Dynasty Warriors 9

Platform(s): PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One
Genre: Action
Publisher: Koei Tecmo
Developer: Omega Force
Release Date: Feb. 13, 2018


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Xbox One Review - 'Dynasty Warriors 9'

by Cody Medellin on April 20, 2018 @ 12:00 a.m. PDT

Dynasty Warriors 9 unifies the classic, time-tested “one versus thousands” action iconic to the series with a variety of new features, characters and content in an expansive open world environment.

The only time the main Dynasty Warriors franchise changed up its formula was when it went from a run-of-the-mill 3-D fighting game on the PSone to a massive hack-and-slash game on the PS2. Since then, the series has stuck with that gameplay formula, making small tweaks here and there while pumping out side games that allowed the developer the freedom to experiment. Critics may have hated the formula for not changing, but fans were delighted, and the series grew in popularity. After about two-and-a-half console generations, the main game series has finally changed things in a big way. However, after playing Dynasty Warriors 9, maybe change is the last thing that should have happened to the series.

Like every other game in the series, DW9 is a re-telling of Romance of the Three Kingdoms, an essential part of Chinese history. This time around, the game places less of an emphasis on summaries of what occurred in favor of actual in-game cut scenes where the characters converse with one another. The change is quite significant if you've been following the series for some time, as it breathes new life into a story that's been told countless times. Unfortunately, the dialogue tends to meander at times, and the subtitles are difficult to read if you play the game with an audio track other than English.

As far as gameplay goes, the combat system is one of the big changes in DW9. The button-mashing is still present, but relying on the X button alone will not be enough to win battles. Instead, the game now employs trigger moves, which require pushing the right bumper in conjunction with face buttons to unleash a few more moves, including a diving attack, a stun, or a launching attack. From there, you can proceed with some button-mashing to add some flair to the combos. You can also use the trigger moves to unleash elemental attacks, like summoning lightning or raining down ice from the sky.

Initially, the switch from using only face buttons to a combination of face buttons and the right bumper seems like a fair trade-off. Players have more control, since they don't have to memorize specific button combos to achieve something that looks spectacular. There's now some thought in your moves, and it still looks nice since you're still fighting countless soldiers. The addition of the counter-attack/finisher also makes these battles more cinematic than they should be, as you'll blow back enemies further and dart around the field to deliver killing blows.

However, the changes to the battle system aren't all good. Boss fights are much easier now, since you can easily trap any of the named officers in near-infinite combos, so anyone who felt fearsome before feels like a joke now. The combat system has also been homogenized to the point where almost all of the available characters feel the same. Even if their weapons are different, fighting with a club feels no different than fighting with a fan, flail or sword. To the longtime fan, this can be rather disappointing. Finally, everyone is equipped with a bow and arrow for long-range fighting, but the controls are awkward, and you'll be taken out of aiming mode more often than you'll be able to fire arrows.

In another big change, the game has abandoned the closed-off battlefields for something more akin to an open world. With that change comes a host of features that most open-world games seem to have by default. There are towers to climb that provide a better vantage point and point out more areas of interest. The land is littered with items to collect, so you can craft things like gems to augment your weapons and ingredients for healing potions. You can also do some hunting and fishing to get you even more items, and because the land is so vast, you can call on a horse to make travel go much faster.

If anything, the move to an open world shows off just how big and spread-out these battles can be. It is much like the older games in that there are skirmishes happening all over the map, but the increased map size means that the activities are spread out even further. You'll still get updates about what's going on via the minimap, but the lack of text means that you won't get a sense of urgency about what's happening.

All of the activities in the world seem rather inconsequential. The materials you'll gather for items are so abundant that you won't need to hunt for them, since you'll likely have more than enough from the battles alone. Hunting is never exciting, since the prey never fights back, and the weapons crafted from those hunts are never as good as the stuff from merchants. Leveling up should always be a monumental thing but, the stat increases from gaining levels are minimal at best, and the notifications you get pause the action poorly, sometimes giving the enemy a free hit because you have to stop and see that you unlocked a new blueprint for a gem. Leveling up also seems insignificant, since you can easily beat up enemies at much higher levels than yourself, so encounters with much stronger enemies feel uneventful.

More importantly, the open world simply isn't much fun to be in. Despite the battlefield being larger and the minimap showing off action almost everywhere, the actual skirmishes don't last very long, since the enemy armies are very small and your encounters aren't very frequent. Thus, you'll spend a considerable amount of time in the world simply traveling either on foot or on horse. There's nothing to catch your attention during these travels, so you're rarely motivated to deviate from your intended path because something looked interesting. It makes the experience feel boring, and it's understandable why some developers aren't ready to tackle the open world.

It also doesn't help that the open world is very buggy and lacking in features. Set your character to automatically run to the next major battle, and they'll take the longest route possible, often going in circles before finally going in a sensible direction. Even then, going on auto-run means running straight into objects and stopping. Fire at an enemy, and you'll find yourself hitting object collision that shouldn't be there. Get a direct headshot, and that isn't enough to fell an enemy despite the signs saying otherwise. Call for your horse, and you may spend some time trying to get on it. Objectives take a while to update their status, and items that come from fallen enemies take long enough to appear that you'll forget about them. If you wanted to play this with a friend, forget about it. The game only has a campaign mode, so those expecting to do anything else solo or with others are out of luck.

The switch to an open-world setting is expected to affect the game's graphical quality — but not this hard. What you get is a huge downgrade from Xbox One/PS4 levels to early PS2 stuff. Objects pop in constantly at a very close and visible level, and characters who are far away have a very noticeable drop in animation frames. Textures and objects look terrible until they come in at a very close range, and even then, the models look badly detailed with passable animation. Particle effects are sparse, and the frame rate is always well below 30 on a base Xbox One. In short, this is far from being a graphical showcase of any sort.

The audio isn't nearly as terrible as the graphics, but it can come close at times. The Japanese is fine, but after hearing the vocal performances of the English track, you understand why the developers opted out of using the language for so long. There is the option to have the game voiced in Chinese, which marks the first time the series has done this and makes perfect sense considering the subject matter. The game still contains both epic pieces and guitar rock, but most of the time, the audio score is built on silence, which isn't good considering the sparse game world.

While not quite an unmitigated disaster, Dynasty Warriors 9 is pretty bad. Even if you can live with the subpar presentation, the game quickly gets boring due to a lack of important or interesting things that can be done in the world. The combat is fine, but with fewer opportunities to use it, the button-mashing joy inherent in the series is nowhere to be found. If the franchise continues down this open-world path, then it'll need some massive improvements — or else fans will start calling for a return to the old formula.

Score: 5.0/10

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