Developer: Omega Force
Publisher: Koei Tecmo
Release Date: Out Now
Platform(s): PlayStation 4 (Reviewed), Xbox One, PC
The Dynasty Warriors series is one that has played things fairly safe over the years, with no massive changes made to the gameplay that would really make one entry feel all that different to another. It’s not necessarily a bad thing, and hey, I’ve been a fan of the series for years so I’m not complaining.
That has all changed with Dynasty Warriors 9 – the first entry in the series that’s been built from the ground up for current-gen consoles. The newest entry brings with it the biggest evolution the game has seen for a long time, with the series now moving to an open-world environment that players can freely explore. Koei Tecmo have made a big deal out of it, and rightfully so… it’s quite the game changer. Is it a change for better or worse though?
As far as the story is concerned, there’s nothing in Dynasty Warriors 9 that you wouldn’t have seen before. You’ll go through the history of the Three Kingdoms of China, experience their many battles, and witness plenty of cheesy cutscenes in-between. It’s the same old on that front, but it’s something that fans of the series will certainly enjoy once more.
You’ll get to experience the story from plenty of different perspectives with over eighty characters available to play as, and thankfully switching between them throughout each chapter is painless – everything you earn is shared between all characters, so you won’t have to grind through the same things over and over again to play around with them all. It’s a smart move by Koei Tecmo and it certainly makes it easier for players to see everything that the game has to offer.
The biggest change with Dynasty Warriors 9 is the shift from stage-based battles to a vast open-world. Every location in the game is available for you to explore, and China is certainly pretty hefty – you can’t just get around on foot, but will spend a lot of your time riding on horseback or even travelling by boat. It’s certainly got a great sense of scale, and it becomes all the more impressive when you’re involved in huge battles. On the flip-side though, it can make some of the smaller showdowns feel more vacant.
One interesting new hook that comes with the open-world is that it gives you a lot more freedom in how you approach the game. Rather than finding yourself in the midst of a battle immediately, you’ve instead got to work your way to enemy camps or mighty showdowns that are taking place. However, when you get there you’ve got two options: you can either barge through and take down any enemies in your path, or instead utilise the dark (the game has a day and night cycle) and try sneaking upon your enemies. You’re well equipped with both a grappling hook and silent weapons, so it’s certainly possible to infiltrate a base and complete a mission undetected.
Admittedly, the stealth aspects could be a little inconsistent, both for and against you – sometimes it’d be far too easy to infiltrate a base, whilst other times enemies would detect you regardless of how sneaky you were. Still, it gives players a fresh way to approach the game, and when successful the stealthy approach could be quite satisfying.
Still, nothing beats absolutely annihilating an army of soldiers on your own, right?
Dynasty Warriors 9 has also had a bit of an overhaul with how its combat mechanics work. Don’t worry – series veterans will still feel right at home, with the changes actually making the combat feel more fluid than ever before. You’ll mix together Flow Attacks, which act like a traditional button mashing standard attack, with Reactive Attacks, which offer more technical manoeuvres to counter or finish a foe but can only be used when indicated in-game. These help you flow together combos nicely, though the Trigger Attack modifier allows you to launch opponents or smash them down to help string together even stronger combos. In honesty, you can still get away with button mashing, but those who actually learn the mechanics will find that Dynasty Warriors 9’s combat offers a lot more freedom than before. Oh, and you can also specifically lock-on to target certain enemies, which is great when taking on a more powerful foe; all of their weaker minions can just get caught up in the aftermath of your attacks.
With the refined and flexible combat mechanics, Dynasty Warriors 9 feels a lot easier than any other entry in the series. Each character is better equipped to flow together seamless combos, whilst the use of stealth to clear out some areas means you can get away with working from the shadows too. The series has never been one that really offered too stern of a test to players, but there were times where I felt like I was clearing armies of soldiers with too much ease. Even the enemy officers took beatings without putting up too much of a fight, though perhaps a lot of this could be owed to the fact that I cleared so many side missions before taking on the game’s story missions (more on that later).
I’m not saying that there’s zero challenge to the game, because yeah, you can get yourself into a few tricky situations if you’re not properly prepared. It is certainly one of the easiest entries in the series though, so you shouldn’t expect to have a tough time – even when facing off against the almighty Lu Bu…
One surprising flaw within Dynasty Warriors 9 is found in its roster. Now, the roster is pretty impressive, with an absolute ton of different characters to play as. However, they don’t really feel all that unique, with each one following the same combat style and no longer having their specialist weapons. This might seem like a minor peeve to those that are new to the series, but giving the unique weaponry of past titles (which was further emphasised in the brilliant Dynasty Warriors 8) it was a little disappointing. There is the silver lining that it at least allows you to be flexible with what weapons you can use throughout the story and characters do still have a unique Musou attack that gives them a sense of individuality, but a lot of my preference towards them in the past came down to what they were armed with. It’s just a little disappointing for series veterans.
Each chapter of the game sees you exploring the vast open world, but gives you specific story missions to complete. You’ve got the freedom to decide how to approach these though: you can either go and take on the mission immediately, or alternatively you can take on the smaller side missions that help you destabilise your enemy’s army beforehand. Naturally, it’s more advisable to take these side missions on to give yourself more of a fighting chance (you can do things like cut off their reinforcements or drop their morale), but it’s certainly possible to take them straight on if you prefer. The game gives you a recommended level anyway, so at least you’ll get an idea of your chances beforehand.
For the most part, it’s the same as what gamers have been doing in the series in the past – just this time, rather than a series of stages you’re doing it in a big open-world. It’s actually quite neat and there’s certainly a novelty to making your way to each location, though after a few hours play it can wear off a bit. Completing the same sort of tasks and taking on the same kind of repetitive battles time and time again doesn’t necessarily compliment an open-world focused title; variety is the spice of life after all, but it’s something that Dynasty Warriors 9 is missing throughout its main missions. Fortunately, the combat is satisfying enough that you shouldn’t grow too bored of them, but don’t expect to do much else than smash apart some enemies.
Besides the main story missions and the small side missions that come with them, there are plenty of optional tasks and activities you can partake in throughout the world. You’ll have smaller missions that characters might want you to complete, but you’ll also be able to enjoy hunting, fishing, and resource gathering as a means to build up your inventory. There’s a full-blown crafting system in place too, that allows you to put together new equipment for your characters. Admittedly, it wasn’t something I stuck a lot of hours into but it did act as a neat little distraction and helped further the game’s new open-world design. What I did find myself playing around with a lot was the new housing system, which essentially allows you to see up your own portfolio of homes… seriously. The open-world certainly brings a wide range of activities for you to play around with, some of which are surprisingly addictive.
Visually, Dynasty Warriors 9 just looks alright. The transition to an open-world has naturally seen a slight dip in the visual fidelity and detail when compared to previous entries in the series, though there were times when everything just seems a little washed out too. Don’t get me wrong, China is home to quite a few spectacles and there’ll be times when you stumble across a sight that’ll really wow you – they’re just few and far between, with everything else just feeling a little generic and flat.
At least the character design is great though, with Dynasty Warriors 9 giving every one of the playable characters a revamped and attractive look. Whilst the world around you isn’t the most vibrant, the colourful cast are a least a bit more striking in comparison.
Besides the underwhelming visuals, Dynasty Warriors 9 also suffers from a myriad of technical issues. You’ll see plenty of graphical glitches with characters getting stuck in the environment or seemingly floating, plenty of frame rate drops (even on the PlayStation 4 Pro’s supposed ‘Stable’ mode), and plenty of pop-in with both enemies and objects in the environment. In fairness, a lot of these issues don’t always affect the core gameplay experience, but this did leave a bad taste in the mouth. Dynasty Warriors 9 isn’t broken, but it will need a few patches to clean up some of its mess.
Dynasty Warriors 9 has taken a bit of a risk moving to an open-world design, but for the most part I think it has paid off. It adds a whole new way to approach the game, it opens a lot more optional activities to the player, whilst it also adds a liberating twist to how much you can prepare for each battle. It’s neat, and when you add in the more fluid combat mechanics, it makes for a truly different Dynasty Warriors experience.
Of course, it has its flaws too. The game has a ton of technical issues, the open-world has plenty of dull areas, whilst a lot of the characters have lost their sense of individuality. Some of these issues aren’t necessarily a big problem, but the times when you’re suffering a frame rate drop whilst groups of enemies are seemingly stuck in the environment certainly stood out.
Dynasty Warriors 9 is far from perfect, but there’s no denying that it’s a nice first step as far as the evolution of the series is concerned. I’m pretty sure this is going to be an incredibly divisive entry in the series, but it’s one I was quite fond of and enjoyed my time with.