Platforms: PC, PS4 (reviewed), Xbox One
Developer: Omega Force
Publisher: KOEI TECMO
Release: 13th February 2018
After Ni No Kuni 2 was delayed, the first game I was really excited for and simply knew it had to be amazing was, unsurprisingly, Dynasty Warriors 9. It seemed like the most ambitious title in the series yet, featuring a full-fledged open world, mixed with a giant array of content. Unfortunately, Omega Force did one crucial mistake in their design, leading me to the central question, determining the quality of their latest title: Would you like to hunt, fish and fetch in Dynasty Warriors?
As any other Dynasty Warriors, the ninth instalment once again tells historic events in a simplified fashion. This time revolving around the Chinese Three Kingdoms era, told in thirteen chapters. However, the campaign is also divided into the five biggest factions of that era, each with their own set of characters, unique story and goals. So the same events can either be played through the eyes of Cao Cao, Lu Bu or practically any other character living at that time. Unsurprisingly, Dynasty Warriors 9 is a giant game as a result, offering around 50 chapters of unique campaign (some factions are only playable for certain chapters but not all), lasting about 2-3 hours each.
Unfortunately, most of them are as bland and uninteresting as in any other title. Spin-offs like Spirit of Sanada showed it´s possible to tell a historical story while focusing on only a few characters, granting them more depth, resulting in a much more involving tale. The problem of Omega Force´s goal to tell a story scattered between over 70 protagonists remains the fact none can develop a deep personality nor carry a story. Every part is so stuffed with info, historical figures, newcomers and much more, that there´s no time to build up a climax, tension or anything else needed for an involving experience.
Naturally, the series never was strong on the story side but with every entry, it got worse. Due to the ever-growing cast and need to expand, a trend brought to the utter maximum here. Half the time I never knew more about anyone, than their profession. Occasional cutscenes aim to artificially raise the tension, for example by showing off Lu Bu slaughtering dozens of soldiers. That´s still rad but especially icons like him remain blank, compared to their screen time, since Omega Force simply didn´t have the screentime to characterize anyone.
Instead, they focused on creating a giant story, you could easily spend more than a hundred hours just completing the campaign with 1-2 characters, in exchange for tension and understanding. Except for its size, Dynasty Warriors 9 offers a dull plot once again, just in way bigger and I´m honestly getting sick of the need to scale everything up but never fix the fundamental problems.
On the other hand, Omega Force made sure to improve the base gameplay once again. Namely, the combo system got some new stuff in the form of special moves. In addition to the normal combos, there are now three special combo starters, a stun, uppercut and ground slash. Since attacking, right after executing one, grants the fighter improved damage and special new move, they´re incredibly effective to chain different combos together. Omega Force really tried to erase any downtime in the gameplay whatsoever by making it possible to have seemingly endless combos. To top it all of, every character now has a second special attack available as part of these new moves.
The moves also got tweaked to ensure a smooth combat. The combo system remains pretty much the same but the fighters now automatically dash to their enemies when they´re far away, follow them into the air and generally stay close to their target to avoid running in fights. Everything feels faster than in previous entries, at least for me, even though it takes away some control from the player. Additionally, resulting from the fact everyone can wield every weapon now, once a fighter has his “favourite” weapon type equipped, he unlocks some bonuses for his special attacks, like invincibility. Only the removal of many unique weapons like giant clubs for example, in favour of a few, overspanning weapon types, may upset some, who really adored this part of the previous titles.
Besides the combat, many battles in and around castles offer a lot more possibilities now. Instead of simply slashing through thousands of enemies, obstacles like castle gates have to be overcome first. By either protecting your armies’ ram or climbing the wall up by yourself to then crush the gate barrier from the interior, Dynasty Warriors 9´s huge battles just feel way more customizable. Jumping into the castle and killing everyone inside all alone simply feels great.
Regarding the base formula, Omega Force didn´t change much, except some slight enhancements and the sheer amount of chain/ball weapons, its 1v1000 battles are as fun as always. However, Omega Force didn´t want to stop there and to this day I don´t understand why Dynasty Warriors 9 needed an open world, best described as Ubisoft meets Warriors.
First of all, it´s important to understand the size of this world, easily surpassing the ten thousand meters size. Since the campaign is divided into 5 factions, every one of them needed an own area as well, resulting in this bloated thing. Rather than having a hub city and a world map to start the main battles, Dynasty Warriors 9 gets rid of this separation altogether. Now, cities, battles, quests, everything is connected like in a typical open world, without any loading screens, a chapter in the campaign is basically one giant battle. Sounds great in theory but nothing about it is done right, unique or fitting for a Warriors game.
Imagine one of the previously “small” maps would be upscaled by 10 times but without any kind of additions, that´s the new open world. The typical flow consists of travelling a thousand to three thousand meters, normally takes around 5 minutes, watch a boring conversation and conquer an outpost. Repeat this procedure two to four times, add a big castle as a finale and you got most of the mission design. Where Dynasty Warriors 8 for example, focused its action, Dynasty Warriors 9 rips everything apart, puts giant layers of padding between camps and thinks this is how gameplay diversity looks like. In short, the open world adds nothing except downtime to a game, living off fast-paced, fun action.
Although Omega Force seemed to see this problem, hence their addition of many side activities, they can´t improve it in any way. In short, it´s now possible to hunt deer in forests, fish, collect giant clusters of minerals to improve weapons, collect pointless treasures and do all kinds of fetch quests. Who´s a fan of Ubisoft´s open world a la Assassin´s Creed will definitely love this one, as it´s the same without any change. Yet, people like me, loving the series for fast action, satisfying combos and alike, never wanted to go hunting in their Dynasty Warriors game. If ignored, the remaining rest basically is one large, empty world. Not the crafting, uninspired upgrade system solely relying on numbers or any other new mechanic is unique, new or interesting, consisting of the same, luke-warm things we see since ages.
I´m sure the open world should have brought the diversity the Warriors’ series lacked since years but only adds redundant boredom to it. Even though battles may feel bigger, than in previous titles, because occasional allies, soldiers and bases will appear on the way. Another problem lies in the menus, lacking the function to change fighters in a campaign chapter. Especially early on Cao Cao´s route is the only way to unlock new fighters, but only for upcoming or previous parts. So it´s necessary to complete the majority of one side with only one character before being able to switch to a different one. Needless to say, the repetition is more than just accelerated through such a design choice. Luckily, character levels are adjusted to the chapters, if their base level doesn´t match the mission.
Besides the gameplay, Dynasty Warriors 9 graphics suffer from the open world as well. Character models, weapons, effects, soldiers and pretty much everything important for battles still look pretty good, compared to the series’ standards. Otherwise, terrain and environmental textures, in particular, are bad, really bad. Not only is the game suffering heavily from too slow loading textures but all of them look like they could be ripped straight from a Vita version at times. It´s not beautiful, not the open world, not the cities placed in it, I can´t recall how often I ran through muddy gates, looking so awful I couldn´t believe my eyes. In addition, both the framerate, that´s constantly at 25-30fps, and the English voice cast, which is neat in theory but sounds cheaply made and not on par with the price tag, worsen things.
I don´t like writing this, I wanted and expected to give Dynasty Warriors 9 a lot of praise but I simply can´t. I still enjoy the very core, climbing castle walls, killing thousands of soldiers, these things are a ton of fun. Unfortunately, these sections are so separated, so torn apart by the open world, to forcefully strap an open world on top of it, that the actual Musou feeling becomes a highlight in a sea of downtime. Dynasty Warriors 9´s design decisions can best be described as “contradicting”, slowing down a game, by overlading it with overused mechanics and ideas. If you overcome the huge, empty open world, there´s fun to be had, because the Musou gameplay got refined once again but I never had as much fun as with 8, Spirit of Sanada or alike.
[A Review Code was provided by KOEI TECMO Europe]