Xbox One, PS4, PC, Nintendo Switch, PS5, Xbox Series X
February 15, 2022
Dynasty Warriors 9 Empires is the new Musou title from Koei Tecmo Games. The player will sit down with their war council to strategise their battles before slashing through hundreds of foes at once in a spectacle of cathartic action. Empires is about creating your own story and seeing who can come out on top. It’s different from the regular Dynasty Warriors games because you can create your warrior instead of choosing a pre-made, historical character. Set during the Three Kingdoms period in ancient China, Dynasty Warriors 9 Empires (DW9E) lets you manipulate the politics of the world or enjoy strolling around trying to find your next fight. It’s a fun romp when it comes to fighting during the siege battles, but is it enough to keep your interest?
Fight the dust
DW9E begins by choosing a year to start in, you can either go from the beginning of The Three Kingdoms era or the end. You can choose to play as a custom warrior or one of 94 pre-created characters who are all unique. Character customisation is extensive, from nose to voice. There’s a great number of choices to be made, but it’s still admittedly lacking in some areas. There aren’t any ‘cool’ base game armours, with much of the better-looking gear locked behind expensive DLC. This is a shame considering it’s a new game, with the Japanese version releasing in December of last year. There’s also no option to preview potential character creation changes by hovering over them, with the game instead making you select them, allowing for you to easily lose track of which option was chosen previously. Body types are also better represented by pre-set characters than what you’re able to build in the character creator, with heavier characters found in the game but not something the player can make themselves.
In DW9E, you can start your story from different years, with even more years and modes available with the Season Pass. Some of these modes can allow you to choose your starting team, including custom warriors, though there aren’t any major differences as most start the same. At the beginning of each mode, the game will explain what has happened so far and will finish once you have met one of two requirements: either China has been conquered or 50 years have passed. In the base game, you are unaffiliated, so you can choose which army you want to join. DW9E gives you options to stay unaffiliated, yet that path feels underdeveloped with the game pushing you in the direction of joining an army. It’s great that multiple options exist for the player, but not all choices feel evenly weighted.
There are tutorials in the game if you’re a newcomer, with extra info appearing in a handy popup screen if you encounter something you haven’t seen before. These are also accessible from the menu if one is to forget. The tutorials appropriately serve their purpose, with three tutorials at the start of the game helping to explain the action system, invasions, and defence battles. The action system helps you understand the controls and what each does during fights. Invasion battles are battles where you invade another region. Lastly, defence battles are battles where you defend your region. These last two battles are key to progression and can push the narrative forward no matter if you win or lose. There are no modes where you can only play the invasion or defence battles. This means that if you want to play those moments you’ll have to use the tutorials and suffer from the constant tutorial pop-ups.
Wide battle lens
There is a photo mode, which is pretty cool. It’s mostly similar to many other photo modes found in other titles, however the ability to control the weather and time of day feels like a joyous bonus. This is especially satisfying as some outfits like the Angelic Armour have a glow in the dark effect that’s certainly pleasing at night.
The game also features short cutscenes, sometimes it might be playing the board game ‘Go’ or saving a dog. However, Koei have reused a lot of these cutscenes from previous games. What’s nice though is that after you’ve seen the cutscene, you can then create your own. These cutscenes can be edited to be funny, for instance, and give the player plenty of possibilities to flex their creativity.
Everyone in DW9E is attractive. The graphics look nice when you look at the warriors in the extras tab or even your own created warrior. However, when it comes to the battles and the open world, you won’t necessarily be seeing things in high definition. There are some cut scenes where you can eat food with another officer, but the texture quality and polygon count is noticeably low. This doesn’t mean the game looks dated or bad, just that there are areas where it falls short of your big-budget, visually flawless experiences. How much this impacts your time will vary depending on whether graphics are a deal-breaker or not, though rest assured there’s plenty to enjoy here outside of the visuals.
In DW9E, you have the chance to get married. It’s cute to see your warrior confess their love, though it doesn’t stack up when comparing it to other games with romance systems. The bad news here is that same-sex attraction isn’t allowed. You can bond with other characters of both sexes and have them join a brotherhood, but there’s no romance, which may upset folks who want to see that representation. The other possible downside to marriages and bonds is that you can’t break up either. You can however produce an heir with your spouse who will take on the appearance of both parents. You can then change your offspring in a character customisation menu if they aren’t exactly to your liking. Along with this, the child can serve in their parent’s army or lead one of their own. It’s a surprisingly in-depth system.
The book of the warrior
When it comes to the strategy of the game, there is a thing called the War Table where the ruler and the officers can decide whether they invade or not. DW9E doesn’t have a linear storyline compared to Dynasty Warriors 9. You also have activities, gated by your level. If you’re an officer, most of what you do is produce coins or rations or recruit an unaffiliated person. Such responsibilities of a general or higher might be pillaging or sabotaging a region. What can be achieved will be limited by the time you have, so you need to plan out what you’re doing in advance. Sometimes this might result in a failure, with a ‘wasted’ turn feeling particularly disappointing.
In Dynasty Warriors 9, Koei introduced an open-world system, and this carries over into Empires 9. Unfortunately in this one, that world feels rather barren. The emptiness of the space you occupy is rather depressing, with the open-world feeling more like a sales pitch than an actually well-implemented feature.
If you go outside the city walls, you can encounter mobs. This will include bandits and a variety of animals. While it is pleasing to hack and slash at them, it doesn’t offer much but 2 gold coins and rations. If you think the open-world will be like The Witcher 3 or Red Dead Redemption 2, you’ll be sorely mistaken. It’s nice to find a scenic area, and the scenery can be gorgeous. But those visuals can only hold your attention for so long.
Battle of attack
In both the war council meeting menu and ‘stroll mode’, there’s the ability to use the game’s shops. The only thing in them are gems (things that help your warrior get abilities) and arrows. Since my warrior was a sword user, I personally found the shop to be quite useless, especially considering I was given so many gems from other officers throughout my play. These gems are sellable, but they have a $0 value. In previous iterations, there was a reason to the shops, but not in DW9E. In general, stroll mode is useless, as the main reason for it is to interact with other officers and NPCs. But you can do this via menus too, which just seems more streamlined and useful.
In each city, there’s a hideaway for your character. It’s like a small home for a warrior, but it’s outside of the city walls and has open space. You can even decorate it, but the system is pretty limited. While you can decorate the place, the only things that are interactable are the bed and the wardrobe. There’s no ability to talk to people, invite them over, or even cook food. It would’ve been nice to be able to have a deeper connection with some of your favourite characters, but alas.
Downtown battle mountain
Siege battles in DW9E are great. It’s what most people play a Warriors game for, forming its own subgenre of the hack and slash. The AI for both enemy and allied characters is good enough. You’ll mostly come across weak goons in the game but some enemies are harder and they can put up a challenge depending on how outnumbered you and your forces are. Usually the annoyance in these moments comes from babysitting your allies a lot, who can easily get overwhelmed. With that said, it’s always fun to go into a crowd of enemies and slash at them, even if things look quite grim on the battlefield.
One of the functions during a siege is the capacity to create a secret plan. You can summon a weather effect or an elemental effect, you can get battering ram upgrades, powerful attacks, or allied reinforcement. That last one is particularly helpful when you don’t think you have the power to fight against an army. The opposing army can also have a secret plan. There’s also the possibility of a second secret plan where there will be an ambush in your camp, and you’ll have to defend it so you don’t lose morale. It’s good to have those moments as they allow for variety in the heat of a battle.
One of the more annoying things found during the siege battles however is that the camera will zoom in on sections of the map, whether it be on an important warrior or some secret plan. It can kind of take you out of the flow, but you eventually get used to it. There are also systems found in the game including the claiming of land and the spawning of mobs. However, issues can arise here with few areas to claim and waiting for mobs to repopulate is an annoyance.
“You can summon a weather effect or an elemental effect, you can get battering ram upgrades, powerful attacks, or allied reinforcement.“
One lonesome battle
While in the enemy’s land, you might find yourself with a bunch of mobs and a catapult or a battering ram. And sometimes when you take down a catapult in the enemy’s area and capture it, a new one will spawn, and you might glitch through it. They are easy enough to get out of, with nothing game-breaking, but enough to find it a little bit annoying in the end.
A few other nitpicks became somewhat frustrating during play too. In stroll mode, the text above characters’ heads can become distorted in the rain. While in stroll mode, you use the joysticks to move around, but in the menus, it’ll be the d-pad. Sometimes it can get confusing as to which one to use. In both stroll and siege mode, there’s a horse that you can ride. The issue here is that there’s no indication of where to get on the horse. Sometimes standing right next to the creature would cause your warrior to behave strangely, jumping over the horse or around it rather than getting on. There’s also no option to change the colour of your army, so whatever you’re given is what you’re stuck with. Sometimes it can become confusing as some groups will look similar. Loading screens are also quite frequent, they don’t take forever to load, but frequent enough to be a bit annoying.
During the six month period before the next war table meeting, other kingdoms will try to invade you. There’s the choice to defend or to ignore it. Usually ignoring it will result in your kingdom’s defence going down. Once the kingdom has hit 0, the invading kingdom can snatch it up. If you’re defeated in your home territory that kingdom can take over all of your lands. If you choose to defend, your defence won’t go down unless you’re defeated. The problem is that, by choosing to defend the region, you’re going to lose the time you need to perform other activities, which just screws up your plans.
You also have no choice in who you bring to defend an invasion. Some of your strongest characters could be in East China and the battle takes place in South China, or West China. Sometimes the battle could be next door but you still can’t take your crew with you. Sometimes you might end up with a smaller amount of people in the defending side, which can make things harder. There is the ability to move people around, but again it ends up becoming a massive time sink that’s not worth the hassle.
A battle a day
In the game’s options menu you’ll be able to find rebindable keys, which is great, with controller support also available. Subtitles are well implemented but you unfortunately can’t change the size and font. There is no colour blind options either, though it was nice to see that DW9E has a range of difficulties from beginner to chaos.
Koei hasn’t hired English voice actors for Dynasty Warriors 9 Empires, which could be a good thing or a bad thing. It feels enjoyable in the grand scheme of things, though different folk might struggle. The sound design for the game is awesome. During the fight battles, there are loads of guitars and heavy stuff, with a little bit of techno mixed in. For the more sombre parts, they’ve included orchestral sounds. The one downside to the audio is that while riding the horse the sound of the wind is too loud.
DW9E is easy to critique, but it’s also stupid fun. While it might not be up to snuff in every regard, the siege battles always give some sort of gratification, and the game allows for excitement in political strategy. DW9E is also easy enough for a beginner or a total newbie of the genre to join in. There’s always excitement to be had when hacking and slashing.
- Stupid fun hacking and slashing
- Political system is interesting
- Characters are very pretty
- Photomode is awesome and you can make your own movies
- Barren open world
- No same-sex relationships
- Plenty of opportunities for more polish or deeper systems
- Some frustrations in design
Whilst this Empires title deviates slightly from the standard Dynasty Warriors formula, it is still fun if you’re looking for a hack and slash game with a bit more strategy. There are issues that plague the game, especially with the use of an open world that lacks reasons to explore and the absence of same-sex marriage. Although with that said, Dynasty Warriors 9 Empires still can be interesting during the siege battles and the beautiful character customisation. At least it’s relaxing to tear a new one into the cannon fodder!