Dynasty Warriors is back and it’s bringing its ambitions to an open world.
The Dynasty Warriors franchise has come a long way since its debut on the PlayStation in 1997. Starting off as a fighting game spin-off of Koei’s turn-based strategy Romance of the Three Kingdoms series, Dynasty Warriors became a hack and slash series by the very next entry and has since gone on to become one of the most well-known franchises in the genre.
Unfortunately, it was inevitable that a series that has 21 years behind it would start to stagnate. Omega Force always sought to introduce new things in each entry to jazz things up, but Dynasty Warriors pretty much stayed the same regardless; the characters have been the same, as was the combat, as well as the overall presentation.
As such, it didn’t matter how good a particular entry was, as there was little chance it would be notably different from the one that came before it. Many caught on to this fact, became disillusioned and ultimately left.
Now, Koei Tecmo and Omega Force have come out with Dynasty Warriors 9 — the biggest DW in terms of both scale and scope — in a bid to both revitalize the series and its user base. From the new combat system to its open world, the two are on a mission to prove the series it what it takes to survive in the modern era.
So, how did this endeavor turn out?
Dynasty Warriors 9 is clearly a changed game. The story has been enhanced, the combo system has been changed and there is even an entire world to explore. Even a simple cursory glance reveals that Omega Force put considerable effort into making the newest Dynasty Warriors the most unique one to date.
The problem is that the game is riddled with missteps that were the direct result of these changes. Likely due to their lack of experience with open world titles (Dragon Quest Heroes II doesn’t really count here), some of DW9’s features don’t mesh well with one another, while a few are so ill-conceived you’ll question how they managed to make it out of the planning stage.
This isn’t to say that Omega Force’s latest romp in Ancient China is a bad one though. The overall package is a decent and even with all of its changes, Dynasty Warriors 9 is still very much a Dynasty Warriors game.
Just like in every other entry, Dynasty Warriors 9 tells a story loosely based on the events depicted in the Chinese historical text “Records of the Three Kingdoms.” It is divided into 12 chapters this time around and players will be able to see how everything plays out from their chosen character’s perspective — so long as they were alive to actually participate (this restriction is lifted in Free Mode).
Aside from its layout, the one thing that separates Dynasty Warriors 9’s story from previous entries is how it treats its characters. They no longer exist as caricatures, but as actual characters and there’s a hefty amount of dialogue (which can be changed to Japanese or Chinese) to get this point across. For example, Cao Cao still talks about ambition whenever the opportunity provides itself, but we also see how he comes to terms with Dian Wei’s death, feels about the leaders of other factions and even some of his own allies.
It’s not award winning, but it’s certainly better than past formats.
Of course, you likely didn’t pick up Dynasty Warriors for that anyway. Your reason for playing this series is probably the same as everyone else’s: fighting. Well, there’s plenty of that and it has been changed in a big way.
The leading reason as to why Dynasty Warriors has become stagnant over the years is because the combat has remained practically untouched over the years. Namely, the player has to fight through hordes of enemies with poor A.I. and has only a single attack string to do so. Omega Force does attempt to change things up with mechanics such as Duels, Clashes, Weapon Swapping and Storm Rush in various entries, but they don’t amount to much in the end.
Bur now there is the brand-new State Combo System which allows for more variety and freedom during combat. This new system is centered around three mechanics: Trigger Attacks, Flow Attacks and Reactive Attacks.
Trigger Attacks (R1 + any face button) are powerful attacks which not only change the state of affected enemies, but also automatically changes the Flow Attacks (basically regular attacks) that come thereafter. For example, pressing R1 + Triangle causes your character to launch enemies in the air and turns your next set of Flow Attacks into an aerial combo. Meanwhile, Reactive Attacks (Triangle) are dependent on the context and thus can be anything from a dash attack to a guard break and even a finish attack (execution).
Beyond that, combat is still pretty much the same. Special Attacks and the all-mighty Musou are both present, as are stats, levels and orbs which change the elemental properties of certain attacks.
All things considered, I’m mixed about Dynasty Warriors 9’s combat. It’s fluid and offers more variety, but it doesn’t provide the incentive to explore it. Enemies are still stupid, so I found it easy to get away with only using one type of Trigger Attack for an entire campaign. Additionally, the State Combo System often felt like the old Charge System in reverse where I started my combos with “finishers” instead of ending with them. In the end, I was still spamming the same moves — only in a different order.
That said, I can still appreciate the combat for what it is: a welcome change and a step in the right direction.
And regardless of how you end up feeling about combat and the State Combo System, you best get used to them because you’ll be spending most of your time engaging in both on your quest to bring the remnants of the Han Empire under your faction’s rule. You’ll have to fulfill a range of objectives to make this happen, whether it’s capturing an enemy base or setting up an outpost.
With the shift to an open world format, Omega Force has stylized the game’s usual structure to be more in line with other games in the genre like The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim or The Witcher 3. In this case, the aforementioned objectives are presented in the form of quests (referred to colloquially as missions), with the prime one in each chapter usually being to defeat the enemy commander.
There are two ways to go about this: making a beeline to said commander or completing some sub-missions, and each have their own set of merits.
Thanks to the game’s fast travel feature, rushing to the enemy commander is the quicker of the two options. Unfortunately, it’s also the riskier of the two because the rest of your army will be preoccupied with other tasks, while the enemy will be at a high level and have access to reinforcements and several other advantages.
This is where sub-missions come into play, as completing them helps tip the scales in your favor. A captured enemy outpost will allow groups of soldiers to advance and reinforce the front lines, while collecting intel can allow you to put a damper on your foe’s machinations. As one might expect, going this route takes a considerable amount of time, but the tactical benefits, not to mention the quest rewards, are worth it in the long run.
Unfortunately, the missions weren’t without some missteps. First, they all played out the same regardless of the objective: Defeat “X”. Second, some of them revealed a lack of foresight on Omega Force’s part. For example, players have access to a grappling hook they can use to scale buildings, watchtowers and mountains, but its presence means that siege missions are pointless since you can use it to climb up the side of a fort and open the doors without the need of any siege equipment.
Despite such shortcomings, I found the new tactical approach to missions to be the most enjoyable aspect of Dynasty Warriors 9. It just made sense: dismantle your enemies strategy and weaken them, or ignore everything and deal with stronger enemies as a result.
Of course, there are more things in Dynasty Warriors 9 than just missions. Thanks to this being an open world game, players have the entire Han Empire to explore.
Well, sort of.
Unless they aren’t in the middle of a time-sensitive mission, players can travel almost anywhere they please. The only thing standing in their way is the current chapter. For example, an area where they could fast travel to in one chapter may only be accessible on foot in another due it being occupied by the enemy. Everywhere is accessible in the end, it’s just that some places are easier to reach than others.
So, what’s the problem?
It turns out that Omega Force’s rendition of Ancient China might be too big and winds up having a negative impact on everything you can do in it.
The world plays host to cities, villages, outposts, bandit camps, famous landmarks, wildlife, varied terrain and more. And while everything else is marked — either through discovery or otherwise — bandit camps and wildlife aren’t. This isn’t a big deal for bandit camps because you’re almost guaranteed to come across them the further north you go, but it means it’s hard to find wildlife, often making it difficult to amass the points you gain from hunting them and thus preventing you from exchanging those points for special items in town.
This was particularly disappointing because many other aspects of Dynasty Warriors 9’s world worked surprisingly well.
There’s a 24-hour cycle and weather system which affects the behavior of the world’s inhabitants, cities and villages filled with NPCs who engage both you and each other in conversation, bodies of water to fish in, campsites where you can cook meals for temporary buffs, various materials to collect and even purchasable houses where you can invite friendly officers to hang out.
However, since the world is so large you’ll find yourself fast travelling often and missing out on most of what the world has to offer. You could theoretically use your horse to take you to your destination (which will help it earn experience points and gain new attributes), but you’ll have to do it manually since the auto-run feature takes you on circuitous routes (hopefully this is a bug so the Day 1 Patch eliminates it).
In fact, the only thing I didn’t like (read: loathed) was the crafting system. It’s surprisingly robust, with the ability to make anything from weapons to explosives. But the issue is that Omega Force, for whatever reason, decided to make it so that you can’t actually make the item you want unless you have multiple copies of the same recipe — regardless of whether you have the materials. Nothing will make you more salty than finding a rare recipe for a powerful item, only to realize that you need two more of them before you can make the item in question.
All things considered, I feel many of these features actually take the Dynasty Warriors out of Dynasty Warriors. It would have been nice if you could have your troops gather materials for you or if there were other ways to obtain stronger equipment. It just felt frustrating that I was forced to spend time doing things I didn’t want to because the game was designed to make them more tedious.
And before reaching the conclusion, let’s talk characters and clones. There are over 80 characters in Dynasty Warriors 9 and even more are on the way. Unlocking your favorite character is as easy as completing the chapter they were introduced in (playing as a Wei officer can unlock Wu officers, for instance). Unfortunately, there is a good chance that he or she is a clone of someone else. There is DLC adding three new weapons systems which could change this, but expect a bit of disappointment in the meantime.
In the end, Dynasty Warriors 9 felt more like an experiment than a single, cohesive experience. Omega Force put in some serious effort to make this the most unique Dynasty Warriors title to date, and the result was a creation that is sometimes Dynasty Warriors, sometimes an open world RPG, sometimes neither and sometimes both.
However, despite the confused result, I don’t believe Dynasty Warriors 9 ended in failure. If making an open-world Dynasty Warriors is the end goal, then this isn’t necessarily a bad start. From here, it needs to ask whether it wants Dynasty Warriors to merely have open world elements or be a genuine open world RPG. And if it can sort this out and add mechanics that fit, the result could be spectacular.
Dynasty Warriors 9
- Available On: PS4, Xbox One, PC
- Published By: Koei Tecmo
- Developed By: Omega Force
- Genre: Hack and slash
- US Release Date: January 13th, 2018
- Reviewed On: PlayStation 4
- Quote: "Dynasty Warriors 9 felt more like an experiment than a single, cohesive experience. At times it felt like Dynasty Warriors, sometimes an open world RPG, occasionally neither and sometimes both. But if Omega Force learns from this endeavor and buckles down for the next entry, the result could be spectacular."