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Dynasty Warriors 2 (PlayStation 2) artwork

Dynasty Warriors 2 (PlayStation 2) review

"Back before it was fancy"

OK, so dig. I was thumbing through the instruction manual, turning to the pages that showed the Kingdom of Wei's default playable characters. On the one page was Xu Zhu, a massive sumo-type sporting an impossibly large spiked mace. His strength is so significant that he bears the nickname "Tiger Butcher." Next to that hulking monstrosity is Dian Wei, an angry-looking muscle-head donning a hellfire-forged horse gauntlet over his arm and sporting a large, brutal axe. "Evil incarnate" is how he is described. I love it when a gameís good guys look like bad guys, and these two dudes appear certainly mischievous enough. But then saw the third option, the eye-patching wearing Xiahou Dun, and learned how an arrow pierced his eye in battle. Which he promptly plucked from its socket and ate without hesitation. Now that's hardcore! The fact that he wields a giant-ass sword and unleashes a whirling special move sealed the deal.

Xiahou Dun, I choose you!

I love Dynasty Warriors 2. It may be primitive looking and simple in its arcade-y-ness, but it wastes no time in setting itself up as a big burley weapons brawler set to Three Kingdoms lore in ancient China. While there are many other action titles that followed in its footsteps, both within the series canon and externally as entirely different intellectual properties, Dynasty Warriors 2 feels just right thanks to its sincerity and simplicity. Now you have 47 other iterations of this franchise ranging from tactical turn-based titles to Gundam spin-offs, not to mention obligatory sequels (Part 9ís coming out now!).

But Dynasty Warriors 2, holy crap this game made open-ended action games exciting for me. I still dust off my PS2 and fire up this blue-backed beauty of a CD every few years because scant few games provide greater reward for so little effort. Itís pure mindlessness; the perfect way to let yourself unwind. Perhaps you prefer some cerebral stimulation to the likes of mashing square mixed with a bit of triangle, but I donít expect you, or really anyone else to understand what drives me to do this. I just happen to have a good time doing it and am never disappointed when I do.

I can replay basically the entire campaign in my head without much effort. Epic confrontations in front of Hu Lao Gate against the forces of Dong Zhuo, or a sweeping clash of armies pitting the Yellow Turban rebels on one side against the decaying imperial forces of Han China on the other. I can press the PS2 controllerís buttons to form attack combos with such ease that itís almost like I never took a 5-year break between playing through the gameís simple yet satisfying Musou story mode.

The best part for me, aside from rampaging across battlefields, killing hundreds of enemy soldiers per session, is that Iím still finding an allure to whatís being offered. Make no mistake. Dynasty Warriors 2 is not a complicated or particularly deep game. It offers tons of playable characters, each clad in crazy armor, sporting even crazier weapons. It basically tempts you with each successful completion to reply the campaign but this time with a new warrior from a new faction. You want to play as legendary fighter Lu Bu or the lord of Wei, Cao Cao? Go for it! But youíll have to battle long and heavy before their avatars are unlocked.

Battles are wide-ranging and fun. As Xiahou Dun, I can hack and slash my way through brigades of foes with relative ease because I've bested just about every worthwhile enemy general or lieutenant-type gatekeeper around, obtaining their attribute drops to improve my fighterís offensive and defensive prowess as a reward.

I also enjoy randomly selecting other playable characters, such as Wu's Gan Ning or Shu's Liu Bei, and just seeing how far I can get with their default stats and different weapon styles. Fighting with a sword feels different than fighting with a halberd, which feels different than fighting with a set of sai. So thereís always a little bit of variety to get used to when switching from one playable character to another, but the action is always frenzied and fast-paced so game progression is rapid so long as youíre aggressive. I do have some minor issues, however!

Despite this being a game that prides itself on putting dozens of enemy combatants on screen at any given time, its method for doing so is smoke and mirrors. Fog is a pretty common component in a lot of earlier 3D games to help control the amount of polygons rendered at any point in time, and Dynasty Warriors 2 is not above this cheap tactic. Furthermore, it would have been nice had the enemy and allied units consisted of more unit and model variety than the standard pallet swap. Most forces are infantry, and then most infantry wield swords or spears and share the same few generic character models. There are bow units, and then there are scarcer fighting units such as female ninja. Cavalry are nonexistent, with only the occasional horse-riding warrior to be found. A lot of characters, friend and foe, sort of stand around while your avatar takes center stage with his retinue of bodyguards in tow, hacking up the place. Of course if you ramp up the difficulty all the way, the hits are much harder and more rapid and you wonít have time to take in the background fighters idly standing by because youíll be too busy fighting for your life.

Thatís really all Dynasty Warriors 2 is all about Ė offering a series of maps to roam until all enemy life has been extinguished and / or youíve killed the opposing armyís leader. At around the same time as its release, the PS2 also featured another war game, though this one was centered around feudal Japan and featured a very different angle to how it would portray its conflict. While Kessen is all style, Dynasty Warriors 2 is all substance. Itís my favorite early PS2 release and one of my favorite games on the console. Should you succeed in unifying China under the banner of your chosen kingdom, then know it is only a matter of time before youíll set out to do it again . . . and again . . . and again.

Fiddlesticks's avatar
Community review by Fiddlesticks (February 08, 2018)

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