Review – Romance of the Three Kingdoms XIV

Full disclaimer, this is my first Romance of the Three Kingdoms experience. I wasn’t even previously aware this franchise existed, let alone that Dynasty Warriors was its spin-off. So as a huge fan of both the genre and the story, I was intrigued and excited to try it out. After playing it however, Romance of the Three Kingdoms XIV definitely left me wanting. Granted it’s entirely possible issues I had are considered features by series veterans. Still, I feel that other newcomers would feel likewise that this game is far too monotonous and dull, especially given the other options available.

ROTTK XIV is a 4X strategy game in the vein of Paradox titles such as Europa Universalis and Hearts of Iron. Everything from combat to governor appointments takes place on a single grand campaign map. The map is separated into regions, which consist of multiple cities, which are each surrounded by a few supporting villages. Each village and city area is composed of small hexes, which is where combat and movement takes place. Think of Civilization, but on a grand strategy scale. These hexes are where my issues began, right with the basic movement and capture mechanics.

Romance of the Three Kingdoms XIV_20200309172822

The truly soul-crushing number of hexes even at the start really sets the stage for the game.

See, in order to capture an area you have to capture each hex. This is done by moving an army through each hex, including the “node” or center hex containing the city/village. Sounds easy enough and the way each faction is color coded makes for easy differentiating between territories. The problem is it takes so long to do. A standard village will have about 45+ hexes, and an average army will capture about 5 per round. So it’s about nine turns where your army is doing nothing but literally wandering in circles, in order to do something most strategy games resolve in a single one. Tiring enough the first time, almost rage inducing the twentieth. It’s just not fun.

On its own that’s not a game breaker. It just means there needs to be something to fill the time. Involved diplomacy perhaps, some intricate government planning maybe, or some good old combat which never fails. Romance of the Three Kingdoms XIV has none of this however. Diplomacy is rudimentary and in some scenarios completely useless. Government planning is actually quite extensive, but it’s a one and done kinda deal. Once you set your court in order, there’s really no need or incentive to change it. Inter-court politics is almost non-existent, which is questionable given the source material. Then there’s the combat.

Romance of the Three Kingdoms XIV_20200309170335

These words technically all mean something for attacks. The game doesn’t bother explaining them though, and they barely effect combat so just go with sounds cool I guess.

I admit I’m not a fan of auto-combat. At best it feels like an afterthought with no direct ability to change or even effect the outcome. This game has an even more egregious implementation of it. Usually auto-combat games balance it out with an extensive army building section. You can’t affect the actual combat, but you can build the army as best you can. Here you have a handful of formation and size options, and that’s it. Combat consists of you ramming your army at an enemy army like you’re a six year old playing with action figures and the larger army wins. It’s not bad and does its job, but it’s just so boring. It’s true that with the number of armies you’ll be fielding that more involved combat could drag the game down, but that’s what auto-resolving is for. Here you’re auto-resolving everything anyway, but with no complexity to make up for it.

Now for the elephant in the room, the existence of Total War: Three Kingdoms. Multiple strategy games based in the same time period can exist alongside each other. The few hundred titles based in Ancient Rome can attest to this. However, they need to set themselves apart in some way or will suffer the fate of Imperator: Rome. Grand strategy gaming is a time consuming hobby, so if you don’t set yourself apart through ingenuity or clear superiority, then there’s no time for you. This is Romance of the Three Kingdoms XIV’s biggest sin in my opinion. It not only offers nothing to the genre, but is far inferior to Total War’s take on the period in every way. It offers no reason for me to play it, which is really the only thing about a game that matters.

Romance of the Three Kingdoms XIV_20200309164443

The best part about Romance of the Three Kingdoms XIV is the range of options available not only in scenarios and factions, but also for difficulty and personal preferences.

There were certainly some things to like about Romance of the Three Kingdoms XIV, but they were buried too far under. The number of scenarios available was nice, the map size was impressive, and despite initial clunkiness, I got used to controlling the cursor. Still everything took far too long to get through and too many features felt ancillary or half-baked. I don’t know if any amount of tuning or revamping would be enough to fix the baseline issues, but I would be willing to give them a shot. Also, I can’t help but feel this would make a perfect fit on the Switch. The time wasted would be far more palatable on a handheld versus your television. At least with the Switch, you can watch some TV while you’re auto-skipping your 20th turn in a row.

Graphics: 6.0

The character art is nice and art style decent, but I was underwhelmed by the low budget presentation overall.

Gameplay: 6.0

When things are happening it’s fun if clunky. When things aren’t, which is most of the time, it’s just clunky.

Sound: 7.5

What voice-acting it has is decent and the music sets the mood well enough.

Fun Factor: 5.0

I feel this is the kind of game people unfamiliar with strategy games imagine when they think of the genre. Occasionally fun, but far too often not.

Final Verdict: 6.0

Romance of the Three Kingdoms XIV is available now on PC and PS4.

Reviewed on PS4.

A copy of Romance of the Three Kingdoms XIV was provided by the publisher.