The Dynasty Warriors franchise is certainly a divisive one. Starting life in 1997 as a standard fighter that pitted the likes of Ancient Chinese Generals such as Xiahou Dun, Guan Yu and Lu Bu in one on one fighting game—a genre that, at the time, was saturating the market. As such, when Dynasty Warriors 2 arrived three years later the series had completely reinvented itself into the battlefield hack and slash that spawned its own entire genre.
The Musou Warrior franchise has been picking up plenty of third party titles over the last 18 years, the likes of which have included Gundam, One Piece, Fire Emblem and The Legend of Zelda. With so many different takes on the genre the classic experience was being accused of being a little stale. So the question is… does Dynasty Warriors reinvent itself again with its 9th instalment or are we due for more of the same?
If you are new to the series ,Dynasty Warriors is an extremely “guilty pleasure” experience. With a cast of Chinese Generals, based on historical figures from the Han dynasty and beyond, you choose from an exceedingly large cast with powerful weapons, bombastic skills and a colour coded costume that would make the Power Rangers jealous.
Taking your characters you’ll find yourself dropped into the middle of a battlefield, once again taken from Chinese history. As your powerful general you’ll carve your way through swathes of nameless soldiers—easily racking up a kill count in the 1000’s. Making your way around the battlefield you’ll take control of key points and take down generals that require a little more skill than the peons beneath them.
From the 2nd to 8th title in the series the roster has expanded and the gameplay has made changes here and there. Now in Dynasty Warriors 9, the series is making its largest leap in the last 18 years. While in previous titles each battle would load as a seperate encounter on a large map, this time around the developers have chosen the tall order of creating a functioning open world.
There is no denying that this endeavour is ambitious.While still focusing on the battles you will play through a story mode that follows one of five factions. Each character has their own path that will travel across a small collection of chapters. Not every character is available from the beginning and playing through certain chapters will unlock where a particular character appears in the timeline. After playing through a characters handful of chapters you can choose to continue the timeline as a new character or go back to experience the events taking place from a different point of view.
As you play through the story, each chapter is made up of multiple main quests and underneath each main quest will be a collection of side quests. Some side quests will be immediately identifiable while others will remain unknown until you get closer—this is kind of defeated though when you can just select the question mark mission in the quest list and fast travel to the nearest point. To keep you busy there are also bases to take command of by wiping out the enemy holding them and from there you’ll start to find errands to complete which are very quick inconsequential missions. Pair this with hunting, fishing, material collection, treasure hunting and the game certainly looks like it has a lot to offer you.
The open world aspect was the big ticket item for Dynasty Warriors 9 and probably the hook to bring in lost fans. I love exploring open worlds, picking a direction and sprinting off the beaten track. I did not love exploring the ancient Chinese landscapes here though. The entire thing feels like an oversized map from previous games. Apart from a new mission taking you to a new location, I felt no draw to go exploring. The fact that you’ll return to a menu to select a character and campaign meant that the open world is not permanent, you won’t load in and experience the rest of the game from there. When dropped into the vast and expansive map it just felt like they took the boundaries off one of their previous battlegrounds. There is no excitement in the activities off the beaten track because they were essentially the same activities as the ones on the beaten track – just without progression.
When it comes down to it, the bread and butter of the game really hasn’t evolved. While performing side missions lowers the difficulty of the main missions the actual gameplay very rarely takes risks with only a small handful of occasions where I felt like I was dinging something new and interesting. Normally in an open world like this I would relish the chance to explore between missions but unfortunately I’ve yet to find a region interesting enough to drive me to look into. This is not at all helped by a muddy pallet, and some fairly dubious graphical integrity.
Trailers ahead of the games release showed a colourful pallet with high frame rates, however it becomes almost immediately obvious that this was not the game I would be playing in reality. The regions I were fighting in were a mix of bland colour pallets, murky browns from the years of 2008 returned to haunt me. Add to this graphical tearing, patchy draw distances, textures not loading and one of the worst frame rate drops I’ve ever seen in a game and this release does not represent what we were promised.
“…possibly the most annoying bug, multiple quick travel locations that send you to the wrong location on the map—a concept mastered in games almost a decade ago.”
In defence of the game I did play this on the PS4 and not a Pro, but I’m not ready to excuse games for leaving what is still current generation behind for the 0.5 updated consoles. A quick search today has revealed that two patches should be coming soon but what they include has not been explained. Hopefully this can resolve the problems but it is more than just graphical errors.
Enemy AI has not been updated from previous titles, one of the series weakest points. Mobs will stand around and take hits while generals will bull rush you, but stop chasing if you move far enough away from their origin point. This paired with a myriad of bugs from your horse running in the opposite direction when using the “Auto Run” feature, lock-on refusing to recognise a general close enough to give a kiss, game crashes and possibly the most annoying bug, multiple quick travel locations that send you to the wrong location on the map—a concept mastered in games almost a decade ago.
While all this might be resolved by a day one patch I don’t think it will resolve the poor writing and some very phoned-in voice performances that plague Dynasty Warriors 9. Nearly every cutscene is an exposition dump as characters awkwardly stand in a circle and deliver lines like this was the first cold read of the script, but they were each reading their parts with no one else from the cast nearby. Adding to this dissatisfaction is the fact that quite often there are five of these scenes one after the other, sometimes broken up with loading screen, others asking you to move your character from one base to another, with no actual gameplay between unless you deliberately go out of your way.
When you do finally make it into combat the combo’s you are familiar with are now gone. Instead you will have your standard attack button which will change the combo based on the state of the enemy, taking into account things like being knocked down, being stunned or being juggled in the air. Also in the mix is a heavy attack which also acts as a reaction attack, rushing unsuspecting enemies, countering attacks or delivering a final strike. Trigger attacks will let you chain your combos and change the state of the enemy, knocking them airborne, stunning the enemy or using your special attack. Lastly is the familiar Musou attack, you’ll build up your Musuo gauge as you deal damage and when used release a devastating attack that is specific to each character.
What all of this equates to is a rather messy combat system. No longer are you able to learn the best moves for each particular weapon and instead you are left at the whim of how the battle goes. The trigger attacks do allow a certain amount of control over the state of combat but it has muddied a combat system that created a much smoother flow. Thankfully weapons are not tied to specific characters; yes they will perform better with their preferred weapon, but if you always wanted to see Lu Bu sporting a lovely pair of elegant combat fans then fill ya boots.
I will admit that it was easy to get sucked into the gameplay and let the world fall away; that is what the Musou Warriors series has always done successfully. The unchallenging gameplay and cathartic feeling of wiping out the enemy means that the game is a great way to mentally switch off for some mindless button mashing. In this era of super hard games there is still a space for this kind of experience. However with all the bells and whistles tacked on to Dynasty Warriors 9 I get the feeling that it thinks it’s much more complicated than it is, when in reality its just a bit messier.
The Bottom Line
I was pretty excited by the idea of an open world Dynasty Warriors, I was a fan of the series and have given it a fair amount of leeway with how far I’d let it push me around. Unfortunately in this ambitious move forward the series feels less like a brand new direction for the title and more like adding things for the sake of adding things, the problem being that the missteps from previous titles are still there. Dynasty Warriors 9 is not an awful game, but it is a game that is behind the times, not ahead of them. The real pity is that I feel like this is the final straw for me with the Warriors Musou franchise. I don’t think I have any more free passes to give.