Dynasty Warriors is a longstanding juggernaut in the realm of hack and slash games. Standing alongside the likes of Golden Axe, God of War, Diablo, and Devil May Cry, Dynasty Warriors has its own unique take on the genre. Decidedly mediocre when game critics shine a light on its flaws, Dynasty Warriors still manages to find ways to play with the line between button mashing, grinding for experience, and offering tons of playable characters. Dynasty Warriors 9 continues this trend with one major wrinkle to shake things up a bit… open world exploration.
Now, let’s be clear. If you’ve never been a hack and slash or Dynasty Warriors fan, this game IS NOT the entry point for you. There’s not a whole lot in this package that will win over new fans. With that said, Koei Tecmo deserves kudos for trying to evolve and no longer the be the butt of jokes about developers ‘not trying’ with their established franchises. Dynasty Warriors 9 is an honest effort to push the franchise.
Fans of the franchise will find a majority of what has fascinated them and brought them back for countless editions. There are a bunch of different characters to play as and the feeling of being an invulnerable battlefield juggernaut remain. Those two aspects of DW have and probably always will be. Still, there is just something about this ‘edition’ that first pulled me in with excitement and eventually let me down.
For years, fans both casual and hardcore wished that Dynasty Warriors could be the hybrid of the uber detailed and difficult strategy game Romance of the Three Kingdoms and a flashy combo filled spectacle of arcade-y goodness. More often than not, the later was delivered upon and the former was pretty distant. The elements of strategy were often teased during the ‘Empires’ versions. Koei Tecmo initially looked to incorporate ‘strategy’ in Dynasty Warriors 9 by utilizing this open world feature. The idea was to have the war ongoing as you travel from quest to quest. You even can see tactical arrows showing army movements to get you all excited about feeling like you are affecting an actual war. Unfortunately, the urgency never is fully realized.
Instead, DW9 plays like a neverending DW map connected by bases with stores and mini-quests in them. Blast through a camp. Run through the wilderness following the ‘story’ arrow. Blast through another camp. Find a few resources in the wilderness. Run into a city for a boss battle. Wash. Rinse. Repeat. You do this through the entire story (that DW vets know all too well) from the perspective of each general, but honestly the way the story plays out seems the same regardless of which perspective you come from.
As you do so, you are unlocking generals. Problem is that you can’t switch to them unless you exit the mode to the title screen and start another story. Then you can chose to continue the story from that point (at which you’ll be too low of a level to really do much for a while) or start all the way back at the beginning. Tragically, this story mode is the only one you can use. There is no ‘Free’ mode or any other cleverly named or themed mode to help with the grinding or even give purpose to the grinding. I’m certain the ‘goal’ is to max out the general’s level and eventually find a powerful weapon for them but… well… why?
Then there is the core of what made the previous games satisfying… the gorgeous looking and feeling combos that differed from general to general. Need a crowd clearing maneuver? Press this 3 or 4 button sequence. Need an elemental attack? Press this 5 button combo. Even then you could interrupt a combo and begin yet another with certain generals. Now, the combat seems isolated to pressing one attack and then holding a bumper or trigger button for a specific attack to choose from. In a way, it even feels as if the combo is the same for every general basically. While the specific ‘regular’ moves are different, the special attacks feel the same. Whatever it is, this new system just doesn’t feel satisfying. Sure, you’re blowing through enemies and blasting them away with a mere button press, but when even a lingering feeling of the generals not feeling that different is there, then you have a problem. Of course, that is if you can figure out how to change characters that is.
On the bright side, Koei Tecmo filled this open world with tons of resources to find on the map. There are wandering armies, bandits, groups of unfriendly tigers and bears, and quests to give purpose to seeking them out. These quests play out as simplistic fetch quests more often than not, but what open world game doesn’t boil down to that dynamic (aside from The Witcher 3 that is)?
Then you can utilize all of these handy resources you find and earn to craft potions and salves that boost your general. Also, they wind up as ingredients for weapons that you can also craft to get stronger or jewels that increase your abilities. That’s basically all of the checklist items for your standard open world and unfortunately that’s how they feel in execution. It’s almost as if Koei Tecmo got tired of working on the game and said, “Let’s just get this out there and we’ll make it better some other time.” DW9 just feels like the beta basically.
As a Dynasty Warriors fan, I appreciate Koei Tecmo shaking the monkey off their back and taking a chance on evolving the series. This feels like a great ‘start’ rather than a finished full ‘step’ somehow. Maybe they’ll drop Dynasty Warriors 9 XL or Empires with more of a desirable ‘endgame’. Until then Dynasty Warriors 9 feels like a more repetitive than usual time suck.