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Dynasty Warriors 9 (PlayStation 4) artwork

Dynasty Warriors 9 (PlayStation 4) review


"Breath of the Mundane"


Dynasty Warriors 9 was going to be different. Omega Force was very proud that after eight entries and numerous spin-offs, the franchise was finally going open world. Itís only the logical conclusion. Everybody else is doing it, and itís about time the premier hack-n-slash franchise joins in, right? Well, maybe not.

For the uninitiated, Dynasty Warriors 9 is an action game set during the period of Chinese history as outlined in "The Romance of the Three Kingdoms." Players take on the roles of dozens of historical actors (albeit greatly exaggerated) as they attempt to restore the Han Dynasty before settling on establishing three kingdoms in the second century.

For history nerds or those who just like political intrigue, the narrative is the strongest aspect of Dynasty Warriors 9. The game goes to great lengths to set up the conflict between the Wei, Wu, Shu and Jin factions at the beginning of each chapter, and the individual scenes do a great job of characterizing the ambitions and convictions that led each faction to fight for control of China.

Dynasty Warriors 9 (PlayStation 4) image

As for the core action, itís the same great musou gameplay fans of the series have come to expect. Each character has a weak and strong attack that can be supplemented with four specials. These four specials can either launch, knock back, knock down or cast an AOE attack, and can be chained to assemble powerful combos that are often more than enough to take down the generals that stand in your way. While every character has a weapon they are proficient with, they can equip any other weapon (useful for those players looking to change up their move sets without having to change their character). The approach adds a lot of variety to play, as players have to be mindful of the speed and combo potential of each weapon, especially the heavier hammers and clubs. It doesnít remove the incentive to play as other characters, however, since each individual has different specials and movement thatís worth experimenting with.

Dynasty Warriors 9 nails the story and core action, but its open world is one of the biggest stumbles Iíve ever seen a franchise make. Previous Dynasty Warriors games were successful in my eye, as each map was a focused area allowing players to wade through hundreds of enemies on their way to objectives. Itís easy to argue that progression was boring and formulaic and needed a shakeup, but itís hard to deny the games consistently kept playersí attention as they were constantly on the attack. In Dynasty Warriors 9, most of the game is spent riding or running through absolutely nothing on the way to the next objective. Iíll admit second-century China was sparsely populated, but producing an open world mostly devoid of life or interesting landmarks in a video game makes for a really boring time.

Dynasty Warriors 9 (PlayStation 4) image

The emptiness is most pronounced when conflict finally does arise. Bases are strewn about the map, which players can capture to give their forces an advantage. These bases maybe have 30 enemies guarding them, and then itís another 2 minutes of riding through nothingness in order to reach the next base. Even when the game has players take a city, it never feels as grand in scope as it should. Thereís maybe a few hundred men inside the city, spread around in pockets of 10 units each. The chance to destroy hundreds of enemies in one go, which is arguably the core appeal of these games, has been compromised by the move to an open world.

The open world also negatively impacts another core aspect of Dynasty Warriors. In previous games, crafting components were dropped from enemy commander units or rewarded upon the successful completion of maps. This is still true in Dynasty Warriors 9, but the vast majority of components must be found lying around the world map. In a world as lifeless as the one presented in Dynasty Warriors 9, itís hard to justify running around looking for gathering spots. I found most components just by riding to my next objective, which wouldnít be a problem except that weapons and items require far more components than what you're likely to find casually. The game expects players to actively search for crafting components, and I just donít see most people happily putting in the time required for that endeavor.

Dynasty Warriors 9 (PlayStation 4) image

To add insult to injury, Dynasty Warriors 9 borrows some elements from popular open world design over the last decade, but seemingly doesnít understand the point. The most egregious example are the towers spread about the world, which players can climb to clear up portions of the map. Doing this doesnít really reveal anything of importance, however, and just feels like Omega Force implemented it just because they felt like they had to.

To give credit where credit is due, the open world does do one thing right. There are a few cities spread throughout the world, and these are a joy to explore. They serve no gameplay purpose, but it was great to see second-century Chinese architecture and urban planning represented in a game on such a large scale. Itís a very personal thing, but I think itís worth celebrating.

The box art for Dynasty Warriors 9 features Zhao Yun leaping off a cliff into an army. This is a lie. The game never once presents situations that make you feel like youíre fighting through armies, but instead settles for rather small scouting expeditions. If Omega Force had created a more compelling open world with actual armies to mow down, I would congratulate Dynasty Warriors on taking a great first step to open world modernity. As it stands, however, Dynasty Warriors 9 feels like a misstep that will either require Omega Force to go back to the old way of doing things, or completely rethink its approach to open world game design.

2/5

Phazonmasher's avatar
Freelance review by Zachary Walton (February 18, 2018)

Zach Walton likes JRPGs, visual novels, horror games and anything that gives him an excuse to drink.

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Feedback

If you enjoyed this Dynasty Warriors 9 review, you're encouraged to discuss it with the author and with other members of the site's community. If you don't already have an HonestGamers account, you can sign up for one in a snap. Thank you for reading!

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EmP posted February 19, 2018:

I like the vast majority of your reviews because you know what you like and write about it enthusiastically. Iíve got all kinds of weird Japanese games either in my library or on my wishlist that Iíll probably never find the time to play, and this is all your fault. Your sheer love for many of the oddball games you cover shines through, but that has not been the case for here. Maybe itís because the game was somewhat of a disappointment, but that didnít translate this time around. The entire review has an unfortunate stiffness not often present in other reviews.

Thereís good lines that build good points, such as dismissing the forces you fight as scouting groups rather than the entire armies you used to fight, or how you need to scavenge and hunt down crafting items in the new open world now rather than earn them through victories. Itís still an argument well made; that Dynasty Warriors have failed to take the grand battles epics and find a way to transition them to an open world. Game sounds like a downer, and you sometimes sound like you'd rather be talking about something else.
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Phazonmasher posted February 19, 2018:

If I'm being honest, it wasn't fun to write either as I was honestly looking forward to Dynasty Warriors 9 and it let me down. I'm never good with criticism and I think this really shone through here. Thanks for highlighting it. I'm gonna try to think of more interesting ways to be negative in the future.
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EmP posted February 19, 2018:

It's not always easy, putting the boot in. Especially when you have high hopes for the very thing you have to tear down.
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Fiddlesticks posted February 19, 2018:

I was looking forward to this game and decided to watch some Youtube footage to see how it would portray its open world. This review documents what I saw to the T. This looks like such a terrible and uninspiring game when it could have been the best Dynasty Warriors game ever. It kind of makes you wonder how a formula that should have been a surefire home run turned out to be such a whiff.

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