Ever since the shift to hack and slash back with Dynasty Warriors 2, the Dynasty Warriors franchise, as well as the similar franchises that followed (like Warriors Orochi and Samurai Warriors) have shown consistent signs of progression, while still managing to keep things rather grounded and consistent. But with Dynasty Warriors 9, Omega Force has decided it was time to shake things up and it’s led to some rather intriguing results.
Despite all of the coverage during development about the new open-world and what this would mean for the overall experience, the long-time Dynasty Warriors player in me still had certain expectations around how the game would be presented to me, and more importantly, how it would play. And don’t get me wrong, this does definitely still feel like a Dynasty Warriors experience, but the shake up affects almost every aspect of the game, from the core combat, through to how the story is presented and at first, it can feel rather jarring; the changes are just so significant. Having said that, it doesn’t take too long to adapt and settle in to what’s ultimately a positive exercise in modernisation.
The most obvious change is the switch to an open-world experience. After selecting which Hero of the Three Kingdoms you wish to play as, you will be dropped into historical China free to roam about and, within reason, do whatever you wish. This could be taking part in random skirmishes that are taking place across the country, undertaking quests from civilians or soldiers stationed within the various towns and cities or even doing some fishing.
You can, of course, also choose to progress with the story, but even that is a lot more involved now. There is often one main quest that needs to be completed in order to finish the Chapter and progress to the next main passage of a character’s narrative, but there are often 5-10 sub-quests associated to this that have the potential to influence how the main quest pans out when you undertake it. This might be because you cut off enemy reinforcements, took key enemy officers out of the fray, or it could even be that you enacted specific strategies, such as flooding their defenses and spreading panic. It adds a whole extra dimension to proceedings, creating a new form of dynamism that previously wasn’t possible.
Gone are the days of walking around a closed-off map with a time limit and set objectives you need to complete. In their place, we get an expansive map that you need to travel around to undertake these quests, with cities you can visit and actual locations that need to be taken or defended. It allows you to explore the Three Kingdoms and gives you the feeling of choice and general freedom.
This new approach also adds some depth in terms of how the story is presented, as instead of seeing it play out through those closed-off, disparate stages, you now get to see it play out on a much bigger scale. As you complete objectives, you’ll see troops move around on the global map and it helps to make everything feel much more connected, allowing the telling of this rather famous tale to seem much more related to the actions you’ve taken.
The only issue that really arises from this approach, is the fact that some of these quests can actually be rather far away from each other and even when riding on your trusty steed, it can still take time to get to your destination. The game does have a fast-travel mechanic in place, which allows you to head to the closest landmark related to your objective, but in some instances this doesn’t work due to the nature of the quests and a general lack of expansion by your forces at that moment in history. It’s only a minor gripe in the grand scheme of things though.
In terms of the quest themselves, well the majority of them are your standard fare; the objective is to strike down key targets. There is a bit of variety though, with some quests requiring you to fetch certain resources and others which promote a rather different approach. One, in particular, seemed rather ill-informed, as based on some clues, you have to select the correct complement of officers to undertake an attack on the enemy forces. But, even if this does detract from the experience at that time, it’s a rare occurrence and can just be ignored if you want.
From the perspective of gameplay, Dynasty Warriors has had a tried a true approach for years, with normal and strong attacks that can be combined. This was modified across the various Warriors games to add in special attacks and hyper attacks in recent years, but this was also an area that has been addressed with Dynasty Warriors 9.
There are still standard attacks mapped to square and triangle, but now, when you press R1 it brings up a menu where you can select different types of attack you want to perform. Once these land, you can then go into “flow” combos, which helps to make everything feel much more fluid.
Chaining these attacks together is now much more fluid than in previous games and with the new approach to presentation, where everything is much more open, this change makes things far more interesting. As you ride around and approach objectives, troops will be naturally positioned in or around them, opposing each other as you’d expect. If you’re trying to take a gate, for example, you’ll have waves upon waves of enemies looking to defend it, with your troops on the offensive, attempting to best them, even use battering rams to get through gates. This new approach to gameplay helps to make movement around these combat zones much more effective.
Having said that, it does feel a bit more restrictive than previous games, at least when it comes to the variety of moves. In the past, there were lots of moves that could be combined together for different effects, but now things are a bit more uniform. Still, it’s a step in the right direction in terms of how troops are now positioned and they’re sure to improve it in future installments.
Presentation is something of a mixed bag and in some ways, the game suffers due to ambitious approach. Character graphics now seem less refined and there’s a general haze that seems to be in place over almost everything that makes everything feel less crisp. The map itself can seem a bit sparse at times too, due to how large it is, but on the flip side, it also has significant variety.
As you progress through the various stories, you will see parts of the environment that look familiar, but at times you will be genuinely surprised at the uniqueness that’s on offer. Lots of attention has been paid to areas of the map that contain key historical events and there were a few occasions where some of the views were stunning.
I’d say that when it comes to lasting appeal, that it really depends on your interests. The stories, if you’re choosing to complete each of the sub-quests, can take a considerable investment and completing them all would be a significant undertaking. There are tons of characters and the story takes place over thirteen chapters; just done one of the main stories from the perspective of one character may take 15-20 hours. It means there's real depth there if you want it. Outside of that core story though, Dynasty Warriors 9 seems a bit underwhelming compared to previous installments and more attention could have been paid to encourage exploration.
Dynasty Warriors 9 sees the franchise head in a bold new direction, and it pays off. It may be jarring at first for veterans of the franchise, but the way Omega Force has chosen to modernise Dynasty Warriors through the use of an open-world compliments the source material and pushes it to new heights. Sure, it's not perfect and there are areas that can be improved, such as the graphics and the wider questing system, but as a first step, it's a positive one and I can't wait to see how they now build upon this.Dynasty Warriors 9 was reviewed using a PS4 provided by Tecmo Koei. You can find additional information about Gaming Union's ethics policy here.
|Open-world approach compliments the story-telling|
|Story sidequests now have much more purpose, influencing events in crucial battle grounds|
|Graphics have been downgraded to accommodate for the new open-world approach|
|Limited encouragement to explore the map|