You know you're in for a hardcore TBS experience when the tutorial takes longer to complete than most full price games, and yet still only just
You know you're in for a hardcore TBS experience when the tutorial takes longer to complete than most full price games, and yet still only just covers the basics. Romance of the three Kingdoms XI (ROTK) is a savagely complex simulation of China’s Han Dynasty, encompassing city building elements, diplomacy, tactical combat and strategic planning into an occasionally over-burdened and yet strangely compelling package. As the Koei-developed series rarely gets a run-out on this side of the world (and even lesser so in the PC market), it'll be worth a look for anybody getting bored of the likes of Civ IV - as if that's truly possible.
Starting off in one of the many historical scenarios, it's your duty as commander-in-chief to build city settlements from the ground up, gradually expanding reach and influence across China, waging war and diplomacy against opposing generals along the way. Every farm and civil structure needs to be strategically placed to maximise income and influence, every battalion of troops and their accompanying weaponry (produced by workshops that also need planning) need to be carefully thought about, and commanding officers need to be selected on personal traits and aptitude for specific jobs.
It all looks pretty at high resolutions
This is about as simple as it gets
Indeed much of ROTK's basic gameplay revolves around selecting the correct personnel to carry out individual tasks. Each officer comes complete with a barrage of statistics governing their suitability for specific activities – so if you're sending an army of spear-wielding troops out into the open, you'd better have an officer with an A or S 'spear' rating on-board, for example. Of course the same officer might also have the highest diplomacy skills, so your options may be lacking elsewhere with the army away from base. Planning during the formative stages of each campaign is crucial in this regard – if you're not a fan of thinking ahead, stay clear.
As with almost every other empire-building TBS, key city locations soon become the most coveted assets in each campaign of war and attrition, and treating your populace with respect governs strong benefits to the war chest. Regular inspections of each location are necessary to keep peace and order, with army units needing to be drilled regularly to boost their will to fight – a statistic that directly equates to the number of Action Points you'll have available when commandeering them in battle.
The art style is beguiling at times
Diplomacy is key
Combat itself is relatively interesting, with the usual mix of terrain benefits, movement range and a rock-paper-scissors approach to weaponry combining with headier special attacks and trap opportunities. Battles are played out at a relatively quick pace, focusing as much on maneuvering your troops into correct position as they do on the actual act of damaging the enemy. There are no spectacular animations or cut-scenes, and the camera remains in a top-down viewpoint at all times, but considering the length of each campaign, that's no small mercy.
The same no-frills approach also carries over to the rest of the design. Commands are executed through a series of context-sensitive menus that remain functional despite the incredible depth of statistical information that threatens to clutter the interface at every turn. Clicking on each city or unit brings up a list of information on the left of the screen, with the right displaying a series of boxed-out choices that constitute the entirety of gameplay. What the ROTK interface lacks in finesse is more than made up for with clarity and ease of use though – and towards the end of a 10-hour campaign I'd definitely take the latter.
You'll have an info panel like this for every single city under your command
Strategic placement of buildings is paramount to success
And that isn't to say this is an experience devoid of personality either. Every facet of visual design is engagingly simplistic rather than dumbed down or rushed, with a cel-shaded painterly style that looks the part whilst commanding the leanest of system specs to run at high resolution. On top of that, the sporadic dialogue has been translated in an engaging and entertaining style, lightening the mood and lifting a title that could easily have been buried under its own weight.
Top game moment:
ROMANCE OF THE THREE KINGDOM XI VERDICT
All of which is barely scratching the surface. Suffice to say, ROTK’s turn-based charms could easily destroy the better part of a few months if you give it the time necessary to delve deep into the tactics, whilst the entertaining art style dictates an engaging experience from the very start. Give it a try, but make sure to have a full weekend free.