going on. There’s the little stutters when zooming in or scrolling through a particularly busy world when it’s running through the action phase but these are tiny issues. The computer opponents don’t hang about either, swiftly working out their moves a lot faster than you can. Even when commanding a maps worth of areas on multiple fronts, the Working phase where the Ai thinks is surprisingly quick. It clearly wants to get on with crushing you.
The amount of content in Romance of the Three Kingdoms XIV is bonkers. There are numerous maps, each with multiple ways to play them and various different modes to try. This is before you add on the Diplomacy and Strategy Pack which add in geographic advantages to some districts, even more officers and trading with Eurasia. One of the reasons this review has taken me so long is the game is just enormous and quite overwhelming at the start. You may want to take command and crush an enemy stronghold but you’ll easily lose if you just charge in. You’ll need to learn to capture surrounding villages and cities, slowly work around to the attack others while defending yourself and make best use of officers. There’s a strange expectation of a fast paced game when playing on a PS4 and unlearning that and setting your expectations for a slow strategy takes time. Having a game that takes its time in every single step, not to relax you but to make you think about every move you make. This is chess and it’s not about to speed things up to make it less strategic or important. You have to work for every victory and it makes it that much more rewarding.
I originally compared Romance of the Three Kingdoms XIV to Civilisation but it feels more like a hybrid of Civilisation and a people management game like Gangsters. It’s immense, unashamedly slow paced and enormous. The tutorial and learning is steep but once you start to get to grips with the basics it very quickly opens up into a strategy game that just wants to conquer all of your free time. Romance of the Three Kingdoms XIV is a game that a lot of people are likely to overlook due to the deep lore of the Three Kingdoms story and history that comes with that but they shouldn’t. At its core the gameplay is fantastic.
Romance of the Three Kingdoms XIV is like playing chess with a table 5 times bigger and better. Where the pieces all have names, a backstory and want you to rule the board. The feeling of getting the generals to trigger a special is incredible even if you’re holding your breath when they clash. Conquering a stronghold’s surrounding areas triggering an event to conquer more makes it feel like your time is being validated. Romance of the Three Kingdoms XIV is an absolute gem, even when the gem moves at an incredibly slow pace. You’ll appreciate it’s lustre all the more.
8/10 – Romancing the Kingdoms three at a time
Code provided by Koei Tecmo Europe Ltd. Check out their games here