Should you expand your horizons?
Romance of the Three Kingdoms XIV: Diplomacy and Strategy Expansion Pack is in a tricky situation; like most DLC, its success is partially contingent upon how popular the base game is. And while Romance of the Three Kingdoms XIV is preceded by 13 previous iterations — the mark of a clearly popular franchise — the 14th installment in the series was met with mixed reactions from players. Sometimes a DLC release can salvage a shaky title; can this DLC do the same for its base game?
Lets go back to basics.
The base game, Romance of the Three Kingdoms XIV, was initially released back in early 2020 on Steam and PS4. Reviews span the gamut on the title, settling on a 6/10 from Steam user reviews and a PS4 Metacritic score of 69 (nice). Fans of the historical strategy epic 35 years in the making are split on the experience, but one thing many of them have in common is that they’ve still played it for dozens and dozens of hours; quite a few negative reviews come from players who have poured double, even triple digit hours into the game. Another thing they share? They mention the game’s simplicity, remarking that it feels like Romance of the Three Kingdoms XI with some functions removed. Both types of players seemed passionate about the title regardless of how they rated it, so it stands to reason both hoped the DLC would provide more of a challenge.
Romance of the Three Kingdoms XIV: Diplomacy and Strategy Expansion Pack builds upon the base game by offering new features such as new strategic elements, trade with Eurasian nations, and “War Chronicles Mode” — short bursts of gameplay depicting key points from the novel that yield a score upon completion. The strategic elements include Geographic Advantages, which gives bonuses when you occupy a province, and outlander tribes, which act like the other factions already present to a lesser extent. And with even more elements added, such as tactics and traits, Koei Tecmo promises deeper, enhanced gameplay for a launch price of $34.99 — over half the cost of the base game.
Die-hard fans and beginners are likely to both agree on one thing: the War Chronicles Mode is the standout addition of the entire expansion pack. The mode is an incredibly pared down version of gameplay that presents players with smaller scenarios and an even smaller pool of leaders to pick from. Here, players will be given set goals to complete as well as failure conditions to avoid. Gameplay is simultaneously even simpler than the standard fare, which helps the likely overwhelmed newer players, and quicker, which should please the veterans; completing the scenarios successfully will grant players a score based on how well they performed and an officer. In an almost ironic twist, the feature most likely geared towards long-time fans may actually ease players into the base game — either way, the War Chronicles Mode is definitely the victor here.
Unfortunately, everything else about Romance of the Three Kingdoms XIV: Diplomacy and Strategy Expansion Pack fell a bit flat. The Eurasian trade aspect was incredibly repetitive, the nations of Tianzhu (India), Anxi (Parthia), Guishang (Kushan Empire), and even Daqin (Roman Empire) initially interesting in their reach and diversity but ultimately a frustrating slog. Send out a trade envoy, wait double digit turns, then watch as the envoy either comes back home with untold riches, newfound tactics, and unique items, or get robbed along the way — all the while increasing your standing with the nations. Just press buttons to make the same trades repeatedly, wait a lot, see results, lather, rinse, repeat — that’s basically the diplomacy side.
On the strategy side, what Romance of the Three Kingdoms XIV: Diplomacy and Strategy Expansion Pack boasts on paper is objectively interesting but implemented questionably. The “Destroy Building” and “False Information” battle actions don’t really change the tides of war in a way that makes playing the core title easier; in fact, they just felt like more convoluted and arguably unnecessary features after attempting to acclimate myself with the already overwhelming base game. This is probably the biggest shame of the DLC, as the base cut out almost everything outside of battle in comparison to previous versions, so in the very least I had hoped to see more engaging complexity on the field (in a good way); instead, it just became a feature incredibly easy to ignore, which is sad considering what a missed opportunity this was.
Romance of the Three Kingdoms XIV: Diplomacy and Strategy Expansion Pack will only please players who actually enjoyed the base game, and even then, only if they really enjoyed the base game. It offers a lot of weird padding that sounds fantastic on paper but ends up being just “enh” in practice. Often there’s a hope that DLC can save a title, but if the core mechanics were already lacking there isn’t much an expansion pack building on said mechanics can do. If you loved Romance of the Three Kingdoms XIV and want more action, definitely watch some YouTube videos showcasing all that it has to offer; if you didn’t fall in love with the base game and wonder if you should take the plunge, I recommend waiting until the inevitable release of Romance of the Three Kingdoms XV.
Final Verdict: 3/5
Available on: Switch, PC, PS4 (reviewed); Publisher: Koei Tecmo; Developer: Koei Tecmo; Players: 1; Released: February 11, 2021; MSRP: $34.99
Full disclosure: This review is based on a retail copy of Romance of the Three Kingdoms XIV: Diplomacy and Strategy Expansion Pack provided by the publisher.