You know, in many ways I feel bad for the team responsible for Dynasty Warriors. I mean the series has been going on so long with new installments and spinoffs that you'd think they'd start seeming like the exact same game with slight graphics updates, but each game shows them, for better or for worse, trying something new in the normal formula to make the game different enough to rationalize a new release. I'd be lying if i said I was a huge fan of the franchise and have played every installment, but I've played a few since about the PS2 era and I've seen them take out some game modes, put new ones in, add and remove characters and storylines, and even change some of the weapons that the characters use. The most recent change is one of the more drastic I've seen, Koei Tecmo has taken this game from a historical battlefield simulator that's about as close as you'll ever get to playing an anime to an open world RPG. Is it still fun? Absolutely. But is it just as good as its predecessors? Well…that depends on what you're looking for.
Dynasty Warriors 9 is available on Steam for $59.99. At the time of writing there is a 10% launch sale that brings the price down to $53.99
One thing that Dynasty Warriors never really changed through all the installments has been the story. It's still the hyper romanticized version of the Romance of the Three Kingdoms. Towards the end of the Han dynasty, three individuals begin a rise to power, first in quelling rebellions and insurrections, then in founding their own kingdoms. Each has their own reasons and their own claim: There is the brilliant and ambitious Cao Cao, the great warrior and family man Sun Jian, and the humble man of the people Liu Bei. However, one of the biggest changes in this game is how the story is told. In previous games the focus was more on the kingdoms, with who you played making very little difference in how the story was told, you just may have to do something slightly different missions. This game is a lot more cutscene-heavy, and it seems like it's trying to be a tad more character-centric.
I primarily played Han Dang, a faithful servant of the Sun family, and it never really seemed like my story had much of an impact. I would occasionally get a line in between some important dialogue with more important characters, and sometimes I'd get a cutscene of my own. However, sometimes these were hilariously bad. The occasional lines were occasionally just there to be like "oh don't think we forgot your character is there too." One of the cutscenes was literally Han Dang walking up to a major character, the major character yelled at him for wasting his time while Han Dang remained silent, and then it ended. There was even one point where Han Dang was just there as two leaders were talking and said nothing, just as though they really needed him to be relevant.
While in past games you could play as any character in the kingdom's campaign, in this game each character has their own separate campaign. So though I made my way furthest with Han Dang, if I were to want to try someone else I would need to start from the beginning of that character's story, which would go as far as all the way back to the beginning of the game, forcing me to replay all the missions I had just done just with a different character. Now, there is an active effort to show rather than tell as they did in the installments I've played so it feels more like an adventure now rather than a war, which I do think is a direction that should be commended, even if the delivery was slightly botched.
This game may be based in an actual historical period of feudal China, but rather than playing it realistic, as would be the temptation for any historical game nowadays, Dynasty Warriors just takes the heroes of the time and says "yeah, they could totally wipe out a line of enemies with a single swipe of their spear, that's not an issue." This is not a game for those who are looking for something more on the challenging side, because the named characters are nigh-invincible and the player character is basically a primordial force of destruction that naught but the destruction of the universe could stop. Fans of the series should take comfort in that the combat is just as smooth and cathartic as it's ever been. Dynasty Warriors has always held a high standard for their hacking and slashing and it has always been the base on which their games have been built.
The combat is the base to which the whole rest of the game is anchored, and it serves that end quite well. They've even shaken the combat up just a bit to occasionally include a counterattack button a la the Arkham or Assassin's Creed games, which helps it all to flow a lot more smoothly.
It isn't a complex system, even powerful enemies will fall if you just attack and don't stop attacking. Even with that in mind, I cannot hate the combat of a game that lets me run into a group of enemies, then slay all of the foot soldiers within a five-foot radius by drinking a cup of sake then letting out a flaming burst.
One game mode
So, this will come as a shock to some, but this installment of the Dynasty Warriors series is single-player only. The local multiplayer which to me was always iconic to the series has been completely omitted. I suppose that makes sense with the change in direction, an open world RPG is an inherently single player genre, but this is the first entry to the series I've played that I can't play with a friend.
Not only that, but there is only one game mode: the campaign. You play through one character's story and if you want to change characters, even if they're allies, you need to start at the beginning of their story which can take you as far back as the beginning of the game, forcing you to replay all of the missions you just played. This is probably my biggest complaint with the game, going through the same exact cutscenes and missions with just a different character is not my idea of a good time, it's just padding out an already long game.
To the game's credit, your inventory and however much of the map you have explored does carry over between all of your characters and you can skip all of the cutscenes, so this isn't as big of a setback as it could be, but at the same time it's an unnecessary setback that the last game didn't have.
Choose your weapon
Not much has changed from past equipment systems. You have a preferred weapon, but you can use others as well. You have four slots for pieces of equipment that give passive buffs, four slots for items you can use which can range from healing items to bait for fish. You may also install gems in your weapons, which enhance certain attacks and combos with elemental damage as well as increase certain stats. You can switch these out at any point, and if you want to save money you can go out and craft items, which seemed an unnecessary addition to the franchise but at the same time they don't really try to shoehorn it in outside of the tutorial so I can't well complain about it.
An open world
Whereas the games usually have you pick a mission, then a character, then they let you go, giving you directions and strategies while not forcing you to follow them, this installment drops you in an open world, dumps some optional and some required goals on you, and tells you to go nuts. There just seems to be the one massive map, and in between missions you can hunt, fish, gather resources for crafting, everything you'd expect out of a sandbox RPG. Both good and bad things come out of this change.
For one, it does help establish the scope when you need to be travelling around the map by horseback to get back and forth. By climbing watch towers you can see everything around that you can gather and you can put them in your inventory just by walking over them. That and the unlimited inventory space help to ensure that it feels the least amount like a chore it could be. Everything you can craft is useful, but you can also buy much of it. There are also frequent fast travel points, so you don't need to be annoyingly sprinting back and forth to all of the missions.
Speaking of the missions, the optional ones actually feel good to do, at least for the most part. Some of them are just requests from a random person which you can just ignore, but some are actual strategic moves that will recude the level of the required mission. You can even just go and take some important strongholds on your own to decrease the difficulty of the missions. Even the random stuff you do can feel important, which is a point I love.
On the flip side, one of the definitive points of the series, to me at least, is hearing an allied officer saying "oh geez I'm in trouble" so you need to sprint right there right now or lose them. There was some real urgency in the past games that made it feel like the entire thing was a high-octane rush for victory and you had to decide if you could afford to put your own objectives on hold to help them succeed in an important objective across the battlefield. There just isn't that sense of urgency in Dynasty Warriors 9. While I don't miss losing the entire match because someone died across the battlefield due to something I had no control over, in this version I never really felt like I had to do anything. Castles are under siege, villages are being raided, your allies are in the midst of an ambush, but there's no time for that now, you need to go hunting! These things don't really start without you, so you have all the time in the world to do whatever you want.
Guan Yu: Warrior, god, homemaker?
Yeah, one of the aspects in here I'm not sure about is the addition of hideaways. These are little homes you can find around the map that you can decorate how you please, then you can write letters to the other characters to have them come visit your home. This led to a hilarious moment where a deceased character was sitting on my chair when I came back and said he was waiting for me. Either he faked his death to be with me or I need to call an excorcist like NOW. I'm not exactly sure of the application of this system, but even if there is no reason aside from some unique dialogue it isn't something the game forces you to do or it hinders progress.
Graphics and audio
If nothing else this is an incredibly beautiful game, with vast landscapes that they obviously worked very hard on. It's a pity that, after venturing around the landscapes for hours and hours, it all starts looking the same. With a few exceptions, you're always either going through a forest plains or mountains, none of the areas really felt distinct to me. Whenever you climb up the watchtower the game does a 360 rotation to show you the rolling landscapes surrounding you, and while they do look impressive at first, after the first ten times you start going "yeah yeah, some combination of forest, plains, and mountains." The cities all feel very similar, and if it weren't for the world maps I would have never have been able to find my way from A to B. I will also say that it did take a second for the textures to fully load in at a distance and that some of the wild mobs did have a tendency to disappear and reappear elsewhere, but as of writing I've only played before the release and I'm hoping the day 1 patch fixed that issue. As graphics were never a huge deal for me, I can give it a pass given the circumstances under which I played the game.
As far as character models go, they are super detailed and they obviously had fun designing them, but they could occasionally be hilarious. Zhang Jiao, the leader of the Yellow Turbans and essentially your first boss, has hair that makes him look like that old moon mascot McDonalds used to have. In his casual costume, Sun Jian, the Tiger of Jiangdong, descendant of the great Sun Tsu, is nearly a dead ringer for Guy Fieri. They aren't bad designs necessarily, if you were to show me the silhouette of a character I could probably tell you who they are, but man could they be hilarious.
The audio is probably the best part of this game. The music as ever is amazing and epic, though sick electric guitar riffs probably aren't historically accurate I can give them a pass because all of the music sounds great. I think we kicked historical accuracy when the characters got the ability to wipe out foot soldiers with but a glance, so I'm glad they just ran with the craziness and keep that music rockin'.
The voice lines, on the other hand, range from either passable to wooden to hilariously bad. I'll refer again to Zhang Jiao. In past games he was a crazy cult leader, and the voice actor's somehow charismatic screaming really lent credibility to the fact that he was a menace to the country with a ton of followers. Here he just sounds like a guy doing a Muppet voice. I didn't believe he was the leader of a cult, I felt more like he was some guy who somehow tricked some neighborhood kids into doing yard work for him, then others started following and he's just too afraid to tell everyone he lied.
So, an open world Dynasty Warriors. One certainly must commend Omega Force for constantly trying to innovate with their games rather than just churn out the exact same thing with marginally improved graphics with every installment. However, as the most recent in a long-running series, it begs the question: should you buy this one with all of it's faults or should you just stick with the last one, which sticks closer to the formula that made the games so beloved? Well, that depends on what you're looking for. The combat is a lot smoother than in the past games, and though the characters can be a tad one-note and the dialogue can be a tad wooden there is more of an effort to show rather than tell, and of course the graphics have vastly improved. At the same time, the pace of the game outside of the combat is a lot slower, the voice acting really could use improvement, and of course the change of genre leaves just the one game mode and no local multiplayer. It feels more like an adventure than a war, which I'm sure would excite some fans while disappointing others.
However, I'm not here to review the entire franchise, I'm here to review this one game. So for a moment let's erase all comparisons to past games. How is Dynasty Warriors 9 as it's own singular entity? Well, it certainly has it's faults, but it's definitely a ton of fun if a tad easy for an open world RPG. The combat is smooth and satisfying, the farming and crafting aspects may not be electrifying but they aren't annoying, the map is pretty large, and even the story and dialogue has the camp and occasional hilarity of one of those foreign B-movies you find on netflix so you grab some friends and a pizza and have a jolly good time laughing it up at the unintentional hilarity. Even the stuff in here that could annoy some, like the homemaking and the gathering, isn't something the game forces you to do, so you can just ride around like the unstoppable war machine you are.
While the game may be a tad lackluster as far as being an entry in this particular series goes, as a game in it's own right I think Dynasty Warriors 9 is definitely worth checking out when it goes on sale. It has some good aspects, has some hilariously bad aspects. I can recommend it, but 60 bucks is a bit steep for B-movie camp. Aside from that, I think it's definitely a game to check out.
|+ That good ol' Dynasty Warriors combat||– Some useless mechanics|
|+ Expansive Map||– No urgency in this war|
|+ Siiiick guitar music||– Have to replay same missions for different characters|