Reviewed on: Playstation 4. Copy supplied by publisher.
When you’re responsible for a video game series that’s more than 20 years old, and has been practically identical in every single release, it must be hard to break the mould, but break it Koei Tecmo desperately needed to do, as the series has become very state and predictable with each successive numbered, and spin-off release. Dynasty Warriors 9 is the title that marks the most major attempt to change this, taking the level-based 1 vs 1000 fighting genre into an open world format.
Now, before I begin, I should state that I’m a DW fan, and always have been, from the very first game back in 1997. Although mindless, and very repetitive, there’s always been something about the series that’s drawn me in, even though each game essentially tells the same Three Kingdoms stories again and again. Based on historic events and characters, the games have always been flamboyant and bombastic, with a lone solider laying waste to entire armies with ease. It’s simple, but fun.
That is, it used to be.
Dynasty Warriors 9 is, sadly, a train wreck of development, poor choices, and terrible presentation. It’s just bad, in almost every way. And the biggest problem? It does away with the very mechanics that made the series what it is, and which struck a cord with its fanbase.
Now set in a large, open rendition of China, the game world is one of the most barren and shallow environments I’ve ever seen. Aside from some landmark locations and various crafting material pickups, there’s just nothing else here. It’s dull, and doesn’t even look that good. Occasionally vistas can look pretty decent, but more often than not, it’s scenery that looks more last gen than one of the latest, greatest releases.
As one of the game’s many characters, more of which you’ll unlock as you progress, a typical game session sees you move from tiny skirmish to tiny skirmish, with missions no more taxing than “Kill this guy,” or “Free this base.” There’s no variation at all in missions, and even the so-called large-scale battles, something the series has always been great at, are small, insignificant fights where you can quickly locate and kill the boss in a matter of minutes.
Indeed, thanks to the new open world setting, virtually all missions are practically devoid of challenge. All characters can scale any obstacle thanks to a grappling hook, enemy AI is pitiful, and once a boss has been defeated, the opposing army just gives up and runs away. There no urgency, no need for tactics, or planning which front to tackle next in order to keep your forces in control, and no need for any variation at all. The series has never been so devoid of heart or soul.
Now, combat is the core of any DW game, and 9 doesn’t even get this right. Aside from differing animations, all characters have the same selection of attacks, including four ‘special’ moves, an ultimate Musou attack, and a standard combo. Characters now all sport cookie-cutter, boring weapons, and when in actual combat, absolutely no brain power or skill is required, just mash the buttons, hit the odd special, then rinse and repeat. Boss characters are laughable, with no intelligence or increased fighting ability, only a damage-sponge level of health that takes a tedious amount of time to deplete. And when I say no AI, I mean it. So-called great warriors and generals stand there as you run up to them, and then you pretty much stun-lock them into oblivion. It’s pitiful, it really is.
So yeah, combat is tedious, the world is tedious, missions are tedious, and attempts to make this into an open world game also fail at every step. Shops and blacksmiths give you the option to use collected materials to forge weapons and buy items, but it’s the most mundane, basic effort, and the towns and cities you find them in are lifeless husks. Even the controls, which have usually been pretty solid throughout the series, are clumsy, and character animations and movements are jittery and off-putting.
Thankfully, even the most boring games can, thankfully, be improved by playing with others, or sitting on the couch having a laugh with friends whilst playing, and Dynasty Warriors has always had this ability. I’ve had a lot of fun playing these games in multiplayer, especially local co-op, so DW9 surely picks up here… Doesn’t it? Of course it doesn’t. You know why? Because there’s no multiplayer mode, at all, whatsoever. Good job guys, good job! It’s like you want me to hate this game.
Having only a solo experience that’s set in such a dull, lifeless, and repetitive world that’s nothing more than an empty shell of its former self in terms of the core gameplay fans love rounds off this insult to the series nicely.
As I said, I come from a place of love for the DW series. I’ve played so many entries, and have thoroughly enjoyed the series, but I just can’t find anything in DW9 to like. There are just no saving graces, aside from a ton of characters, and some satisfyingly flashy moves that send whole armies flying.
Even the typically camp and lovable presentation we usually get is gone, replaced with the most generic and awful voice acting and writing. It’s painful to experience, especially at a time when video game acting and presentation is the most respectable it’s ever been.