Dynasty Warriors 9 Review: A True Sequel Emerges
When Koei-Techmo’s Omega Force announced that Dynasty Warriors was going to be open world, the fan reaction was understandably mixed. Many fans were concerned that an open world would mean an empty world. That it would mean that instead of concise missions, the game would force you to run around and do fetch quests, and that the game would end up like The Division, with a lot of show and no tell. I am happy to report that Dynasty Warriors 9 does not have that problem. This game has plenty of content and doesn’t disappoint. There are also fetch quests, look out towers and an collection and hunting system that feels more Far Cry than Dynasty Warriors, but it doesn’t distract from the classic action that Dynasty Warriors has always had.
First things first, we aren’t really treading new ground here, we are still in the Three Kings era, we still start off fighting the Yellow Turbans (this time their religious motive is actually mentioned!) and we still have to slog through millions of generic enemies. But that’s what dynasty warriors is about, isn’t it? I would say yes. DW 9 is treading no new ground here, providing the same era as always for players to run around in, but I think I can forgive this since there is only so much wiggle room in the Romance of Three Kingdoms to play with from that period. You are still going to see all the classic names, like Lu Bu, Gan Ning, and Don Zhuo, but there will also be a lot of new names, as the games traditionally smaller character roster has expanded massively, with 23 heroes offered just on the Wei side of the conflict. There are 23 also on the Shu side and 22 on the Wu side. Smaller faction Jin has only 13 playable characters, but over all that’s an astounding 81 total playable characters on the main sides, plus 10 others. Only 7 of these are completely new to the series but with a revamped move and combo system even all-time classic Dynasty Warriors heroes like Cao Cao feel fresh. There are also 4 known scheduled DLC characters to come later including Xiahouji, Dong Bai, Hua Xiong, and Yuan Shu. Each character has unique animations, voice lines and moves, and it makes for an expansive (if slightly repetitive) combat system that any Dynasty Warriors fan will feel right at home with. Since you don’t end up ever playing as one character for very long I never felt like I was being forced to use one or another of the games many characters.
The full campaign is 13 chapters long, though I suspect most people will spend much more time taking outposts, collecting raw materials, hunting, and generally exploring than completing the games missions. I often found myself wandering for hours on foot or horseback, just engaging whatever enemy forces I found. And that is where Dynasty Warriors 9 differs from previous installments, because it has an open world. The main campaign has to be completed before you can roam the map with any character, but the system works as this is still a story driven game. Once you complete a chapter you can go back and play it as any one of the games many characters. Thankfully gear carries over so you don’t have to start again if you want to switch to a new hero. The only limitation on this is if you want to see the games ending cut-scenes for each primary character, which are limited to that hero. Other reviewers have commented that this system made them rush the story missions in game, but I had the opposite experience, I enjoyed slowly playing the story and exploring the open world.
The open world surprisingly works well with the expansive story of the Romance of the Three Kingdoms. Though its real world counterpart lasted over 100 years (starting with the iconic yellow turban rebellion) the version of time in Dynasty Warriors 9 is thankfully a bit shorter. The 13 story missions played out over about 10 hours for me. I mostly stayed on one side of the conflict but as always there are 3 playable factions. Each story mission has a definitive path to get to it, but following them feels wrong. The world is so large that I took great pleasure from just wandering around in it. There is an abundance of checkpoints, smaller enemy fortresses, large enemy fortress, and places to explore. This open world does come with a downside, much of it feels empty. Enemy army groups stick to defined roads, and the spaces between feel empty and cavernous. Omega Force tries to fill those spaces up with collectable’s, hunting grounds, and side missions.
There is a lot of barrowing from games like Far Cry, and traditional MMO’s here. You ascend watch towers to reveal areas around you on the map, you collect raw materials from hunted animals to upgrade your weapons, and you collect raw plants and things for medicines. Anyone familiar with Far Cry will feel at home in this open world. The amount of barrowed content goes a long way to filling the world, but it’s just not enough. the map is just too big for its ambitions
Luckily you don’t have to spend too much time all over the map, the main system of roads corresponds to a system of nodes that are in a constant push pull back and forth between you and the enemy faction. I found myself mostly keeping to the main roads, and fighting everything on the way, taking down enemies and pushing their army back. The map is quite large, and features all sorts of terrain from flat ground to a river. A system of fast travel makes moving around a bit easier, but I still preferred to ride my horse around. New to me was the fact that you could attack from horseback. This was too fun not to take advantage of and I often rode in to large groups of enemies on horseback chopping away. This tactic doesn’t work against captains and other powerful enemies, but its hella fun. This fun I found expanded to un-mounted combat as well.
Usually fighting in Dynasty Warriors is about smashing the square button as much as you can while your on screen hero spins and kills everything. When you meet a captain or enemy hero, you then smash square until you can use triangle for heavy attacks. That formula will still work here, but its discouraged. Instead the game offers a series of fighting game like juggling combos that are much more effective. The basics of this system are to hold down R2 and select from a variety of types of attacks, include a stun, a knock up, and a context sensitive reactive attack. I found the system to be easy to master, and more fun than that traditional two button combat. Its not a frame perfect fighter, but this additional depth at least makes it feel more alive. Special attacks of course return, each accompanied by the same lines, which even stalwart players will grow quickly tired of, these are static attacks that do a lot of damage and have associated animations.
Enemies are still rock dumb, you’re going to cut down literally thousands of them (there is even a trophy for 100,000 KO’s) on the way to bigger bosses. These bigger bosses will be spear or sword sponges, who you hack or slash or stab at for a few minutes, wearing down their health, then finish off with spectacular style. I enjoy the formula, its repetitive, fun and one of those things that works well when you don’t dig too deep in to it. There is at least in this installment a sort of leveling mechanic.
Levels actually matter in Dynasty Warrior’s 9, and your hero will level up as you kill enemies, discover places and complete scrolls (missions). Levels let you improve your core stats, like health, damage, and toughness. Enemies also have levels, and anything that’s more than 10 levels higher than you is considered “dangerous”. I ignored this tool tip to my peril, and ended up biting the dust early on because I went right for the higher level enemy at the end of a mission, without first grinding a bit. I dint feel like the grinding was too bad, and missions gave plenty of experience. There are also options for stealth takedowns and ranged attacks in the form of a bow, but both feel wrong in the spirit of game that’s usually about killing hundreds of block stupid AI at the same time. The idea is you sneak in while crouched and then surprise an enemy with a power attack, killing them. Ranged combat is just broken, as you have unlimited basic arrows, and can craft special arrows for a pittance of materials. Regular enemies will die to a single arrow, and even captains and some more powerful enemies will only take two or three arrows. It feels out of line for a game where you want to be surrounded by enemies.
Other new systems include purchasing property for fast traveling, upgrading weapons with gems that you craft from raw materials, and a wider variety of weapons. There’s plenty to do, but all of it ends up amounting to filler, and onece you have enough materials and cash its just not fun anymore. Sadly there just isn’t enough to fill the map up. It’s a massive map, truly the developers were not lying when they suggesting it would take over an hour to walk from one side to the other, and there are plenty of pretty things to see along the way, but those things are all the same 5 things, reprinted or reskinned. It is at least worth it to head off the road, to find resource rich areas, and watch towers. Climbing these mostly out of the way watchtowers will reveal more of the map, and its worth it just to see the resources.
Most of the major Dynasty Warriors hangups are not present in Dynasty Warriors 9. Gone are the bad translations, lack of story, blocky cut scenes, and massive frame drops in combat. It feels like this is the best that Koei-Techmo and Omega Force can do. I played the game on a normal PS4, and noticed a few frame dips, but nothing as massive or problematic as previous games. I am quite sure tha the PS4 pro will do away with any of those problems. I chose to play the game in Chinese rather than dubbed, so I Can’t tell you if it still has issues that the rest of the games were plagued with (sao sao anyone?) there are surprisingly three options for dialog, Chinese, English, and Japanese. The Japanese dub is a series first and makes sense considering the game is produced by a Japanese Studio.
If you have played previous Dynasty Warriors games, you will probably love this expansion on the franchise. It’s a growth from previous games, that feels updated and more like a true sequel than the previous installments. It has new features rather than just new characters, and does a fairly good job of dragging the series in to the modern gaming world. Its new systems fit well enough in to the mythos and game design of Dynasty Warriors, and I would say it’s an immediate buy for fans, and a solid get it on sale for new players. Overall even with all the characters the game probably only offers about 20 hours of core gameplay, much more can be found in freely roaming and fighting and gathering, but honestly most players will probably get bored after finishing the main stories.