While not quite as headline grabbing as The King of Fighters XV, at least in sheer number of titles in the series, the Dynasty Warriors train keeps rolling on with this, a new release in the Empires series. Coming from Koei Tecmo, the latest iteration – that of Dynasty Warriors 9 Empires – tries to marry the “1 v 1000” gameplay of the mainstream Dynasty Warriors 9, and combines it with a Kingdom management simulation, where you need to manipulate the political system to try and come out on top. Set in the Three Kingdoms period of ancient China, can these two seemingly disparate elements be tied together into a harmonious marriage, or do they clash horribly?
The story found behind Dynasty Warriors 9 Empires is not the usual kind of overblown nonsense we have come to know and love (tolerate?) from these games in the past. This time around, there isn’t actually a massive overarching story at all; no invasions from other dimensions, not even any time travelling. What there is an almost sandbox-like experience, where you are free to choose your own character from a gang, and then steer your country and armies through the political minefields of the ancient world, all while trying to conquer more territory and reinforce the territory you have taken. Sounds dull? Well, strap in, you ain’t seen nothing yet.
Now, as is probably befitting a game that is almost exactly split 50/50 between war and management, the visuals are also very much a game of two halves. In the battle screen, when you are fighting the world, pulling off special moves and magic attacks, Dynasty Warriors 9 Empires looks great. It handles all of the chaos on screen beautifully, and this is where the game shines.
By comparison, the graphics in the management side are pretty dull, with seemingly endless menus to dive into and pick options from. A small bit of relief from clicking buttons comes when you are able to explore a town, and talk to various people. However, while the freedom to run about is welcome, the visuals on display wouldn’t cause an Xbox 360 to break a sweat; the whole look of DW9 Empires takes a nosedive. There doesn’t seem to be any reason for this, but the difference in graphical fidelity is marked. Sound wise it’s the same story, with good voice acting and fighting sound effects to listen to, but the management side again is not riveting.
But what do you actually have to do with the two halves of Dynasty Warriors 9 Empires? Well, starting with the duller side, the management of the kingdom, depending on who you choose, this affects how the game plays out. I initially picked a female character who was the wife of the ruler of our land, and so she was treated as a General of the kingdom. What this entails was that at a six monthly meeting, the ruler gives a series of tasks that have to be performed before the next meeting. These range from recruiting officers from other kingdoms over to our side, right down to increasing food production from a certain part of the kingdom. What this translates to is the taking of choices through a menu, basically, each selection you choose will take a month of in-game time. With the best will in the world, and even trying my best to stay engaged, it is pretty dull.
Walking around the city is another choice you can pick, and while this is a bit better, you have a certain number of action points to spend by talking to people (these points aren’t shown anywhere, by the way). Once your points are spent, you have to go back to the palace and another month passes. Sometimes you can get officers to join, sometimes not, and there doesn’t seem to be any rhyme or reason to whether someone will join or not.
Luckily, once the decision has been made to go to war with a neighbouring kingdom, things pick up. The battles take the form of Castle Sieges this time around, and there are certain objectives that you have to achieve in order to first of all break into the castle, and then defeat all the defenders in order to complete the captures.
In Dynasty Warriors 9 Empires there are secret plans that can be drawn up with certain trusted officers; at least once your relationship with them reaches a certain level. While these aren’t game changing for certain, they do add a little bit of spice to the standard Dynasty Warriors action. This is where the game comes alive for me, and the build up to these set battles, while tedious, makes more sense if you have undermined the castle’s defences from within, for instance.
Summing up Dynasty Warriors 9 Empires is tricky. While the fighting action is as spectacular as it ever was, and still remains fun, the management side of things just seems to slow everything down. It feels like a slog and you’ll want for nothing but the next battle. Basically the battles are good, but the rest of Dynasty Warriors 9 Empires is poor.
Dynasty Warriors 9 Empires can be downloaded from the Xbox Store