Romance of the Three Kingdoms XIV (PS4) Review

Wei, Shu, and Wu are three states that are commonplace names in gaming nowadays if you’ve ever heard of Koei Tecmo. I personally have the unabridged literature collection from Guanzhong Luo and Moss Roberts and can’t recommend it enough, I’ve always been infatuated with The Romance of the Three Kingdoms. Reading about the wars, playing games where you control officers, or building the empires, there’s a reason it’s so popular! But, what if you wanted to be the one to establish the families, lead the ancient Chinese civilization, conduct diplomacy, go toe-to-toe in combat, and more?! That’s where Romance of the Three Kingdoms XIV comes in!

Developed and published by Koei Tecmo, an infamous Japanese studio with over 4 decades of experience in the business, starting out as simply ‘Koei’ before absorbing Tecmo back in 2010. Koei Tecmo are also the studio that coined the term ‘Musou’, a popular genre which now spans dozens of game series’: Dynasty Warriors, Samurai Warriors, Warriors Orochi, Attack on Titan, Gundam Warriors, etc, the list goes on and on! However, one of their oldest franchises, The Romance of the Three Kingdoms, originally published its first title in 1985 and now, 35 years later, we saw the release of the fourteenth game in the series.

To explain the story behind The Romance of the Three Kingdoms would be absurd due to the lengthy history, so I’ll keep my explanation short and direct – You’ll be conquering China on a single realistic map through strategies, troop management, administration, diplomatic means, and much more immersive actions. Played over several campaigns with the addition of extra DLC scenarios, historical characters, pre-made and user-created officers, Romance of the Three Kingdoms XIV is a historic simulator where you’ll control the various outcomes via your advised and strategic decision making.
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Gameplay
Let me clear the air by stating that this is my first entry into the series, and even though the series spans 35 years, it could very well be the first for some of you as well – so bear with me if you’re a seasoned vet. When booting up the game it helpfully advises you to clear the tutorials first, a simple statement which a lot of people usually don’t bother with yet I’d highly recommend you do so if you’re new. The tutorials themselves are very well done, explaining a multitude of options in each section with ease. Though that isn’t to say there wasn’t any disappointment to be had. Throughout the tutorials, you see the occasional pop-up which touches base on complex mechanics that you can read up on within the in-game encyclopedia – I wish they had given us a full tutorial which goes into visual detail with every aspect, rather than pointing you in the right direction but not demonstrating things fully.

Upon starting up the actual game for the very first time, it is very easy to feel overwhelmed with the sheer amount of mechanics that weren’t covered, expecting you to already have existing knowledge from prior entries. The problem that I faced was that I now had to sit down and pretty much read the entire in-game encyclopedia to get a grasp on these new mechanics, which wasn’t an easy task as it`s HUGE! I personally found that it was simpler to just struggle through the game and learn anything I wasn’t sure on first-hand by trial-and-error, referring to the detailed explanations when I found myself truly lost. Although, once you’ve overcome the initial overwhelming nature of the game, and got to grips with the core mechanics, you start to adapt and understand new functions much quicker and easier. 

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Romance of the Three Kingdoms XIV is presented through lengthy scenarios, some reflect historical accuracy whilst others are fictitious – there are also five waves of DLC packs which include new scenarios to play. Before starting a scenario you’ll be tasked with choosing which family to play as. Every family comes with their own employed officers, different difficulties, political beliefs, ranking, and other statistical differences. You’ll need to take into consideration your gameplay style when making your choice as every character has different strengths, attributes, policies, and tactics. If “brains before brawn” is your mantra, by ruling through leadership, then it is sensible you’d choose Cao Cao. But, if you have an iron fist for military prowess and want to strong-arm your opponents then you’re more likely to play as Hua Xiong.

This is where the aforementioned experience of prior entries would be very beneficial. Each leader and their officers all have different rankings denoting what they’re capable of, policies that will grant you bonuses depending on unfolding events, tactics that will shape and influence the way your troops will battle, and formation choices of how your troops hold their rank, all before choosing the scenario itself.
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If you’re not averse to some heavy text reading though, pressing L2 in the game (PS4) will bring up the in-game Help (an encyclopedia), filling in all the missing information and questions you may have. It’s a VERY in-depth and thorough guide. Categories include Hints, Basic gameplay, Officers, Strategies, Battles, Others, and settings. Inside all of these categories are dozens upon dozens of manuals with text and in-game pictures accompanying them all, making everything precise, easy to follow, and to the point. Further help can even be gained by accessing the in-game web-manual which takes you directly to Koei Tecmo’s RotTK XIV site – with even more information. In-game information about the history of the Romance of the Three Kingdoms is also accessible – although those who have played any game in the franchise previously will already know most of this information.

When you finally choose a scenario, you’ll be placed into a giant game-spanning map for you to conquer by any means you see fit. By game-spanning I mean, you’ll play on the entirety of China, so every scenario is always handled via the same map. You might think that having only one map is an odd decision, however, the way the developers set out each scenario makes it feel unique every time. This single map contains over 46 cities that span over 340 regions, allowing you to conquer, control and manage your army in any way you want, giving this game huge replayability. The way you’ll play is through turn-based management, sort of like the Civilization series, just with a lot more complexity (in my opinion). You’ll have to manage all your regions through appointing different types of overseers, how you deploy marches, merchants, warlord appointing, policy placements, managing titles, divisions, handle people, plot different sabotages, handle foreign affairs, taking care of proposals, triggering events, and defending and taking over regions – but, this is just the tip of the iceberg!

In general terms, your role whilst playing Romance of the Three Kingdoms XIV is to manage your cities, your citizens, and your officers, marching them out (create armies) to expand, defend and attack. The map itself is created from thousands and thousands of neutral hexagonal tiles that become colour coordinated by the officer which steps on them, which is how you’ll expand your influence. Your influence expanded through this fill-in-the-blank canvas is used to increase your cities income in Gold, Supplies, and Troops for the most part. It’ll also expand your borders, attach your cities, basically anything to do with broadening your growth.
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When you finally do have a city, conquer cities, capture cities, or pretty much anything to do with attaining control over new land, you’ll need to make sure to properly govern your newly obtained property. Without doing so you’ll haemorrhage your income, and that is not a good tactic. You’ll appoint Overseers for development priority of income, recruitment overseers for your troops, and training overseers for your morale. Appoint Warlords and policies for bonuses and increases in your armies and cities. Listen to suggestions of your officers to increase your cities morale and gain bonuses as well. The other necessity is marching officers, this games’ version of creating armies and sending them off.

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Creating armies is not as simple as you’d think, it’s a bit different from other historical simulation games. Romance of the Three Kingdoms XIV gives you a realistic sense of what war is like; you can’t win wars with a large army and no strategy, just as you can’t win a war with all the world’s knowledge but no military. You need to actually familiarise yourself with every aspect of the game’s mechanics and really utilise a pre-determined and dynamic plan if you wish to succeed in conquering China. There’s always a multitude of ways to achieve success and how you go about doing it is the freedom this game offers you!

Conquering cities is one of the most important features of the gameplay. Marching out an army to break a city’s defences sounds simple, but it isn’t. Cities will usually be garrisoned with overwhelming military numbers which easily outnumber your army. Attacking the city means that you’ll need to utilise one of the many facets of your strategies; Do you employ a highly intelligent officer so you can increase the success of setting a city ablaze alongside your army’s offence? Maybe you should build towers and defensive buildings around your capital and conquer smaller cities by drawing out the troops and lowering the overall strength of their army? Or should you employ diplomatic resolutions and settle things amicably? The freedom to govern any choice is what makes this game so alluring.
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Speaking of alluring, the way combat is handled in Romance of the Three Kingdoms XIV is where I felt it stands out from other games within the same genre. I’ve played tons of strategy games before, such as Civilization, C&C, Empire Earth, Age of Empires, Warcraft, etc, but it’s generally the same; Build troops, advance technology, level up your troops and have the strongest army. However, this game’s buildings are central on aiding your military, rather than empowering your city. You begin to feel drunk from the power and choices that are given to you. Even after multiple scenarios, I was still finding new ways to approach combat and use my forces!

Building in this game is unique as it’s done through your military forces, there is no dedicated building unit. With that being said, anywhere your military goes you’re able to build structures. So the world really is your oyster! The type of building you erect will affect your armies directly, as that’s what buildings in this game are focused on. Camps and forts will bolster your defences, arrows and catapults will hinder the opposing forces, music will increase your morale, traps employ an effect, and pitfalls restrain enemies – these are just a few of the buildings for added support!

As for the combat, it’s no less complex. Each Officer has base stats: Maneuver, Assault, Siege, Demolish, and Defense, that you must take into consideration, dependant on what you want to do with them. There are bonuses called Triggered Traits, which include Veteran General, Overawe, Water Warlord, Dauntless, and Straightforward – it’ll take too long to explain these but be sure to check out the in-game encyclopedia to take full advantage of them. You must also set the formations and manage how they control their troops: Fish (Field battles), Arrow (High Maneuverability), Crane (Suppression), Awl (Sneak Attacks), Ring (Warfare), or Battering Ram (Reduce base durability) are a few examples.

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So, once you’ve finally paired the best units with the correct formation for your goal, and have appropriate Triggered Traits, do you think you’re done? Nope, this is Romance of the Three Kingdoms – you still have to decide on the Tactic for each officer, such as Tiger’s Claws (Damage and increased assault), Inflame (Damage), Wisdom’s Fortitude (Defense and morale increase), and Rally (Morale and assault increase). Did I mention this game can get a tad overwhelming…
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Included in Romance of the Three Kingdoms XIV is an editor which allows you to create your own custom officers. Not only can you create your own characters from scratch, but you can also edit the historically accurate ones provided with the game as well as the spin-off and Koei Tecmo stars you can get via DLC (seriously, you can add Atelier Ryza characters into the game for free). You can basically edit/create everything to do with the officer, such as their name, gender, voice, abilities, traits, doctrines/policies, tactics, and formations. This is also not limited to their lineage as you can change the characters birth date and lifespan – resulting in the game telling you if they were born, alive, dead, or simply their age at the given time of the war you’re in.

I have a 93-year-old officer during the Chu Shi Biao year. Their birth parents are Cao Cao and Zhao E – in this case, it only gave me a chose of two mothers in order to keep it almost historically probable. The spousal options aren’t restricted and there are a lot of females to choose from if you’re playing a male – however, if you try to marry your mother then it’ll just move her from the ‘Mother’ to ‘Spouse’ category (don’t ask how I know that). You also get to choose your Sworn Siblings, which is probably the most restricted option as some people won’t be your sworn sibling and others are locked in through historical events. You can also set the associate for your character and choose up to eight confidants and adversaries – it’s been a while since I’ve seen such a thorough and detailed creation process.

When it boils down to it, a scenario in Romance of the Three Kingdoms XIV itself is as long as an indie title for the sheer staggering amount of choices and content you must process and employ in order to progress! I remember seeing the demo stating it only gave you around 39 turns – my initial thoughts were “that’s a short demo”… boy, was I wrong! 39 turns is an afternoon of play, easily!
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Mechanics
The first thing in Romance of the Three Kingdoms XIV you may notice is the camera. It may be personal bias, but I just feel as though mouse and keyboard controls handle these types of games much better than the controller. It’s not bad, it’s just not that fluent – you control the camera with both Thumbsticks and pushing the shoulder button which, when switching between different perspectives, feels clunky at times. That isn’t to say the angles aren’t beautiful too look at, it’s got a great distance render and it all looks very pretty. Alongside controlling the camera, you also command everything within your kingdom – you aren’t directly controlling the army’s movements, your making choices for them and watching the events play out. This is important to note as it is mostly AI-controlled, and for the most part, it works great. I say most part because, during the non-combat segments, it can seem like certain units are ‘lost’, wandering around aimlessly whilst trying to conquer the region you’ve sent them too – often doubling back on themselves due to missing a tile or two.

I hate to be a nitpicker, but I’ll be bringing up the lack of full tutorial sets again. Yes, there is an in-game help manual detailing all of the game’s mechanics and features, but it’s a double-edged sword. Without having included tutorials, or even tutorial video clips, explaining everything, there is too much to read to the point where it becomes far too overwhelming. Too much is not a bad thing, but when there is a profuse amount like there is within Romance of the Three Kingdoms XIV, it’s impossible to learn everything at once, leaving you often forgetting key features or not understanding mechanics to their fullest potential. This leads to beginner mistakes and not living fully fulfilled scenarios, which I can see potentially turning off some newcomers. For those that stick around though, there is a lot this game does remarkably well!

Giving the vast amounts of options you can make, every single turn, you can easily forget something you’ve done such as forgetting to; check a new proposal by your people, check a city’s income, make a change in policy, etc… Although in the lower left-hand corner, there’s a sort of personal advisor to you that’ll report all the key moments in a small text box. Without this feature, I would have easily have become lost and confused a lot more than I did during my first few playthroughs of a real scenario. This is further enhanced by the ability to expand the text box and see prior events and a history of messages, just in case you need to look back on things.
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Turns are done in three different speeds, though personally I couldn’t play anything lower than x3 speed as it was too slow in my opinion. Everything, except region conquering, was fast. I bring this up because in the beginning when you’re starting up, and you’re having to pass 5 turns up to conquer a region, it can feel long-winded. When building stuff, attacking armies, or destroying cities, there’s so much happening on screen you can easily lose track of the time by watching everything, but this doesn’t happen with region conquering as it’s a much slower and less-interesting event.

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For a few minutes at a time, you’ll watch your armies wander around in an erratic pattern, slowly conquering regions without much to do but watch them – you can only watch Cao Cao walk circles so many times before you multitask conquering regions whilst watching something on YouTube or Netflix via your iPad.

Customisation in Romance of the Three Kingdoms XIV is by far one of the most welcomed features in my book, pleasing not only my gaming preferences but the history lover within me as well. In the settings, you’ll find adjustable options that can make the game considerable harder at the expense of being more historically accurate. Changing how fast the military heals, if they actually die, the occurrence of natural disasters, officers dying when they actually died in real life (giving you limited time with each officer), and even if you want women present in the game or not, there’s a lot to adjust and represent how the game is played. These features execute real credibility to the simulation of the historic events and characters whilst playing. If you’re in it for fun though, and not historical accuracies, you can create your own officers as well as using the aforementioned fantasy officers from other Koei Tecmo franchises.
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During gameplay, you can alter a lot of the way the game plays too. I was speaking of hexagonal tiling before, and colouring them in to conquer regions, which are the defaults the game offers, but you can alter that. The game offers you to turn off tiling, turn off colours, show borders only, show white lines connecting all the cities, turn off hints, and even the angle of which the game plays. I love playing games from eye-level perspective, it lets you see the game, depth, and details in a whole new way and is quite fun – something I was able to do here. For my own personal enjoyment, I played with coloured borders only, as it gave me that Civilization feeling which I’m acquainted with.

Overall, for the mechanics present within Romance of the Three Kingdoms XIV, I felt like the game was well adapted for the controller and did everything it had to do very well. I never experienced any delay nor lag, no matter how cluttered the armies and on-screen action became. Policies, team attacks, \and abilities, everything activated when they were supposed to. I have to say, I was pleasantly surprised that, with the vast amount of interactions all happening simultaneously, the game never crashed on me once.

There is something I want to point out though; I have a regular PS4, not a Pro, and Romance of the Three Kingdoms XIV is one of the few games that’s made me worry about fan noises to date. This occurs as soon as you boot the game up, so it’s an obvious prevalence right from start-up. It always made me cautious of playing for longer periods of time, but it immediately calms down when I close or switch games, so I know it’s not my PS4 acting up.

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I do occasionally read up on the games I am reviewing, especially if it’s a series I’m not accustomed to, and I’ve read that some things in Romance of the Three Kingdoms XIV have been rehashed and carried over from previous entries (as you’d expect). However, those who have played these games for years say that the jump from XIII to XIV isn’t as game-changing as they’d have liked. I haven’t played any previous titles and I’ve not played a similar game for a while, so my thoughts and opinions are that of a new-comer to the series and someone who loves the genre but hasn’t played a game within it for around six-twelve months.

Official trailer:

Final Conclusion:
Romance of the Three Kingdoms XIV has very few faults, fundamentally it’s an incredibly polished game that has years of experience and a strong fan base attached to it. The flaws I found were all nitpicky and biased, which I hold against myself and not the game (as this was my first experience playing the franchise, having been a fan of similar titles for years). The historical accuracies, customisation, and freedom to achieve your goals in any way you see fit, creates replayability that’ll last for a while to come. I can always rely on the fact that in Romance of the Three Kingdoms XIV, where there’s a will, there’s a Wei.

A copy of the game was kindly provided for review purposes

ROMANCE OF THE THREE KINGDOMS XIV

£49.99
8.4

Final Score

8.4/10

The Good:

  • - Very in-depth with a great deal of customisation
  • - Lots of replayability
  • - You have unlimited freedom in how you wish to play the game
  • - Crammed full of historically accurate situations as well as a multitude of in-game choices and actions
  • - Fantasy DLC which brings in other Koei Tecmo franchises

The Bad:

  • - Stiff camera controls
  • - Made my base PS4 sound like a PS4 Pro at times!
  • - The tutorials aren't the best as it makes you read the in-game encyclopedia rather than showing you the help you need
  • - The AI isn't the greatest when capturing, double backing on themselves quite often
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