As someone who has spent many years gaming, one series that has often popped up and piqued my interest is the Dynasty Warriors series. My first time playing was back in the early 2000’s with Dynasty Warriors 3. Back then Dynasty Warriors had already become synonymous for being a quality hack-and-slash adventure that allowed players to take on hundreds, if not thousands, of enemies within each and every sandbox style level. Since that point, the series has seen countless releases with the latest coming in the form of Dynasty Warriors 9.
For those who don’t know, the Dynasty Warriors series is a spin-off from Koei Techmo’s turn-based strategy series Romance of the Three Kingdoms, which is loosely based on historical Chinese texts. Up to this point, players have always been able to jump into the shoes of many of the characters and just get going in huge sandbox levels that brought many a unique story.
In Dynasty Warriors 9, that has changed dramatically, and in an attempt to stop the series feeling even more stagnant than it has in recent releases, the guys over at Omega Force have sought out big changes to make the experience fresh once more.
The first is easily the most notable and that’s found within the new open-world environment. Instead of different areas spread between multiple levels, Dynasty Warriors 9 incorporates every mission, battle, fight and interaction into one huge open-world setting, whilst adding in points of interest, random activities and even a complete crafting mechanic. That means no matter which character you choose, or what faction you find yourself fighting for, your story will take place within the same humongous environment.
Of course, on paper, these changes sound amazing and give a series that has more than twenty games in its line-up – should you be counting spin-off titles – a radical change from the usual cut and paste gameplay. Unfortunately though, things aren’t quite as simple as changing the formula and finding success, and whilst change was something many of us were looking forward to, it’s fair to say that Dynasty Warriors hasn’t handled the change well.
Before I delve too far into the negatives though, it’s worth noting that Dynasty Warriors 9 isn’t terrible and if you are a fan of the series’ iconic combat systems, then you’ll be glad to hear that battling thousands of enemies in a hack–and-slash combat style is once again a core part of the gameplay. One of the best bits of the combat is the power of the Musou attacks, the iconic super-powered moves that allow you to carve through hordes of enemies with ease after filling your Musou bar. If you are wanting something a little more in-depth however, then you’ll be looking for the newly introduced Specialist Lift, Knockdown, Stun, Special Attacks and Reactive Attacks that now make up an important part of combat.
Other than the Reactive Attacks, all of those mentioned are the new power hits that are available, and once charged enough are able to break down the enemy guard and cause damaging status effects on the enemy. To use them to their full effectiveness, the idea is to string them together in a series of combos and this enables players to take on enemies that are heavily over-powered without crumbling to a defeat straight away, giving the chance to either flee or force the enemy into a defensive approach.
The Reactive Attacks on the other hand change depending on the situation you find yourself in. For example if an enemy is about to attack you can use the Reactive Attack – if timed correctly – to give a countering blow to stop them in their tracks and put yourself in stronger position, which could then be added upon with a combo of other attacks. If your enemies are low on health then the Reactive Attack will deal the final death-inducing blow to wipe them from the battle. When all of that is mixed with the classic hack-and-slash combat we’ve become so used to over the years, it’s fair to say the experience is rather enjoyable.
Unfortunately, that’s about as good as things get, as beside the improved combat, everything else looks and feels lost and out of place.
Going back to the open-world setting and even though it’s nice to have such a large environment to run riot in, it doesn’t take long to notice that the world is a rather repetitive and boring place. Sure, there are plenty of collectible materials to gather for the crafting side of things, and ‘assistance giving’ missions for the rather dull and boring NPCs that litter the land, but if you’re looking for something memorable and exciting, you’ll be highly disappointed.
Another thing that feels like a missed opportunity is in regards the unused land. See, whilst previous games would take players through loading screens to get into the next battle, Dynasty Warriors 9 does away with that. Instead, after finishing a battle, players are immediately awarded any XP and items before being left to find their own way to the next battle. Sure, that means no loading screens to wait around for, but instead you’ll be left with an overly long journey on foot or by horse across silent landscapes until you arrive at the next conflict. You can stop off along the way for fishing opportunities, gathering up certain resources or to help out the odd NPC, but the amount of time it takes to get from area to area with very little to do will quickly have you wishing for the return of the loading screen.
The crafting system is also rather disappointing and it’s worth noting that the game can be played without utilising it much at all. In fact, other than crafting health potions to utilise in a battle situation, chances are you’ll find little reason to bother. And that is a shame because there are a ton of items that can be harvested from within the world to go towards new creations… but with very little reason to do so, there’s no need to be getting overly involved with it.
One further highly obvious issue with Dynasty Warriors 9 is in the lack of game modes available. There is plenty of content found in the story missions with each of the five stories bringing 13 chapters to battle through at your own pace, but Dynasty Warriors 9 fails to bring back any of the classic modes such as the Survival or Challenge modes, and also lacks any online or offline multiplayer options whatsoever. There’s not even a splitscreen co-op option as seen previously and even though the Free Play option will eventually unlocked, it’s hardly a mode that helps spice things up.
But finally, as we move away from the negatives and back into the good stuff, one noteworthy point to make involves the characters and the fact that there are tons of them included. At the start of Dynasty Warriors 9, players can only choose from the three founders of each faction, before unlocking the rest as you progress. It is this which is great – as long as you can put up with an entire pop-up screen for each and every unlock – as it makes following each character’s narrative much simpler than previous entries. It also means you don’t have to replay entire sections every time you select a new character just to get the backstory.
Overall and as Dynasty Warriors 9 brings a host of new changes, it fails to incorporate them into a meaningful experience. Even though the story holds a ton of content for those interested in the narrative adventure, the lack of fan favourite modes, the unnecessary crafting system, the constant repetitive nature and the boredom of a map that is unpopulated across large areas means Dynasty Warriors 9 is more of a step back than a progressive improvement.