Developer: Omega Force
Release Date: February 24, 2008
Koei's Dynasty Warriors series' arcade-styled take on Chinese history continues to button-mash its way onto consoles with every new iteration, blending together the pageantry of its characters with the chaos of war. The series has even gone to Japan with Samurai Warriors, allowed players to rebuild a nation with the Empire additions, and has added more content to the original title through its Xtreme series, which left a mountain of lacquered armor in its wake. Although the core gameplay for each title hasn't changed enough to warrant the kind of revolution that the characters will be rewriting, fans continue to look forward to the simple-to-grasp combat and brisk action.
Dynasty Warriors 6 sweeps you into the shoes of several characters drawn from the pages of the classical Chinese novel, "Romance of the Three Kingdoms," as you fight for one of three factions vying for control over the divided lands of ancient China. Fortunately, you won't need a historical degree or have played any of the previous titles to know what is going on. Each character has his own story to tell, and an encyclopedia is available with sayings, descriptions of the battles, and loads of other information for players who are interested in knowing more about the world of Dynasty Warriors.
DW6's third-person action drops players into a button-mashing paradise, where hundreds of enemies will fall to your thumbs as you explore the stories of each of the main characters in Musou mode. Players having a difficult time of it can opt to play in Free mode instead, which allows you to explore a number of unlocked missions so that you can "train" characters or get used to the controls before heading into the main campaign. Musou mode is strictly a linear progression of battles, but as you clear each one, it also becomes available in Free mode. For either gameplay mode, two players can slash their way through a map in offline co-op. However, there are no options to play DW6 cooperatively through Xbox Live, which might disappoint fans hoping to team up with friends online.
The menu also offers a Challenge mode, where you can earn high scores in timed specialty missions that may ask you to knock out as many soldiers as possible before getting hit, gather pouches of experience points while running against a herd of wild horses, or simply knock out as many of the enemy as you can without getting killed while racing against the clock. You can then upload your scores and check them against an online leaderboard to see how you rank against the rest of the world. There's also a "Camp" option that allows you to review the characters that you've unlocked. The only annoying thing about this setup is that every time you exit from any of these menus or modes, you'll be sent back to the title screen and you'll need to hit the Start button again just to get back to your choices.
If you're looking to decimate entire armies as a one-man (or -woman) wrecking crew, DW6's gameplay will fulfill your wildest dreams by drowning you in plenty of cannon fodder. If this might sound like the beginning of a repetitive beat-'em-up of incredible proportions, you wouldn't be too far from the truth, but it can be amazingly fun and strangely addictive. The core gameplay is a bit dated, but rather than overhauling the entire thing, Koei added a few new tweaks to make things more interesting.
Characters can now earn experience in battle, which can be used to level up and purchase enhancements on a skill tree. Their basic stats are upgraded as well, but your investments on the skill tree will help create a true force on the battlefield by boosting stats, heightening speed, or increasing their attack damage. Instead of simply going in and slashing away at foes all day long, players now have something new to look forward to, which makes DW6 a lot more interesting than a simple beat-'em-up, especially when each character has his own skill tree.
You can also swim, surprise enemies by jumping down on them from atop a cliff and take them out while they're still shaking, and chain together attacks in DW6's new Renbu system. With successful attacks, you can fill your character's Renbu gauge, which extends the number of combos that you can string together in order to inflict a brutal stream of damage without giving the enemy a chance to catch their breath. The battlefield is also littered with item drops from enemy officers, who are tough soldiers that lead their men to glory and can often be tricky to kill. They can dodge roll like you can, execute deadly combinations, and can block your attacks, but the toys they leave behind are usually weapons that you can add to your collection, experience pouches, and Special Attack power-ups that you can use to devastate your enemies. You'll even be able to ride horses into battle and collect a stable of your own.
There are also bases that you can also take over on the battlefield to bolster your forces and your front lines. Most of these consist only of a small area filled with defenders that, when enough have been dealt with, will become a place to which you can run for a healing piece of food — for as long as you can hold on to it. This can make you think twice about whether you should clear out the surrounding forts or throw caution to the wind and stab right into the heart of enemy territory.
Other locations will require you to take out enemy captains in order to clear an area for your troops to build battering rams and catapults. Ladders are propped up on walls when your troops can get to them so you can climb up and wreak havoc against enemy defenses, and you can even tackle special objectives to earn extra experience and weapons. You'll also be able to grapple with an enemy or duel with an enemy officer on the battlefield as soldiers from both sides form a ring around the battle and look on. Special events during battle, such as unexpected reinforcements or a surprise attack that cripples the morale of your forces, can force you back to defend your allies or head in for the quick finish before it's too late. If you need to take a break after slogging your way across the land but don't want to throw in the towel just yet, you can even save while in battle; the number of times that you can save is limited by your difficulty level.
Koei's artists have created a vibrant and stylized look for each of the main characters and their weapons in DW6. However, franchise fans are likely going to notice that a few of the characters from previous installments didn't make the cut this time, and some of the mainstays have undergone a few weapon changes, like Sun Shang Xiang, who now uses a bow instead of her chakram ring weapons. The cinematics illustrate certain mission highlights or explain a part of the story, but they can often appear highly compressed with heavy artifacts, although at other times, they look just fine alongside the smooth animation work.
The synthetic rock-'n'-roll beat that electrifies the soundtrack is back, mixing electric guitars with folksy Chinese rhythms; it turns techno in some cases and adds a little Arabic flavor in others. The voice acting is solid, even if many of the cinematic scenes and dialogue tend to be customarily melodramatic, and the voice actors had also been coached on how to pronounce the Chinese names with a greater degree of accuracy. This resulted in far fewer gaffes, such as trying to pronounce Cao Cao as "cow cow," when it should sound like "tsao tsao" instead.
Huge, sprawling castle complexes and buildings are scattered across a broad landscape of natural barriers, bridges and mountains, but not all graphics look as great up close, as evidenced by the flat water effects, pop-in soldiers, clipping, and the occasional stretched texture. Tigers and wolves hiding out in the bamboo thickets on some of the maps break up the stream of clone soldiers that you'll be harvesting en masse, but despite the low detail, the landscape can quickly fill with enemy soldiers, making it easy for you to lose sight of your own character.
The sixth major chapter of the Dynasty Warriors series might not have knocked your socks off with a revolutionary change to its gameplay, but it sticks to what it knows by providing just enough to keep fans engrossed in mashing their way through China's colorful past. Much of the action is exactly what many have come to expect from the series, as the game makes no apologies for what it does best, and new tweaks to the formula help to keep it from feeling like more of the same. New skill trees and leveling abilities mix up the action with an RPG flavor that can keep you plugging away until you've created the ultimate warrior. Many of the central characters have their own unique backstories, so there's plenty to distract you from what can sometimes feel like a merciless grind through hundreds of clones.
In the end, regardless of whether you want to spend time dodging horses or crushing hundreds of soldiers to win control of an empire, Dynasty Warriors 6 continues to provide plenty of arcade-flavored history to keep the beat-'em-up, hack-'n'-slash flames burning. Newcomers who simply want to wade into a war by wildly swinging their swords may find what they are looking for here, while series veterans will find themselves back in familiar territory as they battle through the threads of China's tumultuous past.
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