Romance of the Three Kingdom XI Review (PC)

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.

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.

Top game moment:
Whenever a plan comes together

Game advertisements by <a href="" target="_blank">Game Advertising Online</a> require iframes.



By Kres (SI Elite) on Sep 09, 2008
Oh my God is this true?? A good empire Civ like game came out? Well I'm going to check the demo out as I missed it completely:
By stagewhisper (SI Newbie) on Sep 09, 2008
I've played a previous version of Romance of the Three Kingdoms- I believe it was ROTK 8 or 9- and felt partially lost, partially overwhelmed... and yet for the most part, I still enjoyed the idea of the game immensely. It's no wonder that they've made it to the 11th version of ROTK- it's just such a great game all in all.

I'm definitely going to check out the demo for this. I've been meaning to get my hands on my own copies of ROTK (instead of borrowing it from friends), but hadn't been able to pick which one. If I like the demo, then I'll have my answer on which to get.
By Kres (SI Elite) on Sep 09, 2008
Tried the demo. Yep a complex turn based empire strategy game. Does seem to be great but takes patience going through the learning bit.
By sfabobby03 (SI Veteran Newbie) on Sep 09, 2008
I dont seem to have the patience for a game with a learning curve like this. I love turn based strategy games but I don't want to spend a week learning how to play it.
By V4ndall (SI Veteran Member) on Sep 09, 2008
Great for me. Got pretty bored playing Hearts Of Iron 2, Space Empires V and Medieval II. A game with lots to learn means lots of possibilities and that's exactly what I like. And besides a change in game setting seems good. Ancient China? Why not - I will give it a try :)
By Knave (SI Core) on Sep 09, 2008
Why does the reviewer call this a hardcore RTS in the beginning? Isn't it turn based? I haven't played the series before, so apologies for my ignorance.
By Kres (SI Elite) on Sep 10, 2008
Yes it's not RTS. It's Turn based... And it's not just beginning where he mentioned RTS. Ok now that's strange. I'm going to check that with the writer.
By Kres (SI Elite) on Sep 10, 2008
By Manuel_garcia (SI Newbie) on Sep 10, 2008
Hey guys, that was my bad. I'm in the habit of calling any strategic title an RTS almost by default at this stage :)
By jhellie_baby (SI Newbie) on Sep 10, 2008
this one's a true romance! :D the first of its kind :) nice, nice..
By jhellie_baby (SI Newbie) on Sep 10, 2008
and i'm still thinking to put this one on my list...hmmmm...what you think guys? :)
By Kres (SI Elite) on Sep 11, 2008
Well if you're into Civ type of games then yeah toss a few $ on the store and get it. Should be a good game.
By Florentin (SI Veteran Member) on Sep 12, 2008
why don't they make these for Mac as well?
I hate PC
always freezing on you
especially with these games!
By ponga (I just got here) on Sep 14, 2008
very nice .......
By ScythSoulces (SI Core) on Sep 15, 2008
Do's not look all that good realy.
By Nicolas19 (SI Core Veteran) on Sep 17, 2008
Great game, glad that they didn't overemphasized griphics like TW series. The era is refreshing, true, as everybody know a bit about ancinent Japan, but far less about ancinent China.
By loyalknight10 (SI Member) on Sep 17, 2008
It looks like a nice game.It is fully Chinese.I don't know much about using china's military units.I might look forward to play the game soon.
By crawlroman (SI Core) on Mar 12, 2009
hmmm....this game got some points=D i think i will give it a try=D
By Wowerine (SI Elite) on Mar 12, 2009
No offense, but this is not for beginners... You need to be a die-hard turn-based fan to at least like this one. :S